Brioche sounds intimidating – a French classic. That must mean it’s hard, if not impossible to make at home, right? Oh contraire! You don’t even need a stand mixer to make these beautiful brioche buns and this recipe is as authentic as a classic pâtissier’s. A bowl and a bench scraper are as fancy as the gadget requirement gets. You don’t even need to be worried about the dough being hard to handle because of all that lovely butter – I’m going to show you a technique that will have you whipping up a batch for weekend breakfasts all too frequently. They are fabulous for breakfast with a pot of jam to spread on as you eat, they make the most sinful French toast ever and even stand up to the far less chic burger. I hold no responsibility for any weight gained in the making of these buttery little buns.
There is more than one way to skin a cat, as the old fashioned and rather macabre saying has it and this is no less true in baking. Whilst Paul Hollywood may have you believe that bread must be kneaded by hand until you have muscles like Popeye or you’re failing as a bread baker, it’s simply not true. There is a technique that some refer to as “autolysing” or “the ten second knead” process which involves almost no muscle power and relies instead on the interesting observation that in yeasted bread doughs, the gluten develops itself with little interference from us. Good news lazy bakers! No need to break out into a sweat as you knead anymore. The trade off for giving your upper arms a rest is that you do need to stretch out the dough and fold it over itself about 10 times every ten minutes for around 40 minutes in total. I’m working on adding video of this sort of thing to the blog in due course. You will need to be close to the kitchen but I use that time to do a spot of cleaning, tidying an organising. Well, it keeps me happy at least. You could go put a pot of tea of coffee on and put your feet up if you wish, no judgement from me.
This recipe has tons of yeast for the volume of flour, lots of butter (about 40% by weight if you are working in baker’s percentages) and a relatively high percentage of sugar too. It’s sweet and soft with a fluffy texture that is easily torn apart despite being a rich, lavish dough and that comes from the extra yeast and the addition of egg so it rises dramatically during the proving stage and it has excellent oven spring. Now, just to prepare you – you will be shocked as you make this dough firstly as to the seemingly meagre volume of ingredients and the uneven texture in the first “knead” or two. Please bear with me, this is a tried and trusted method used by professional and home bakers alike. The dough will become smooth and silky quickly and the tiny volume will multiply rapidly through the stages. I’ve chosen to make buns this time but you can use this in a 1lb/500g loaf tin (a tall, deep one is best) to make a generous little loaf – I’d sprinkle with nibbed sugar if I were making one of those.
You can break up the process by refrigerating over night after you have chopped in the butter and give it a final 10 second knead, which will add depth of flavour and make them very easy to shape in the morning as the butter will have solidified but it isn’t necessary. Otherwise you need to set aside a fair few hours to make from start to finish.
Making sure they are properly chilled (as well as having the oven to temperature when they are ready for baking) ensures they rise up nice and tall rather than spreading out when shaped into buns. I used crumpet rings and miniature sponge tins to give extra insurance but really, they are very well behaved and this isn’t mandatory. If you want flatter buns, just shape them into nice taut little balls then flatten with your hand a little as they prove.
A word the proving process – the rise is much improved by proving in a humid atmosphere. As I rarely have the need to transport 36 cupcakes at once, my cupcake caddy lid serves as a brilliant prover and I add steam by including a couple of espresso cups full of just boiled water. An upturned stacka box or toy box without ventilation holes would work just as well. This was a brilliant tip I picked up at that French baking course I did recently at the Forge Bakehouse and this recipe is only barely modified by rounding up or down the quantities to make it more realistic for the home baker who isn’t likely to have super sensitive digital scales that can weigh out 89 grams of this, 31 millilitres of that. The method stays true to what Martha taught me though. One last point to mention is that the ambient temperature of the room you are working in will really affect the speed of proving of all yeasted doughs. If you live in a super hot country, the proving times will be much reduced whereas on the freezing cold day in England I decided to shoot these buns, it took significantly longer than usual.
- 225g strong bread flour
- 25g caster sugar
- 9g dried yeast (instant yeast)
- ¼ tsp sea salt
- 50g whole milk (yes, I weigh this too)
- 100g egg*
- 90g soft butter
- Mix the dried ingredients together in a bowl then pour in the milk and egg. Mix with your hand until there are no dry pieces left in a bowl. The official term is “shaggy mess” and don’t be scared of it!
- Cover with cling film and leave for 10 minutes.
- Now it’s time for your first “ten second knead”. All you do is oil your hands very lightly each time and steadying one side of the rough ball of dough in front of you with one hand, use the other to pull the side out and then bring back to the middle of the dough. Repeat about 10 times until you have worked your way around the dough so all unworked bits have been worked. Cover with cling film again. It will be very rough and knobbly at first - this is correct.
- Leave covered for ten minutes.
- Repeat the ten second knead.
- Leave covered for another 10 minutes.
- Repeat the 10 second knead process – the dough will be becoming very much more elastic and smoother by this point.
- Leave covered for 10 minutes.
- Now comes the fun bit – pop your dough on the worktop or a cutting board if your bench scraper has a sharp edge. Put the butter on top and then go to town chopping it into the dough. Turn it over as necessary and keep on going until the butter seems to be evenly distributed but not fully blended into the dough.
- Leave to rest covered for 10 minutes then do a ten second knead one final time, this time do a few extra pulls if need be to get a nice smooth well blended dough.
- Refrigerate for a minimum of 60 minutes (or overnight if you prefer) then remove from the fridge and shape into balls. You can simply shape into a soft rectangle and pop into a deep 500g/1lb loaf tin lined with baking parchment or shape into 4-8 small balls. No matter what, they rise very well so don’t be alarmed at the small amount of dough you have before you. I like to shape balls by forming a rough sphere then cup my hands around the ball, time and time again until the surface is taut but not torn and the seam is under the ball. Place the shaped balls on a baking tray.
- Leave to prove for 60-120 minutes until at least doubled in size, depending on the warmth of your room. You may see one or two bubbles forming here or there and you want to bake them before too many form and they over-prove (which means the structure is lacking when baked). I cover mine with a large plastic box and put a couple of cups/mugs filled with boiling water in amongst the buns to provide steam as the buns prove.
- Preheat your oven to 200°C (I always use an oven thermometer on the same shelf I am baking on) and when ready, glaze your buns with the reserved egg wash and bake the buns for 20 minutes or a whole loaf for 30 minutes. You can almost watch them grow in the oven as they bake if you have a glass door! They will rise by double again and go a deep, dark golden brown. Once baked, they are very light and delicate so need to cool to room temperature on the tray or in the tin until room temperature before you move them.
- *= I whisk two large eggs together in a jug and pour out the 100g I need for the dough, leaving the rest covered in the fridge to mix with a little extra milk or double cream if you are feeling extra lavish, and a pinch of salt for egg washing the buns before baking.