If you’ve always thought you couldn’t make brioche, you were probably right. It is a bit challenging, it takes so long that your patience will be tried to the point where you’ll wonder if it’s even worth the effort, and your lack of confidence has resulted a self fulfilling prophecy that’s doomed you to failure. That changes today. I shall sherpa you through the brioche recipe of your choice, showing you where you might err, pushing you to your limit when you’re sure you can’t go any further, and pulling you out the other side to victory. And if you still manage to screw it all up? We’ll just slice that sucker and dry it out for brioche French toast. No one will be the wiser.
By the way, we’re doing this in a stand mixer, because that’s the finest of all the ways in my opinion. You can also use a food processor with a dough blade. Godspeed to you if you’re old school enough to do this by hand. I’m a pro and I still don’t go there because it reminds me how weak I am, and then I cry.
Poolish is another name for a starter, but exponentially more fun to say. And “starter” means that concentrated dynamo of yeast and flour that’s getting itself ready for a Big Bang-worthy explosion of flavor.
Your brioche recipe should have given you a separate list of ingredients for your poolish, which with be yeast, warm milk or water, some form of sugar, and flour. If it hasn’t, mix together the specified amount of first three things with a fork, then add some of the flour you’ve measured out a spoonful at a time until you get a relatively thick slurry. Do not add the salt here, because that will kill the yeast. Keep that stuff far away for now.
Let the poolish sit for a few minutes to get bubbly, then pour the rest of the flour on top of it and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let this sit in a warm place for at least an hour—two if you can—to let that yeasty flavor start to develop. You’ll see it magically start to rise up and bubble through the flour. That means your yeast is strong and virile, and ready to take no prisoners.
Use the dough hook to mix this up just a bit by hand first; you want to make sure to pull the poolish up from the bottom so mixing goes a bit quicker. Put it on the mixer and turn it up to medium, scraping occasionally til you get a smooth starter dough. Next turn it up to medium high and add the eggs one at a time and mixing for a minute. Stop the mixer and pull the dough of the sides with the hook, folding it into the center a few times. Back on it goes, and the speed up to medium/high. Let it ride for a while, until it’s pulling up on the hook and trying to climb its way out of the bowl.
Now grab your butter which, if you followed your recipe’s directions, should be at room temperature. Cut off small pieces and throw them into the running mixer one at a time, waiting for the first to disappear before adding the next. The dough will get smooth and shiny and quite possibly very sticky, but don’t fret. Lightly oil up a large bowl, scrape the dough into it, cover with plastic wrap or a clean towel, and let rise until doubled.
Using a big rubber spatula, fold the dough on itself a few times to deflate and come together in a ball. Cover again, and put it into the fridge for a “slow ferment”. Let this rest for an hour, let it rest for a day or two. You can rest, too.
Time to go briochin’
Now shape the dough however your recipe tells you to. If you’ve got a specialty mold, great, but if not you can use other pans. You don’t need to be going out spending money on specialty bread mold that you’re only going to use every once in awhile. No one will complain about the shape, and if they do, banish them from your house because that person is an ungrateful jerk.
Let your brioche rise and bake as instructed. The best way to know it is done is with an instant read meat thermometer, which should read 190°F when inserted into the center of the bread. When it’s ready, let is sit for at least 20 minutes so it can set up completely, then go to town on that sexy beast.