1 Tablespoon instant yeast (*see notes for sourdough starter option)
3/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons (200g total) warm whole milk, about 95°F
1 large egg, room temperature
4 Tablespoons (57g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to about 90°F
1 egg beaten with 1 Tablespoon water
Mix: In medium bowl, combine the flour, nonfat dry milk, sugar, salt and yeast. Combine with a whisk and set aside. To the bowl of a stand mixer, add the milk, 1 egg, melted butter and half of the flour mixture. Mix on low speed with the dough hook attachment until all ingredients are incorporated and mixture is smooth. Gradually add the remainder of the flour mixture, allowing it to fulling incorporate for about 2 minutes.
Rest: Cover and let dough rest for 20 minutes – this gives the flour time to absorb the liquids, making the dough less sticky.
Knead: After the dough has rested, knead on low speed for 6-10 minutes or until the dough can pass the windowpane test – you should be able to stretch the dough at least 3-4 inches without it tearing. A successful windowpane test will reveal a dough that is nearly translucent when stretched. If the dough cannot stretch at least 3 inches without tearing, knead it for another 1-2 minutes and test it again. Repeat if necessary until it passes the windowpane.
First Rise: Place the dough in a large bowl greased with nonstick spray, turning it so that all surfaces of the dough are coated. Cover the dough with a plastic bowl cover or clean kitchen towel. Let the dough rise until doubled in size, about 60-90 minutes.
Scale: Punch down the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces. If using a kitchen scale, they should weigh about 120 grams each.
Pre shape: Slightly flatten each piece of dough into a 4-inch square and roll up. This pre shaping will help you get a prettier rope later.
Roll the dough: Roll each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope. Slightly taper the dough at both ends by applying a bit more pressure on the dough with your fingertips. Be sure to watch my video on this post for visual help!
Braiding the dough: To make the heart, you’ll need two braided pieces of dough. To make the first braid, take three of the six ropes and pinch the ends together on one end. Braid the dough by bringing the center rope over the right rope, making the right rope become the center rope. Bring the now center rope over the left rope, making the left rope the center rope. Continue this pattern until you reach the end. Pinch the ends together and slightly taper the ends (just as you did when making the ropes). Repeat this braiding method with the remaining 3 ropes, eventually giving you tow braided ropes.
Shaping the heart: Prepare a half sheet baking sheet (13″x18″) by lining it with parchment paper. Arrange each of the two braided pieces of dough into a heart shape, pinching the dough together at both points of the heart where the two ends meet.
Final Rise: Cover the dough with a clean kitchen towel and let it rise while the oven preheats to 350°F, about 30 minutes. Avoid over proofing this final rise, or the heart shape may get too puffy, causing it to lose it’s defined shape. Prepare the egg wash by whisking together one egg with 1 Tablespoon water.
Bake: Before baking, brush the dough with the egg wash, getting all of the crevices. Bake on the center rack of the oven for 24-28 minutes or until the bread is golden brown and has an internal temperature of 190°F. Allow the bread to cool on the pan for 15 minutes before serving.
Store any leftovers in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
Make Ahead Option Number One: Mix the dough and place in a large greased bowl. Cover with plastic bowl cover or plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. Chilling the dough will slow down the rising process, keeping it from over proofing. About one hour before you want to serve the bread, remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for 15 minutes. Then complete steps 5-11 in the recipe.
Make Ahead Option Number Two: Once dough is shaped and braided, place it in the refrigerator for up to 6 hours before removing to bake. It will slightly rise in the refrigerator. Preheat oven to 350°F before removing the bread. Bake the bread immediately after removing from the refrigerator and brushing with egg wash.
Smaller options: Instead of making one large heart, you can make smaller versions by diving the dough into smaller pieces. To make mini, individual sizes, roll the entire dough (instead of dividing it up) into a 12×16-inch rectangle. Use a pizza cutter to cut 24, 1/2-inch strips lengthwise. Cut the dough strips into fourths along the opposite direction, creating 96 total strips. Create braids with the strips, just as directed in the recipe. This will make 16 total mini braided hearts. Continue remaining instructions in the recipe. Please note – when baking smaller versions of the this recipe, bake time will decrease. For minis, bake time will be closer to 16-18 minutes.
This dough also makes a delicious white sandwich loaf! Bake on 350°F for 30-35 minutes.