This is an amazing recipe for authentic brioches à tête or loaf (depending on how adventurous you're feeling!). This bread boasts a dense, buttery finish with a fine crumb, and light, flaky crust. How does it do all that? Butter, butter, eggs, eggs, and butter.
Shaping the brioches à tête isn't a job for those short on time or patience, but it's really fun and something that little hands can help with too. Plus, the end result is massively impressive. No one you know is going to believe you didn't buy these from your local patiesserie (you have one of those, right?). However, if you're just not the tête-forming type (don't lose your head over it, ok? #frenchpuns), the loaf is just as magnificent and even easier for making into sandwiches (holy cow, can you imagine a Monte Cristo with this bread?) or slathering with even more butter.
Oh right, this recipe is reliant on letting the dough rise a few different times. So you're going to want to set aside a good 6 hours or more. I mean, you can be doing other things in the meantime, but yeah, this isn't a last-minute, oh I wish we had brioche to go with our dinner in an hour, kind of deal. Honestly, I prefer to prep the dough and let it rise in the fridge overnight. This helps it develop a richer flavor. If you do this, you'll want to allow for 2 hours or so the next day for shaping, rising, and baking.
recipe adapted from finecooking.com and Cooks Illustrated
Step 1: Ingredients and Materials
This recipe creates 2 loaves or 16 brioches a tete.
4 cups (500g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (65 g) granulated sugar
2 packets (4-1/2 tsp. 15 g) active dry yeast (I did not try rapid rise, but if you do, cut the rising times in half or so, and be sure to let me know how it goes in the comments below!)
2 tsp. (14 g) table salt, plus a pinch for the egg wash
4 large eggs, at room temperature, PLUS 2 large eggs and 1 large egg yolk for the egg wash
1/2 cup (125mL) whole milk, at room temperature
1 cup (2 sticks, 226.8g) unsalted butter, room temperature, and cut into small pieces
Muffin tins or bread pan (or ooh, la la, fancy brioche molds!)
Scale (this one's my favorite because it's small, cheap, and effective)
Bench or bowl scraper
Step 2: Measure and Prep
Get everything together before you begin. It's fun, it makes sure you don't get to the middle of a step and realize you only have one stick of butter and need to run out for a second one or that your milk mysteriously spoiled overnight. Plus it makes you feel like a total pro when you're putting them all together.
Measure out your dry ingredients. I like to put a bowl on the scale, tare the scale (reset to zero), and then pour in my ingredients until I hit the mark. No need to dirty up measuring cups or wonder if I've measured it right.
Cut your butter in small pieces. Measure out your milk. Crack the four eggs for the dough into a bowl.
You don't need to grease any tins or preheat anything at this point, because you're still hours away from baking.
Step 3: Mixing
Here we go!
You can either whisk together your dry ingredients (flour, sugar, yeast, salt) by hand, or put them in your mixer with the paddle attachment.
Add the eggs and turn your mixer on to low. While the mixer is running, add your milk. As soon as the mixture starts to clump together, replace the paddle attachment with the dough hook.
Mix on medium speed for 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and hook with the bowl scraper or a strong rubber spatula. Mix again on medium for 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and hook again.
Turn the mixer on to medium-low speed and start to drop in your pieces of butter, one by one, scraping down the bowl and hook as needed. If the butter isn’t added slowly, the dough can break into a greasy mess.
Once all of the butter has been incorporated, increase the speed to medium, and mix for about 8 minutes, scraping down bowl and hook midway through. When the dough is ready, it will start to slap against the sides of the bowl. (make sure your mixer is in the locked position or it will go nuts!)
Step 4: First Rise - 1 Hour
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface.
Knead it by hand a few times, then form it into a ball by folding over the edges as shown (North, East, South, West). Scoop your hands under the ball. Turn the ball over and into a large bowl with the smooth side on top. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm spot for about an hour.
Step 5: Second Rise - 1 Hour
Repeat the previous step.
Knead the dough by hand a few times, then form it into a ball by folding over the edges as shown (North, East, South, West). Scoop your hands under the ball. Turn the ball over and into a large bowl with the smooth side on top. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm spot for about an hour.
Step 6: Third Rise - 1 Hour or Overnight
Repeat the previous step. Cover the dough with plastic and let it rise for at least an hour, or in the fridge overnight. (many say letting the dough rest overnight helps it develop a richer flavor. I am one of those many.)
You might wonder why I broke this out into so many steps, instead of just saying "do this three times." It's because I think directions like that are easy to skip when you're glancing over a recipe, and I wanted to remove any chance of your dough not coming out beautifully. Plus, this way you can see how much the dough rises each time!
Step 7: Final Fold
If the dough was refrigerated, let it come back up to room temperature for an hour or two.
Knead the dough a bit, and fold it back into a ball like you did in the previous steps.
Using the bowl scraper and scale, divide the dough into two equal(ish) balls.
Divide each half into eight balls for a total of 16. Keep the dough that's not being worked in a bowl covered with plastic.
You can use a scale to get super precise about this step, or just go with it. I've included photos to show how much my halves and eighths weighed, but yours may be different.
Step 8: How to Shape Brioche a Tete or Loaf
Grease two loaf pans or 16 cupcake tins. (Or one loaf and eight cupcake tins, as I did!)
Remembering to keep the unworked dough covered by plastic so it won't dry out:
Roll each piece of dough between cupped hands. If you're making a loaf, place eight balls in each of the loaf pans, and you're on to the next step! For the brioches à tête, follow along:
Form each ball into a bowling pin shape by placing the side of your hand on the dough 1/3 of the way over and rolling back and forth to form a "head" on one side, and "body" on the other. Pick up the dough by the "head" and squish it down into the "body". Fold the sides of the "body" up around the "head" and place into cupcake tin, "body" side down. Check out the photo for further details.
Step 9: Final Rise - 1 Hour
Cover the brioches loosely with plastic and let rise in a warm, draft-free place for an hour. The dough is ready when it springs back when you poke it (gently now!)
Again, I've separated out this step so you don't gloss over how many times the dough needs to rise before you bake it. In these photos, you can see how much each of the pans has risen since the last. In the last photo, Button demonstrates a perfectly risen brioche loaf.
After they have risen, set the oven to 375F (190C), and set the rack to the middle of the oven.
Create an egg wash for that extra special finish on your brioches. Beat together the remaining 2 egg yolks and 1 whole egg with a pinch of salt. Brush liberally over the tops of the brioches. Egg washes never behave the way you want them to - they're very squiggly and hard to control. Just go with it and slather that bread in egg yolks and understand you can't control everything in life.
Step 10: Bake
Because the brioches à tête are smaller than the loaf, they won't take as long to bake. Here's your key:
Brioches à tête: Bake at 375F (190C) for 18 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes before unmolding.
Brioche loaf: Bake at 375F (190C) for 25 minutes. Let cool for 20 minutes on a rack before unmolding.
Serve while warm. These reheat well in a lower-temp oven (325F or 160C) for 5-7 minutes, so do take the time to warm them up again before serving.
If you end up with leftovers, the loaf makes an amazing layer in trifles or any kind of sweet bread - fruit - whipped cream type thing. The brioches à tête are just too cute to have leftovers, so I haven't found a use for that yet. Jam, more butter (don't tell me how to live my life!), just amazing.