This is a classic French brioche loaf: buttery, eggy, and rich with a soft texture and an irresistibly tender crumb. Slice it for sandwiches, turn it into French toast, slather toasted or untoasted slices with generous amounts of butter and jam, or turn it into bread pudding.
While working in a restaurant in the New York Catskills, I had the good fortune to befriend my French chef neighbor and he gradually became my mentor. He had strong opinions about women working behind the line, which only further pushed me to become a pastry chef. Soon, brioche became part of my standard repertoire.
What Is Brioche?
Brioche is an enriched bread dough, made with butter and eggs for a rich flavor and tender crumb. In addition to bread, the dough can be turned into pastries or sweets. Among the many are pain aux raisins—small breakfast rolls filled with custard and raisins—or loaves and cakes perfumed with cinnamon and vanilla and studded with raisins or candied peel.
As tempting as those pastries are, a plain brioche loaf is a crowning achievement all on its own. It makes a soft and pillowy bread for sandwiches, tastes wonderful smeared with butter and jam, and makes incredible french toast. With so many uses, it’s worth learning the technique for a foray into pastry land!
How to Make Brioche
The dough for brioche has more eggs and more butter than other bread loaves. It requires an overnight rise in the refrigerator for it to develop flavor, but more importantly, an overnight chill gives the soft, buttery, and sticky dough time to become firm enough to shape into a loaf. Here’s an overview of the steps.
- Make a sponge. In bread baking, a sponge is a small amount of soft dough made with flour, water, and yeast that, once risen, is added to the main dough. I prefer to use instant yeast, which is mixed directly into flour and water with no need for ‘blooming’ in water first. If your yeast is old and you aren’t sure if it is still viable, then go ahead and proof it for 5 minutes in the water and, when it bubbles, mix in the flour.
- Make the dough. Gradually beat the eggs into the sponge, add the flour, and knead.
- Knead in the butter. Gradually incorporate soft butter into the dough. The dough will be soft and sticky.
- Refrigerate the dough overnight. With so many steps, the overnight rest breaks up the whole process and makes it feel more manageable. It also firms the dough to a soft but not sticky consistency.
- Shape the dough and let it rise. Flatten, fold, and roll the dough into a log and let it rise for about 2 hours.
- Brush and bake. The egg wash and the sugar in the dough are what give the loaf a deep golden, shiny top.
- Cool completely. Before slicing, the bread has to be completely cool. It actually ticks up a few degrees and continues to cook briefly after it comes out of the oven. Set it on a rack so air can circulate all around it.
Storing and Freezing a Brioche Loaf
Like many homemade breads, brioche has a relatively short shelf life, since it doesn’t have the preservatives that keep store-bought bread fresher longer. It will stay fresh for about 24 hours. Once it has cooled completely, wrap it in foil or plastic wrap.
Use Homemade Brioche to Make These Recipes
The right amount of flour is key in a bread dough like this. For easy accuracy, weigh the flour using a kitchen scale. If using measuring cups, spoon the flour into the cup and sweep off the excess using the dull side of a knife.
For the sponge
1/2 cup warm water (about 110°F)
1 tablespoon instant yeast
1/2 cup (63g) unbleached all-purpose flour
For the dough
3 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 3/4 cups (340g) unbleached all-purpose flour, divided
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
Cooking spray, for the loaf pan
1 large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water (for the egg wash)
- Stand mixer
Make the sponge:
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the water, yeast, and flour on low speed until well blended. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until the sponge looks puffy and small bubbles appear, about 45 minutes.
Mix the dough:
With the paddle attachment, beat the eggs and egg yolk into the sponge one by one at medium speed, incorporating each egg into the dough before adding the next one and scraping down the bowl as necessary. Beat in the sugar, salt, and 1 1/2 cups (185g) of the flour.
Switch to the dough hook on medium-low speed and gradually add the remaining 1 1/4 cups (155g) flour until incorporated, about 3 minutes. Knead on medium speed until smooth and very elastic, about 10 minutes, stopping to scrape down the dough hook occasionally.
Add the butter:
With the mixer running on medium speed, add the butter 1 tablespoon at a time, beating to incorporate it after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl from time to time. When the butter has been thoroughly absorbed, the dough will be soft and sticky. Take your time; this step takes approximately 4 minutes.
First overnight rise in the refrigerator:
Scrape the dough into a clean bowl and pat it into a ball. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the dough and let rise for 8 hours or up to 12 hours in the refrigerator.
Shape the loaf:
Spray a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan with cooking spray. On a lightly floured work surface, turn out the dough and pat or roll it to form a rectangle approximately 8 1/2x6 1/2 inches.
With the long side parallel to the countertop, fold the top 1/3 of the dough towards the middle. Fold the bottom flap up about 1 inch beyond the top flap. Pinch the seam with your fingers. Use both hands to roll the dough into a uniform log.
Drop the log into the oiled loaf pan with the seam side down. With the fist of one hand, press the dough flat so it fills the pan. Tent the pan with a plastic bag, leaving 3 to 4 inches of headroom and tucking the open end of the bag under the pan.
Second room temperature rise:
Let the dough rise until the dough is puffy and springs back slowly when gently poked with a finger, about 2 hours. Your finger should leave a slight impression, and the dough should rise about 1/2 inch above the rim of the pan.
The precise rising time depends on the temperature of the dough and the room it is in. If your kitchen is warm, start checking it after about an hour.
Bake the loaf:
About 1/2 hour before the dough has finished rising, set a rack on the lowest part of the oven and preheat the oven to 400ºF.
Brush the loaf with egg wash. Set the pan in the oven and turn the oven temperature down to 375ºF. Bake until the top is golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes. To check for doneness, turn the loaf onto a cooling rack and insert an instant-read thermometer into the bottom of the loaf. The loaf is done when it registers about 190ºF to 200ºF.
If it is not quite done, place the loaf on a baking sheet and return it to the oven for about 5 more minutes. If it has already turned a deep brown, set a piece of aluminum foil loosely on top of the loaf.
Cool the loaf:
Set on a rack to cool completely before slicing.
Store leftover brioche, tightly wrapped, for up to 24 hours at room temperature. Leftover slices can be toasted.
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|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 10g||13%|
|Saturated Fat 6g||28%|
|Total Carbohydrate 28g||10%|
|Dietary Fiber 1g||4%|
|Total Sugars 2g|
|Vitamin C 0mg||0%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|