Slideshow: Sweet Technique: Brioche

Versatile and delightful
Versatile and delightful
Knowing how to make brioche dough enables you to make dozens of different pastry items, including: pain au raisin, babka, cinnamon rolls, doughnuts, and so much more. It's also outstanding on its own. Continue clicking to learn how it's made.
Preparing active-dry yeast
Preparing active-dry yeast
Active-dry yeast, the type most commonly found in supermarkets and recipes, must be activated before mixing it into dough. Be sure to check the date on the yeast, being mindful that older yeast is less effective. To activate the yeast, use the liquid amount in the recipe and heat it gently to 110-115 degrees Fahrenheit. Sprinkle the yeast over the liquid and mix it thoroughly. Allow it to stand for a few minutes. You will know the yeast is working when you start to smell the fermentation and see tiny bubbles in the mixture.
To get started, mix by hand
To get started, mix by hand
Making brioche begins with mixing all of the ingredients except for the butter, using a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment. Shave off a lot of time in this initial mixing process by mixing the ingredients together crudely by hand first, and allowing it to sit for two minutes before using the mixer. This step is called autolyse, and gives the dry ingredients an opportunity to hydrate, making mixing easier.
Use butter that is soft, but not melting
Use butter that is soft, but not melting
Most of the time you spend making brioche involves slowly incorporating the butter. For best results, use butter that is soft to the touch (you should be able to leave indentations in it easily with your fingers) but not melting. Cut the butter into portions that are approximately 1 tablespoon each.
Slowly add the butter
Slowly add the butter
Turn the mixer to low speed. With the mixer running, begin to add the butter, one piece at a time, waiting for it to disappear into the dough before adding the next. We do this to maintain the stretchy gluten that we've built up by allowing the dough to absorb the butter slowly.
Early butter additions
Early butter additions
When you start adding the butter, the dough will appear to be swimming in soft butter. It will begin to look wet and slimy. This is normal; continue to run the mixer on low. It takes about 10 minutes of mixing for the butter to be completely absorbed.
Develop gluten
Develop gluten
After about 5 minutes, the dough will start to look drier and more stretchy. It will also begin to curl up the dough hook and out of the bowl. Periodically pull the dough off the hook and bring it together with your hands for even mixing.
Testing the dough
Testing the dough
After mixing for 15 minutes, test the dough by stretching a thin window of the dough. The goal is for the window to be smooth and translucent, without a lot of webbing (see picture) or ripping. This dough is close, but still not there.
Finished dough
Finished dough
Return the dough to the mixer and mix it on high speed for 1 minute. The dough should make slapping sounds against the bowl as it mixes. If it is not making these sounds, beat for an additional minute on high speed. The finished dough is smooth and can be stretched very thin without looking webby or tearing. Mix for additional minutes as needed, until you reach the desired consistency.
Prepare for proofing
Prepare for proofing
Brush a small amount of oil on the bottom and sides of a bowl that is at least two times the size of the dough.
Wrap and refrigerate
Wrap and refrigerate
Cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap and place a towel over the top. Allow it to sit for 60 minutes in a warm room, which will give it time to start to rise. Then, place the bowl in the fridge to chill overnight. This part of the process is called "retarding" and we do it to get a slow rise while developing flavor from extra long fermentation.
Remove the dough from the fridge
Remove the dough from the fridge
After a night of chilling, the dough will have nearly doubled in size. Remove the dough from the bowl, and gently press on it to deflate the air.
Work on a minimally floured workspace
Work on a minimally floured workspace
Dust your workbench with a fine coat of flour before placing the dough, then do the same over the top of the dough. Try to use the least amount of flour possible, to prevent streaks in the dough.
Divide the dough
Divide the dough
Divide the dough using a lightly floured chef knife or bench scraper. Aim to make divisions as even as possible. One easy method is to divide using a scale.
Shape the dough
Shape the dough
To get a great rise out of the dough and smooth tops on the finished product, try to create some tension in the surface of the dough. Do this by pulling the edges underneath the shaped dough until the top is smooth. Shaped dough should be about 1/2 the size of the container you plan to use for baking, to accommodate for rising.
Shaping brioche à tête
Shaping brioche à tête
To complete the shape, place the cone end of the smaller piece of dough through the hole in the larger piece. Make sure the cone pokes all the way through, to prevent brioche decapitation.
Shaping a brioche loaf
Shaping a brioche loaf
Baking brioche in a loaf pan is also a great option, especially if the brioche is intended for toast, French toast, or sandwiches (all terrific uses!) To shape, stretch the dough across the top the long way and tuck it under, and then tuck in the ends to fit the bread pan.
Proof the shaped dough
Proof the shaped dough
Allow the shaped dough to proof (also called "rise"), in the greased baking containers in a warm (75 - 85 degrees Fahrenheit) place, for 2-3 hours. This will allow the yeast to finish doing its job, which basically consists of the living yeast consuming sugars and making carbon dioxide, which creates air pockets in the dough. When the dough has proofed, it will have grown substantially in size, and be very soft, delicate, and fluffy. A gentle push with your finger should leave a dent that does not immediately spring back.
Bake with insurance
Bake with insurance
With brioche, it can be difficult to tell when the bread is completely done because the egg washed crust gets very dark. To know for sure, insert an instant-read thermometer into the center. The internal temperature of fully-baked brioche is 205 degrees Fahrenheit.
Opening up a world of sweets
Opening up a world of sweets
Now that you understand the basics of brioche, the sky's the limit of what you can do with it. Besides the great French classics, I like using it to make yeasted doughnuts, and this very messy, highly delicious monkey bread.