For the starter:
1/2 cup milk, lukewarm
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
4 cups bread flour
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup lukewarm milk
2 large eggs
zest of an orange
1 tablespoon ground mahlepi
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground mastic gum (optional)
2 ounces unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
egg wash: 1 egg yolk plus 2 tablespoons water
optional fillings: dried cranberries, raisins, chopped nuts, candied fruit, ground cardamom, vanilla or almond extract
Note: This dough can be prepared in a table top mixer or kneaded by hand in a large bowl or on the countertop. Using a mixer will require less kneading time. About 10 minutes. If making the dough by hand, knead it at least 15 minutes so that the gluten forms well to achieve the desired consistency and texture.
Combine the starter ingredients together in the bowl of a tabletop mixer. Whisk and set aside for 10 minutes to activate the yeast. It is ready when a puffy cloud forms above the mixture.
In another bowl, combine the flour, sugar, orange zest, salt, mahlepi, and mastic gum together. Mix well to combine.
Once the yeast is activated, add all of the remaining ingredients to the mixer's bowl. Turn the mixer on low and knead for 8 minutes.
Add the softened butter and increase the speed to medium (4 on the Kitchen aid) and knead for 2 minutes.
Place some oil in the bottom of a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl. Toss around to coat and form a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place until doubled in volume. About 1 and 1/2 to 2 hours.
Quick Rise Tip: My favorite place to keep the dough so that it rises quickly is in the dryer. Here is what I do:
1) I put 3-4 clean bath towels in the dryer and turn it on (high heat setting) for about 5-6 minutes.
2) I place the bowl with the dough into the dryer (on top of the warm towels) and close the door.
3) Make sure the dryer is OFF!!
4) Remove from the dryer when it has doubled in volume.
This trick usually cuts 30 minutes from the rise time.
Punch down the dough to remove the air. Cut into 2 equal portions.
Cut each portion in thirds.
Roll each portion into about 13 inch long ropes.
Form the 3 ropes into a braid and do the same with the remaining three ropes to shape 2 loaves of brioche.
Place both braided loaves onto a baking tray (18 by 13 inch) lined with parchment paper.
Cover with plastic wrap or with a clean towel.
Set aside until doubled in volume. If using the dryer trick, it takes about 45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, 177 degrees Celsius.
Brush the tops of the brioche dough with the egg wash.
Optional: Place a hard boiled, dyed egg in the braids or top with sliced almonds.
Bake in the center rack of the oven for 30 minutes.
Remove from the oven and cool at least 30 minutes before serving.
Once baked and cooled, the bread can be frozen up to a month. Just make sure to wrap it well with plastic wrap.