Other people’s recipes: Joanne Chang’s brioche

It seems that one of the recipes nearly every home baker needs to try from Joanne Chang’s cookbook Flour is brioche. Not only is brioche a rich, buttery, wonderful treat on its own, but Chang also uses the dough as the basis for numerous other (even sweeter and richer) treats, like her famous sticky buns. Flour Bakery-Cafe even offers classes in making brioche! So of course I had to see what all the fuss was about. It’s a fairly complicated and time-consuming recipe, best made over the course of two days, so the dough can proof overnight in the refrigerator, but I had to work on Saturday so I didn’t have time to do that; the minimum required time is six hours, and by getting up fairly early (for me, for a Sunday) I was able to complete the entire process in one day. I did do some prep work before going to bed: I measured out all the dry ingredients and stirred them together in my stand mixer’s bowl, and most importantly, I portioned out the butter and eggs, and left them on the countertop overnight so that they would be at room temperature the following morning:

Five eggs and 22 tablespoons of butter

Brioche is nothing if not rich. This particular brioche is made with five eggs (plus one more for the egg wash) and twenty-two tablespoons of butter.

I covered the plate full of butter with a bowl to keep the butter from oxidizing too much. (In a bakery they go through butter so fast that there’s always some softened butter available, but we home bakers must generally take butter out of the freezer and let it come up to room temperature.) When I got up in the morning, it was a simple matter of dumping the eggs and the water into the mixer bowl, and starting it up:

Mixing brioche dough

At the beginning of the process, the brioche dough looks rather shaggy and gives the impression that it will never come together.

After six to eight minutes of mixing, the dough finally looks like bread dough — a little yellowish thanks to the five egg yolks:
Ball of dough

Then it’s time to add the butter, in two-tablespoon hunks. My butter was quite soft (my condo tends to equilibrate at about 78°F over a summer night with the air conditioner left off), but still had no problem incorporating into the dough:
Adding butter to brioche dough
At first, the butter doesn’t look like it will combine with the brioche dough at all. But once you get half a pound kneaded in, the rest goes quite easily. (But I’d hate to have to do this kneading by hand!)

Kneading brioche dough
All of the butter has now been incorporated into the brioche dough, and it’s now nearly done with 15 minutes of kneading. Now it’s time to dump the dough into a smaller bowl so it will fit into the refrigerator:

Brioche dough ready to proof

After kneading and any necessary moisture adjustments, the brioche dough is ready for its first proofing — in the refrigerator for six hours. Overnight would be even better, but I needed to finish this recipe in a single day.

This cold proof serves two functions: slow-raised yeast breads generally develop more and better flavor, but specifically in the case of brioche, an enormous amount of butter is worked into the dough, and the butter needs to be allowed to recrystallize so that it won’t leak from the dough during forming and bench proofing. Doing it this way allows you to work in fully softened butter using only the stand mixer. (Contrast the rather complicated butter-incorporation process Alton Brown describes in I’m Just Here for More Food, which is more like how you would make a laminated dough.)

Surprisingly, the brioche dough expands substantially in volume after just six hours, even in the refrigerator. This can probably be attributed to the amount of both yeast and sugar that went in at the start.
Dough ball in the refrigerator
Chang’s brioche recipe makes enough dough for two loaves, so this giant ball of dough needs to be split in half for forming. The whole dough ball weighs about 1.4 kg (3 lb).
Big dough ball

Half of dough ball on scale

Always best to measure things. This half of the dough ball will go in the freezer for storage.

There is so much butter in the brioche dough that it really does feel, as Chang describes it, “like cold, clammy Play-Doh”. The first pound and a half of dough is pressed out into a nine-inch square and then folded up, like a business letter, to form the proto-loaf. (That’s one matter on which Chang and Brown do agree — although there’s no need to fold it more than once after all the kneading it had.)
Flattened dough

After shaping, the brioche is bench-proofed for another four hours. The pan is lubricated with more butter (it was easier than cutting parchment to fit).
Dough "log" in loaf pan
I dithered for a while over which pan to use; the one I ended up with is a 9″×5″ one, but I also considered a 9¼″×5¼″ one (which the first one fits inside). Maybe I should have used the slightly larger one, given how much the dough “log” expanded during bench proofing:
Loaf of brioche after bench proofing

The top of the brioche is brushed with egg wash before baking in a 350°F oven.
Finished brioche loaf
It was done in only 35 minutes. Unfortunately, any unpreserved bread will last about three days in my kitchen before growing mold, so I have to freeze it, and that implies slicing it (so I can thaw individual servings). Even more unfortunately, I can’t slice worth beans, even with the help of my wooden slicing guide, so I have a bunch of really oddly-shaped slices — many of them too thin even for sandwiches, never mind pain perdu.
Sliced brioche

A single loaf, after baking, weighs about 530 g, and makes twelve ¾″ slices — 40–45 g each, or about an ounce and a half. I obviously got more than twelve slices, because I was (believe it or not) trying to make thinner slices, but I don’t think this was a success — for a bread this soft and rich, much better to pay the price and stick with the thicker slices.

Peanut butter and jelly sandwich, on brioche
Perhaps it’s a bit silly to make a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich on a rich, soft bread like brioche, but I figured, why not? But at lunchtime I discovered why not: this bread is so soft that it practically vanishes in one’s mouth — not a good thing when each slice has so many calories — so in the future I’ll toast the brioche before making a sandwich out of it. (This will be even more clearly necessary when I make a tuna salad or chicken salad sandwich. It’s worth noting that at Flour, the sandwiches are made on focaccia, not brioche, which is a much sturdier bread.)


Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1 slices
Servings per container: about 24
Amount per serving
Calories 221 Calories from fat 100
% Daily Value
Total Fat 11g 17%
 Saturated Fat 7g 35%
 Monounsaturated Fat 0g
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 66mg 22%
Sodium 155mg 6%
Potassium 25mg 1%
Total Carbohydrate 24g 8%
 Dietary fiber 0.5g 2%
 Sugars 3.5g
Proteins 5g 10%
Vitamin A 9%
Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 0%
Iron 9%
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2 Responses to Other people’s recipes: Joanne Chang’s brioche

  1. Yum! Amazing how the large dough that feels like play-doh ends up being light as a feather to eat…I seriously love brioche.

  2. Pingback: Other people’s recipes: Joanne Chang’s brioche au chocolat | Occasionally Coherent

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