I love brioche. When we were in France this summer I ate brioche French toast nearly every morning. Smothered in sautéed peaches it was heavenly. But brioche is just as good on its own. The yeasty, sweet, buttery bread doesn’t need anything to make it a satisfying breakfast or snack (although toasted with a dab of ricotta is also lovely). I thought making brioche would be a great way to start the new year, and they have definitely made the first week of January very tasty at our house.
I was surprised that there would be a brioche recipe in the 1931 Joy, but there it was. And it claimed to require no kneading, so of course I was keen to try it. My first attempt was not a success. The recipe claimed to make 36 brioche so I tried to reduce it. The result tasted a bit like brioche but the characteristic brioche-pull-apart-grain was missing. Not to mention they barely rose out of the muffin tin. There was much revising to do, and I assumed I would have several more test bakes.
But then I received a copy of the original Fanny Farmer cookbook (a facsimile edition of the 1896 book) for Christmas and was thrilled to see another brioche recipe. It was only slightly different in ingredients, but the method had crucial changes.
To be properly scientific, I wanted to test the method from the Joy one more time. So I created a recipe that is a combination of the two books’ recipes and then tested half with the Joy’s method for turning the dough into the finished product and half with Fanny’s method. Both versions taste buttery, light, & slightly sweet with a just flakey crumb, but Fanny’s version is beautiful whilst the Joy’s is merely functional. A couple of easy extra steps change your homemade brioches from looking like muffins to looking so-lovely-people-will-think-they-could-only-have-been-made-in-a-shop.
Before you start thinking that homemade brioche are too complicated for you, let me say that I made this whole recipe with my toddler perched on one hip. So if I can carry a toddler and make brioche at the same time, they can’t be that hard.
As with any yeast bread they need time to rise (which is, I think, what usually puts people off), but this recipe is pretty flexible – make the dough before you go to work and bake in the evening, do it all on a weekend, or even put the risen dough in the fridge to wait until morning. So many options that there’s nothing standing between you and warm brioche.
Brioche adapted from the 1931 Joy of Cooking and the Original Fanny Farmer 1896.
1 C milk
14g dried active yeast (not the extra active stuff for bread machines) = 4 & 1/2 tsp
1 tsp salt
5 & 1/8 oz. unsalted butter (+ extra for dotting on the dough)
1/2 C sugar
3 C bread flour
1 & 2/3 C all purpose flour
Note: You could do this will all bread flour instead of a combination of the two. I think it would also be ok using only all purpose flour but am not 100% sure.
Bring the milk nearly to a boil in a small pan on the stove. Let cool slightly and pour into a large bowl. Add the yeast when the milk feels warm to the touch, but not hot. Stir.
In the same pan, melt the butter.
While the butter melts, add the sugar, salt, and eggs to the milk mixture. Stir to combine.
Add the slightly cooled butter. Stir.
Add the flour, and mix to combine. Use your hands and pull the dough over itself in a kneading motion to get all of the flour well incorporated.
Leave the dough to rest in a very large container covered with a clean towel. Somewhere not too cold is best (like on the top of the cooker). The dough needs to rest for at least 6 hours but you can leave it longer.
At the end of the rest period, knead the dough with your hands. To do this, first punch down the dough, and then take one edge in your hand and pull it into the centre and push it into the rest of the dough. Repeat this with the different edges of the dough about 10 times. (Fanny says that you can refrigerate the dough overnight at this point, and I see no reason not to trust her.)
Note: In writing out Fanny’s method I can see that it looks complicated, so here’s the easier method from the Joy as another option. Spoon the dough into a greased muffin tin, let rest 30 minutes, and bake as below. The brioche will be tasty but not pretty.
Back to Fanny’s method: Grab the dough with both hands, and tear it into equal halves. The best way to tear it is to twist the dough. Then tear these two bits into halves as well. You now have 4 equal portions.
Take one portion, place on a chopping board and push or roll it into a long oval – about half an inch thick and 3 inches wide (I found the dough was buttery enough not to stick to the board). Dot with half a dozen pats of butter. Then fold into thirds, like folding a letter. With a pastry cutter or knife, cut in half and then cut each half into 3 strips. Leave these 6 strips aside and repeat with the remaining dough.
Let the dough rest for 30 minutes.
Grease a muffin tin. Preheat the oven to 425F/220C.
Then take one strip in your hands and twist in opposite directions. Then bring the ends together, and place into the muffin tin. Repeat to fill the tin. If you are patient, let the dough rest again for 30 minutes in the pan. Otherwise, bake at 425F/220C for 9 – 12 minutes. Check early because they brown fast!