True, it takes 12 to 14 hours to prepare brioche; however, most of that time the bread making requires little attention from the cook. Three long-rising periods account for 10 to 13 hours and are responsible for the final product's silky texture.
This very rich yeast bread starts with a dough of flour, sugar, salt, yeast and eggs. Sprinkle the yeast over warm water and set it aside for about 10 minutes. Combine the flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl and make a well in the center.
Stir the yeast mixture and pour it into the well (Step 1) along with six eggs. Mix with your fingers (Step 2), breaking the egg yolks and gradually pulling in the dry ingredients from around the sides of the bowl until they are totally moistened. Due to the large number of eggs, the dough will be very soft and sticky.
Turn the dough out onto a cool, unfloured work surface. Knead by pulling the dough up with one hand (Step 3), then slapping it back down onto the surface. Continue kneading vigorously about 10 minutes, until the dough is elastic and pulls away from both your hand and the work surface. Use a plastic or metal scraper to gather the dough as it spreads.
Cut the softened butter into tablespoons. Using the pastry scraper, fold one piece at a time into the dough (Step 4) until all of the butter is incorporated. Knead the dough so it is once again smooth.
Place the dough in a large oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place three to four hours, or until the dough has tripled.
Punch the dough down several times to expel the large gas bubbles--this helps to ensure the bread will have a fine texture. At this point candied fruit, raisins or nuts may be added while the dough is kneaded lightly in the bowl for two to three minutes. Cover the bowl again with plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough six to eight hours or overnight.
To shape the dough, place it on a cool, lightly floured work surface. Cut off about one quarter and set it aside. Knead the larger piece into a ball and place it in a well-buttered, fluted brioche mold that has a capacity of twice the dough's volume.
Shape the small piece of dough into a ball, then taper it into a teardrop shape by rolling one end back and forth on the work surface (Step 5). Press three fingers into the center of the larger shaped dough, down to the bottom of the mold. Move your hand in a circle until the hole is slightly larger than the tapered end of the smaller piece.
Place the smaller dough, tapered end downward, into the cavity (Step 6), forming a topknot. Pat the knot with your hands to even its shape.
For smaller brioche, divide the dough and roll each portion into a ball. With the side of your hand, saw the dough back and forth to form a small topknot (Step 7), still attached to the body of dough. Lift the dough by this topknot and place in a buttered mold. Press the body into the mold (Step 8), then push the head down (Step 9).
Once shaped, cover the dough and let it rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.
Beat an egg yolk with a little water. Brush brioche with the mixture, avoiding the seam between the topknot and base. Snip this seam with scissors so the topknot will rise during baking.
Bake at 375 degrees, 45 to 50 minutes for the larger brioche, 20 to 25 minutes for the smaller sizes, or until a wood pick or skewer inserted into the topknot comes out dry. Cover loosely with a foil tent, if the bread begins to brown too rapidly. Remove from the oven, unmold and cool briefly on a wire rack.
Brioche is best enjoyed while still warm from the oven, but due to the high moisture and fat content, it keeps for several days. To serve, cut into wedges.
1 package dry yeast
1/4 cup warm (105 to 115 degrees) water
4 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 cups unsalted butter, softened
1 cup candied fruit, optional
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons water
Sprinkle yeast over 1/4 cup warm water. Set aside 10 minutes.
Combine flour, sugar and salt in large bowl, making well in center. Stir yeast mixture and add to well along with eggs. Mix with fingers, gradually pulling in dry ingredients from sides until totally moistened. Dough should be very soft and sticky.
Turn dough out onto cool, unfloured work surface. Knead by pulling dough up with 1 hand and slapping back down to surface. Continue to knead about 10 minutes, until dough is elastic and pulls away from hand and surface. Gather with scraper as dough spreads.
Cut butter into tablespoons. Using pastry scraper, fold 1 at time into dough. Knead again until dough is smooth.
Place dough in large oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in warm place 3 to 4 hours or until dough has tripled.
Punch dough down several times to expel air. Add candied fruit and knead lightly in bowl 2 to 3 minutes. Cover bowl again with plastic wrap and refrigerate 6 to 8 hours or overnight.