Like the elusive perfect baguette, brioche is one of those breads that always looks picture perfect when you’re standing in the right bakery. If I let myself buy one, it takes an impossible amount of self-restraint not to bite into it the second my claws pounce upon it, & when I do take it, that first bite is the divinely-inspired juxtaposition of flaky, buttery goodness supported by a light & airy pillow of bread.
Less like a pastry & a bit more substantial than a croissant, brioche is your pre-buttered bread that goes well with, well, everything. Plain? Definitely. Jam? No doubt. Cheesy & grilled? Yes, please. It goes from sweet to savory & back again. Of course I want to make it. Don’t you? Ok, maybe you just want to eat it. I know I do.
Brioche is one of the richest breads out there that’s still considered “bread” & not “pastry.” It contains an obscene amount of eggs & butter - an amount that would be considered disgusting if only it didn’t taste so damn good. The word itself comes from the French, meaning “to grind” or “to knead,” which hardly does it justice. Why couldn’t they have come up with something more fitting, like, The Best Bread Ever or Gluttonous Deliciousness? Only, it would be translated into French, automatically sounding more beautiful, tasty & well, classy. If I’d been there, I would have steered them towards something better.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t there. & apparently, neither was Marie Antoinette. Most of us have, at one time or another, learned something about French history or at least heard about Marie Antoinette & her insensitivity towards the peasants when she gave them the figurative royal middle finger in saying, “Let them eat cake,” when she heard that they had no bread to eat. You might have heard that this proclamation is grossly mistranslated (or, rather, deliciously mistranslated), since the original French was: “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche.” Even if you’ve never spoken, heard, or seen French before, you know that the word there is brioche, which is obviously not “cake,” at least, not in the English sense of the word.
But for a bigger shock, it’s possible that Marie Antoinette never even uttered these words. We get this proclamation from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s autobiography, Confessions, & in it, he attributes this phrase to an unnamed “great princess.” At the time that he wrote this, Marie Antoinette was just thirteen years old. It all sounds like a lie to me.
Luckily, there’s no falsehood in brioche itself.
I mixed this dough on Friday afternoon, refrigerated it overnight, & then woke up a little early on Saturday morning to finish it off so we could eat it with scrambled eggs for breakfast. I was even able to squirrel away some slices from the hungry Mr. A to leave out for the rest of the day & night, & today, they took a soak in some milk & made some beautiful French toast.
I know it sounds like a lot of time, but it’s worth it, & it really doesn’t take much work.
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons instant yeast
- 1/2 cup milk, warmed to around 90 degrees
- 5 eggs, room temperature
- 1 + 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 + 1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
- 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
- 1 + 1/4 teaspoons salt
- 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tablespoon water
In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour & yeast, then add in the warmed milk, mix it up, & let it sit for about 25 minutes.
Mix in the eggs, then the flours, sugar, & salt, & stir till it all comes together uniformly.
Add in the butter, a couple tablespoons at a time, mixing it with each addition to incorporate it slowly. (I kept my mixer on a low speed & added 2 tablespoons every minute or so). Then, once all the butter is added, continue to mix a bit more till the dough is nice & smooth, if a little sticky still.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, then turn the dough out onto it & flatten into a thick rectangle. Spray some plastic wrap with oil, then use it to cover the baking sheet, & put the whole thing in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight.
The next morning (or just later in the day)…
Butter up 2 loaf pans (or use these & forget about needing to grease ever again).
Remove the baking sheet from the refrigerator, lightly flour your hands, divide dough into 16 equal portions, & roll each portion into a ball. Then, place 8 dough balls in two rows of four balls in each loaf pan. It’s ok if you have to squeeze them in there. Lightly spray plastic wrap & place over each loaf pan before putting the pans in a warm place to rise for 1.5 hours.
After, when the dough has almost reached the top of the pans, whisk the yolk & water together & brush it onto the tops of both loaves. Replace the plastic wrap (spray them with a little more oil), preheat the oven to 400 degrees, & let the loaves rise a little more for about 30 minutes.
By now, the dough should have risen just above the tops of the loaf pans. Remove the plastic wrap, place the pans in the oven, & bake for about 25 minutes till they’re a mouthwatering golden brown & your kitchen smells buttery good.
Wait, if you can, for them to cool a little, then slice, eat & enjoy!