I’m currently listening to Julia Child’s memoir, My Life in France, on Audible. I’m embarrassed it to say that it took me this long; I suppose I thought I already knew the story because I’ve watched both Julie & Julia (multiple times) and Julia (which I really loved; I interviewed the showrunner, Daniel Goldfarb, on my podcast). But there’s something undeniable about hearing Julia tell her story in her own words. The wonderment that she felt upon arriving in France and experiencing not just the famous sole meunière but the cheeses and the sauces and the breads totally reignited my own Francophilia. And that’s why I found myself, on a Saturday afternoon, whipping up brioche from scratch like a real boulanger.
Give Your Mixer a Workout
The recipe that I used — Joanne Chang’s from her Flour cookbook — is a masterclass in specificity. At one point she says the dough should feel like “cold, clammy Play-Doh” and at another point she says it should feel like “a water balloon.” It made the brioche-making process a total cinch. The other thing that made it a cinch? My KitchenAid Mixer.
That’s the thing. If you have a KitchenAid mixer? There’s nothing to this recipe. In the bowl of the mixer, you stir together all-purpose flour, bread flour, active dry yeast, a little sugar, kosher salt, cold water, and five eggs. You let the machine work that with a dough hook for a while and then you start slowly adding 2 3/4 sticks of room temperature butter. As each little piece goes in you let the machine take its time incorporating it and then you crank up the machine and then you crank it up even more and my poor machine was so hot at the end, I felt bad for it! It was like Short Circuit, the food version.
Give Your Dough a Rest
That’s what finished brioche dough looks like before you let it rise for six hours (to overnight) in the refrigerator. I went to dinner then a musical (I’m gay, what can I say) and when I came home, this is what I found waiting for me.
Look at that bulbous blob! I could just imagine Julia trilling: “Oh goody!”
As I Lay Me Down to Sleep, I Pray the Lord My Dough to Keep
Right before bed, I got to work. Because after you shape it, the dough takes another 4 to 5 hours at room temperature, I wanted a head start. So I followed the instructions to divide the dough in half (the other half went to the best sticky buns I’ve ever made; that’s my next post!), pat the dough into a square, then fold it like an envelope. I placed it crease-side down in a greased loaf pan, covered with plastic, and refrigerated overnight.
Getting a Rise Out of You
Then, this morning I took it out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature for a few hours while I went to the farmer’s market, worked the Sunday Times crossword puzzle (Ship of Theseus), and by the time the dough reached the top of the pan, I brushed it with egg and baked it in a 350 oven for 35 minutes. And look at this beauty.
My Big Bad Beautiful Brioche
I’m so proud of my first brioche and I have such big plans for it! Grilled cheese one day (with Gruyere and caramelized onions and mustard), French Toast the next, and maybe just a slice as a treat.
Turns out making your own brioche isn’t just easy, it’s a total joy. I can’t wait to do it again. Bon Appetit!
Brioche for Beginners
- 2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (315 grams) I used a scale to measure the ingredients… much more accurate!
- 2 1/4 cups bread flour (340 grams)
- 1 1/2 packages active dry yeast
- 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar (82 grams)
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1/2 cup cold water (120 grams)
- 6 large eggs
- 1 cup plus 6 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into 10 to 12 pieces (310 grams) That's 2 + 3/4 sticks
- Place your dough hook in your stand mixer (you're really going to need a stand mixer for this) and combine the all-purpose flour, bread flour, yeast, sugar, salt, water, and 5 of the eggs. Beat on low speed for 3 to 4 minutes, or until all of the ingredients have come together. Every so often stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Once the dough has come together, beat on low speed for another 3 to 4 minutes. The dough will be stiff and seem quite dry.
- On low speed, add the butter one piece at a time, taking your time to let the butter disappear after each addition. Continue until you've used up all the butter and then keep mixing on low speed for about 10 minutes, scraping the bowl as necessary. Your goal: get all of the butter incorporated into that dough, even if you have to use your hands.
- Once the butter's completely incorporated, turn up the speed to medium and beat for another 15 minutes, or until the dough becomes sticky, soft, and somewhat shiny. It will take some time to come together. (It may look shaggy at first, but will turn smooth and silky eventually.) After that, turn the speed up to medium-high and beat for 1 minute. The dough should make slapping sounds against the side of the bowl. If it seems wet and loose, add a few tablespoons of flour and mix until it comes together. It's ready when you can gather it all together and pick it up in one piece.
- Place in a large bowl or plastic container and cover it with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap directly on top of the dough. Let the dough proof in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours or overnight.
- Remove the dough from the fridge and divide it in half. If you want to use half to make sticky buns, pop that half back in the bowl and refrigerate until you're ready. Otherwise, line two 9-by-5-inch loaf pans with parchment or just spray them with cooking spray (that's what I did).
- Press the dough into a 9-inch square (it'll feel like "cold, clammy Play-Doh"). Facing the square, fold down the top one-third toward you, and then fold up the bottom one-third, as if folding a letter. Press to join these layers. Turn the folded dough over and place it, seam-side down, in one of the prepared pans. Repeat with the second piece of dough, if you're doing two.
- Cover lightly with plastic and place in a warm spot to proof for 4 to 5 hours, or until the loaves have nearly doubled in size. They should have risen to the rim of the pan and be rounded on top.
- Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 350 degrees F.
- In a small bowl, whisk the remaining egg until blended. Gently brush the tops of the loaves with the beaten egg.
- Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the tops and sides of the loaves are completely golden brown. Let cool in the pans on wire racks for 30 minutes, then turn the loaves out of the pans and continue to cool on the racks. The bread can be stored tightly wrapped in plastic wrap at room temperature for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to one month.