Cost: about £1.50 for a 1.5kg quantity. It isn’t the cheapest bread recipe, it’s true – because of the prodigious quantities of butter, milk and eggs. It is still over 4x cheaper than the cheapest supermarket brioche, however, and unsurprisingly, a fresh homemade loaf is immeasurably superior to its plastic-mummified long shelf-life counterpart.
This richly golden loaf is a glorious indulgence – the sort of thing that is best, I feel, homemade. The crumb is tender and deeply flavoured, but very light and airy, not at all dense. It is suspended within a deeply burnished crust that crumbles pleasingly – either straight out of the oven or toasted the next day. It is a treat but one which is definitely worth it. It takes time (overnight fermenting and long rise because of the enriched nature of the dough), but not much effort at all – especially with a stand mixer doing most of the work.
I first tried making this because my mother-in-law mentioned she particularly wanted brioche, a fond memory from her childhood. With a rapidly expanding sourdough culture on hand, I was glad to have a sourdough recipe to try. I think the extra flavour really helps, but without a sourdough starter you can get pretty much the same effect with active dry yeast because of the overnight preferment. I’ve put both methods here.
Recipe: Brioche Loaf
(sourdough recipe from Graham at sourdough.com)
500g strong white bread flour
10g table salt
3 medium free-range eggs
300g unsalted butter
200ml milk (whole, if you have it – we never do, so use milk to activate the yeast instead as below)
250g sourdough starter
(or 125ml water/milk, 125g strong white bread flour and 1Tbsp active dry yeast)
1. (Active dry yeast only)
Heat up 125ml milk/water in a in a microwaveable measuring jug that leaves plenty of room for expansion until hand-hot.
Whisk in 1Tbsp active dry yeast and leave to activate – about 20 minutes. It should form a big foamy beer-head.
Mix 125g strong white bread flour thoroughly into the liquid to make a stiff batter and use this in the recipe where sourdough starter is mentioned.
2. Cut the butter into 1cm cubes and leave to get to room temperature.
3. In the bowl of your stand mixture, first put the salt in and then on top of it, the 500g of bread flour and 30g sugar. Make a well out of the flour and break in the eggs. Heat the 200ml milk just enough to take the chill off and add this into the well. Finally add the sourdough starter or the active yeast mixture. Mix with the dough hook on speed 1 until well combined and stretchy (at least 8 minutes), scraping down the bowl as necessary.
4. Make sure the butter is properly soft before you start, giving it a hand in the microwave if necessary. Then add half of the butter cubes to the dough and carry on mixing with the dough hook until there are no streaks of unmixed butter, kneading for at least 5 minutes but don’t be afraid to go for longer. Then add the remainder of the butter and keep going – increasing the speed to 2 if necessary and scraping down the bowl as needed. The dough will be very soft and shiny.
5. Cover the bowl tightly with cling film and leave to rise at room temperature for a 2-4 hours. When there has been some sign of expansion, move the dough to the fridge and leave overnight for it to harden so that you can handle it.
6. Lightly grease your loaf tin (alternatively you can shape it into balls with smaller balls on top, to be traditional, but I think a loaf is easiest for subsequent slicing and toasting).
7. Scrape out the brioche dough onto a lightly floured (or lightly oiled) surface and flatten/stretch it into a large rectangle. Then fold it into thirds like a letter, and roll the letter up along the shorter side to give a chubby cylinder that should fit neatly into your tin, seam downwards. It will look too small but don’t worry. Recover with the cling film and leave to prove for 2 hours (if you have time, but it still rises successfully without this step)
8. Whilst dough is proving, preheat the oven to 210C. Bake for 45 minutes or so, but start checking after 35 to make sure the crust doesn’t burn.
I adore eating this toasted with a thin slick of (yet more) butter, but it’s also gorgeous with tinned foie gras. Not something we have in normally – a gift from a friend! Chicken liver parfait is a dreamy alternative and I normally use this Jamie Oliver recipe. Alternatively, ring the changes with a sweet brioche with chocolate chips and topped with crumble mixture, or go Christmassy with currants and orange peel with chai spices. I wouldn’t judge you for Nutella or some bitter marmalade either.