Brioche is among the loveliest of breads to bake, and the most rewarding. But it’s also one of the most daunting. You don’t fall into brioche. You don’t find yourself accidentally making it at 10pm at night. It requires planning and perseverance and a lot of eggs. This is serious baking. This is reading a phone contract before you sign it bread. This is buying bin bags before the last batch have run out dough. Brioche is grown up baking.
I’ve never thought of myself as particularly commitment-phobic. I jumped gleefully into cohabiting with a man it turns out, incredibly, I still love. (Some days, I even like him too.) I thought nothing of embarking on five years of training for my legal career. But I am easily spooked. And as a home baker, brioche spooked me again and again. I’d try and sneak up on it, act disinterested, like it wasn’t a big deal; and then I’d read through the recipe, realise the enormity of the task, and run for the hills. But sometimes, you just have to grow up and make brioche.
Brioche is time-consuming. It requires thought, energy and some kind of timekeeping device, preferably with a buzzer. It is a long means to a buttery end. But the end is worth it. And here’s the clincher: it’s not actually that hard. There’s a lot of kneading involved, but that’s OK. Can you make a fist? Can you splay your palm? Then your can knead! You just have to be bold enough to go for it.
If you’re faint of heart, look away now. Faint heart never made good brioche. You need six eggs: a whole box. And a whole block of butter. You cannot skimp here. You’re committed. But I believe in you.
Brioche will reward your commitment: the dough is gorgeous: primrose yellow and silken. It is the bread equivalent of a baby’s bottom. When baked it is impossibly rich in flavour and light in crumb, and it smells sweetly comforting and indulgent at the same time.
I promise you brioche is not going to hurt you. All it wants is to talk colour schemes and maybe put your name down for an allotment. It won’t betray you. But you need to do more than leave a token toothbrush at brioche’s flat. You need to be bold, you need to be brave of heart and a little bit foolhardy. You need to combine your book collections. You need to commit.
Baking for Grown Ups Brioche
• The butter must be at room temperature, otherwise you won’t be able to incorporate it into the dough properly, so take it out of the fridge about 45 minutes before you need to knead it.
• I sometimes make teeny tiny rolls in little 3cm fluted tins. They are very small and very silly, but two warmed and buttered with a cup of coffee is the perfect decadent breakfast.
• I’ll admit that this recipe is a little bit easier if you have a stand mixer, but I don’t anymore, and I still happily commit to this recipe.
• These loaves freeze well, so you can pop the second loaf in your freezer if you like.
Takes: 2 days
Bakes: 25-35 minutes
Makes: 2 small loaves or 12 little buns
300g plain flour
300g strong white bread flour
30g caster sugar
2 teaspoons salt
140 ml whole milk (lukewarm)
14g fast action dried yeast
6 large eggs
250g unsalted butter at room temperature, diced, plus extra for greasing
1. Put the flours, sugar and salt in the bowl of an electric stand mixer with a dough hook attachment and mix. If you’re doing this by hand, just scuffle them about a bit until the powders look homogenous.
2. Warm milk to blood temperature (so it shouldn’t feel cool or too warm when you stick your finger in it). Mix with the yeast in a mug with the milk, until it has dissolved. Add to the dry ingredients, and mix, adding five of the six eggs, one by one.
3. Bring together into a rough dough. It will be scraggy. Now, deep breath if you’re not using a stand mixer. If you are, set it going for ten minutes. Time it, it’s a long time. If you’re doing this by hand, it will be nearer to twenty minutes. Put the radio on.
4. Add the butter, with the mixer still on, or while kneading by hand throughout. Add it, piece by piece, until it is all thoroughly incorporated into the dough. Now, begin kneading in earnest 10 minutes in a stand mixer, 15 by hand. Commit!
5. Transfer to a large, lightly greased bowl, cover with clingfilm, and pop it in the fridge for 8-10 hours (realistically, over night).
6. Next day, give it a gentle press inside the bowl, knocking the air out of it. Take two loaf tins 23cm by 13 cm and grease them lightly. Divide the dough into four equal pices and roll them into balls. Place two into each tin, and cover with clingfilm. If buns, divide the dough into a dozen pieces, roll into balls, and place them on a couple of lined baking trays. Leave in a warm place (the top of the refrigerator is my favourite) for 2-3 hours or until they’ve doubled in size.
7. Preheat the oven to 160°C towards the end of the proving time. The bread is proved when, if gently pressed with a single finger, it bounces back and refills the indentation of the finger.
8. Whisk the final egg with a little water and use it to brush the top of the dough. Bake for 35 minutes (loaves), or 15 minutes (tiny buns). They are ready when they are a burnished golden brown. Leave to cool for 15 minutes in the tin before turning out and cooling completely.
Icing on the Cake
We ate this with rhubarb and custard jam. And butter, of course. The only way to treat a loaf of this buttery magnitude is to toast it and spread it with butter. I know, I know. Trust me.