Making Rich Yeast Breads
With the enrichment of whole eggs, generous portions of sugar and fat (butter or margarine, usually), exotic spices like saffron and mace, and dried fruits, yeast breads become dessertlike confections. This category of "bread cakes" has a long history, especially in England, but also in France, Germany, and Eastern Europe. Eggs, sweeteners, candied peel, and other precious, costly ingredients were carefully allotted to transform simple loaves into festive holiday offerings. Stollen (see our recipe for Stollen) is in this tradition, as is tall, regal Italian panettone (see our recipe for Panettone). Today’s Christmas fruitcakes, now leavened with baking powder, probably derived from these yeast-raised sweet breads. We offer many examples to tempt you, including those quintessential French breakfast buns: golden, eggy brioche (see our recipe for Brioches) and flaky croissants (see our recipe for Croissants).
Recipes for rich yeast breads differ from those for basic yeast breads in more than ingredients and intensified flavor. How these ingredients are combined, their proportions, the consistency of the dough, and the length of rising time change as well.
Eggs impart elasticity to the dough without making it sticky and give the finished bread an appealing golden color and tender crumb. They are beaten into the flour mixture along with other liquids. Increased amounts of butter (or other fats) also enhances color and imparts a silky softness to both crumb and crust. As these and the remaining ingredients are stirred, kneaded, and blended together, the dough develops into a flowing mass that is moderately soft, rather than stiff. Some doughs are the consistency of a batter.
The inclusion of a relatively high amount of sugar inhibits rising. As a result, the rising times for a sweetened dough are often longer than for a basic yeast dough. To boost fermentation, the proportion of yeast to other ingredients is higher than in plain loaves. On the other hand, sugar develops the delectable aroma that is so enticing as well as a deeply colored crust, both integral to the appeal of these wonderfully flavorful and attractive breads. Along with fat, sugar improves the keeping quality of these breads, which means they maintain their freshness longer than an unsweetened baguette or plain loaf.
Have some of the flour in a large bowl with the yeast. Add whole eggs along with the warmed milk mixture.
Mixing the Dough
Beat the mixture on low speed briefly to moisten all the ingredients. Then increase to high speed and beat for 3 minutes more. The mixture will become smooth and uniformly blended.
Stirring in Additions
Pour in any additions and more of the flour. Stir with a wooden spoon to incorporate. Add as much of the remaining flour as possible and stir to blend well.
Checking the Dough
A rich yeast dough will have a moderately soft, elastic consistency. When set on the work surface, it will look more relaxed than a dough made without eggs.