One of the beauties of making your own bread is that once you’ve mastered a dough recipe, you can often use it in many ways. As you saw last week, a ball of Sourdough Pizza Dough can take many shapes: pizza pies, calzones, empanadas, and even breadsticks. Brioche is just as versatile and delicious.
Sourdough brioche may seem as much of an oxymoron as bread master Peter Reinhart’s whole-wheat brioche. But I see it as adding just another layer of flavor to an egg- and butter-rich dough. Once you’ve learned the basic recipe, you can use it to make any number of breads with various flours, sweetness levels, and shapes. I’ve just begun my brioche dough adventure, working it into buns and sweet rolls, but Reinhart recommends using it in everything from bread pudding to toast points to savory tarts. I see more Twice as Tasty brioche-style recipes on the horizon—starting with Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls next week.
Sourdough Brioche Dough
230 grams Sourdough Starter (100% hydration)
160 grams unsalted butter
about 120 grams milk or Cultured Buttermilk
20 grams fine sugar
280 grams all-purpose flour
180 grams whole-wheat flour
10 grams (~1 scant tablespoon) salt
Bring your starter to room temperature in its jar. Cut the butter into chunks, place it in a small bowl, and leave it in a warm room for at least 30 minutes to soften. Set a large bowl on a kitchen scale. Crack in the eggs, whisking briefly with a fork, and then add enough milk to equal 300 grams. Measure in the starter and sugar, and mix lightly. Measure in the flours, and mix again until the dough is just combined but not stiff. Cover with a damp towel; let rest for 10 minutes. Feed your starter.
On a floured cloth or counter, press the dough into a rough circle; sprinkle with salt. Using your fingers, press and spread in chunks of softened butter until the dough circle is coated. Fold in the circle’s edges, and then knead a few times to work in the butter and form a soft ball. Repeat the process of spreading the dough, adding a butter coating, and kneading it in as many times as needed to use all of the butter; reflour the work surface if the dough sticks. After all the butter has been incorporated, knead the dough ball about 30 times, return it to the large bowl, cover, and rest for 1 hour.
After the hour, double letter fold like Sourdough Cabin Bread dough, gently stretching and then folding in thirds twice. Let rest 30 minutes, and then repeat the double letter fold. After a second 30-minute rest, do a final double letter fold and return the dough to the bowl. Redampen the towel and cover the bowl; place it in the fridge for 2 hours to overnight before using (see below). Makes 1 ball.
Tips & Tricks
- Your starter and butter will be easiest to handle at room temperature. The butter pieces should be firm enough to hold their shape but soft enough to flatten and spread with your fingers.
- The eggs and milk are best kept cold until just before use. I use homemade buttermilk when I have a stash in the fridge but otherwise stick with whole milk.
- Sourdough is forgiving, and rest periods need not be precisely timed. To put the recipe on hold, stash the dough in the fridge until you’re ready to return it to room temperature and continue on.
Twice as Tasty
You’ve probably eaten enough burgers in your life to know that despite the myriad sauces and toppings you might pile on a meat or veg patty, the bun can make or break the meal. Yet even the neighborhood grill master often serves locally renowned creations on squishy, doughy, textureless hamburger buns straight off the grocery store shelf.
Brioche buns are worthy of secret sauces, handcrafted patties, and home-canned pickles. With their built-in buttery, eggy flavor, you’ll soon be skipping a knifeload of butter and smear of mayonnaise at serving time. They’re sturdy enough to enclose multiple layers without becoming soggy, and toasting before serving only enhances their texture. Although brioche are typically made with dry yeast, wild yeast gives one more burst of flavor. Best of all, these buns are the easiest way to use Sourdough Brioche Dough and prepare yourself for next week’s sweeter recipe.
1 ball Sourdough Brioche Dough
1 egg white
1 tablespoon water or milk
1 tablespoon white sesame seeds (optional)
1 tablespoon poppy seeds (optional)
Transfer the Sourdough Brioche Dough from the fridge to a lightly floured surface. Using a scale and bread knife, divide the dough into 10 pieces.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Shape each dough piece into a taut ball, flouring your hands lightly if they stick. Place each shaped ball on a baking sheet, spacing the balls about 3 inches apart. Gently press each ball with your hand to flatten it slightly. Cover the baking sheet with a damp tea towel. Let the dough rest at room temperature for 1–2 hours.
During the last 30 minutes of proofing time, preheat the oven to 450°F. Whisk the egg white and water in a small bowl, and then brush over the top of each bun; sprinkle with sesame and poppy seeds, if desired. Cover each baking sheet with a pan, bowl, or piece of foil that allows you to trap steam while the buns bake. Slide the baking sheets into the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the covering, rotate the trays, and then bake for an additional 10 minutes, until lightly brown on top. Remove the baking sheets from the oven and transfer the buns to wire racks to cool completely before splitting and serving with burgers. Makes 10 buns.
Tips & Tricks
- Although you can eyeball the size of the dough balls, I find it difficult to divide the pieces equally. This doesn’t bother me with Sourdough Pita, but the uniformity created by weighing the brioche dough balls helps if you’ll be serving the buns with burgers.
- As with Sourdough Calzones and Empanadas, an egg-white wash turns brioche buns golden. I’ve also brushed them with whole egg and cream or even whey. A surface wash also lets you sprinkle on seeds, herb salt, or another topping.
- Sourdough tends to be a fairly wet dough, which lets it steam under its own power in the oven—if you cover it. If you’re making a half-batch of buns, preheat your baking stone as you would for Sourdough Cabin Bread and bake the buns straight on it under a bowl. But a whole batch will require trays; cover them with whatever you have that will trap the steam but leave room for the dough to rise.
All month long, Twice as Tasty is getting you hooked on sourdough. If I’ve convinced you that you can and should bake with wild yeast, check out the Sourdough Giveaway Experiment to find out how to get your free sourdough starter. I’m also teaching these techniques in a workshop held in your own kitchen, among friends—and with my personal help. Click here to learn more.