“Every morning, I wake up and forget just for a second that it happened. But once my eyes open, it buries me like a landslide of sharp, sad rocks. Once my eyes open, I’m heavy, like there’s too much gravity on my heart.” – Sarah Ockler
I never really know how to answer when people ask me what my favourite thing to bake is. The question does come surprisingly a lot. Usually, I just answer with my most recent decadent and indulgent creation. Something that’s sure to impress. But when I really think about it, I do have a favourite thing to bake. And it’s a humble loaf of brioche.
A good brioche will never disappoint. In my world, a rustic loaf out-shines a multi component dessert or finicky layer cake any day. There’s something about that uniquely rich buttery taste and aerated cloud-like texture that I can’t seem to get enough of. I love that it dissolves in a mouthful too. And dunked in milk? Heaven.
A few weeks ago, I whipped up this Brown Sugar and Cinnamon Cream Cheese Brioche Wreath after being inspired by an image for a braided sugared rose brioche in Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Baking Bible. Usually when I make brioche, I use my own much-loved recipe. Though this time I decided to try the basic dough recipe from The Baking Bible. And it’s become my new favourite.
The recipe begins with a poolish starter, which is set out to combine for twenty-four hours. The dough is then made and allowed to rise a few times before resting for up to two days in the refrigerator so that it develops slowly in a temperature-controlled environment. The end result is really worth all the time-spent waiting – the brioche is intensely flavoured and unbelievably soft.
I can’t rave about the recipe enough. And after making it, I do think my little recipe needs some adjustments. It’s quite an easy brioche recipe to follow too, despite the long list of instructions. Most of the process is just waiting for the dough to rise, and knocking it back every so often. I love that you can make it in advance as well as the dough can be stored for up to a few days in the refrigerator.
Once baked though, this Brown Sugar and Cinnamon Cream Cheese Brioche Wreath is best served on the day it is made. The buttery and aerated brioche dough is loaded with a mixture of brown sugar and cinnamon, then braided, baked and glazed in a light drizzle of a cinnamon cream cheese frosting.
Each flavour packed into this Brown Sugar and Cinnamon Cream Cheese Brioche Wreath is distinct yet independent at the same time. It is a terribly delicious brioche, filled with a spiced sweetness that makes for the most ideal of weekend breakfasts or mid-morning treats.
- 2 tablespoons water, at room temperature
- 1 tablespoon superfine (caster) sugar
- ½ cup plain flour
- ¼ teaspoon instant dried yeast
- 1 large egg, at room temperature
- 1 cup + 3 tablespoons plain flour
- 2 tablespoons superfine (caster) sugar
- 1 ¼ teaspoon instant dried yeast
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- 2 large eggs, cold
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, very soft
- 1 large egg, at room temperature and lightly beaten
- ⅓ cup superfine (caster) sugar
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 4 ounces / 115 grams cream cheese, at room temperature
- 3 tablespoons icing (confectioners’) sugar
- 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean extract
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 4 to 5 tablespoons whole milk
- In a small bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, place the water, sugar, flour, yeast and egg. Whisk by hand or beat on medium seed until very smooth and thick. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Whisk again to gently combine then set aside.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, yeast and salt. Sprinkle the flour mixture over the dough starter to form a blanket of flour. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let it ferment for 1 ½ to 2 hours at room temperature, or 1 hour at room temperature and up to 24 hours refrigerated.
- Attach the dough hook to the body of a stand mixer. Add the eggs to the dough starter and flour mixture and beat on low speed for 1 minute, until the flour is moistened. Raise the speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes. Pause mixing, scrape down the sides of the bowl then continue beating for about 5 minutes, or until the dough is smooth, soft and sticky. Add the butter, a tablespoon at a time and continue beating for 3 minutes on high speed until all of the butter is incorporated and the dough is smooth and velvet in texture.
- Place the dough in a large and lightly greased dough bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise in a warm place until it has doubled in size, 1 ½ to 2 hours then refrigerate the dough for 1 hour to firm; this will prevent the butter solids from separating. Gently deflate the dough by stirring it with a silicone spatula then return it to the refrigerator for another hour so it will be less sticky to handle.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and press down into a rectangle, flouring the surface and dough as needed to keep the dough from sticking. The exact size of the rectangle is not important. Give the dough a business letter turn (folded into thirds), brushing off any excess flour, and again press down to form a rectangle. Rotate it 90 degrees so the closed end is facing your left. Give it a second business letter turn and round the corners. Dust it lightly on all sides with flour then wrap lightly in plastic wrap and place it in a large sealable or plastic bag. Refrigerate for 6 hours or up to 2 days to let the dough ripen.
- Remove the dough from the refrigerator and gently press down to deflate it then shape as specified.
- Grease and line a 10-inch / 25 cm spring form pan and set it aside.
- In a small bowl combine the sugar and cinnamon.
- Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and flour the top. Using your fingertips, press the dough down to flatten it evenly. With a rolling pin, roll the dough into a 20-inch / 50 cm circle, moving the dough and flouring it as necessary.
- Brush the entire surface of the dough with the beaten egg then evenly sift over the cinnamon sugar mixture.
- Starting from the top, use your fingers and the aid of a ruler to roll up the dough into a log shape. With each roll, dust off any flour from the surface, and press firmly along the dough roll to keep it tight. When you reach the bottom edge of the dough, pinch it firmly to make a tight seam. Pinch the ends of the dough firmly together, and then arrange the roll so that the seam is facing upwards.
- Using a sharp knife, cut the dough lengthwise into equal halves.
- Keep the cut sides up then cross each dough half over each other to form an X shape. Always keeping the cut sides facing up, lift up the bottom two ends of the dough and cross the upper one under the lower one. Continue twisting the strands until you reach the ends of the dough and then pinch them together. Repeat with the other two ends of the dough to form a long spiral.
- Unlock the spring-form pan and slide the pan bottom under the middle of the dough spiral. Gently coil the dough around itself, always being sure to keep the cut sides facing up. Tuck the remaining dough end underneath the coil.
- Reattach the sides of the pan. Cover it loosely with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for 45 minutes to 1½ hours, or until doubled.
- minutes before baking, pre-heat the oven to 325 F / 160 C.
- Bake for 20 minutes then rotate the pan halfway around. Continue baking for a further 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until risen and golden.
- Release the brioche from the pan and let it cool on a wire rack before glazing.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese, icing (confectioners’) sugar and light brown sugar until smooth. Add in the vanilla, cinnamon and milk. Continue to mix until thick but runny enough to drizzle over the brioche.