“Qu’ils mangent de la brioche!” was a phrase allegedly uttered by Marie Antoinette in response to the hungry peasants protesting about the lack of bread. Oblivious to their condition, she advised that they should eat fancier, more expensive bread when they couldn’t even afford the regular kind. Translated to English as “Let them eat cake” even though cake and brioche are quite different, this expression went down in history, becoming known and repeated far beyond France.
Brioche has nothing cakey about it—at least not in the sense we use cake nowadays. It is more of a bread, a sweet bread made with eggs, milk and butter. When my students ask me about brioche, I like to compare it to challah. I find that it has the same consistency, lightness and sweetness. They are quite similar except that brioche is French, which automatically earns it more glamour.
Centuries later, I did what Marie Antoinette said, and made brioche instead of bread last week—luckily I can afford eggs and butter. I baked eighteen brioches to a puffy golden perfection. I kept six for my little family, gave six to my next-door neighbor, and six to the neighbor across the street. They were very pleased with the out of the oven warm brioches on a Saturday morning. It was past breakfast time when the brioches were ready (10:45), but they still appreciated them and looked as if they wouldn’t mind having a second breakfast.
Brioche dough needs to rise overnight, so planning ahead is a must. I like starting it on a Friday night so I can enjoy my brioches as a nice and well-deserved weekend treat. It is a bread that requires very little work—all the magic happens during the rising process. My daughter helped tremendously make it. She rolled all eighteen top balls for the brioches. It was a fun and delicious mommy and me project that we will soon make again.
This brioche recipe is adapted from Better Homes and Gardens
1 package active dry yeast
¼ cup warm water
½ cup butter
1/3 cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
4 cups all-purpose flour ½ cup milk
1 tablespoon water
Soften the yeast in the warm water. Cream the butter, sugar and salt, and add 1 cup of the flour. Separate one of the eggs and refrigerate the white. Combine the yolk with the remaining 3 eggs and add to the creamed mixture. Add the yeast and beat well. Stir in the remaining flour until the dough is smooth. Transfer the dough into a greased bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight.
Place the dough on a floured surface. Divide into quarters and set one aside. Divide each of the remaining quarters into 6 pieced, to make a total of 18. Form each piece into a ball and place in a greased muffin pan or individual brioche tins. Divide the reserved dough into 18 small balls. Make an indentation in each large ball and press a small ball into each indentation. Mix the reserved egg white with a tablespoon of water and brush the brioches with it. Cover and let rise about 45 minutes. Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes, brushing with egg white again after 7 minutes.