Today was just one those days. I woke up feeling flat and weary. The weather didn’t help either – grey and wet but humid and uncomfortably sticky at the same time. Nothing was really the matter, but telling myself that did nothing to shift the heavy glumness hanging over me.
Days like this inevitably find me in the kitchen. I wipe down the bench, arrange my kitchen scales, bowls, and wooden spoons, and systematically line up my ingredients. As I measure out the flour and cut the butter into chunks I’ve already begun to feel better, more in control, more hopeful and sure of myself. I know what will happen when I cream together butter and sugar, beat in eggs and fold through flour. If only life made as much sense to me as baking does.
Today called for something simple. Nothing too technically demanding or finicky, something I could make without really thinking, out of the staples I had on hand. More importantly than all that, it had to comfort me right to my core. What could be more comforting than a thick slice of rich, soft, buttery, slightly sweet brioche?
Some people are (understandably) intimidated by working with yeast. It can be unpredictable and fickle, but it’s just so incredibly satisfying and really, not that much more difficult then baking a cake.
What follows is my go-to brioche recipe. You can do as I’ve done and bake it as a loaf, ready to cut into thick slices and slather with jam, or use as the basis for any number of buns and tarts. I particularly like this recipe as it starts with making a ‘sponge’ – a mix of yeast, flour, milk and water – which helps give a good rise to this type of enriched dough that is normally impeded by the large amount of butter.
Brioche Breakfast Loaf (adapted from Bake! Essential Techniques for Perfect Baking by Frank Malgieri)
For the sponge:
80ml (1/3 cup) milk
7g (1 sachet) active dry yeast
60ml (1/4 cup) warm water
110g (3/4 cup) bread flour
For the dough:
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
50g (3 tbsp.) white (granulated) sugar
300g (2 cups) bread flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
115g (1 stick) unsalted butter, cubed and softened
For the egg wash:
1 large egg, beaten
For the sponge, begin by warming the milk. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the yeast and warm water. Wait for 2 minutes, then whisk again to ensure all the yeast has dissolved. Whisk in the milk, then stir in the flour. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside until it has more than doubled in size – about 30 minutes.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, lightly beat together the eggs, yolks and sugar. Scrape the risen sponge into the bowl and mix. Add the flour and salt and mix together. Now, using the mixer, mix on low-medium speed until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl – about 3 minutes.
Add one third of the butter and mix until the butter is fully incorporated. Repeat with the remaining butter, mixing after each addition. Once all the butter has been added, continue to mix until the dough is smooth, elastic and shiny – about 5 minutes.
Place dough in an oiled bowl, turning it around so all sides are oiled. Cover with plastic wrap and rest until doubled in size – about 30 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 190°C (375°F) and butter a 22 x 7 cm (9 x 3″) loaf tin. Scrape the risen dough onto a lightly floured bench. Shape the dough into a rough rectangle and transfer to prepared tin. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until the dough is about an inch from the rim of the pan – about 30 minutes.*
Once risen, brush well with egg wash and slash lengthwise.
Bake 20-30 minutes, or until the loaf is well risen and a deep golden. Remove from tin and cool on it’s side to prevent deflating.
* Don’t use milk or water that is too hot – this will kill the yeast. A tepid or lukewarm temperature is best.
* You can see from my pictures that my loaf has a line of denser, less airy crumb along its base. This means that I didn’t take my own advice and let the dough rise enough after I’d transferred it to the tin. Being a food blogger doesn’t make you infallible!