Sweet, tender, pillowy bread.
This is so, so easy, especially in comparison to actual brioche. You really do just stir and let time do the rest of the work.
This recipe is slightly tweaked from my initial adaptation of no-knead brioche, which, as you can see, didn’t rise that much. The dough was always very slack, difficult to shape, always baking into something almost pastry-like, crunchy and buttery. That’s far from bad, but I wanted something more pillowy.
The solution was very simple: more flour. I was wary of this at first because the point of no-knead doughs is a rather wet dough, with long and cold rises to develop gluten and firm up the body. But I tried it, and I was right: more flour was needed to match the rich egg and dairy. All flours vary in how much gluten (protein) they have and how much liquid they absorb, which varies between not only types but brands (for example, Waitrose’s own brand plain flour has 10.5g protein/100g, while Sainsbury’s own brand plain flour has 9.4g), and the easiest solution is adding flour until you reach the right consistency.
I searched for other people making the same recipe, and it seems that I’m not the only one who struggled with a wet and challenging dough, even after refrigeration. With all that in mind, I thought it best to provide a flour range plus detailed instructions and pictures to help you get the right texture.
But once you have it, it genuinely is very easy and versatile. I can’t see myself using any other sweet bread dough: it is a perfect blank canvas. The dough itself can be flavoured and you can fill it with all kinds of things.
Baked plain, this is perfect, obviously, with jam, but is also ideal for dipping in sangkhaya or making french toast.
Adapted from Artisan Bread in 5.
Yields 300g dough (using 175g flour), about 10 3/4 ounces or 2/3 lb. This is also enough for 4 – 6 doughnuts, just saying.
Makes 1 small loaf, enough for 6 – 8 small slices. Keeps for 2 – 3 days or more; it’s softest on the day of baking, and toasts/fries perfectly after that.
3 tbsp water, milk, or a mixture (I use 2 tbsp milk + 1 tbsp water)
3 tbsp unsalted butter, diced
1/2 tsp dried yeast, any kind
rounded 1/4 tsp salt
1 UK medium egg
1 tbsp runny honey (ideally, choose a good sweet honey–I love Mexican orange blossom–but any honey will do)
120g – 175g (scant 1 cup – generous 1 1/3 cups) plain flour*
*140g = 1 cup flour.
1 egg (an egg yolk would be enough, if you have one hanging around), or milk if that’s preferred/convenient. Egg is the most shiny.
In a microwave + microwaveable vessel or in a small pot on the stove, gently heat the water, milk, and butter until the liquid is touch-warm and butter is in melty lumps. Leave to sit off the heat while you measure the rest of the ingredients.
Choose a medium bowl or tupperware that fits comfortably in your fridge. In your chosen container, combine yeast, salt, honey, egg, and just-warm milk mixture using a wooden spoon. Lastly, add 120g flour, stirring just to incorporate.
Check consistency of the dough: you may need to add more flour. If your dough is more like thick batter which pools in the bowl and easily falls away from the spoon in a flat ribbon, gradually mix in more flour until it pulls at the spoon and has more structure: a shaggy, stretchy mass. A further 25g – 55 g (up to 5 tbsp) flour will do the trick (for reference, with a 9.4g protein flour, I usually find I need to use 175g flour in total). Aim for a soft, sticky dough which is beginning to come away from the sides of the bowl and can easily be scraped into a mound which holds its own shape. It should be wet and rough-looking, but not loose; the kind of dough which is just about possible (though highly troublesome) to knead by hand.
Loosely cover and allow to rise for 2 hours in a warm spot, such as a gently heated then switched-off oven.
Once the 2 hours are up, cover dough more tightly and let it get completely cold and firm in the fridge, 45 mins – 1 hour. I usually let it chill overnight; you can hold it up to 5 days, freezing beyond that point. Once dough is cold, you can shape it.
Shape and prove the dough 2 – 2 1/2 hours before you want the final loaf to be ready.
Get out a 1 lb loaf tin, mine is about 7 x 3 inches, anything around that will do. I don’t bother greasing mine, but you may wish to line yours with a sling of greased baking paper or foil if you suspect any sticking.
Turn cold dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 3 equal pieces. Roll or pat each piece out into a long shape–don’t worry about making it neat–and coil it up from the long side, making a tube. Stretch it gently so it’s just a bit longer than your loaf tin. Set aside. Repeat with the other 2 pieces, keeping them roughly the same size.
Press all 3 pieces together at one end to join. Begin plaiting the loose ends: left over centre, right over centre, repeat. Get it nice and tight. Press the loose ends together to complete the plait. Tuck the joined ends underneath and transfer to your tin, arranging so it sits neatly. (At this point you can cover with oiled clingfilm and refrigerate overnight.)
Brush the loaf with egg or milk, gently and thoroughly working it into the crevices. Cover with oiled clingfilm and let the plait rise for 1 1/2 – 2 hours. (If you’ve done an overnight rise, go for 40 mins to 1 1/2 hours proving. Remove from fridge, glaze, and allow to sit until soft and puffy.)
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius/160 fan (350 degrees Fahrenheit). Once your loaf is risen, glaze once more with egg or milk, and bake for 30 – 40 minutes on the middle shelf, until well risen and deeply browned.
We both know you won’t let it cool all the way, but allow at least 10 minutes for the best crumb: warm and tender, not steamy and mushy.