Small Brioches Recipe

Petites brioches

Amongst the many good things a food blog will do to you, is this one: even when you feel you are completely ruining a recipe, your mind is already working on how to turn this potential disaster into what you hope will be an entertaining, tale-of-a-near-fiasco post for your readers — a much more constructive way to look at the situation than curling up on the kitchen tilefloor and weeping helpless tears of rage.

And this is what I was thinking yesterday, as the brioche dough I was working on chose to be exceptionally stubborn, sticking doggedly to my hands, and refusing to turn out even remotely like it should. I was on the brink of throwing the whole thing out several times — so close to the brink in fact that small rocks were already tumbling down. But thankfully Maxence was close by, and he encouraged me to persevere. Apparently, the prospect of freshly baked brioche will turn any boyfriend into a very persuasive baking coach.

So what happened, you ask? Why was this so difficult? The story of theses little brioches started when one of my cooking class buddies, Nicolas, offered to bring me a bit of fresh yeast from the bread-baking class he’s also taking. He showed up last Tuesday with a few tablespoons of the beige and faintly smelly gravel in a tiny ziploc bag, and said he would email me the brioche recipe that they used in class. He also instructed me to use the yeast within three to four days.

But life and work got in the way, and I didn’t get around to doing so until Sunday — five days after he had given me the yeast. Already I was feeling uncomfortable and apprehensive, not to mention a tad guilty for failing to use the gift in a timely fashion, but I brushed these doubts aside and got to work. The recipe Nicolas had given me was in fact a general set of guidelines, with just the list of ingredients and the rising times. Since I was a brioche virgin I needed a bit more detail. Not wanting to bug my friend, I searched for recipes on the web, dug up a slew of widely different versions, and settled on a helpful, step-by-step tutorial.

It instructed you to make a starter first, by combining the yeast with a bit of milk and flour. After a short rest, the starter would make little bubbles to tell you it was ready to take over the world. Alas, mine never did. Even though I set the bowl on top of our server where it’s nice and warm, the mixture remained despairingly quiet and inert. My heart sunk. Had I killed the yeast, or perhaps worse yet, let it die a small, dishonorable death in the refrigerator? (I later found out that I should have removed it from the fridge a few hours before, to bring it to room temperature — it would have worked better then.)

At that point, I found myself at a crossroads: I could either a) move forward with the fresh yeast, at the risk of having the dough never rise and bake into a hockey-puck brioche, or b) chicken out, and use the dried yeast I’d had on my baking supplies shelf for months and never used. And well, I, um, chickened out.

My next problem was that the different recipes I had found were very different from one another, both in terms of proportions and resting time. Not knowing which one was best, I decided to stick to the ingredients’ list Nicolas had provided. I don’t know what I did wrong, perhaps it was because I was doing this by hand and not in a stand-mixer, but once I added the eggs in, the dough was far, far too sticky to work with. And when I say sticky, I really mean superglued-to-your-hand sticky. In fact, I’m sure you could spread some of that dough on the soles of your shoes and glue yourself upside down to the ceiling, but don’t try this at home.

So I added more flour, until the dough was a bit more workable — the amount in the recipe below reflects what I ended up using. The addition of the butter turned out to be another hurdle: it was super messy, there was butter everywhere on the counter, and the dough seemed adamant not to let it in. But by that time I was in warrior mode, ready to overcome any obstacle: I persisted, and after a while I obtained the deliciously smooth and shiny ball of dough I was hoping for. It rose obediently, even though I couldn’t resist peeking underneath the kitchen towel every twenty minutes, and baked beautifully, turning into these puffy and golden little guys that somewhat reminded me of the flame that the Statue of Liberty holds so proudly.

So yes, the whole thing was a bit of a roller coaster ride, and it is definitely a project that will keep you busy for the better part of a day — especially when you get up late and it’s Daylight Saving Sunday. But nothing could be more worthy of your time than the thrill of having things turn out okay despite your foreboding, or more rewarding than a delicately sweet brioche, warm and lightly crusty from the oven, that you slice in two to smear the moist and fluffy insides with butter and/or jam. Especially if it’s Bordier‘s salted butter, and Christine Ferber‘s passionfruit jam, freshly opened for the occasion.

And now I feel ready to try it with fresh yeast — perhaps next Sunday?

Small Brioches Recipe

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 12 minutes

Total Time: 6 hours, 40 minutes

Makes 6 brioches.

Small Brioches Recipe

Ingredients

  • 280 grams (10 ounces) all-purpose flour + a bit more for sprinkling
  • 40 grams (3 tablespoons) granulated sugar
  • 5 grams (1 teaspoon) salt
  • 10 grams (1/3 ounce) fresh yeast or 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast (levure boulangère instantanée in French), at room temperature
  • 3 large eggs
  • 120 grams (4 1/4 ounces) butter, diced, at room temperature + plus a pat to grease the molds
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1/4 cup pearl sugar (available in Paris from G. Detou)

Instructions

  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt, and yeast. Form a well in the center. Break the eggs in a small bowl, and pour them into the center of the well. Stir in the center of the well with a fork, gradually mixing the flour into the eggs.
  2. Once all the flour is incorporated, transfer the dough onto a lightly floured surface, and knead it for 12 minutes, using the heel of your hand to push the dough down and away from you, before you fold it back onto itself (this is called fraiser in French, and I have no idea why). The dough will feel very sticky, but will get smoother and smoother as you knead -- don't despair.
  3. Spread the dough into a squarish shape, place the diced butter on it, and close the dough over the butter. Start kneading again until the butter is completely incorporated: at first it will feel like that will never ever happen considering the mess you're making, but be persistent -- if it ended up working for me, it should work for you. When you're done, the dough will be smooth and shiny and so delightfully pleasant to handle you could keep doing that all afternoon, but don't.
  4. Put the ball of dough into a floured mixing-bowl, sprinkle the top with a bit more flour, cover the bowl loosely with a kitchen towel, and let rise for 4 hours in a warm spot, or until the dough has doubled in volume.
  5. Grease a tray of 6 muffin molds with butter.
  6. Transfer the dough onto your work surface, punch it down, and divide it into 6 equal pieces. Roll them into balls, and plop into the muffin molds.
  7. Cover loosely with the kitchen towel, and let rise for 1 to 2 hours. To check if the dough is ready to bake, poke it gently with your finger: if it springs back right away, it needs more time; if it springs back slowly, it's ready.
  8. Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F), with a small ramekin of water inside.
  9. Brush the brioches lightly with milk (not too much or it will burn) and sprinkle with thick grains of sugar.
  10. Put the tray of muffin molds into the oven to bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until puffy and golden and beautiful. Transfer onto a rack. Eat while they're still warm, or let cool to room temperature.
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  • http://www.thebumblebeeblog.blogspot.com Poppycock

    In the UK you can get fresh yeast from the supermarket. I asked at the instore bakery at Tesco once whether they sold it and the lady disappeared only to return with a plastic bag containing way more yeast than I had need for, and I didn’t have to pay anything for it! I guess they buy in such quantities that more is lost on the floor each day than an individual customer would want.

    As for kitchen catastrophies…I baked a chocolate cake yesterday and it was a disaster. It separated in the oven, and I ended up with a horrible, tasteless rubbery coagulate at the bottom of the tin with a chocolate mousse-y layer on top. And I have no idea why. We scraped the top layer off and chucked the rest. Very disappointing ;(

  • http://www.deliciousdays.com Nicky

    Fresh yeast – I think it”s one of those ingredients, people either hate or love to work with. I love it – my mum totally hates it – my grandma loved it. Because my (fresh yeast loving) grandma learned me how to bake, I never really thought about possible pitfalls, maybe that”s why it worked out every time… or I was just lucky ;)

    Concerning your latest brioche experience, I”d suspect the age of the yeast to be part of the problem… I try to use fresh yeast from the bakery or supermarket within the very next days. To save time (especially on precious Sundays) you can let your dough rise over night in the fridge – sounds strange, but delivers even better, fluffier results.

  • yasmine tannir

    Well Clothilde, once again, thanks for the wonderful recipes!
    I always wanted to try baking brioche as they remind me of my childhood summers spent in Annecy (heaven) in Haute Savoie..
    I’ve always been too scared because of the kneading (and because i dont have my kitchen aid yet!)… Its different now: i’m going to do it!

    Just one question: have you ever had pompom? they’r like little brioches, covered in granulated sugar (A boule of nuage, a little heaven you feel you need to stuff your face in).. Will it be ok to sprinkle your brioches with a layer of granulated sugar before baking?
    Thanks for your help :)

    Also thanks Poppycock for the tesco hint: very helpful!

    Keep the good work
    X

  • http://willows95988.typepad.com/tongue_cheek/ Tongue in Cheek

    The brioche above look delicious and surely anything you touch is!

  • lilli

    You can find fresh yeast in France in any decent supermarket or bakery ……and to make a proper levain….is not difficult at all , a levain ou “pâton” is used in many many recipes from Eastern France or Germany (for example “Christmas Stollen”!!!)……want me to explain it to you?

    bisous

  • http://papillesetpupilles.blogspot.com/ Papilles&Pupilles

    They look great !

  • julie

    I supposed fresh yeast would make the difference, but they really look wonderful!

  • http://www.superfood.blog-city.com Richard Leader

    I think it’s a brave person who takes on a brioche recipe… braver than me, anyway.
    I’m not much of a baker (though I have recently taken to making my own pizza dough using dried yeast) – I don’t know whether it’s my lack or patience or if I just don’t have the hands for it, but I’ve never been too impressed with my own baking.

    Love the idea that you leave the yeast to warm on top of your server!

  • http://www.thebumblebeeblog.blogspot.com Poppycock

    and to make a proper levain….is not difficult at all , a levain ou “pâton” is used in many many recipes from Eastern France or Germany (for example “Christmas Stollen”!!!)……want me to explain it to you?

    Yes please!

    And Yasmine: I think most of the big supermarkets will do this, not just Tesco.

  • carl

    As for the stickiness, (1) the modern recipes for this type of dough are meant to be made in a machine–they’re too soft to knead efficiently by hand. (2) If you add a lot of fat or egg to a yeast dough, you will have to knead it longer than you would a plain dough to develop the gluten. Don’t add lots of flour! Just keep on kneading. (3) The dough will still be very soft and sticky once you’ve finished kneading it. You can tell that it is ready by stretching a bit of it between your fingers. If it spreads out nice and even into a thin sheet, it’s done. (4) And if it’s still too sticky to shape (likely), pat the dough out flat (as best you can) and pop it in the freezer until it firms up enough for you to shape it. Works like a charm with very sticky doughs. Good luck.
    Have you tried Madame de Saint-Ange? She gives a detailed recipe for brioche with many a conseil.

  • Trevor

    Another hint, if you’re pressed for time – yeast really loves being at around 35-40°C, so rather than stick the bowl on your server, stick it in your microwave on “defrost” for a minute or two. It’ll double in volume in about half an hour. Purists tell me that the bubbles won’t be as fine, but personally I can’t tell the difference.

  • http://www.msglaze.com Ms. Glaze

    Brioche is not easy to make by hand and it is supposed to stick (I mean stick like glue!) to your hands while you’re working with it. When you add the butter it just adds to what seems like a total mess. The trick is to take a few breaths and then scoop up the greasy glob of stickiness with both hands and throw it hard on the marble over and over and over. No need to add extra flour. Eventually (after a good 8 min) it starts to change consistency and begins to look like normal bread dough does.

    Of course if you have a kitchenaid with a dough hook, the process is tons easier but much less satistying. I always thought Brioche was so light and healthy until I actually made it in cooking school. So much butter, but oh, sooooo good (especially with a little extra butter and jam to serve it with)

    Fresh yeast rocks by the way. I think it’s much easier than the granules.

  • http://www.chompoblog.com chompoblogger

    So glad to know that my favorite food blogger has to battle her recipes sometimes and gets butter all over the counter!

    Those brioche look truly scrumptious.

    I think this weekend was full of pastry demons–mine took the form of a cupcake monster.

  • http://ninafood.blogspot.com/ Katerina

    Oh Clotilde! Your intro about tears of rage and curling up on the kitchen floor reminded me of my adventures in the land of meringue and egg white whisking… It never fails to reduce me to a bunch of insecure mess :)
    I love the smell of fresh yeast by the by.

  • alexsandra

    yes, the fresh yeast conundrum, I know it embarrassingly well. Last week a colleague had asked me to show them how to make bread and I decided at the last minute to use some fresh yeast –which then stubbornly refused to rise! I too chickened out and pulled out the instant quick rise granules. What a defeat!
    Re Brioche, Peter Reinharts Breadmakers Apprentice book (great one!) has 3 recipes for Brioche, Rich Mans, Poor Mans and some man in the middle version, all determined by how much butter you add. Oy vay, the work involved–whew–I never made it to the rich man version, my woman in the middle hands arms and patience ran out! Maybe the rich man version has someone strong and burly doing it for them, hmpf!
    Loverly little brioche beauties you made Clothilde–thanks again for sharing your world! xx

  • phoody

    Hello, when you are cooking with yeast, whether it is cake, granulated or “natural” (as you say), you should proof it in a couple of tablespoons of warm water (not over 110 degrees F). You will see the yeast get foamy in about 10 or 12 minutes. If the yeast does not foam then toss it away and start another yeast to proof. This is how it is normally done in baking. Yeast is not usually mixed in with the dry ingredients. Hope this helps. Cheers

  • ajmac

    Love your blog…read it every week and can’t wait to try the brioche. I made a brioche loaf once and it was soooo good.

    As for kitchen catastrophies…once tried to bake a ginger bread cake in my in-laws old electric oven. Needless to say I tried it without an oven thermometer.

    The oven apparently gets hotter then it should…the cake boiled over, hit the heating element in the bottom of oven and caught fire. I’ve never seen anything like it.

    My sister-in-law still ate the burned bits and proclaimed them wonderful…I worry about her taste buds!

  • Lisa

    What an adventure! I have used Julia Child’s recipe for brioche many times (“Baking With Julia”) and it always comes out perfectly. But there’s a big caveat.

    I use my Kitchen Aide. The dough beats, and I do mean beats, hard, for 15-20 minutes. The Kitchen Aide nearly overheats and has to be minded lest it walk itself off the counter from the force of the dough slap-slap-slapping against the side of the bowl.

    The first time I made it, I commented that I could not fathom how anyone made brioche before electricity and stand mixers. A friend’s clever reply: Servants.

    You deserve a medal of honor for making that beautiful brioche by hand!

  • http://www.paristriptips.com paristriptips

    I tend to easily scare from any recipe involving yeast! But your brioche look great.
    My favorite thing about brioche are the little crystals of sugar on top. YOur picture is making me want to grab those crystals right off.

  • http://threelayercake.com Three Layer Cake

    hmmm…I could swear I saw a recipe somewhere for brioche dough that you heat the ingredients in a pot and stir until the dough pulls away from the sides!! Must be dreaming. I spent the better part of a year fantastizing about the Brioches in the Baking with Julia book but just felt like no one would ever speak to me again once they found out that each one of them has like a STICK of butter in it!!!

    k

    p.s. Clotilde– Both King Arthur Flour Bakers and Julia Child’s book say not to try it without a mixer, so if you did and they came out, you’re *really* good!

  • Leslie

    The recipe for cream puff pastry (which does not contain yeast) is cooked in a pot. The dough for brioche is not cooked because high heat kills yeast. I always make brioche dough by hand and it is not difficult. We have it during Mardi Gras and make King Cakes out of the brioche dough.

  • http://soullemon.blogspot.com Clara Bow

    They truly look delicious but I have to say that I’m relieved that you too have the odd culinary collapse.

    I had my own ‘melt’ down recently so empathise whole heartedly – see

    http://soullemon.blogspot.com/2006/03/baking-therapy.html

  • http://dirtpusher.blogspot.com Judith Umbria

    I am really proud of you! Most would have given up long before reaching anything bakable. I have gobbled up all the clues offered in comments so that should I become mad enough to make something so buttery-eggy-fattening I can get past the tears on the floor stage.

  • asha

    this is the first time i’ve actually made a recipe from your site, though i’ve bookmarked many – thanks – and it really felt like an accomplishment! it was Very slippery to work with, probably because i’m watching my cholesterol and used margarine instead of butter; but it turned out fine, nonetheless. :)

  • asha

    oh, funny thing: forgot to mention i almost had disaster!!! popped them into the oven and was really confused as to why they’d cook on 200 degrees, then double-checked and realized i hadn’t noticed that was for celsius!

  • http://www.lindamathieu.com Linda Mathieu

    I haven’t tried brioche as of yet but did try to make the famous french baquette. It came out as heavy as a door stop. It was later I discovered that I hadn’t used yeast but baking powder. I had misread the label on the package. Leter I noticed that the package I needed had a picture of bread on front-a badly needed clue. As the French boulangeries make such incredible bread, I’ve decided not to venture into their territory.

  • http://anthonyskitchen.blogspot.com Tony of the bachelor cooking

    been thinking of baking for some time now, do bachelor cooks bake by the way lol.

    but I would love to be able to bake good cakes like you someday, soon

  • http://lacerise.blogspot.com/ Astrid

    Thank you for sharing your trials and tribulation with brioche. I once met a French apprentice pastry chef and asked him if puff pastry is as difficult as it seems. He told me no, that brioche is a lot harder to make.

    By the way, did you come across the video from PBS (Julia Child lessons with Master Chefs, with Nancy Silverton) showing how to make brioche dough? It’s quite interesting. Though it uses a Kitchen Aid, which I personally don’t have.
    http://www.pbs.org/juliachild/meet/silverton.html#

  • http://www.taikinapoika.com Anna

    I nearly always bake with fresh yeast. It is a living organism! You will kill it with water that is too warm (you should not exceed your own body temperature – you should be able to keep your hand in the liquid for 30 seconds without feeling any pain) – the temperature requird to activate active dry yeast is usually too hot for fresh yeast.

    I wonder, too, whether a plastic ziploc is the best long-term storage for fresh yeast. Where I buy them, small blocks of fresh yeast are sold wrapped in wax paper (you can freeze it if you won’t use it within a few days).

    My surefire for getting the dough to rise properly: immerse the dough bowl (a thin plastic or metallic bowl) in a tub of filled with hot tap water, then let the bowl float there for 30 minutes. Check the dough towards the end, you don’t want it to spill over!

  • daniel

    its official im going to make some brioche now! Moreover im trying out the hot X buns from Nigellas, Feast book, wish me luck

  • http://www.badaude.typepad.com badaude

    Relieved to see that even with all your experience, you sometimes have difficulties. I think the weather really affects yeast-based cookery too (see my entry on http://www.badaude.typepad.com ‘the heat is doing things to us’).
    I use a slightly less eggy recipe from the little book which came free with my magimix. It’s the only recipe I use from this book – many of the others seem to be ‘processing for the sake of processing’. Fresh yeast definately speeds up the rise.
    I’m off to try your version now!

  • Christine Lentz

    I requested once before without luck, a recipe for a French donut called a Gibassier. It is laced with orange peel and anise, and rolled in fine sugar, made like a brioche in texture. Can you find a recipe for me? It comes from The Pearl Bakery, Portland, Oregon.
    Thanks, Christine

  • kim

    i love white chocolate brioche from eric keyser when i am in paris…any ideas on how to make those? i’m almost desperate ;)

  • Rodosee

    So very inspiring, Clotilde. I’ve been looking for a reliable brioche recipe for ages…and here you are!

    Just wondering, any idea if temperature should differ if I’m trying to make one big fat head-sized blob of brioche? (only my tin is a monster!) Certainly expect the time to increase, as with all bread—but not sure whether temperature should as well for the right texture…

  • amy

    thank you clothilde for sharing your mishaps with such grace and good fun!

    i had a wonderful time recreating your experience and am so glad that you documented it step-by-step because i was very close to giving up a number of times!

    my brioche were light and airy, moist and chewy with just a hint of sweetness. perfect with eggs and sausage :o)

    despite constant reminders to myself and putting the ramekin full of water close at hand, the one thing i forgot to do is put it in the oven while the brioche were baking! (grrr) what does the water do and how would they have been different?

    also, do you know of a new york supplier for sugar pearls? granted i didnt look much farther than a few local grocery stores… i did find salt pearls but not sugar pearls. so, instead i used organic crystallized sugar.

    thanks again!

    xoxoxo, amy

  • http://www.italiantapas.com ItalianTapas

    I’m going to give this one a try. It sounds like an adventure. Ciao!

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Rodosee – I would bake a larger brioche at a slightly lower temp, say 180°C (360°F) so it will have time to cook on the inside before coloring too much on the outside.

    Amy – So glad you liked your brioches, thanks for reporting back!

    The ramekin of water helps make the baking environment moister — as I understand it, this is so the brioches won’t dry out too much on the outside.

    As for the pearl sugar, it is a popular ingredient in Scandinavian baking, so you could find some in a Scandinavian specialty store if you have access to one (Ikea sells it, I’m told) or in gourmet grocery stores in general.

  • Marita

    I simply dumped all the ingredients in my bread machine and hoped for the best. At first it looked as though it was going to be a disaster, but by the end of the mixing time the dough was beautiful. The results were delicious, but a little too crusty, so this morning I am going to mix the bread in the machine, but bake it in the oven. Thanks Clotilde for a lovely recipe!

  • Marita

    This time I made the brioche dough in the bread machine, and made small brioches which I baked in the oven. It was a great success, and the brioches were devoured in no time!

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      Glad they turned out so well, Marita, thanks for reporting back!

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