Who doesn’t dream of brioche, that buttery, tender loaf that is so soft you want to make it your pillow at night. Every boulangerie and patisserie in France offers brioche; it is usually baked in a fluted mold and it has a topknot. To eat it, you pull off the topknot and eat that first, then cut the rest of the brioche into fat, satisfying slices.
I participate in a brioche tradition that has got me thinking increasingly about this beautiful, golden bread. It’s a fairly new tradition, but sacred nonetheless. Every Saturday morning my friend, Edith, and I meet at 7:30 a.m. to go to the farmers’ market that is two minutes from my house. Before we do that, though, we fortify ourselves with big cups of coffee and fresh brioche.
Our sacred tradition has its seed in the early morning swims we took regularly years ago, in the nearby lake, before anyone else was even awake. Now, we have our coffee and brioche before almost anyone is awake. It’s not the same effort; it does include the same joy. Now, we “remake the world” in the warmth of the Cafe du Parvis instead of in the cold water of the lake, as we sip our coffee and tear bites from the brioche.
We get the brioche from the bakery next to the café, one of the town’s best. But we notice it’s different every week. Sometimes it’s moist and sweet; sometimes its perfectly buttery and tender; sometimes it’s a little dry, as though the baker fell asleep in front of the oven.
I got to thinking it would be nice to make my own brioche. Not for Saturday mornings, no. It’s way too much fun to walk into the golden light of the bakery and choose the best looking brioche off the shelf. I decided to make my own because, well, because I can. And, I know that anyone who enters my kitchen will be delighted to give it a sample.
My recipe follows. It’s a good one. It’s a little quicker than a traditional recipe; it’s also a little more dense than the bakery version. Personally, I love it. It’s buttery, yeasty, moist, and as delicious fresh from the oven (cooled, of course!), as it is toasted the next day. And it keeps for several days so that the joy of Saturday morning can be prolonged throughout the week!
3 cups (405g) unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ cup (50g) sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
3 tablespoons warm water
1 teaspoon active, dry yeast
4 large eggs, beaten
8 tablespoons (1 stick;125g) unsalted butter, melted
For the egg wash:
1 large egg
2 teaspoons water
1. Stir the flour, sugar, and salt together in a large bowl, or in the bowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer. Make a well in the center, and pour the warm water into the well. Sprinkle the yeast over the water and stir it in. Add the eggs to the well, and combine with the water. Gradually stir in the dry ingredients into the wet to form a firm dough. Continue beating by hand for 5 minutes, or in the mixer for 3 minut4s, until the dough is elastic. It will be somewhat sticky, but it shouldn’t stick to your hands.
2. Add the melted butter and mix just until it is incorporated. Now the dough will be more like a batter – sticky (it may stick to your fingers), but not wet.
3. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave it in a warm spot (68-70F; 20-21C) until the dough has risen slightly (almost imperceptibly), about 1 hour.
4. Generously butter an 8-1/2 x 4-1/2 x 2-1/2 (21 x 11-1/2 x 6-1/2 cm) loaf pan.
5. Punch down the dough and place it in the prepared loaf pan, spreading I as evenly as possible so it fills the pan. Cover with a damp towel and let it rise in a warm spot (68-70F; 20-21C) until it has increased by about one third (the change in size is not dramatic). About 1-1/2 hours/
6. Preheat the oven to 375F (190C).
7. Prepare the egg wash: Whisk the egg and the water together in a small bowl, and paint the loaf with the mixture. To help it rise evenly, slash the top of the loaf in several places (or snip it with a pair of kitchen shears). Bake in the center of the oven until the brioche is puffed and golden, 35 to 40 minutes.
8. Remove the pan from the oven and turn the brioche out onto a wire rack to cool.
1 loaf (about 1 pound; 500g)