Once you start, you just can’t stop.
And I’m not talking about potato chips.
I’m talking about bread baking!
This towering, golden stack is a follow up to my homemade brioche rolls. It’s the same recipe, just shaped into a loaf.
The versatility of brioche is endless: you can make beautiful sandwiches, fluffy bread pudding, the ultimate French toast- the flavor is light and buttery.
But first, let’s go over a few things.
Understanding the Dough
The key to mastering brioche is understanding the dough.
The dough is sticky. It’s wet. It’s not easy to handle. Intuitively, you’ll want to add more flour to make it manageable.
These fickle characteristics are what makes brioche, brioche.
Adding too much flour to compensate will make the brioche stiff, and it will lose its signature soft and fluffy texture.
That doesn’t mean you can’t add any flour at all; the quest for the ‘perfect’ loaf is highly personal. However, it’s important to have a basic understanding of the dough, in a traditional sense, as a benchmark for comparison.
On that note, I’ve found that using a stand mixer is best when dealing with sticky doughs. It does all of the work for you. No mixing or kneading by hand required! Keep in mind, the dough won’t come together into a tight ball like other bread recipes; it will be smooth, elastic, and ‘relaxed.’
Once fully risen, after a few hours or so, you are ready to shape the dough.
Shaping a Loaf
There are a few ways to shape brioche into a loaf.
My favorite method is outlined below.
To assemble, cut the fully risen dough into thirds. Shape each piece into a ball and place them next to each other in a well buttered loaf pan (think: building a snowman). If the dough is too sticky when shaping, sprinkle some flour over the top to help you along.
When the dough rises, it will look like this…
Once you understand brioche dough and shaping, it’s important to establish a baking schedule.
Timing is key.
You can certainly bake brioche from start to finish in one day, but you might find the overnight method helpful as well.
Here are two options:
Option #1: Overnight Loaf
*This is the method I used in the above pictures.
Let’s say you want fresh bread to make sandwiches for the upcoming week.
Here’s what you do:
For example, on Saturday mix up a batch of dough. Cover, and leave in a warm spot to rise.
The rising time will vary depending on how warm or cold your kitchen is. It could take anywhere between 1-3 hours, or more. To speed up the rising process, either place your dough in the oven (proof setting), or near a heater.
Keep your eye on the dough- not the clock!
Once the dough is fully risen, cut and shape. Place into your buttered loaf pan. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
The following morning, the dough should have risen to about 1 1/2 inches above the rim of the pan. If not, rest at room temperature until it rises a bit more.
Brush with egg wash and bake.
Option #2: Overnight Bulk Dough
Let’s say you intended to bake on a particular day, but plans changed (i.e. Anthropologie was having a sale!) and you ran out of time.
Here’s what you do:
Mix up the dough as directed, preferably in the morning.
Instead of rising the dough at room temperature for 1-3 hours, chill the bulk dough overnight. It will continue to rise even in a cold environment. It just happens at a slower rate. I do this directly in my stand mixer bowl (covered). For best results, leave the dough at room temperature for 2-4 hours to give it a boost, then pop it in the fridge.
The following day, cut and shape the cold dough (if it hasn’t doubled in size yet, let it rest at room temperature until ready). Place into your buttered loaf pan. Allow the dough to rise about 1 1/2 inches above the rim of the pan, about 30 minutes- 1 hour (or more) depending on the ambient temperature.
Brush with egg wash and bake.
An egg wash (mixture of egg and water) is usually brushed over the dough to create a golden, shiny exterior.
However, for this particular post I skipped the egg wash. I wanted you to see what a ‘matte’ crust lookes like. It’s okay to skip the egg wash if you’re out of eggs, or don’t feeling like wasting your last one on a single loaf.
Either way, your brioche will taste and smell fantastic.
The secret to bread baking is flexibility.
On some days, your dough will rise faster than others. On other days, it will take forever to rise no matter what you do. Sometimes, your dough will require extra flour to prevent stickiness and sometimes it won’t.
It’s just the way it is.
Go with the flow and you will excel.
Slicing & Storage
Once your brioche has finished baking, cool completely before slicing.
I prefer to wait at least 1 hour. Maybe 2. This loaf was actually cold when I cut it.
A large serrated bread knife works best, and the desired thickness is up to you. I was able to get about 18 slices from my loaf.
For storage, wrap your cooled bread in plastic wrap and leave out at room temperature. It’s best consumed within the first 1-2 days of baking.
If it even lasts that long…
- 1¼ cup milk
- 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 2½ tablespoons sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 3⅓ cup bread flour
- 1½ teaspoons salt
- 2½ tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes, plus more for coating the pan
- 1 egg
- splash of water
- Preparing the dough:
- In a large glass measuring cup, add the milk, yeast, and sugar. Whisk well and set aside for 5 minutes. Add the eggs and whisk to combine.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the flour, salt and butter. Using the paddle attachment, mix until the butter blends into the flour. You don't want large chunks.
- On low speed, add the milk & yeast mixture. Once combined, increase the speed (I use #2 or #3 on my Kitchen Aid) until a dough forms, about 5-8 minutes. The dough will not come together into a ball; it will be smooth, elastic, but still wet or sticky resembling thick 'batter.' Once fully risen, it will be easier to handle. Scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula.
- Cover the bowl with a damp kitchen towel and allow to rise at room temperature until it has doubled in size, 1- 3 hours* (see note below). Alternatively, refer to the baking schedules outlined in the post above.
- Cutting, Shaping & Assembly:
- Preheat your oven to 400 F. Generously coat a 9x5" loaf pan with butter. Set aside.
- Tip your fully risen dough onto a lightly floured work surface. It should feel slightly wet and sticky.
- Using a floured bench scraper (large knife or pizza wheel) cut the dough into thirds.
- To shape into balls, gently flatten each piece of dough. Pull up the sides tucking them in towards the center. If your dough is too sticky to shape, sprinkle a little bit of flour over the top for easier handling. Flip the ball over (seam side down) and move to an un-floured part of your work surface (it's easier to roll this way). Cup the dough with your hands and gently roll into a smooth ball.
- To assemble, add one ball at a time to your prepared pan (it's like building a snowman). Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise about 1 1 /2 inches above the rim of the pan, about 30 minutes- 1 hour (or more). The amount of time will depend on the ambient temperature.
- If using an egg wash, beat together the remaining egg with a splash of water. Brush the dough with your mixture. If you don't have a pastry brush, use a folded napkin or paper towel instead.
- Loosely cover the pan with a kitchen towel. Rest for about 30 minutes. Your dough should looked slightly puffed, relaxed, and no longer dense. Adjust the time here, if necessary before baking.
- To Finish:
- Bake at 400 F for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375 F and continue baking for 30-35 minutes. If the top is browning too fast, loosely tent with foil. Check the internal temperature with a thermometer, it should read about 195-200 F.
- When finished, cool in the tin for about 10 minutes or so. Transfer to a wire rack.
- Cool completely, about 1-2 hours. Then, cut into slices. A large serrated bread knife is best for this.
- Store cooled bead in plastic wrap at room temperature. This brioche is best consumed within 1-2 bays of baking.