I was in a Paris hotel once with my dad and sister, and my dad went out to buy us breakfast at a cafe nearby. He saw this beautiful loaf of bread, and touched it. Then he saw that it was rich man's brioche, and that it cost 10 euros. For one loaf. The lady said he had to buy it because he had touched it, so we ended up with the fanciest loaf of bread in town. He brought it back to the hotel room, and as soon as I tried it I tasted some orange essence and a complex buttery flavor: it was the most delicious bread I'd ever had.
I looked up the recipe for brioche in Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice, and found the Rich Man's Brioche recipe. After making it, I found that the next two recipes were for Middle-Class Brioche and Poor Man's Brioche. If only I'd known I would have made the poor man one! It has much less butter. Oh well. By the way, these pictures don't do justice to the amount of butter this bread has. This first one looks kind of like the bread feels in your mouth: full of butter. Not very healthy. For a healthy bread go here.
The story everyone always tells about brioche is when Marie Antoinette said, "Let them eat cake!" Except they say she actually said, "Let them eat brioche! (Qu'ils mangent de la brioche!)" Except she never actually said it at all. From what I know, in his book Confessions, Rousseau wrote about a great princess who said the line. it is commonly thought that it was Queen Marie Antoinette that he was talking about, but it's just a myth.
Peter Reinhart says that "brioche is the standard by which all rich breads are judged," so I will start learning about rich breads in this process.
And with that, let's begin.
For the sponge:
1/2 cup unbleached bread flour
1 Tbsp instant yeast
1/2 cup whole milk, lukewarm
For the dough:
5 large eggs, slightly beaten
3 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour
2 1/2 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 egg, whisked until frothy, for egg wash
To make the sponge, stir together the flour and yeast in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the milk until all the flour is hydrated. Cover with plastic wrap and let ferment for 20 minutes, or until the sponge rises and the falls when you tap the bowl.
To make the dough, add the eggs to the sponge and whisk until smooth. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, and salt. Add this mixture to the sponge and eggs and stir until all the ingredients are hydrated and evenly distributed. Let this mixture rest for 5 minutes so that the gluten can begin to develop. Then, while mixing with a large spoon, gradually work in butter, about one quart at a time, waiting until each addition of butter assimilates before adding more. This will take a few minutes. Continue mixing for about 6 more minutes, or until the dough is very well mixed. You will have to scrape down the bowl from time to time as the dough will cling to it. The dough will be very smooth and soft.
Line a sheet pan with baking parchment and mist lightly with spray oil. Transfer the dough to the sheet pan, spreading it to form a large, thick rectangle measuring about 6 inches by 8 inches. Mist the top of the dough with spray oil and cover the pan with plastic wrap or place it in a large food-grade plastic bag.
Immediately put the pan into the refrigerator and chill overnight overnight, or for at least 4 hours.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and shape it while it is very cold. If it warms up or softens, return it to the refrigerator. If you are making loaves, grease two 8 1/2 - by 4 1/2-inch loaf pans. Divide the dough into 2 or 3 pieces (I did 2) and shape the dough into loaves by flattening the dough into a rectangle and folding down, long-wise, three times. Close off the seam and put it in the pans, seam facing down.
(I don't have the little brioche à tête pans, so I did not use that part of the recipe at all. Check Reinhart's book for that extension.)
Mist the top of the dough with spray oil and loosely cover with plastic wrap, or slip the pans into a food-grade plastic bag. Proof the dough until it nearly fills the pans (1 1/2-2 hours). Gently brush the tops with egg wash. Cover the dough with plastic wrap that has been lightly misted with spray oil. Continue proofing for another 15 to 30 minutes, or until the dough fills the molds or pans.
Preheat the oven to 350 F with the oven rack on the middle shelf.
Bake for 35 to 50 minutes. The bread should sound hollow when thumped on the bottom and be golden brown.
Remove the brioches or loaves from the pans as soon as they come out of the oven and cool on rack.
Recipe from Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice.