Because brioche is made from a very rich dough, it is important to give it a prolonged kneading. The high butter content makes this difficult by hand and a much better result is achieved using a dough-hook in an electric mixer. The goal is an extravagantly buttery flavour, but without its presence being discernible either visually or on the palate. Questions about butter oozing from the dough suggest under-kneading and putting the dough to rise in too warm an environment.
Brioche requires three risings, two at room temperature and the third — the middle one — in the fridge. Room temperature for proving dough should be between 20°C/68°F and 22°C/72°F. Never force matters by standing it next to something hot.
The richest brioches can have equal parts flour and butter, but a good result will be achieved using half the weight of butter to flour. If you have a
Cut the chilled unsalted butter into dice and leave on a plate to soften. Put the hand-warm milk in the mixing bowl. Switch on at the lowest speed and add the flour, yeast, sugar and salt.
Whisk the eggs and pour them in, then work for 10 minutes. Turn up the speed to full and gradually add the butter, continuing to beat for 3 minutes, when you will have a glossy and elastic dough.
Turn out into a large bowl, cover the top with cling-film and leave to rise for 2 hours at room temperature, when it should have at least doubled in size. You don’t want to knock the dough down aggressively, so just turn it twice, which will break the surface and it will sink. Cover the top again and refrigerate for a minimum of 4 hours, a maximum of 24.
Turn out on a floured surface and shape into a ball. If using a classic, fluted brioche mould, lightly butter it and shake in some flour, upending and tapping to get rid of any excess. Cut off one-third of the dough to form the central rounded top. Reform the larger piece into a ball and place in the mould, making a hole in the middle. Shape the smaller piece into a ball and place snugly in the hole.
Make a glaze by whisking the egg with the milk. Brush this sparingly all over the top, taking care not to allow any to dribble down the inside of the tin as this would affect the rise. Leave at room temperature for 1 ½–2 hours, when it will again have doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/ gas 7. Brush more glaze on the top and bake for 40 minutes. Turn out and rap the bottom, which should sound hollow; if it doesn’t, return to the tin and give it another 5 minutes. Turn out on a wire rack to cool.
© 1998 Alastair Little and Richard Whittington estate. All rights reserved.