Making Brioche

I had the opportunity last weekend to finally commit the time required to try out all of their takes on a classic French bread: brioche. I followed their brioche recipes and methods exactly as outlined (except where noted) and then compared the results. In this the first installment, I will discuss a unique brioche recipe. The recipe was taken from

Before I get into any specifics I think it is prudent to discuss exactly what brioche is. It is often held as the most supple of all breads – and with good reason – it is enriched with eggs and a TON of butter (well actually a ton if one makes 2.2 tons of brioche). You have most likely encountered it in a restaurant bread basket (as the best roll you’ve ever eaten – slathering butter on a hot piece of brioche is akin to covering deep fried ham in chocolate, both completely unnecessary and equally indulgent) or as the pastry in a cinnamon roll or sticky bun. It is a yeast risen bread, traditionally including butter, flour, eggs, yeast, sugar, salt and sometimes milk. Brioche’s most well known form is probably brioche à tête, in which the bread is shaped to resemble a small boule shaped piece on top of a larger round (literally “to head”). From the wikipedia entry we find out that the infamous “S’ils n’ont plus de pain, qu’ils mangent de la brioche” loosely translated and better known as “if they have no bread let them eat cake” generally attributed to Marie-Antoinette may have been said by another, whom Rousseau referred to as “a great princess.” Not as is commonly purported, it was not a simple case of a wealthy woman misunderstanding just how poor the poor were, but rather a public decree backing the law of the time (when the price of bread was strictly regulated in the cities of France) that forced bakers to sell the more “luxurious” breads (brioche-like) for the same price as standard bread, when there was otherwise no regular pain available for purchase. You can find an interesting forum article from on the subject here.

The chef is undoubtedly at the forefront of modern pastry arts in France, and arguably worldwide. He is credited with several creations. He is clearly a culinary genius, I mean this sincerely. While I am certainly not an expert on the subject, from reading the publication of his that I own I have garnered that he is almost invariably condescending right from the preface, in that oh-so-annoying-better-than-thou-Frenchie kind of way. He makes largely impractical statements especially in reference to mostly-unavailable ingredients like: “I recommend the use of fresh butter of excellent quality. To me, fresh butter means a product used 7 days after making, and in which the maximum flavour, even an (sic) hazelnut taste can be found, according to its origin,” and “The spice mixture for the ginger bread can be found in specialized stores or in cooperatives of bakers and pastry-makers of the east coast of France.” Potentially even more annoyingly, he is vague in the amount of servings a recipe will prepare (to which he replies along the lines of ‘a professional chef will know,’ touche,) and there are problems with the translation even so far as saying things like “mixing robot” and leaving flour specifications out of the English text. This is evident in several recipes where in the French text he will call for a particular flour: “600 g de farine type 45″ and the English will just say “flour.” NOTE: In France flour type is delineated by a number and must meet stringent requirements to be sold by that name, ‘type 45′ is roughly equivalent to a good U.S. all-purpose flour. Why am I bothering you with all of this? Because in the brioche recipe he calls for “1 kg de farine de gruau” in French and “flour” in English. As far as I understand it, the designation in the French version can mean flour type 45 or 55 in France (someone who speaks French or knows more about this is welcome to comment). Type 55 is closer to bread flour than all purpose in the U.S., and this is what I decided to use.

Above is the mis en place. The flour is King Arthur’s bread flour, the butter is an imported French butter (President) and the yeast, referred to in the book as “bakers yeast” is fresh yeast (this is also relatively hard to come by for most American home bakers. We are lucky enough to have it at a couple of stores here). The flour to butter ratio for this brioche is 1:1, making it a “rich man’s brioche” as opposed to the more indigent 1 to 0.5 in the “poor man’s brioche.” Also you can see that I beat the eggs, this was done because the total amount of eggs required when I halved the recipe didn’t allow for even measurements of “add 1/3rd of the eggs” in whole eggs.

The recipe is surprisingly the least time consuming. After combing the dry ingredients one beats in the eggs (a third at a time) and incorporates the room temperature butter little by little, till it forms a goopy, messy “slack” dough that leaves the sides of the bowl but sticks to the bottom. After the dough is formed, it is left to rise till it doubles in bulk, punched down, left to rise for 2 more hours, punched down, and placed in the fridge for 4 hours.

In this picture the brioche is proofing the final time in the container in which it will be baked. It is rising superbly and already looks scrumptious.

The finished product baked to perfection, YUM.