The scent of warm bread fills the kitchen. There's sugar and spice too—cinnamon and sugar and a hint of festive, fragrant flavors like nutmeg and cloves. I sniff the air. “Butter,” I think, picturing myself earlier as I methodically sliced two sticks into pale yellow pats and dropped them into the bowl of my stand mixer. A faint yeastiness hints at what’s rising inside the oven: a gorgeously browned brioche loaf, prettily domed with a curved surface as the hillocks of pale dough puff in the heat.
The brioche is eggy and rich. Properly baked, each slice will reveal an airy, ethereally light crumb inside with a structure of vertical holes that are wispier and more cotton candy-like than, say, the interior of a sandwich loaf. A brioche should have a texture somewhere in between a white dinner roll and a panettone: delicate but not too delicate.
Of all the breads, brioche might be one of my favorites, as it manages to be both fluffy and rich at the same time. It’s nice for sandwiches, French toast, and…okay let’s just be real…eating straight from the oven while still warm, torn apart with your hands.
I’m in the holiday baking state of mind, and so this recipe today is one I played around with to make the most of the season of spices.
Start with a standard brioche recipe, but rather than just use plain old water or milk as the liquid, I toasted some gingerbread spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and allspice) quickly in a skillet then added milk to the pan. I let it sit for a bit to infuse the spices into the milk, then I proceeded to mix the dough as usual.
The result is really quite lovely. The loaf is just barely sweet and has a subtle hint of spice. You can certainly taste the gingerbread flavors, but it’s not at all overwhelming. You could go sweet or savory with it: Toast it and top it with butter and cinnamon sugar for a snack. Turn it into a bread pudding with a cinnamon-spiced custard.
Or slice it for a sandwich with carved ham, grainy mustard, cornichons, and Swiss cheese. I also think it would be really great as a warm pressed sandwich with roasted butternut squash and fresh ricotta—I’d add some thyme, a drizzle of honey, and maybe something with a kick like chimichurri sauce for a good salty/sweet balance.
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 cup lukewarm milk
2 3/4 cups (236g) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (35g) nonfat dry milk
3 tablespoons (35g) sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon instant or active dry yeast
3 eggs + 1 egg yolk (reserve the white)
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
Add all the spices (ginger, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and nutmeg) to a medium skillet set over medium heat and toast, shaking/stirring constantly, for about 1 minute or until fragrant. Immediately add the milk and cook for 1 minute, then remove from the heat and let the milk sit for about 15 minutes to infuse it with the toasted spices.
Add the infused milk to the bowl of a stand mixer along with the rest of the ingredients (except the reserved egg white) and mix on medium speed with the dough hook until the batter comes together, then increase the speed to medium-high and knead for at least 10 minutes. The dough is quite sticky so you really need to give it a long kneading time. As you knead it, it will come together I promise! It will still be sticky but it will start to become smooth and elastic and not as wet, just persevere! You can do this by hand but it will be exhausting—I highly recommend the mixer.
Transfer the dough to a lightly greased mixing bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let it rise at room temperature for 1 hour and then place it in the refrigerator and let it chill overnight (or for at least 12 hours). This will ensure a longer, slower fermentation of the dough and helps develop flavor.
After the overnight rise, remove the dough from the fridge and divide it into 6 even pieces.
Roll each piece into a ball and place the balls in a lightly greased 10” loaf pan (a 9” x 5” will work as well). You can shape this loaf in other ways too: divide it into 3 pieces, roll each piece into a log, and braid them, then bake it on a parchment-lined sheet pan. Or, divide it into 9 or 12 small balls and bake it in a round cake pan.
Once shaped, cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap and let rise for about 2 1/2 hours, or until noticeably puffy.
Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. When you’re ready to bake, whisk the reserved egg white with 1 tablespoon of milk and brush it lightly over the surface of the dough. If you want, sprinkle the top with sparkling sugar or coarse white pearl sugar.
Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the temperature down to 350 degrees F and continue to bake for 30 more minutes. The brioche should be a deep, dark golden brown. If it’s browning too quickly, just tent it with foil as it bakes.
Remove from the oven and let cool before slicing.