BBA #4: Brioche

Brioche for breakfast

When I told my husband that I was making brioche this week he was interested, as usual, in the bread he would be trying.

“So what’s in brioche?”

“Oh, just a few sticks of butter, 5 eggs, and some whole milk.  A little sugar–”

It was at this point that he cut me off saying his angina had called, and was all that really necessary?

Of course it’s necessary.  Peter Reinhart calls brioche, the fourth recipe in The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, “the standard by which all rich breads” are judged.  In France, revolutionaries attributed an old quote of “qu’ils mangent de la brioche” to Marie Antoinette, and it got her head cut off.  When Americans tell that same story, they sub in “cake” for brioche.  It’s that rich.  It’s light, delicate, airy in crumb, and ephermal on the tongue.  But, maybe it didn’t have to be a rich as I described.  I was dreaming of making Reinhart’s Rich Man’s Brioche, which uses a full pound of butter to give his bread the ultimate flake.

So, I compromised and made the Middle-Class version of the brioche with only 2 sticks of butter in it.  My compromise was partially rooted in the fact that there were only two whole sticks of butter in my fridge, and I didn’t really want to make a trip to the store for more butter.  I admit, I also had some reservations about mixing this dough by hand with a whisk and wooden spoon instead of a Kitchen Aid.  I’d heard some say that getting the butter in by hand was next to impossible.  I’m happy to report that it really isn’t, but the key is in having your butter truly at room temperature.  To start, I put two sticks of butter out on Friday night, so that they could soften completely by the time I was ready to make the sponge and dough on Saturday.

Creating dough collage

No one lied when they said that this would be a workout.  I made the sponge, and it rose beautifully.  I added the eggs, which had been whisked smooth.  I added in the flour, the sugar, the salt.  Getting everything evenly hydrated involved lots of scraping, lots of folding, stirring and coaxing.  I was glad of the five minute rest for the gluten to develop.  I returned to add in the butter.  Taking Reinhart’s advice of adding it one quarter at a time was not impossible.  The butter was beautifully soft, and it spread and coated the dough.  I continued mixing, folding, adding more butter; not once was I tempted to make my hands do the work.  Now, his advice to mix for an additional six minutes after adding all the butter was a bit more work.  My arms were so tired from forcing a wooden spoon through the dough.  It was soft, but still very hard to mix.  I mixed for closer to ten minutes, realizing that as I tired I would not mix as well.  I placed my Silpat on the bottom of my baking sheet and misted it with spray oil.  I formed the requisite rectangle of dough, misted the whole with more spray oil, and placed it in the fridge.  There may have been no kneading involved, but the stirring was quite the workout!

The next morning brought shaping.  I was going to make one large brioche à tête, four smaller ones, and use anything left for rolls.  I did not fear handling the dough.  I knew it must remain very cold, and I kept my hands well-floured.  Shaping went well until I panicked regarding my large brioche à tête mold.  Fill it halfway – what is halfway?  I couldn’t decide, so I kept it conservative.  I had a lot of dough left, so I made pullapart rolls with the rest.  I now know that every bit of dough in those pullapart rolls should have gone into the large brioche à tête.  It came out of the oven rather skimpy, even though all of the dough produced a wonderful oven spring.

Shaping dough

The other thing I noticed post baking is that the little “têtes” had varying degrees of uprightness.  A few were right where they belonged.  Others leaned a bit to one side during proofing.  Those that leaned became even more prominent after baking.  This time I shaped the brioche à tête in two separate pieces, adding a ball to the top.  Next time, I will experiment with making some in one piece as suggested alternatively in the book.

Nonetheless, I brushed my egg wash on the brioche, baked them off, and they were delicious.  They baked up quickly in the amount of time suggested in the recipe, easily reaching the appropriate internal temperatures.  

The crusts were glossy and flaky.  

Brioche a tete


The crumb was tight and golden.

Interior crumb

The recipe is winning.  I am fantasizing about making them again and serving them for dessert filled with chocolate hazelnut gelato– but I tend to need to occupy my mind while riding my bike.  This is a bread that requires a bit of exercise post-enjoyment!


Split brioche with jam

This is some more yeasty goodness I’m sending over to Yeastspotting.

The Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge was developed by Nicole of Pinch My Salt. You can see what we’re baking this week at our Flickr group, on Twitter (#BBA), or check out the challenge page.

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38 thoughts on “BBA #4: Brioche

  1. Great job! I can almost taste the one in the photo with the jam. And yes, I need to go on a few more hikes through the countryside to burn off some of those extra brioche calories.

    • I can’t help but include jam in the photos. I love bread and jam. And sometimes bread and honey. But the little brioche a tete that I drizzled with honey while still warm….let’s just say it didn’t make it to the photo-op. You would think with all this kneading and stirring we’d work off a bit of the bread, but I think I am needing to start the ol’ exercise regimen. Can’t wait to see your casatiello!

  2. I love your collages! I skipped the egg wash since I was already in danger of having to squeeze the hen, but it didn’t matter too much. Yours have great color, my oven was a bit too hot. Oh well, eat the evidence and we’ll be taking a bike ride this evening as well!

    • Thanks, Saara! I struggle with oven temperature, too. I need to get an internal thermometer so I can see what I’m really baking my breads at. Some take a lot longer than specified! Still delicious in the end, though. I like the idea of eating the evidence. 🙂

    • I would definitely love to get my hands on some gelato right now. Athens is delightful – I miss it. Can’t say I miss the football games, though. They were exhausting.

  3. They look amazing! I could not imagine doing this by hand either. Heck my arms are exhausted just reading your commentary.

    Now on to the next challenge we go 🙂

  4. You have my heart at the sheer MENTION of brioche.
    Such a decadent bread… and it looks like you really did it justice.

    What a work out, though. Huh?

    • It’s a great recipe – I am really trying to give these breads my best effort, as I’m using this as my own bread-baking class. I figure I’m working off some of the calories I’m eating, right?

  5. Oh jeez. Seriously. I can’t wait to try this one — but I am going for the rich man’s version. I just have to see what it tastes like. I’ll be looking to your write up here to help me along. Very nice job on this — photos are awesome!

    • That is a real compliment coming from you! I love your photos. I can’t wait to hear what you think of the Rich Man’s. If I hadn’t been out of butter, I might have found out. Now I’m dreaming of Casatiello and bacon grease.

    • Thanks, Teri. I swear, mixing by hand isn’t nearly as difficult as it seems. I’ve never owned a stand mixer, so I don’t have anything to compare it to. I have a hand mixer for cookie dough and such, but I broke that making a very stiff Spritz dough last Christmas. I could get another, but I figured – why not go the old-fashioned way? It definitely gives you a feel for the process.

  6. Great post. I’ve never made brioche myself, but you’ve given me the will to try this weekend. It’s such a delicious creation. Your pictures make the experience all the more palatable!

    • Try it! You will not be sorry. Nigella makes an orange-scented brioche that I love the sound of. I’d like to combine some of her flavorings with Reinharts technique. I think it would be wonderful.

    • Oh, make some brioche! Your tastebuds will thank you (although your hips might not). I would never be this motivated without doing this with a group of other bakers. It definitely keeps me on track!

  7. I’m in awe that you mixed this by hand — what a job! It used to bother me that I couldn’t get all my tetes to stand up straight, but I’ve decided they look more interesting with varying degrees of lean.

    • It wasn’t nearly as bad as I feared! I think I get just as much of a workout kneading other loaves, so it’s a fair trade off. The little tetes are very whimsical at their odd angles, aren’t they?

  8. Hayley, you’ve done an excellant job here!!
    Brioche gets a bit of stick because of the preparation, but you’ve taken us on the journey & made it sound interesting, especially with the photo’s. :0)

    • Thanks, Lesley! Brioche, was shockingly, not very hard. But, when you make it at home you get to see all the wicked ingredients that go in! WIth a stand mixer, it would be extremely easy, I think. Reinhart has a winning series of recipes.

  9. it’s so wonderful when you put so much time and effort into something and it turns out so lovely. as far as i can tell, it’s perfect, and i love that last shot–the jam’s the perfect accompaniment. 🙂

  10. Even the middle class brioche is too rich for me. The little calorie bombs makes me nervous. Looks like your loaves baked up light and fluffy!

    • These definitely turned out beautifully. I have to agree with you; they are a little rich for my tastes. I am really looking forward to getting to the lean breads and away from the enriched. The poolish ciabatta looks sooooo good.

  11. Pingback: BBA Challenge #4 – Brioche, je t’aime « Bon Vivant

  12. Pingback: BBA Challenge #4 – Brioche, je t’aime | Beyond [the Plate]

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