Make this classic French bread in your home kitchen. Buttery, rich with a pillowy, tender crumb, this Sourdough Brioche is the tastiest sandwich bread you’ll ever have. In this recipe, I’ll share how you can make fluffy, soft brioche using your sourdough starter with no commercial yeast.
- What is Brioche?
- What to eat with sourdough brioche
- Baking brioche with sourdough starter
- Using a sweet stiff starter
- Brioche ingredients
- Step-by-step instructions
- How to make sourdough brioche in a stand mixer
- How to make no-knead brioche
- What is the Windowpane Test?
- Recipe FAQs
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- Sourdough Brioche
What is Brioche?
Brioche is a classic French bread with a buttery, tender crumb. It's made with a rich enriched dough with lots of eggs and butter, resulting in a bake that’s a cross between a pastry and bread. Brioche has a much finer crumb and softer texture than a regular loaf of sourdough bread.
Brioche dough is incredibly versatile and can be shaped in various ways! Traditionally, it is baked in a fluted round tin with a small ball on top, known as Brioche à tête. Here I’ll be shaping mine into a sandwich loaf. This dough can even be shaped into rolls to make sourdough brioche buns. It’s also often used as the base for rich and fluffy babka or sticky buns.
What to eat with sourdough brioche
Tearing pillowy soft pieces of freshly-baked Sourdough Brioche is heavenly. My favorite way to enjoy it is on its own, but it's also delicious when used in grilled cheese sandwiches, smeared with garlic butter or toasted with butter and a sprinkling of cinnamon sugar. Day-old brioche makes the most delicious French toast or Bostock Pastry.
Baking brioche with sourdough starter
Sourdough deepens the flavor of any bread but it especially transforms the flavor of buttery brioche. Eggs, milk, sugar and butter have a tenderizing effect on gluten which impart characteristic soft, pillow texture of brioche. These ingredients also drastically slow down fermentation. Expect sourdough brioche dough to rise slower than usual, the initial rise for my dough normally takes about 8 hours, twice the amount of time I usually bulk ferment a basic loaf of sourdough.
Using a sweet stiff starter
I like to use a sweet stiff starter when making enriched bread like brioche. A stiff starter is fed with a higher percentage of flour as a 100% hydration or liquid starter. Most of the hydration for this brioche comes from the eggs and milk, and using a low-hydration starter allows me to control the amount of additional liquid added to the recipe. This also enables me to add a higher proportion of starter to my dough, which helps the dough rise quicker. Adding sugar to the starter limits bacterial activity and acid build-up which reduces sourness.
Having a mature active sourdough starter is especially important for making sourdough brioche. Fermentation would occur too slowly if you used a weak starter, which could cause acidification, causing the gluten in your dough to break down. If this happens, dough will tear as it rises and will be unable to collect and hold on to the carbon dioxide that’s built up during fermentation. As a result, your brioche will be dense, heavy and gummy.
Looking for more soft, fluffy bread recipes made with sourdough? Try my Sourdough Dinner Rolls, Sourdough Babka, Sourdough Japanese Milk Bread, Sourdough Hamburger Buns, Sourdough Sticky Buns and Sourdough Monkey Bread.
Active Sweet Stiff Starter: Make sure your sourdough starter is active before making this recipe! Your brioche will be too sour, heavy, and dense if you use a weak starter. I like to mix my starter the night before creating this recipe.
Cane Sugar: Organic cane sugar is produced using more sustainable methods, so I prefer using it in my bakes, it can be substituted 1:1 for granulated sugar in any recipe.
Bread Flour: The high protein content of bread flour provides structure and allows dough to hold its shape as it rises even with all of the enrichments in the dough, substitute all-purpose flour if that’s all you have. Do not use whole wheat or rye flour or your brioche will turn out too dense.
Milk: Softens gluten and imparts richness. Substitute your favorite plant-based milk.
Eggs: You’ll need 4 large eggs for this recipe. Three egg for the dough and one for egg wash.
Salt: Use sea salt or kosher salt for the best results.
Unsalted butter: Use soft but cold butter for this recipe, butter that’s too warm tends to be greasy and may impart an oily quality to your brioche.
1. Make the sweet stiff starter the night before mixing your dough
2. Whisk together eggs, milk and sugar
3. Stir in the flour, salt and sourdough starter, until the mixture forms a shaggy dough
4. Knead the butter in 1 tablespoon at a time
5. Perform 3 to 4 sets of slap and folds to strengthen the dough
6. Allow the dough to ferment until it has doubled in volume
7. Shape the dough, cover loaf pan with plastic wrap and cold proof overnight
8. Brush tops of the dough with egg wash and bake at 350F for 40 to 45 minutes
How to make sourdough brioche in a stand mixer
If you’re uncomfortable with working with sticky, slack dough, use a mixer.
- Add eggs, milk, sugar, salt and sourdough starter into the mixing bowl and stir to combine with the paddle attachment.
- Switch to the dough hook, and with the mixer on, add the flour in a third at a time.
- Once the dough comes together into a cohesive mass, add the butter in a tablespoon at a time with the mixer on.
- Continue mixing until the dough looks smooth and begins to climb on the hook, this could take up to 15 minutes, don’t be tempted to add more flour.
- Gather the dough into a tight ball and transfer it into a clean bowl, cover it with plastic wrap, and ferment.
How to make no-knead brioche
This is a wet and sticky dough that’s almost impossible to knead. To make this dough by hand and to create strength I found that slap and folds were more effective than kneading. Slap and fold also known as a French fold is a technique commonly used for high-hydration dough that's difficult to handle.
- Turn the dough out on a clean work surface
- Gently pick up the dough with your fingertips
- Slap the dough on the work surface with some force
- Fold the dough over itself and tuck it underneath itself
Perform 3 or 4 sets in 30-minute intervals, until your dough passes the windowpane test.
What is the Windowpane Test?
The windowpane test demonstrates the strength of the gluten network. To see if your dough is strong enough, you should be able to stretch a piece of dough thin enough to see the outline of your fingers through it without tearing.
Sourdough Brioche is buttery and slightly sweet. Sourdough adds a nuanced character which balances its richness. Using an active sweet stiff starter tames the sour qualities of sourdough and prevents your brioche from becoming too sour.
Brioche is made with a rich dough that includes a high proportion of milk, eggs and butter. These ingredients tenderize gluten which results in bread that has a fine crumb with a soft and pillowy texture.
Bread flour holds its structure and is able to hold its shape as it rises without collapsing in the oven even with all of its enrichments.
There are a few reasons your brioche did not turn out light and fluffy.
1. Your starter is too weak
2. You did not give your dough enough time to rise
3. Your dough was not kneaded enough and the dough is too weak
4. Your dough has acidified and the gluten has broken down
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- 8 by 4 inch loaf pan
- pastry brush
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Sweet Stiff Starter
- 60 grams all-purpose flour
- 42 grams water
- 14 grams cane sugar
- 14 grams sourdough starter mature and active
- 75 grams whole milk
- 3 eggs large
- 30 grams cane sugar
- 300 grams bread flour
- 6 grams salt
- 113 grams unsalted butter softened and cold
- 1 egg large
- Make the sweet stiff starter: The night before, combine sweet stiff starter ingredients together. Stir until well combined, cover with a piece of plastic wrap and set in a warm place.60 grams all-purpose flour, 42 grams water, 14 grams cane sugar, 14 grams sourdough starter
- Make the dough: Whisk together the milk, eggs and cane sugar until completely incorporated.75 grams whole milk, 3 eggs, 30 grams cane sugar
- Stir in the bread flour, salt and all of the sweet stiff starter. Mix until the dough comes together in a cohesive mass.300 grams bread flour, 6 grams salt
- Add the butter: Knead the butter into the dough, one tablespoon at a time. Your dough will feel less greasy as the butter soaks into the dough. Wait until each addition is incorporated completely before adding more.113 grams unsalted butter
- Strengthen the dough: Turn the dough out on a lightly-oiled work surface. Complete a set of slap and folds, to do this pick the dough up with your fingertips, slap it on your work surface with some force and fold it over itself. Repeat this process 5 to 6 times, until the dough begins to feel tighter. Gather the dough into a tight ball and transfer it into a clean, lightly-oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set in a warm place.
- Complete 3 to 4 sets of slap and folds in 30-minute intervals, until your dough passes the windowpane test. (You don’t need to replace the bowl every time).
- Bulk Fermention: Let the dough rise until it has doubled in volume. The dough should look bubbly and feel like it is full of air. This could take between 6 to 8 hours. Give your dough enough time to rise and do not shape it until it has risen noticeably.
- Shape the dough: Grease an 8 by 4-inch loaf tin with butter, or line it with parchment paper. Turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces using a bench scraper. Round each into a tight ball. Place each dough ball into your prepared pan.
- Cold proof: Cover the pan with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator overnight. You should see your dough rise slowly in the refrigerator.
- Prep: The next day, preheat the oven to 350 F. Beat the egg until no traces of egg white remain. If your dough has not risen, set it out and let it rise at room temperature until it is about ¼-inch from the top of the pan.1 egg
- Bake: Brush the tops of the dough with egg wash. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until the loaf is golden brown.
- Enjoy and store: Let the loaf cool for 15 minutes before slicing. Store leftover slices in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.
These recipes were developed and tested using grams for precise measurements. To increase your chances of success, I recommend investing in a kitchen scale. I've included rough volume estimates (in tablespoons and cups), but they might not be totally accurate.
Remember all ovens are unique, these recipes were tested in my oven which runs cooler than others. You might need to lower the temperature if your bake appears to be browning too quickly. Monitor your bake closely and make adjustments if needed.
- When in doubt, use gram over volume measures
- If you're uncomfortable with handling wet dough, use a stand mixer instead of making this dough by hand
- Use a mature active starter before making this recipe