I adapted this SAVEUR recipe I found online, but you could use any brioche recipe you might have. Just always be sure to butter the donut pans very well, including the middles, and adjust your baking times accordingly.
For one dozen brioche you will need 1/3 c. whole milk, 1/4 c. sugar, one packet active dry yeast, five eggs at room temperature, 4 c. flour, 1 tsp. salt (fine or regular grain, not sea salt), and 1/2 lb. butter (two 8 tbsp. sticks), plus about 1/4 stick more for greasing the pans. You can also top the butter with baking spray to make sure the brioche come out of the pans cleanly. I tried it both ways and they slipped out of the pans with and without baking spray, but when you put this kind of time in you never can be too careful. That's the other thing you need, by the way: time. There are three rises in this recipe!
Begin by warming the milk to 105-110º. Pour into a large bowl and add a pinch of the sugar, and then all of the yeast. Let that sit until it is foamy, around ten minutes.
While the yeast is working, whisk the flour, salt and remaining sugar together in the bowl of a standing mixer.
When the yeast is ready, whisk in four room temperature eggs, then add that mixture to the dry ingredients in the standing mixer. Using the paddle fitting, mix for a few seconds, then add the 1/2 lb. of butter. Mix on low for a minute, then on medium-high for about seven more minutes, until the dough is shiny and smooth and sticks to the paddle. While the mixer is running, grease a large bowl thoroughly with butter and set aside.
When the dough does this, it's ready!
Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface and knead maybe five or six times to bring it all together. Set it in the greased bowl, cover with a dish towel and let sit in a warm place for 1 3/4 to 2 hours for the first rise. I set mine in our oven (it was not on).
After 1 3/4 hours, my dough looked nice and full like this. When yours has risen, punch it down, cover it with the dish towel again, and set back in a warm place (I again used the oven) for another hour for the second rise.
During that hour I prepped my pans (and ate my lunch). Butter two donut pans with a heavy hand, including the top surface of the pans, the cavities, and the tops of the "holes". As an extra precaution I sprayed one pan with baking spray, but like I mentioned earlier, the brioche came right out of the pans both ways.
After the second rise has finished, punch the dough down again and prepare to form your brioche à tête!
Weigh out twelve piece of dough, all around 2.4 oz. You want to be sure you have enough dough to make twelve balls to go on the tops, so keep your eye on it and adjust accordingly.
To form, take one of the pieces of dough you just measured out and roll it into a ball, compressing if it is starting to rise again so you can still work with it. Push your finger through the center of the ball, then stretch that hole around the center of a donut pan cavity so the dough settles nicely into the pan. You may remember this "poke and stretch" technique from my salt dough ornaments last winter, if you've been following along that long. I can't wait to make those again!
Next, divide the remaining dough into twelve pieces, again making sure the pieces will make nice sized balls for the tops. Roll into balls and place in the center of each brioche donut. Press in around the edges gently, but do your best to make the balls (heads) stand out from the bases (bodies). Cover with a dish towel and let rise another hour for the third and final rise.
When they have risen they will look a little funny, but I have a technique I'll show you to make them more perfectly shaped in a minute.
Preheat your oven to 375º. Whisk the final room temperature egg, then brush the tops (balls and all) of the brioche lightly with the egg. Press the brush lightly around the perimeter of the ball, which will push it back up again and give it a lot more definition. Try not to leave excess egg in the indentations left where you pressed the brush.
Set both pans on a baking sheet and bake until a deep golden brown, between 20-30 minutes, rotating the tray after 15 minutes for even baking.
When they are done, they will look like this. Amazing!
Let the brioche cool in the pans for ten minutes before removing from the donut pans. They come right out, and no burning on the bottoms! Hooray!
We ate four right away with jam. The next day we removed the têtes from four more and toasted the têtes and rings in the broiler, and those were even better than the first day. The last four are off limits for now, sitting in the freezer until next weekend. If you've ever wanted to make one of these donut pan projects and you are into baking and want to impress someone, you can't go wrong with this recipe. Bon appétit!