Sweet Yeast Dough

1 cup milk1/4 cup warm water1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp sugar
1/4 cup butter   1 scant Tbsp (or package) active dry yeast ~ 4 cups flour
1 beaten egggrated rind of an orange or a lemon (about 1 Tbsp)    1/2 Tbsp salt

In a large bowl, add the yeast to the warm water, which should be between 105°F and 115°F, and let the yeast dissolve for a few minutes. In the meantime, melt the butter, add the milk, and warm the mixture gently on the stovetop or in the microwave to take the chill off. (Don't let it get over 115°F.) Add the butter, milk, egg, and rind to the yeast and stir. Add the sugar.

If you have the time, forming an initial sponge with the dough will improve the final texture and make the dough easier to work. However, this increases the total rising time, so feel free to leave this step out. To make the sponge, add 2 cups of the flour to the bowl, stir everything together, cover the bowl, and leave it in a warm place to rise for an hour or two.

Now, add the salt and the rest of the flour (or all of the flour) to the dough. Start by stirring the flour in with a mixing spoon, but once you have incorporated a total of 3 cups of flour, mix the next 1/2 cup in with your hands. The last 1/2 cup, or only as much of it as is necessary, should be worked into the dough on the kneading board. Your final dough should be very soft and flexible, so only add extra flour as the dough starts to stick to your hands or the kneading board. The total amount of flour you use may be well over or well under 4 cups; go by how the dough feels.

If you have a stand mixer with a dough hook, you can also mix the dough and start the kneading there. Add the salt and (the remainder of) 3 1/2 cups of flour in the mixer, then turn the dough out on a kneading board and work in extra flour as needed.

Knead the dough until it is smooth. If you find the dough stiffening up to the point where it is difficult to work, let it rest for a few minutes while you clean your hands and the bowl and then finish kneading. Place the dough back into the bowl (or into a fresh bowl), and leave it to rise until "doubled," i.e., until the dough does not spring back when you press a finger into it. This will take one to two hours, and usually takes longer if you skip the sponge.

The dough is now ready to be punched down and used in any recipe calling for a sweet yeast dough. Your final yield will be between 2 1/4 and 2 1/2 pounds of dough.

The total work and rising time is 4 - 5 hours with the sponge or about 2 1/2 hours without it.

I have a friend who is allergic to dairy, and I have successfully made this dough substituting almond milk and vegetable oil for the milk and butter. The result isn't quite as flavorful, but it's still pretty good. Making this vegan would be much harder, as the egg is important for the overall texture.

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