Mix yeast, water, and 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar in a small bowl. Set aside until bubbly.
Heat milk and melt butter. Stir in 1/2 cup sugar and let it cool.
Sift the measured flour into a bowl.
Add yeast mixture, milk mixture, and egg yolks to the flour in a bowl and mix until well blended and bound, then transfer to a greased bowl. Let rise for 1 hour. I like to proof my dough in a 100°F oven.
Punch down the dough and divide it into 4 pieces, about 165g each. Lightly knead each portion and form into a ball. Keep the balls of dough lightly covered while you work with each individual piece.
Roll out one ball of dough into an oblong shape about 1/4 inch thick. Sprinkle with grated cheese (optional). Starting from the long side, roll the dough into a long log, pinch the seams, and roll the dough until it is about 15 inches in length, tapering the dough at one end. Starting at the thick end, roll the dough into a coil, and tuck the tapered end underneath. Place in greased brioche mold. Lightly cover while you repeat for the remaining dough.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. As the oven preheats, allow the dough to rise at room temperature for about 20-30 minutes.
Brush with melted butter and bake at 350°F for 15 minutes or until golden brown (with an internal temperature of 185°F).
Brush the brioche with softened butter, sprinkle with granulated sugar, and cheese (optional). Enjoy!
Make ahead: The wonderful thing about baking bread is you can break up the process.
If you wish to make the dough the night before, make the dough up to the first rise, punch down the dough and form it into balls. Lightly cover and refrigerate the dough until you are ready to bake. You may find the dough is elastic when you take it out of the fridge; just give it some time to warm up at room temperature and it will be easier to roll out.
You can also form the coils, place them into molds, and refrigerate until you are ready to bake. In either case, you may find that the second rise will take longer, as you working with cold dough.
Yield: This recipe makes 4 large ensaymada in 5.5 fluted brioche molds and can easily be doubled to serve more. The dough can also make smaller ensaymada to suit your molds, just keep an eye on baking time, and shorten as necessary.
Don’t have brioche molds? Not to worry. You can also make these in jumbo muffin baking pan, or simply on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
How to measure flour: Scoop unsifted flour into measuring cups and level, or even better, use a kitchen scale to measure by weight. You will sift the flour after measuring.