Brioche: you bet your buns…

Brioche is my absolute favorite bread. It’s not just because of all that buttery, fluffy deliciousness. I had brioche all the time in my youth in the south of France. It’s hard to find good brioche (here in the Bay Area). Sure, they sell it here and there, but it tastes like sawdust and crumbles apart before it reaches your mouth. The only way I could find that butter-rich, delicate brioche was to order it in some restaurants or cafés. It’s about time I remedied the problem. All I really want is the perfect hamburger bun.

The ingredient list is short, but the process is on the long side. It’s worth it, people. We swears it on The Precious. So let’s get to work.

eggs, flour, sugar, salt, yeast, butter, milk – that’s it!
mix the flour, sugar, salt, and yeast together
add eggs and milk

Honestly, I don’t know how people made brioche before stand mixers existed. Maybe they just had enormous arms from all of the kneading. A stand mixer will make this process so much less painful for you, but you can’t walk away from the mixer while it’s running. Mine had a tendency to walk itself around and I’m sure it would have walked itself off the counter only to bash its brains in if I hadn’t held it in place. There is a lot of mixing and scraping and the motor will get hot. When the dough comes together, start adding the softened butter a little at a time. At first it looks like the butter just spins around and around the dough, but eventually it will smear out and become incorporated into the dough. Have patience and wait to add the next pat of butter only after the previous one has disappeared.

scrape down the sides of the bowl and the dough hook
add butter one pat at a time
half of the butter has been mixed in
knead the dough a few times by hand

Once you mix in the second half of the butter and knead the dough on medium speed for several minutes, the dough will begin to take on that beautiful satiny smooth texture. You’ll know it’s ready when the dough just slaps around the bowl. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it by hand a few times. It will be soft but shouldn’t be too sticky – because of all that butter, it will be greasy to the touch.

add more butter
scrape the sides of the bowl and the hook
when the dough is ready, it should be shiny and smooth
knead by hand for a few strokes

center as if you were wrapping a package with the brioche. That would be the best wrapping paper ever. Turn the dough over and tuck those little corners that are sticking out under the ball. Then set that ball of dough, smooth-side up, in a bowl that can accommodate twice the size of the dough. Cover it with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm, draft-free location until it is doubled in size. This took about an hour. After the first rise, you’ll knead the dough and form it into a ball again just like you did before, and place it in a bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. This time, you can either let it rise for another hour or you can refrigerate it overnight. The overnight rise develops better flavor and it’s what I opted to do.

folding the four edges in toward the center
setting the dough to rise
doubled in size
kneading again
cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight

Having gone the refrigerated route for the second rise, I let the dough come to room temperature the second day. That took me over two hours, but the house was pretty cold. Once it gets to room temperature, both methods resume the same steps. Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface, smooth-side down, and flatten it slightly into a circular shape. Fold the edges in like before, and form a ball, but this time cut the ball into equal size pieces. To make buns, I recommend cutting the dough into 12 pieces. I actually cut the dough into 8 pieces, then took 3 of those pieces and cut them in half because I wasn’t sure which size was best for burgers. That left me with 5 large buns and 6 smaller buns.

turn the dough out
form a ball again
cut the dough
they should be equal-sized pieces

Shape the pieces into balls and set them on baking sheets about 2-3 inches apart (I like to line my baking sheets with parchment paper). Cover them with a damp towel or plastic wrap and let them rise until doubled in size. My larger buns (1/8 of the dough) wound up becoming enormous and the smaller ones (1/16 of the dough) were about the size of small burger buns – somewhere in between a standard bun and a slider bun. That’s why I think 1/12 is the perfect size for a proper hamburger bun. Right before baking, brush the tops of the buns with egg wash. Don’t be heavy handed with the egg wash – it merely needs a light coat on top. The egg wash is sticky stuff, so try to only brush the tops and not let any drips cement the bun to the parchment paper or baking sheet. Bake until the buns are deep golden brown on top and the internal temperature reads 190°F. I found 15 minutes to be about the right amount of baking time for my brioche buns.


shape each piece into a ball
let rise
whisk the egg wash
brush the tops before baking
baked to golden brown
fluffy and perfect inside

The smell of brioche emanating from the oven is delightful, but once I had a warm brioche in my hand and I pulled it open to reveal all of those long and beautiful fluffy strands of bread – I knew I had found what I was looking for. Soft, delicate, buttery. It may sound a little crazy to butter the brioche since it has so much butter already, but… it’s EVEN BETTER! The first thing we did was to serve burgers with the buns that had been toasted on a griddle. Incredible. Then we had some as toast with butter and jam. To die for. Next up is a roast beef sandwich. But I’d be perfectly content just eating warm brioche straight up. It is that remarkable. Nothing beats homemade.

if you’re going to brioche a burger, do it right

Brioche

1 lb. 2 oz. (4 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 oz. (4 1/2 tsps) active dry yeast
1/2 oz. (2 tsps) table salt
4 large eggs, room temperature
4 oz. (1/2 cup) whole milk, room temperature
8 oz. (1 cup) unsalted butter, cut into 1-tablespoon pieces, softened

egg wash
2 large eggs
1 egg yolk
pinch of salt

This recipe can be done in one day, but for best flavor, let the dough rise overnight in the refrigerator thus making it a two-day affair.

Make the dough: Combine the flour, sugar, yeast, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add four eggs and the milk to the flour. Mix on low speed to combine. When the dough begins to clump, switch the paddle out for a dough hook. Mix on medium speed for 2 minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl and the dough hook down. Mix on medium speed for another 2 minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl and the dough hook down.

With the mixer on medium-low speed, add half (4 oz.) of the butter one piece at a time – allowing the previous piece of butter to incorporate into the dough before adding the next one. Scrape the sides of the bowl and the hook down. Remove the hook from the dough. Knead the dough by hand in the bowl for a few turns to help incorporate the butter -fold it over on itself while kneading. Reattach the dough hook and add the remaining butter a little at a time on medium-low speed. When all of the butter has been added, increase the speed to medium and mix for 4 minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl and the dough hook and resume mixing for another 4 minutes on medium speed until the dough is slapping the sides of the bowl (it will be smooth and silky).

Let the dough rise twice: Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead by hand a few times. Slightly flatten the dough into a circle, then fold the top and bottom edges in toward the center. Now fold the left and right sides in toward the center. Turn the dough over so the smooth side is facing up. Tuck the edges under the dough to shape a nice round sphere. Place the dough ball, smooth-side up, in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free location for an hour or until doubled in size. Flip the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead a few times by hand. Form a dough ball like you did before (folding the four “edges” in toward the center, turning the dough over, and tucking the corners under to make a ball) and place in the bowl, smooth-side up. Cover with plastic. At this point, you can either let the dough rise for an hour (until doubled in size) or place it in the refrigerator overnight. I opted for overnight as it develops a better flavor.

Shape and proof the dough: If you refrigerated your dough, let it come to room temperature (about 2+ hours). Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface and form it into a ball (folding the four “edges” in toward the center, turning the dough over, and tucking the corners under to make a ball). To make brioche buns, cut the dough into 12 equal pieces. For other shapes (loaves, brioche à tête) . Form each piece of dough into a smooth ball by gently stretching the top of the dough down around to the bottom on all sides. It’s like you’re petting the top of the dough, stroking it down and tucking it under the bottom. Turn 90 degrees and repeat until you have a nice and smooth ball. Set the dough balls on your baking sheet, 2-3 inches apart. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size (about an hour).

Bake the brioche buns: Preheat the oven to 375°F. Whisk 2 eggs, the egg yolk, and a pinch of salt together in a medium bowl. Lightly brush the tops of the buns with the egg wash, making sure there are no drips that reach the parchment. Bake until the tops are dark golden brown – about 15 minutes. The internal temperature should read 190°F. Let cool on the baking pans or on wire racks for 10 minutes. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days, in the refrigerator for a week, or freeze for up to 5 weeks. They reheat well in a moderate oven (325°F) for about 7 minutes. Makes 12 buns.

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