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Brioche Pur Beurre

The best bread you’ve never had.
difficulty:
yield:

One 1½-pound loaf

time:

Day one: about 30 minutes to make the dough and two rising periods totaling 2½ hours; Day two: about 10 minutes to shape the dough, a 2-hour resting period, and about 35 minutes to bake

introduction

Honestly, we don’t much care whether Marie Antoinette herself uttered the legendary chewed-over phrase that in English ends with “cake.” What we love is the scathing subtlety of the original French. No bread? Then perhaps some brioche?

Brioche: better bread. Aristocratic bread. Have some brioche, starving peasants!

Of course the English translation of this bon mot went straight to “cake.” Not because English-speaking people of the time wouldn’t have seen or heard the word brioche. They might have enjoyed a slice or three on holiday. What they wouldn’t have immediately grasped perhaps, is the sheer significance of bread in French culture, a significance so striking that the French need almost as many names for bread as the Inuits have for snow. No native English word calls forth a fine, lofted, buttery loaf with aromatic dimensions as complex as fine scent. They had to call it “cake.”

We took brioche into development sufficiently apprised of its famous idiosyncrasies, its requirements for windowpane extensibility in a buttery formula, its wheat sensitivities (high protein or not?), its handling difficulty, its fermentation demands, its shaping challenges. We were also aware that experts found themselves in disagreement over additional issues, from butter ratios to baking temperatures. What we weren’t prepared for, ultimately—after we slogged with due diligence through trial after trial, testing variable after variable—was how absolutely worth it, it is, to make brioche at home. Brioche, in the flesh, can easily fall short of the grandeur of its reputation. But this! Our final loaf resting before us on a cutting board, we were thrilled to discover we’d never tasted brioche of this quality before. Transcendent, particularly, in the first five or six hours after baking, the teeth-first plunge into our brioche crust was riveting: lightly springy and micro-crisp at the same time, and the Maillard browning principle in its full, elegant expression, this crust had none of the eggy flaccidity to which some brioche crusts fall prone. The interior was gauzy and light with complex fermentation flavors and an open, buttery crumb.

It always comes back to ingredients. In this recipe, we use freshly laid farm eggs, fine organic cultured butter, and two kinds of Anson Mills flour: a percentage of French Mediterranean bread flour, finely milled and sweet offering both strength and delicate crisping factors, and a percentage of White Lammas cake flour whose cream and honey flavor notes are matched only by its performance in creating an elegantly smooth and ultra-rich crumb.

Baking Notes

Cultured butter is produced from cream that has been inoculated with lactic acid bacteria. Its complex flavor performs real miracles, we think, in the flavor of this brioche.

This recipe is not difficult to execute. So burdened by eggs and butter is the formula that a mixer produces more consistently favorable results than the hands (we tried both)! Treat the dough like it’s having a day at the spa: nice and easy, a gentle pace, a light touch. Give it a nice slow, slumbering rise, a long chilly overnight nap, etc. Precision in weighing and mixing is paramount. Allow the dough enough time to complete its first proof, and enough to finish its second in-pan rise. Don’t be tempted to throw flour down on the counter or onto the dough. Oh, and work quickly during the hands-on phase. Brioche dough will quite literally have a meltdown if it gets too warm. Rising times are based on an ambient temperature of 74 degrees Fahrenheit.

The 10 by 5 by 3-inch loaf pan we use is this recipe is larger than a standard loaf pan. It is available for purchase online.

equipment mise en place

For this recipe, you will need a digital kitchen scale, a small heavy-bottomed saucepan, a stand mixer with a paddle attachment and a dough hook, an instant-read thermometer, a whisk, a large medium-fine-mesh sieve, a wooden spoon, parchment paper, a medium mixing bowl, a small mixing bowl, a small fine-mesh sieve, a liquid measuring cup, a rubber spatula, a plastic dough scraper, a gallon-sized zipper-lock bag, a rolling pin (optional), a toothpick (if needed), a pair of scissors, a chef’s knife, a small cutting board or baking sheet, a heavy-gauge 10 by 5 by 3-inch loaf pan, a pastry brush, kitchen twine, a pizza stone, a razor blade or lame, an instant-read thermometer, and a wire cooling rack.

  1.  

    Make the starter: In a small heavy-bottomed saucepan, warm the milk over low heat just until it begins to bubble gently; do not allow it to reach a full simmer. Set the mixer bowl on your digital scale and turn on the scale. Immediately pour the milk into the bowl; it should weigh 3.2 ounces. If it exceeds 3.2 ounces, spoon out the excess. Let the milk cool until it registers 115 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. 

  2.  

    Sprinkle the yeast over the milk and allow it to soften without stirring for a couple of minutes, and then whisk until the yeast fully dissolves. Using a large medium-fine-mesh sieve, sift the flour into the bowl. Stir the mixture with a wooden spoon until a smooth, soft dough forms (fig 2.1). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let proof at room temperature for 30 minutes, by which time the starter will be puffy and show small bubbles (fig.2.2).

  3.  

    Make the dough: While the starter is proofing, cut a large sheet of parchment paper and lay it out on the work surface. Using the sieve, sift together the flours, salt, and cardamom onto the parchment; discard any flecks of bran remaining in the sieve. Use the paper to tip the ingredients into a medium mixing bowl. Add the sugar and whisk to combine.

  4.  

    Whisk the eggs in small mixing bowl until well combined. Place a liquid measuring cup on the digital scale, set a small fine-mesh sieve on the cup, and tare the scale. Pour the beaten eggs into the sieve and let them flow into the cup. Lift off the sieve and discard its contents; the egg weight should be between 5 and 5.2 ounces. If it exceeds 5.2 ounces, pour off the excess. 

  5.  

    Attach the bowl and paddle attachment to the mixer. With the mixer running on low speed, add the beaten eggs to the starter in four batches, mixing well between additions and scraping down the bowl two or three times with a rubber spatula. Next, add the dry ingredients in three batches, continuing to beat on low speed and occasionally scraping down the bowl. After the dry ingredients have been incorporated, the dough will look scrappy and rough (fig. 5.1). Mix on medium speed for 10 seconds, and then reduce the speed to low. Add the butter 2 to 3 tablespoons at a time, mixing until the butter is fully incorporated after each addition. When all the butter has been added, the dough will be glossy and sinewy. Pull the dough off the paddle and replace the paddle with the dough hook. Knead the dough on low speed until it is smooth, shiny, and extensible, and pulls away from the sides of the bowl, about 8 minutes (fig. 5.2). Remove the bowl from the mixer and pull the dough off the hook. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise at room temperature until it has nearly doubled in size and a floured thumb leaves a depression in the surface, 1½ to 2 hours (fig. 5.3).

  6.  

    Dust your knuckles with flour and gently deflate the dough with the backside of your hand. Use a plastic dough scraper to scrape down the sides of the bowl, folding the edges of the dough toward the center and rotating the bowl after each fold. Using the scraper, transfer the dough to a gallon-sized zipper-lock freezer bag. Press or roll the dough, manipulating it through the plastic, until it occupies the inner dimensions of the bag, creating a flat envelope of dough (if the dough doesn’t move into the lower corners of the bag, prick a tiny hole in each corner with a toothpick and ease it in). Tightly seal the bag. Refrigerate for 1 hour, and then flatten the dough again. Refrigerate overnight.

  7.  

    In the morning, grease a heavy-gauge 10 by 5 by 3-inch loaf pan with butter. Remove the dough from the fridge; it will be firm but will have risen somewhat (fig. 7.1). Open the bag and, using a pair of scissors, slit open the two side seams. Pull the plastic away from the surface of the dough, flour the dough lightly, and drape the plastic back in place. Flip over the bag and lift off the plastic on the second side. Flour that side of the dough. Lightly flour a sheet of parchment paper, set the dough on top, and quickly roll up the dough into a tight, even log just slightly longer than the pan (fig. 7.2); pinch the seams to seal. Lay the log in the prepared pan. In a small bowl, beat together the egg yolk and milk and brush the dough sparingly with the egg wash, taking care not to let it run down the sides of the pan; reserve the remaining egg wash for later. Cover the pan with the cut zipper-lock bag and tie a piece of kitchen twine around the pan to hold the cover in place (fig. 7.3). Let the dough proof at room temperature until it is well risen and slightly pocked, about 2 hours (fig. 7.4). One hour into proofing, adjust an oven rack to the middle position, set a pizza stone on the rack, and heat the oven to 350 degrees.

  8.  

    When the bread is ready to bake, gently brush it with additional egg wash. Let the egg wash dry, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Using a razor blade or lame, cut a ¼-inch-deep slit down the center of the loaf. Bake the brioche on the pizza stone until the surface is deep golden brown and the center registers 190 to 200 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately invert the brioche out of the pan onto a wire rack (fig. 8.1). Turn the loaf upright and let cool completely before slicing. For best enjoyment, slice thickly (fig. 8.3) and eat the bread as soon as possible after it cools. Brioche will hold in a zipper-lock bag for up to 5 days, but by that point, it should have become toast or French toast.

    1. 2.1
    2. 2.2
    1. 5.1
    2. 5.2
    3. 5.3
    1. 7.1
    2. 7.2
    3. 7.3
    4. 7.4
    1. 8.1
    2. 8.2