I’ve been surprised by the number of shoppers unfamiliar with brioche at farmers’ markets. I admit brioche certainly wasn’t a staple in my household growing up nor is it sold in many bakeries in the US. I was introduced to the buttery bread whilst working at a bakery during high school summers.
This was long before I was as interested in food as I am today, and it was simply a summer job to earn some pocket money and keep me occupied. I saw most of the treats in the shop as 'off limits' since I was more interested in things like running and staying skinny.
Brioche wasn’t sold daily at the bakery and customers always seemed excited on the days it appeared in the display case. The owner baked small, individual loaves instead of the typical large ones, and many customers mistook them for muffins. On one particularly slow day when there did happen to be brioche, there were a few small loaves left at the end of the day. Needless to say, the owner sent me home with these loaves.
My Mom was ecstatic to see the small breads tumbling around in the bottom of my bag when I arrived home. She immediately lifted one out and dove right in, crumbs tumbling down all around her. I shrugged at her and went off to do other things. However, later at dinner there were slices of the bread on the table, and curiosity was killing me. What was this brioche all about?!?
YUM, is all I have to say. Once you brioche you won’t go back!
Brioche is a bread commonly seen in France. It’s unique for two reasons- it’s ingredients and its shape.
Brioche is similar to most breads in that it contains the basic ingredients necessary in bread making – flour, salt, yeast and water. What brioche also has is one stick of butter and three eggs per loaf, neither of which are found in your typical loaf of white or whole wheat bread. This creates a very dense yet silky dough.
Despite the added calories and decadence, brioche isn’t as heavy as you may think. Brioche dough rises in the refrigerator for roughly 12 hours after preperation then rises for another three to four hours before baking. This results in an airy and light loaf.
Another alluring quality of brioche is its shape. Brioche is typically baked in a mold similar to a muffin or cupcake paper – round bottom with flared, fluted sides. It’s typically made as one large loaf. At first it can look like an atomic muffin or something, but it really is magnificent.
Baking brioche is really very simple when you weigh the amount of work against the end-product. I’ve tried various brioche recipes, and the best by far is in The Barefoot Contessa in Paris by Ina Garten. (Actually, everything in her book is amazing, so I’d definitely recommend this book as well as all her cookbooks.)
My only addition to Garten’s recipe is cover the loaves with aluminum foil after 20 min to prevent the top from burning. Also, if you bake the brioche in the traditional fluted pan, add about 10 extra minutes to ensure the loaf bakes all the way through.