In France, brioche is traditionally served warm for breakfast, with conserves and a large cup of milky coffee. At teatime, brioche also makes delicious light toast and is wonderful spread with thick cream and apricot jam. It should be baked in a brioche mould, which is a fluted tin with steeply sloping sides. The mould allows the dough to form a brioche’s characteristic shape.
You will need 1½teaspoonsdried yeast and apinch of caster sugar, 2tablespoonshand-hot milk, 250g (8oz) strong white flour, 1tablespooncaster sugar, apinch of salt, 2 beaten eggs, 75g (3oz) softened butter and alittle extra beaten egg to glaze. This recipe makes one large traditionally shaped brioche or 12 individual brioches, although the dough can also be baked in a loaf tin.
For a saffron-flavoured brioche, infuse a few strands of saffron with the milk, bringing both to the boil and then set aside until it is hand hot and can be combined with the yeast and sugar.
Another flavourful variation is to add a selection of dried fruit such as snipped soaked or ready-to-eat dried apricots, peaches or prunes to the brioche dough at the same time as you beat in the eggs and incorporate the butter in step 1.
Prepare the yeast and sugar with the warm milk. Put the flour, sugar and salt in a bowl and add the yeast liquid. Gradually beat in the beaten eggs. Using your hands, incorporate the softened butter until well blended. Knead to a soft dough, adding extra flour only if really necessary. Knead for 5 minutes until smooth.
Return the dough to the bowl, cover with a large plastic bag and leave to rise until the dough doubles in size. Knead again for 2—3 minutes. Cut off three-quarters of the dough and shape into a ball. Place in a greased 1.2 litre (2 pint) brioche mould. Using three fingers, press a hole in the centre of the dough down to the bottom of the mould.
Shape the remaining piece of dough into a cone. If necessary, slightly enlarge the hole in the main piece of dough with your fingers so that the pointed end of the cone will fit in neatly. Lower in the dough cone with the pointed end downwards. Gently pat the top of the dough cone to form the traditional well-rounded head on top of the brioche.
Cover the mould with a large plastic bag and leave to rise until the dough reaches the top of the mould. Lightly brush with beaten egg, avoiding the seam around the knob. Bake at 220°C, 425°F, Gas Mark 7 for 15—20 minutes, until golden. Turn out and serve warm, or cool completely on a wire rack. To serve, cut the brioche into vertical wedges.
For individual brioches: 1 complete step 1 (above). Put the kneaded dough back in the bowl, cover with a plastic bag and leave to rise until the dough doubles in size. Knead again for 2-3 minutes and divide into 12 pieces. Shape three-quarters of each piece into a small ball and put into 1cm (3in) diameter greased mini brioche moulds.
Use your index finger to make a hole in the centre of each brioche bun. Shape the remaining pieces of dough into small knobs and place in the holes. Press down lightly. Complete step 4 but bake the individual brioches for only 10 minutes. Turn out the brioches and serve warm, or cool completely on a wire rack.