Updated: Dec 30, 2021
If you are looking for a brioche recipe that is soft and fluffy, this post is for you. Having made multiple recipes before to find the ultimate brioche that is soft and do not go dry overnight, I have finally found one that is worth sharing.
Some of the things that I find particularly handy to know if this is your first time attempting to make brioche are as follow:
WHAT IS A BRIOCHE?
Brioche is an enriched bread that contains a higher amount of eggs, milk and butter in comparison to other bread or lean bread (bread that has no additional sugar or butter in its make up). This makes brioche dough much denser than any regular bread and has a more in depth buttery flavour that is perfect for making French toast, as a base dough for doughnuts and enjoyed on its own with jams and creams.
When making bread, gluten is the fundamentals of all bread and is a protein formed by two proteins found mainly in one part of most wheat, the endosperm. Wheat flour are flours derived from the cereal grain family that are pulverised to use for making bread, cakes and cookies. The type of wheat grown and cultivated has different gluten strength protein which ultimately makes them suitable for different applications in baking.
Hi-Gluten Flour has approximately 14% gluten forming protein, making them the highest strength flour in the market. This flour is great for bread that needs to go through a long fermentation time such as sourdough.
The next strong flour is the ones that you will most likely come across in the supermarket for making bread, which is also called the Baker's Flour that usually has around 11% - 13% gluten forming protein. The rest are followed by plain flour that has approximately 9 - 10% protein which are ideal for cakes and cookies, then there is Cake flour that has 6- 7% gluten forming protein making it the weakest flour, which is ideal for delicate cakes and sponges.
Gluten is crucial in bread making as it provides structure to the loaf as it expands during baking without collapsing and is also what gives the dough the ability to stretch and extend without ripping during rolling and baking of the dough.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT FLOUR FOR BRIOCHE
A lot of recipes call for baker's flour when making bread, especially denser bread like brioche. I find that although baker's flour is a great choice for enriched dough, they always tend to come out chewier compared to using the combination of baker's and plain flour. Plain flour has a lower gluten forming protein and helps yield a softer crumb (interior texture of the baked bread).
Baker's flour has a higher gluten forming protein, typically around 10- 12.5% as compared to plain flour which usually is around 9-10%, which is crucial as a structure building in your bread loaf (helps hold the structure of the bread during baking to prevent it from collapsing on itself due to its lack of strength which can happen if you are using low gluten flour like cake flour for example.)
By using a combination of both flours mentioned above will guarantee a bread dough that is a good structure builder as well as one that yields a softer crumb. I have done so many testing in making Brioche for the sole purpose of finding my perfect loaf, and I find that this recipe gives the most ideal texture in a Brioche for my preference.
FAT HINDERS THE DEVELOPMENT OF GLUTEN
As much as fat like butter gives the loaf a beautiful flavour, it can however hinder the development of gluten, as its presence makes the dough too slippery for the gluten forming protein; glutenin and gliadin; to align and form.
For this reason, when making enriched dough like brioche, gluten is first allowed to transpire with the butter added at a later stage, usually mid way through kneading.
Note that although it is crucial to form some initial gluten before the butter are added to optimise the structure of the loaf, too much gluten before the addition of butter can prompt overmixing of the dough. This is because brioche dough that have fully developed gluten structure makes it difficult for the dough to absorb any fat, causing you to over mix the dough to reach that stage. Therefore, you are only required to mix the dough enough to have some elasticity but not too much before adding in the butter.
WHEN TO ADD BUTTER
A dough that has maximised its gluten development will be stretchy, allowing you to stretch the dough thin enough to see through. This test is often called the Window Test. A dough with semi gluten developed in them will still be stretchy but breaks if stretched too far. A dough without enough gluten will be sloppy and unable to stretch at all.
It is recommended that you add in the butter when the gluten are semi developed and in several parts. Adding the butter in separate additions allow the dough to have time to absorb the fat. This can prevent over mixing, which is often the case if too much butter are added all at once and extra mixing time is required in order to incorporate the butter into the dough.
KNEADING OF BRIOCHE DOUGH
Because enriched dough like brioche contains a high amount of fat, it is normal that the kneading time required are much longer compared to normal bread dough. The key is to be patient.
When making the brioche dough, all the ingredients except for the butter are kneaded initially in the stand mixer with a dough hook attachment. It is not recommended to attempt mixing brioche dough by hand since this requires an arduous elbow grease to perform, not to mention the nature of the soft dough can become quite a challenge.
The dough is kneaded in the machine until it shows early signs of gluten development. This is observed by the consistency and look of the dough. The dough should look smooth and has a pliable consistency. You should be able to stretch the dough without it breaking or being "brittle". At this point, you should start adding in the soft butter in several additions, adding the next lot of butter only until the previous additions of butter are well absorbed into the dough.
Note that you do not want to fully develop the gluten before the butter are added. If the dough are fully developed, it can become quite difficult for it to absorb the butter later on. If you have however, kneaded the dough too far and find that the butter is finding it hard to incorporate into the dough, simply let the dough rest covered at a cool spot for 30 minutes before proceeding to kneading in the butter again. The resting allows the gluten to relax slightly.
When adding the butter, do not be tempted to add them all at once as this can oversaturate the dough with too much fat and can make it difficult for the dough to come together again, which can lead to over kneading of the dough as a common practice to wanting to bring to dough back to a smooth elastic form.
Once all the butter are added, the dough is then kneaded continuously until you have fully developed the gluten. The best way to determine gluten development is through the "Window Test" where you would pinch a small piece of the dough and begin to stretch them between your hands while rotating it. If you are able to stretch it thin enough to see through like a window, you have developed enough gluten and you can stop kneading at this stage.
Over kneading the dough pass its gluten developed stage can have a reverse effect on the dough, yielding a dense dough that is unable to rise during baking due to the over development of gluten making is hard to extend with ease. Just imagine running a rubber band over and over again around your fingers and then try to stretch the strands all at once from your finger.
FAT IN BRIOCHE
Fat like butter in bread functions to give a smooth mouthfeel to the bread. Because brioche is predominantly butter, 50% in this recipe (baker's percentage) to be exact, I would highly recommend that you use the best quality butter. I use an Australian made unsalted cultured butter that has more acidic flavour due to the way it is treated, which gives this loaf a great sensuous buttery taste.
Other than providing a flavourful loaf to your bread loaf, butter like any other types of fat can hinder the development of gluten during the mixing process. This is the reason why you will often find brioche recipe instructions asking for you to mix all the ingredients together without the butter to semi-develop the gluten before adding in the soft butter towards the end of the kneading process.
Eggs has a similar functions as butter to bread, which is to create a richer dough in terms of taste and texture. Other than the obvious, eggs acts as a binding agents that helps ingredients adhere to one another as the protein in eggs set/coagulate during cooking/baking. Eggs also plays a major role in the bread browning during baking through the maillard reaction which often occurs when there is a chemical reaction between amino acids in proteins (in the eggs) and the reduction of sugar (from carbohydrates) by the impact of heat (from the oven). Maillard reaction gives the bread crust its golden brown colour with a distinctive toasted flavour and usually starts to happen rather quickly from the temperature between 140˚C - 165˚C.
MAINTAINING DOUGH TEMPERATURE FOR BRIOCHE
Because brioche dough is a denser dough, it does requires additional mixing time in order for it to fully develop gluten in comparison to other bread dough. All the ingredients that are added into the mixer bowl except for the butter should be cold. It is then mixed over a duration of time until you can detect that the dough are starting to develop some elasticity and is no longer slack. This is the point when you will be adding your really soft butter in a few additions.
During the kneading process, temperature of the brioche dough should be monitored the whole time and kept at below 26˚C. This is to ensure that the yeast do not become overly active prematurely which is important during the retarding of the dough to develop flavours.
If, during kneading, the dough starts to increase in temperature rapidly due to the ambient environment of the kitchen, you can simply stop mixing, place the bowl covered in the fridge to cool down slightly before proceeding to kneading the dough again.
It is recommended that if you come from a climate that is particularly humid, to place the flours in the fridge the night before prior to preparation and weight out eggs that are straight from the fridge.
Because it is best to add the butter while it is of a soft consistency, it is not advised to incorporate hard butter from the fridge into the dough.
RETARDING BRIOCHE DOUGH
Most of the time enriched dough like brioche requires for you to place the kneaded dough in the fridge to ferment overnight. This process of chilling the dough to ferment is called "retarding".
Retarding the dough allows the yeast to work slowly in a cooler environment during the first fermentation, which imparts great flavour to your bread. Because enriched dough are particular soft right after being kneaded, retarding it in the fridge overnight will allow for the dough to chill, making it easier to handle and roll the next day as well.
HOW TO KNOW IF BRIOCHE IS FINISHED BAKING
Brioche dough tends to brown and darken very quickly once it hits the oven due to the high percentage of fat and sugar that in the dough. The browning is mainly due to a reaction called the Maillard reaction that occurs when amino acids in protein and sugar are forced to react together through heat, giving you a crusty brown and aromatic top on your bread. Another examples where Maillard reaction occurs in the kitchen are such as chewy caramels and steaks.
Due to the bread being particularly dark during baking, it can post difficulty to gauge when the dough is in fact actually baked through on the inside. The recipe below requires a baking time of between 40 - 50 minutes. The dough should have risen significantly and have a nice crust on top. One of the traditional way of checking the doneness of your dough is by tapping the base of the bread. If you can hear a hollow sound, that means it is ready. This can be quite hard since the bread is in the tin.
Another more conventional way of checking for doneness in your bread is by probing a thermometer into the centre of the bread. If the internal temperature reads between 185˚C - 190˚C, your bread is ready. Any temperature above that, I find tends to dry out the brioche too much.
A typical lean bread will require the internal temperature to be around 95˚C-100˚C for doneness.
Facts are from the following sources:
*Advanced Bread and Pastry - A professional Approach by Michael Suas
Yield: 2 x Loafs
Equipment: 210 mm x 100 mm x 100 mm Loaf tins
Preparation Time: Overnight Retardation
1 - 2 hours final proofing
40 -50 mins Baking Time
Recipe by Christean Ng
300 g 60% Baker's flour 12% protein
200g 40% Plain Flour 10% Protein
120 g 24% Full Cream Milk - cold
9 g 1.8% Instant Yeast
200 g 40% Eggs
20 g 4% Yolk
60 g 12% Caster Sugar/ granulated Sugar
10 g 2% Salt
250 g 50% Unsalted butter - soft
50 g Whole Eggs (1 medium egg)
50 g Full Cream Milk
Whisk the two ingredients together until well combined. Set aside covered in the fridge until ready to use.
50 g Boiling Water
70 g Caster Sugar/granulated sugar
Mix the two together until the sugar are fully dissolve. Prepare close to the brioche loafs being ready from the oven.
1. When preparing for the dough, ensure that all ingredients are cold. Place the flour in the fridge the night before if you can and especially if you are in areas that are particularly humid. The butter needs to be removed from the fridge several hours before preparation and needs to come to a really soft consistency. The soft consistency of the butter is to ensure that they can easily be absorbed into the brioche dough later.
2. Place all the dry ingredients except for the butter into a stand mixer bowl fitted with a dough hook. Whisk the milk, eggs and yolk together in a separate bowl. Begin to mix the dry ingredients on the stand mixer and gradually stream in the liquid. Once all the liquid are added into the dry mixture, continue to mix on low speed for 3 minutes until all the ingredients have come together. The dough will appear sticky and this is completely normal for a brioche dough.
Increase the speed to medium and continue to mix for another 6 - 8 minutes, scraping down the side of the bowl half way through mixing, until the dough has some elasticity. To test, dip your hands in some flour, then pinch a small piece of the dough and stretch them between your hands. When the dough comes to this stage, do not mix anymore before you add in the butter. If you develop too much gluten at this point, it can be difficult to absorb the butter.