Chef Marli Roberts looks at one of life’s deliciously guilty pleasures in this masterclass, the brioche.

I dream about these rich buttery yeasty rolls, or a slice toasted sometimes just with unsalted butter and other times with lashings of pâté or a fruit gastrique and clotted cream. No need to deny, I will eat a fresh brioche anytime, anywhere and toasted the next day as well.

The most memorable brioche dish I ever had was in Lyon, where a red wine poached foie gras torchon was baked in the centre of a brioche loaf, served with a grape gastrique and some bitter leaves. Manna straight from heaven.

According to the Larousse Gastronomique, brioche can be defined as a soft roll or loaf made from yeast dough enriched with butter and egg. The word brioche first appeared in 1404, and for a long time its etymology was the subject of controversy.

Some maintained that the pastry originated in Brie, and Alexandre Dumas claimed that the pastry was originally kneaded from cheese from Brie. It is now considered that brioche is derived from the verb, brier, and old Norman form of the verb bryoer meaning “to pound”.

The dough is a mixture of flour, yeast, water or milk, sugar, eggs and butter. Brioche dough can be moulded in many ways. The traditional brioche à tête, or Parisian Brioche is the most known for its smaller mound on top of the bottom. Brioches are also moulded into hexagon shapes with marked –out sections: these are Nanterre brioches/ brioche loafs. The brioche mousseline is cylindrical and is the most delicate. A traditional variation consists of adding raisins or citrus zest to the brioche dough.

Traditionally brioche is served as dessert or with tea, but it has many culinary uses. Ordinary brioche dough is suitable for Koulibiac and fillet of beef en croute, brioche mousseline is served with foie gras, sausage. Rissoles are also made in brioche dough but are deep fried. Small individual brioches are used as cases for various sweet or savoury salpicons served as hot main dishes or as desserts.

Basic Brioche dough

Prepares 5,29kg dough

2.27 kg Bread flour
38g Instant dry yeast
907g Eggs
480ml Full cream milk, room temperature
227g Sugar
43g Salt
1.36kg butter

  • Combine the flour and the yeast. Add the milk, eggs, sugar, milk and salt and mix on low speed for 4 minutes.
  • Gradually add the butter with the mixer running on medium speed scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. After the butter has been successfully incorporated, mix on medium speed for 15 minutes, or until the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl.
  • Place the dough on a sheet pan that has been lined with parchment paper and greased or a bowl that is lightly oiled. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Variations:

  • Citrus Brioche: Add 28g finely grated orange zest to the brioche dough in step with the butter.
  • Fennel Brioche: add 20g of lightly toasted fennel seeds to the flour.

Brioche à tête

Brioche dough
Egg wash

  • Lightly oil the brioche moulds
  • Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide by hand into 25 pieces (50g each)
  • Pre-shape each piece into a round, lightly flouring the work surface as necessary
  • Refrigerate until cool (15 minutes)
  • Start with the piece of dough that you shaped and work sequentially. The remainder of the dough may need to be refrigerated during shaping to keep it cool and workable.
  • Roll each dough piece into a ball. Lightly coat the side of your hand with flour. Making the head (tête) by pinching one quarter of the dough ball with the side of your hand and rolling it back and forth on the worktable, making a depression in the dough to pinch but not detach the one quarter ball. (The larger piece of dough should be about 7cm long and the tête 2 cm long.
  • Flour your finger lightly and gently press a hole all the way through the centre of the larger piece of dough. Place the tête in the centre of the larger piece of dough and push it through the hole. Place each brioche into a greased tin, with the tête on top.
  • Brush the brioche lightly with egg wash, brushing away any that accumulates in the crevices.
  • Proof, covered, until the dough springs back slowly to the touch but does not collapse. (1- 1 ½ hours)
  • Gently brush the brioche again with the egg wash. Bake in 190°C deck oven until rich golden brown (12-15 minutes).
  • Cool for 10 minutes in the tins, then promptly remove and finish cooling on racks

Brioche loaf

Prepares 1 loaf

450g Brioche dough
Egg wash as needed

  • Lightly grease a loaf tin (20cm long, 11cm wide, 8 cm deep)
  • Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide it by hand into 57g pieces. Pre-shape each piece into a ball, lightly flouring the surface as needed. Refrigerate the rolls until cool, to keep it workable if necessary
  • Place the pieces of dough in the loaf pan in 2 rows of 4. Brush lightly with egg wash, brushing away any excess that accumulates in the crevices. Proof covered until the dough is almost double in size and springs back slowly to the touch, but does not collapse.
  • Gently brush the dough again with egg wash. Bake at 190°C until the crust is golden brown and the sides of the bread spring back fully when pressed (30-40 minutes).
  • Remove from the pan and cool completely on a rack.

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