INGREDIENTS for 2 loaves:
1 package or 1 tablespoon dry active yeast
2/3 cup warm water
2/3 cup unbleached flour
4-1/3 (+) cups unbleached flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
6 large eggs at room temp.
4 tablespoons warm water (100 degrees)
3 sticks (3/4 pound) softened unsalted butter
Starter: Let the yeast get creamy in the warm water. Add flour to make a sticky batter. Cover the bowl and leave in a warm (70 degree), draft-free spot for 2 hours or overnight.
Mixing dough: Blend together flour, sugar, and salt in either a mixing bowl by hand or in the bowl of an electric mixer (use the paddle attachment). Remove half of the dry mixture to add later. Add 4 eggs and 2 tablespoons water into 1/2 of the dry mix to make a thick batter. Work in the soft butter pieces 2 tablespoons at at time. Add remaining eggs and water. Stir in remaining half of the dry ingredients, 1/2 cup at a time, to get a smooth soft ball that can be worked by hand.
Kneading by hand: Flatten the dough on a lightly floured workspace and turn out the frothy starter. Fold the dough over the starter completely encasing it. Knead the doughs together until they are thoroughly blended into one light colored mass. The dough may remain tacky even as it tightens with kneading. Add flour sparingly, and work 5-8 minutes.
Kneading in a machine: Add the starter to the dough and knead with the dough hook adding flour slowly until the dough cleans the sides and bottom of the workbowl. Continue working for 3-4 minutes. Turn dough out on a work surface and knead by hand to be sure the dough is ready for rising.
Rising Place the dough in a lightly buttered bowl with plastic cover to rise to more than double in a 80 degree, sheltered spot. This may take up to 3 hours. The dough will be light and quite puffy.
Place risen dough directly in the refrigerator to chill for 2 hours or overnight. Punch it down, and divide in two. Flatten each piece into a oblong, and double letter fold it as described in the French Bread recipe. Place dough in buttered coffee cans or mousseline pans. Dough should fill 2/3's of the container. Butter, wrap, and tie brown paper collars around the cans extending 6" above the rim.
Let the dough rise to double, which will take at least 1 hour, and up to 2 hours if the dough was left overnight in the refrigerator.
Baking: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake 45-50 minutes. Brioche will be deep brown. A metal skewer inserted to the center will register 200 degrees when it is done. Place the baked bread on racks. Remove the paper collars immediately. After 10 minutes pull gently or twist breads from the cans to cool completely.
This recipe is adapted from one by the same name that appears in Bernard Clayton's book, The Breads of France.