Brioche for Traditionalists

Leading with a fruit-filled brioche, as I did the other day, is typical of me:  start off with the baroque-bordering-on-rococo ideas only to go back and edit down those ideas later.

While I enjoy the freewheeling creativity of doing whatever first pops into my head – in the kitchen, in writing – I actually really love the act of revision.  Getting down to something’s basic essence.  “Simplify, simplify” might have been life advice, but it is not bad advice for cooks or writers either.  Taste something or read something simply and clearly done and you will understand why.

Here, then, is brioche in its most simple, classic form, the brioche à tête, also known as brioche parisienne.  Made in diminutive fluted molds, simple brioches resemble airy buns sporting ruffled sides, a deep brown crust, a shine of egg wash, and almost always a little head or crown of pastry on top.  This way, all you taste is butter and a ethereally light crumb.  With flavor and texture like this, you really need no embellishment.

Unless you’re like me, of course, a gilder of lilies, and you can’t resist a light sprinkle of pearl sugar in lieu of the pastry crown.  Worry not, the decoration is not too much and does not overpower anything.  Think of the option of adding sugar topping as something like an option for using an occasional, restrained adjective in otherwise non-flowery writing.  As in, pretty brioche.

Traditional (and Pretty)Brioche 

  • 1 recipe chilled brioche dough
  • egg wash made from 1 egg yolk and 1 Tbsp. water
  • pearl sugar (lovely, but optional)
  • 10 individual fluted brioche molds, tin or non-stick
  • non-stick spray

Preheat the oven to 400°.  Spray 10 brioche molds generously with non-stick spray.  Set these on a sturdy baking sheet and set aside.

Generously flour a work surface.

Deflate the chilling dough and turn it out onto the floured board or cloth.  Shape this into a 9-inch log.

Cut the log into 10 roughly equal pieces.  (Alternately, pat the dough into a 8- or 9-inch circle, and cut the circle into 10 roughly equal wedges.)

There are two options for forming individual brioches.

One:  Working with light and quick hands, gently roll either wedge or slice into a ball.  Place the ball into one of the prepared molds.  Continue working through the rest of the dough.

Two:  Take a slice or wedge and cut a small piece from it, a piece that is about 1/4th or 1/5th of the total slice/wedge.

Again working with light and quick hand, roll the large piece into a ball and place this into one of the prepared molds.  Take the smaller piece and shape this into a ball also.  Pull the bottom of the smaller ball into a point that extends about one-half of an inch.

Dip your finger into a dish of water, and then into the center of the large ball in the mold, forming a depression that reaches almost to the bottom of the mold.  Fit the pointed end of the smaller ball into the depression, crowning the bottom with the smaller top.  Press down a bit to seal.  Continue working through the rest of the dough.

I like the ease of option one, but option two is classic.  Do what makes you happy.

Place the filled molds on the baking tray.  Spray one side of a large sheet of plastic wrap with non-stick spray.  Cover the brioche in the molds with the plastic and let rise until doubled, about 1 or 1-1/2 hours.

When risen, very gently brush the tops of the brioche with egg wash.  Sprinkle tops with pearl sugar if desired.  Place the baking sheet in the middle of the preheated oven and bake the brioches for 20 minutes.  Remove tray from the oven and shift the individual brioche molds to a cooling rack.  Let sit for 5 minutes before removing from the molds.

Enjoy warm or at room temperature, with or without jam.

(Extra brioche can be frozen when cooled to be thawed and reheated a bit another day.  Wrap well in freezer bags.)

©2011  Jane A. Ward