Because brioche gets its character mostly from butter and eggs, it can be made directly, without a starter, and still have plenty of flavor. Most recipes for brioche start out the same—eggs are worked into the dough—but some call for as little as 20 percent butter to flour and others as much as equal amounts butter and flour. The usual axiom is the more butter the better, but if you are using the brioche for something that is already rich, such as French toast, use less butter. Because this dough contains a lot of liquid, it may seem like it needs more flour. Avoid using any more flour than necessary for shaping, and shape the dough when it is cold, so the cold butter will keep the dough firm.
Makes enough for 1 brioche loaf, 2 large brioche têtes (balls), or 8 small brioches
- 1/3 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
- 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast, or 1 cup starter
- 4 eggs if using starter or 5 eggs if using yeast
- 1 egg yolk, or more if needed
- 3 cups flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch slices
- 1 egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon salt, for egg wash
In a bowl, combine the cream and the yeast or the starter, let stand for the yeast to soften, and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the eggs and the egg yolk, flour, and salt. Fit the mixer with the dough hook and mix on low speed for 3 minutes to moisten the flour. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 3 minutes, or until well combined. Add the cream mixture and mix for 1 minute longer. At this point, the dough should adhere to the hook and also to the sides of the bowl. If the dough is dry, add another egg yolk and beat for 1 minute more. Repeat if necessary. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and let the dough rest for 15 minutes.
Knead the dough on medium speed for about 7 minutes, or until it no longer adheres to the sides of the bowl but instead gathers around the paddle or hook. If the dough doesn’t pull away from the sides, add a handful of flour and mix for 1 minute more. Add the butter and continue to mix on medium speed for about 15 minutes, until the butter disappears and the dough no longer adheres to the sides of the bowl—it will have started to adhere to the sides again when you added the butter—but instead clumps around the paddle or dough hook.
Transfer the dough to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise at room temperature for about 3 hours, or until increased in volume by 50 percent. Transfer the dough—leave it in the bowl and don’t punch it down—to the refrigerator and let rise for 3 to 6 hours, or until double its original volume. This last cool rising helps to firm up the dough, making it easier to handle.
To make a brioche loaf, butter a 9-by-5-inch (8-cup) loaf pan. Using a bench scraper, divide the dough into 8 equal portions (each will weigh about 3 ounces) and roll each portion into a ball. Arrange the balls in the prepared pan in 2 rows of 4 balls each. Cover the loaf pan with oiled plastic wrap and let the balls rise at room temperature for about 2 hours, or until doubled in volume. They should rise up to the rim of the pan.
You can also use this dough to make 8 small brioche têtes (boules) or 2 large brioche têtes. To make small brioche têtes, brush eight 31/2-inch (the diameter at the top) fluted brioche molds with room-temperature butter. Using a bench scraper, divide the dough into 8 equal portions (each will weigh about 3 ounces) and round each piece into a ball. Use the side of your hand to form the tête, or “head”: Place the side of your hand two-thirds of the way from one end of the ball and roll while pressing gently down. Don’t go all the way through the dough. Place the ball, with the smaller end up, in a prepared mold. Press around the small end—the tête—with your fingertips to make the tête poke above the rest of the dough. Repeat with the rest of the dough portions. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for about 2 hours, or until doubled in volume. Shape 2 large brioche têtes the same way, using 6-inch molds and letting them rise the same amount of time.
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Brush the brioche(s) with the egg wash. Bake the single large loaf and large têtes for 1 hour and the small têtes for about 35 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool in the molds for 5 minutes and turn onto a cooling rack.