There's not much to say about this bread. I wanted a better BLT and a better hamburger. That's it. No anecdotal small-question deep-answer bullshit on flexibility or struggle. It's just really, really good bread. I've tried many recipes and this is my favorite, a straightforward cold-rise brioche lifted from Bouchon Bakery. It has a slight tang from the slow fermentation and is loaded with flavor from the rich ingredients. Light, airy and yielding easily to the tooth, it still has enough integrity to withstand the generously meaty forces oft present in my kitchen. As always, pay attention to the details.
You'll need a scale, a fine-mesh strainer, a stand mixer, a spatula, bread or sheet pans, and:
- High-fat unsalted butter - 122 grams/4.3 ounces/little more than a stick
- Whole milk - 46 grams/2.5 tablespoons
- Eggs - 136 grams/about 3 large eggs)
- All-purpose flour - 271 grams/scant 2 cups
- Instant/rapid-rise yeast - 6 grams/2 teaspoons
- Salt - 7 grams/heaping teaspoon
- Sugar - 32 grams/2.25 tablespoons
Cut the cold butter into small chunks and measure out 122 grams worth on your scale. Crack the eggs into a mixing bowl and whisk briskly to break up the membranes. Strain the eggs into a small bowl on your scale until you reach 136 grams, then reset the scale and measure out the milk into the same bowl. Set the egg/milk bowl and the butter out on the counter for an hour or two until they come to room temperature.
Set up your stand mixer with the dough hook and add all of the dry ingredients and the egg/milk mixture to the mixer bowl. Turn the mixer on low (that's level 2 on the Kitchen Aid) and watch the dry and wet ingredients come together. When things start to cling together in the bowl and everything looks shaggy, set a timer for 30 minutes and allow it to continue mixing while you go do something else. When you come back after the timer goes off, you should be greeted with a sticky mass clinging to the sides of the bowl and to the hook. Now, with the mixer still running, start adding your sufficiently-acclimated butter a small handful at a time, waiting until the previous handful has been mostly mixed in before adding the next, until all of the butter is added. Stop the mixer for a second, scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with your spatula, and then turn the mixer back on low, mixing for another 10 minutes until the butter is fully incorporated and you have a glossy, tacky dough wrapped around the dough hook.
Spray a big bowl with nonstick spray. Scrape the dough out onto a clean work surface; there will inevitably be some tearing from the dough hook and little bits of dough that stick to the mixing bowl, but just make sure to keep the whole mass intact as much as possible. To give the dough structure as it rises, we're going to incorporate some folding. Pat the dough - don't punch - into a rectangular shape just enough so that you can fold it on itself, using a light dusting of flour if necessary to keep the dough from sticking to your board. Take the right shorter side and fold it over to cover 2/3 of the length of the dough, fluffing and stretching the dough gently without tearing it. Next, take the left side, lightly stretch it out, and fold it over to cover the whole mass. Just like a letter, but with dough. Does that make sense? I hope it makes sense. Repeat the gentle patting, stretching and folding, but from top to bottom this time. When you're done, lift the dough up gently and put it into the greased-up bowl, seam-side down. Cover with plastic wrap and put in a warm spot for an hour. (See note at the bottom)
After the hour has passed, pull your dough out and plop it onto your counter again, lightly flouring if need be. Repeat the patting and folding: fold left and right, pat down gently, fold bottom to top. Put the dough back in the bowl, cover it with the plastic wrap, and put it in the fridge. Pour yourself a drink while it rises overnight.
When you wake up hungover the next day and open your refrigerator, your dough will have doubled in size thereabouts, and will be thoroughly cold and fairly stiff. Set the bowl down on the counter for a few minutes to let itself acclimate. Now go make yourself some coffee. You look like you need it.
Finally awake? Let's get to work.
Lightly flour your clean counter and get your sharp knife and scale. If you're making nanterres, get your two bread pans, spray them with nonstick spray, line the bottoms with parchment and spray the parchment. If your goal is hamburger buns, line a sheet pan with parchment and spray that. Turn the dough out of the bowl onto the work surface, scraping it out with a spatula if need be. Gently pat down the dough, especially around the perimeter, to remove any air bubbles. Using your knife, divide the dough into pieces. For nanterres, 50 grams each (12 total) and for buns, 75 grams each (8 total). Do this by halving your dough as best you can, then cutting into appropriately-sized portions and using your scale to check the exact weight. You can cut off a little bit if they're too big, or add trimmed pieces to bring them to the right size.
Roll them up into tight little balls: you can roll them one at a time in between your hands until they are as smooth as possible, but a better way of doing this is by rolling them in your cupped hand against your work surface. It's best to use little to no flour so there is some tackiness to keep it rolling, rather than sliding. Place the rolled dough balls in the prepared loaf pans (6 to each one), or for buns space out all 8 as much as possible on the prepared sheet pan.
Make an egg wash. Beat an egg or two with a wire whisk and strain through a fine mesh strainer into a clean bowl. (Yes it's important to strain it, so you don't get those little bumps on the surface. Just do it. Don't be lazy.) Brush each ball generously with the egg wash, cover the pans with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap, and set aside to do your final proof of 2 1/2 hours. The dough balls should double in size. Keep the egg wash in the fridge.
At least 30 minutes before you think you'll be baking, preheat your oven to 350. This should go without saying, but know your oven's real temperature.
Brush the dough balls again with the egg wash (don't forget this step and frantically pull the pans out of the hot oven 30 seconds after they've been in already) and bake: 22 minutes for loaves, about 12-13 minutes for buns. To guarantee exact doneness, a meat thermometer in the center should read about 200 degrees, but that's not really necessary. They should be richly browned, should feel much lighter than they look for their size, and their pleasant fragrance should permeate your house and your entire being.
Transfer them immediately onto a wire rack to cool for at least 20 minutes. At. Least. 20. Minutes. Believe me, this will be the hardest part of the entire process.
A note on proofing times and temperatures: the ideal temperature for instant yeast to perform its proper fermentation duties in a dough is 75 degrees. My wife and I live in frugal extremities when it comes to heating and cooling, so at the moment our polar-vortex-encased house is a nipply 60-64 degrees. I know I'm not alone on this, so there are a few things one can do to simulate a warmer environment for proofing. You can put your dough in the oven with the oven light turned on (the oven itself turned off, obviously), or if you don't have an oven light you can put a pan of very hot water in the oven with it. For me, the microwave above my range just so happens to hold a perfect 75 degrees almost year round when I leave on the surface light that illuminates the stovetop. It's some of the only time my microwave gets any action besides evenings of heavy drinking, Totinos pizza rolls, and poor choices.