It has been entirely too long since we last discussed French brioches, and I really don’t know why because they are a passion of mine.
Brioche is a yeast bread enriched with eggs and butter, the very one that Marie-Antoinette didn’t actually encourage her starving people to eat*.
It is one of those treats that most (normal) French people leave in the hands of their boulanger. But if you’re the kind of person who, like me, likes to see magic at play in the kitchen, or you have no French baker handy, it is completely within your reach to produce perfect little loaves to serve and devour for breakfast, brunch, or an afternoon snack.
Making brioche provides the baker with the thrill of working with a leavened dough, and as the golden brown, domed buns come out of the oven, the buttery and yeasty smell is enough to make anyone in the house drop what they are doing and rush into the kitchen to trace the source.
You can make your brioches plain or stud them with pearl sugar, but when I last made a batch I folded into the dough some of these chocolate drops meant for baking. The resulting chocolate chip brioches flew off the cooling rack faster than any I’ve ever made.
What I love about brioche is that it is an in-between treat: not quite bread, not quite cake, a little bit of both. You can enjoy it as is, especially when it is super fresh, or you can split it open and spread the inside with a little butter (preferably salted), honey, jam, or — and this is especially successful with these chocolate chip brioches — the nut butter of your choice.
Oh, and do you know the meaning of the French expression prendre de la brioche, gaining brioche? It means getting a pot belly! For more on this, and many other food-related expressions, pick up my book Edible French.
Related: My recipe for kouglof (Alsatian brioche) and the chocolate bettelman I make with brioche leftovers, on the off-chance that there are any. Also, a discussion on the origins of brioche.
* Marie-Antoinette is often misreported as having exclaimed, “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche!” — “Let them eat brioche” (not cake) — when told that her people had no bread to eat. I don’t know who first botched the translation, but it’s not actually Marie-Antoinette who said it, and the queen who did didn’t mean it that way. More about the misunderstanding.
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- 2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
- 60 ml (1/4 cup) lukewarm water (if you dip your finger into the water, you shouldn’t feel a difference in temperature)
- 100 grams (1/2 cup) raw cane sugar
- 400 grams (14 ounces, about 3 cups) all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 5 large organic eggs
- 170 grams (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, diced, at room temperature
- 160 grams (1 cup) high-quality chocolate chips or chopped bittersweet chocolate
- In a bowl, combine the yeast with the lukewarm water. Set aside for 10 minutes, until foamy at the surface. (If it doesn’t get foamy, the yeast is likely too old; start again with a fresh packet.)
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the flour, yeast mixture, salt, and sugar. Break 4 of the eggs in and knead at low speed until the dough is smooth, about 2 minutes. Switch to medium speed, and knead until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, about 2 minutes.
- Add the butter.
- Knead until incorporated, about 2 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed.
- Add the chocolate chips and knead just to evenly distribute.
- Cover and allow to rise at room temperature in a draft-free corner of the kitchen, until doubled in size, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
- Scrape into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until the next day.
- Remove the brioche from the refrigerator and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
- In a small bowl, beat the remaining egg lightly with a pinch of salt and 2 teaspoons water.
- Scrape the brioche dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide into 12 equal pieces.
- With lightly floured hands, shape each into a ball. Transfer to the prepared baking sheets.
- Brush off the excess flour from the top and sides, and brush the top and sides with egg wash.
- Allow to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes; reserve the remaining egg wash in the refrigerator.
- Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F).
- Brush with egg wash again.
- Insert the two baking sheets into the oven and bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes, switching the position of the sheets halfway through for even baking.
- Serve just slightly warm, or at room temperature, with "regular" butter or almond butter.
- The dough can be frozen just after shaping. Place the whole sheet(s) in the freezer for 1 hour, than transfer the dough balls or flowers to a freezer bag. To use, thaw overnight in the refrigerator on a sheet of parchment paper, then continue on with the recipe.
- You can also freeze the brioches after baking; thaw overnight in the refrigerator, and pop in a 175°C (350°F) oven for 5 minutes to revive the texture before serving.