- Dough Starter (Sponge):
- water, at room temperature (70° to 90°F): 2 tablespoon (1 ounce or 29.5 grams)
- sugar: 1 tablespoon (scant 0.5 ounce or 12.5 grams)
- instant yeast: 1/4 teaspoon (0.8 grams)
- unbleached all-purpose flour (use only Gold Medal, King Arthur, or Pillsbury): 1/2 cup (2.5 ounces or 71 grams)
- eggs: 1 large egg (2 ounces or 58 grams weighed in the shell)
- Flour mixture:
- unbleached all-purpose flour (use only Gold Medal, King Arthur, or Pillsbury): 1 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons (5.5 ounces or 156 grams)
- sugar: 2 tablespoons (about 0.75 ounce or 25 grams)
- instant yeast: 1 1/4 teaspoons (4 grams)
- salt: 1/2 teaspoon (3.3 grams)
- eggs: 2 large eggs, cold (4 ounces or 113 grams weighed in shells)
- unsalted butter, very soft: 8 tablespoons (4 ounces or 113 grams)
- Egg Glaze (if making a large loaf, glaze is optional)
- eggs: 1 large egg yolk (1 tablespoon)
- cream or milk: 1 teaspoon
1. One day or up to 2 days ahead, make the dough. In the mixer bowl, place the water, sugar, instant yeast, flour, and egg. Whisk by hand until very smooth, to incorporate air, about 3 minutes. The sponge will be the consistency of a very thick batter. (At first the dough may collect inside the whisk, but just shake it out and keep whisking. If it’s too thick to whisk, it means you’ve added too much flour and will need to add a little of the eggs to be added Step 3.) Scrape down the sides of the bowl and set it aside, covered with plastic wrap.
2. Combine the ingredients for the flour mixture and add to the sponge. In a small bowl, whisk the flour with the sugar and yeast. Then whisk in the salt (this keeps the yeast from coming in contact with the salt, which would kill it). Sprinkle this mixture on top of the sponge. Cover it tightly with plastic wrap and let it stand for 1 1/2 to 2 hours at room temperature. (During this time, the sponge will bubble through the flour mixture in places; this is fine.)
3. Mix the dough. Add the 2 cold eggs and mix with the dough hook on low (#2 if using a KitchenAid) for about 1 minute or until the flour is moistened. Raise the speed to medium (#4 KitchenAid) and beat for 2 minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl with an oiled spatula and continue beating for about 5 minutes longer or until the dough is smooth and shiny but very soft and sticky. It will mass around the dough hook but not pull away from the bowl completely.
Add the butter by the tablespoon, waiting until each addition is almost completely absorbed before adding the next tablespoon, beating until all the butter is incorporated. The dough will be very soft and elastic and will stick to your fingers unmercifully, but don’t be tempted to add more flour at this point; it will firm considerably after chilling. (The dough will weigh about 19 ounces/536 grams.)
4. Let the dough rise. Using an oiled spatula or dough scraper, scrape the dough into a 1-quart dough rising container or bowl, greased lightly with cooking spray or oil. Lightly spray or oil the top of the dough and cover the container with a lid or plastic wrap. With a piece of tape, mark the side of the container at approximately where double the height of the dough would be. Allow the dough to rise until doubled, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
5. Chill the dough. Refrigerate the dough for 1 hour to firm it; this will prevent the butter from separating.
Gently deflate the dough by stirring it with a rubber scraper or spatula, and return it to the refrigerator for another hour so that it will be less sticky and easier to handle.
6. Deflate the dough and allow it to rest, chilled. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and press or roll it into a rectangle, flouring the surface and dough as needed to keep it from sticking. The exact size of the rectangle is not important. Give the dough a business letter turn, brushing off any excess flour, and again press down or roll it out into a rectangle. Rotate it 90 degrees so that the closed side is facing to your left. Give it a second business letter turn and round the corners. Dust it lightly on all sides with flour. Wrap it loosely but securely in plastic wrap and then place it in a large zip-seal bag. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours or up to 2 days to allow the dough to ripen (develop flavor) and firm.
7. Shape the dough and let it rise. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and gently press it down to deflate it. Cut the dough into 16 pieces (a scant 1 1/4 ounces/33 grams each). Without a scale, the easiest way to divide the dough evenly is to lightly flour your hands and roll it into a long cylinder. Cut it in half, then continue cutting each piece in half until there are 16 pieces.
Pinch off a little less than one-quarter of each piece, for the topknot. Roll each larger piece of dough into a ball and press it into a prepared brioche mold. With lightly floured hands, shape each of the dough pieces reserved for the topknots into an elongated pear form. Using your index finger, make a hole in the center of each brioche, going almost to the bottom of the mold, and insert the elongated part of a topknot deeply into the hole. Cover the molds loosely with oiled plastic wrap and let rise (ideally at 75° to 80°F) until the edges of the dough reach the tops of the molds, about 1 hour. (See page 493 for step-by-step illustrations.)
8. Preheat the oven. Preheat the oven to 425°F 1 hour before baking. Have an oven shelf at the lower level and place a baking stone or baking sheet on it before preheating.
9. Glaze and bake the brioche. Lightly beat together the egg yolk and cream for the glaze. Brush the top of the brioche with the egg glaze, being careful not to drip any on the side of the pans, or it will impede rising. Allow it to dry for 5 minutes and then brush a second time with the glaze. Use greased scissors or a small sharp knife to make a 1/4-inch-deep cut all around the base of the topknot so it will rise to an attractive shape.
Set the molds on a baking sheet and place them on the hot stone or hot baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until a skewer inserted under a topknot comes out clean (an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center will read about 190°F).
10. Cool the brioche. Remove the brioche from the oven and unmold them onto a wire rack. Turn top side up and allow them to cool until barely warm.