Updated: Dec 30, 2021
Recently I have been obsessed with different ways and method of making a simple loaf of bread and I have decidedly concluded that brioches made with preferment has the best texture as they are lighter compared to the common dry and dense ones that you often get and not to mention the extra flavour that this extra step provides to the loaf. The below recipe also has a smaller percentages of butter used to allow easy handling of the dough and a less dense loaf.
What is preferment
Preferment refers to a mixture of dough with yeast that are made separately prior to mixing into the final dough. Preferment are a common practice in many bread making and can be applied to all bread as it not only gives strength to the dough for a better rise during baking but also accentuate the flavour in your loaf.
Adding preferment to the bread dough allows enough time for a portion of the dough to develop some gluten and flavour for a better loaf in comparison to the "all in" method where you mix in all the ingredients for the dough all at once. The all-in method can cause the ingredients with different properties working against one another to find an equilibrium to function. It is just like the saying of "Too many cooks spoils the broth".
By initially preparing the preferment, it allows some of the wheat flour to develop with a small amount of yeast without any interference. In other words, preferment is quite like an apprentice chef, who would commonly come in earlier than the chefs to the kitchen to make the preparation before the final cook.
The make up of preferments
Preferments used in any general dough are 20% - 30% flour as a base from the entire flour recipe as a whole. From that 20%-30% of flour used in the preferment, the amount of yeast added to the preferment are usually between 0.5% - 1% to the flour amount.
For example, for the recipe below:
The total flour needed to make the brioche as a whole requires 530 g.
To make the preferment, if you are using 20% flour, you will then be required to extract 105g of the flour from the Flour total of 530g, which will leave the flour needed for the Final Dough recipe to be 425 g.
Note that whenever you are making calculation in Baker's terms, the flour amount will always stand as 100% and everything else is a percentage to the flour percentage as a guideline.
Salt are often added in two parts in the recipe that involves preferment. A small quantity in the preferment itself and some in the final dough.
Salt in the preferment functions to slow down the fermentation time so that the yeast do not go wild on the "all you can eat buffet" since there are no other ingredients fighting with them for the food source. This will allow a more manageable time frame for you to use the preferment without it getting overly active or exhausted too soon.
Salt also functions as a strength builder for the bread dough. However, in the case of preferments, it is merely to allow a more organized and steady fermentation process. The function to build strength with added salt comes in later in the final dough recipe.
Types of preferments
You have probably come across different names for preferments such as Biga, Poolish, Pâte Fermentée and Levain. They are all the same source with the only difference reliance on the hydration % in the preferments, meaning how much water is in it.
The below recipe uses a Pâte Fermentée which means "pre-fermented dough" with a relatively low hydration percentage. This method has been used for decades in bread making as a small amount of dough that has been pre fermented from previous batch are pinched off and added into the batch that will be prepared for tomorrow and so forth. Therefore, the texture of this preferment resemble quite like a mixed dough. Because we do not have a previous dough to pinch some off, we are simply creating our own small portion of "pre-fermented" dough.
In order for flavour to fully develop, the Pâte Fermentée is made and left at room temperature for 1 to two hours until you detect some yeast activity before placing it into the fridge overnight for up to 16 hours before adding it to the dough.
The reason why the preferment are left to have an initial rise at room temperature is to ensure that the yeast is actually active in the preferment as it will be particularly hard to navigate if it is cold.
The below recipe makes 2 x 530 g loaf
The below brioche recipe contain a preferment which requires an overnight of at least 12 hours of fermentation: one hours at room temperature and the rest of the fermentation in retarding mode in the fridge. Because the preferment allows flavour and gluten strength to develop prior to making the final dough ,this means that the initial bulk proofing process can be omitted. Once the final dough is made, it is placed in the fridge for an hour to allow easy handling for final shaping. This dough is then left to final proof at room temperature before baking.
Begin by preparing the preferment the night before
105 g 100% White Baker's Flour
70 g 67% Water (room temperature)
0.8 g 0.76% Instant Yeast (around1/4 teaspoon)
2 g 1.9% Fine Salt
Mix all the ingredients together until well combined. The preferment dough should be quite stiff but not overly dry.
Place the preferment into a container and leave at room temperature for one hour. Once you observe a small rise in the preferment, place the container into the fridge overnight for 12 hours until ready to use.
Remove the preferment from the fridge 2 hours prior to adding into the dough. The preferment would have risen slightly.
The next morning...
425 g White Baker's Flour (12.5% Protein)
210 g Whole Eggs *around 4 large eggs
75 g Cold Milk - Full cream
110 g Castor Sugar
8 g Fine Salt
4 g Instant Yeast
Above Preferment - around 175 g
120 g Cold Butter
1. Spray two bread 500 g pullman loaf tin or regular bread with with some oil then line with parchment paper with some excess overhanging on opposite ends lengthways to allow you to remove the loaf easily once baked.
Place all the ingredients except the butter into a stand mixer bowl fitted with a dough hook attachment ensuring that the yeast is not in direct contact with the salt.
Mix the ingredients together on low speed for 3 minutes until they have come together. Increase the speed to medium and continue to mix for another 15 to 18 minutes or until the dough starts to pull away from the side of the bowl and passes the "Window Test".
2. Once the dough have passed the window test, gradually add in the cold butter in three separate additions, only adding the next addition once the previous lot of butter have been fully incorporated into the dough.
Once all the butter has been added, lightly dust a bowl with some flour then transfer the dough into the bowl. At this point, the dough should be quite really soft. Cover the bowl and keep in the fridge for an hour. Placing the dough in the fridge to allow easier handling of the soft dough.
3. After an hour resting in the fridge, transfer the dough onto a lightly floured bench and divide the dough into 2 x 530 g portion. Press each dough down into an even square. Fold the top end to the centre then fold the bottom end over to fully cover the top. turn the dough to 90° now with the open ends facing the top and towards you. Gently tighten the dough slightly from the top while rolling it towards you. Place the roll into a pre line bread pan with the seam side underneath. Cover the two loafs with the lid or a damp tea tower and leave to final proof at room temperature for around 90 minutes to 2 hours or until they double in size.
Spray the lid generously with some oil then close the lid to fully cover the baking pan. If you are not using a pullman baking tin, you can simply omit the lid. Instead, you can choose to brush some egg wash on top or spray some water on the surface before placing it into the oven to bake.
4. Bake at 180°C for 30 minutes, carefully remove the brioche from the baking tins, place the top side facing down on to the baking tray and place the tray into the oven and continue to bake for a further 15 to 20 minutes or until the internal temperature reads 87°C - 90°C and the crust around the sides are deep dark golden in color.
5. Once the dough is ready, remove the tray from the oven and allow to cool fully before cutting. (A rule I often did not follow :))
When doing a window test with the dough, simply pinch a palm size ball of dough from the bowl. Dust your hands with some flour if needed, ensuring that you do not add in too much additional flour to the dough. starting from the centre of the dough, with your two hands, gently stretch the dough while turning the dough in a circular motion. If you are able to stretch the ball of dough thin enough to see through the other wide (like a "window", this is a good indication that you have developed enough gluten in your dough and you are ready to proceed to the next step.
If, however, your dough starts to break apart before you can even stretch it out, it means you will need to mix it for a little longer.
Note: Omitting the window test and proceeding to bake a loaf that has not develop enough gluten will result is a dense loaf of bread and possible one that is not able to hold its shape during baking.
Baked Brioche bread needs to be wrapped tightly to prevent drying out and be stored at room temperature in a cool dry place and can last up to 5 days if stored properly.
Baked Brioche can also be wrapped and stored in the freezer for up to 3 months. Simply thaw before serving. Thawed brioche generally last for up to 3 to 5 days depending on storage quality and condition.