Rich and buttery, but also light and delicate, brioche is so soft it needs thorough chilling before it can be shaped successfully – but the results make it well worth it. Ideal for a special brunch, served with apricot jam or blue cheese.
Makes: 4 medium breads
Hands-on time: 1 hour
Baking time: 25 minutes
Skill level: Up for a challenge
For the brioche dough:
75ml full-fat milk
Finely grated zest 3 small unwaxed oranges
400g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
1 x 7g sachet fast-action dried yeast
30g caster sugar
5 medium eggs, at room temperature, beaten
170g unsalted butter, softened, diced
2 medium egg yolks, beaten with 2 teaspoons water
2 tablespoons pearl sugar (optional)
You will also need:
1-2 large baking sheets, lined with baking paper
Step 1 – To make the brioche dough: warm the milk with the grated orange zest until it just feels comfortable when you dip in a little finger. Set aside until needed. Place the flour into a large mixing bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, then mix in the yeast with your hand. When thoroughly combined, work in the sugar and salt and make a well in the centre.
Step 2 – Pour the warm milk and the beaten eggs into the well. Gradually draw the flour into the liquid using your hand, or the dough hook attachment of the mixer (on the slowest speed), to make a very soft dough. Using your hand or the dough hook (still on the slowest speed), work the dough in the bowl for about 5 minutes. It will be too soft to knead in the usual fashion, so beat and slap it with your hand until very smooth and very elastic.
Step 3 – Slowly work in the butter until it is thoroughly incorporated and the dough is no longer streaky, then beat the dough for another 4 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl then cover it with cling film or a snap-on lid and leave on the worktop for about 1 hour until doubled in size. Then punch down the risen dough to deflate it, cover again and chill for at least 2 hours until the dough feels very firm.
Step 4 – Turn out the firm dough onto the worktop and gently knead it to deflate. Weigh the dough and divide it into 4 equal portions. Take 1 portion and pat it out with your fingers to a rectangle 10cm x 15cm. Cut lengthwise into 4 strips then, using your hands, roll each strip on the worktop to a neat, even sausage 19cm long.
Step 5 – To make a 4-strand plait: set the 4 sausages vertically in front of you – side by side and slightly apart. Pinch the 4 strands together at the top, then pass the far-left strand under the two middle ones, then back over the last strand that it went under and into line again. Then take the far-right strand and pass it under the twisted two in the middle, then back over the last strand and into line again. Keep doing this (perhaps just once more) until all the dough strands are plaited, then pinch the ends together and tuck them neatly under the plait. Gently transfer to a lined baking sheet.
Step 6 – Repeat with the other 3 portions of dough, making sure the plaits are set well apart on the baking sheet (or sheets) to allow for expansion. Slip each baking sheet into a large plastic bag and slightly inflate to prevent the plastic sticking to the dough. Leave on the worktop to prove for about 1 hour, until doubled in size. You want the plaits to keep their neat shapes so don’t leave the dough in a warm spot, or for too long, as the dough will over-prove.
Step 7 – Towards the end of the rising time, heat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/350°F/Gas 4. Uncover the plaits and brush lightly with the beaten egg yolk glaze, then repeat – two thin coats will give a better result. Sprinkle with pearl sugar (unless you’re serving the brioche with blue cheese). Bake in the heated oven for about 20-24 minutes until a rich golden brown. Check after 15 minutes and rotate the sheet(s) so the plaits bake evenly.
Step 8 – Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool before slicing.