One thing that I was surprised to learn when I last visited Paris was how hard it was to find good brioche. Brioche is a type of breakfast pastry (viennoiserie), categorized in the same group as croissants or pain aux raisins. It is classified as a pastry rather than a bread because of its richness in butter, eggs, and milk, unlike, say, a baguette, which has none or limited quantities of each. Brioche is typically very light and fluffy with a tender, golden crumb. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to be when made properly. I was pretty disappointed after visiting many patisseries in Paris, some of which are very famous, to find dry, tough brioche. If I hadn’t known what brioche was supposed to look and taste like, my impression of it would have been completely tarnished. It wasn’t until I finally found my go-to bakery in the 6th, Gerard Mulot,that I stumbled upon exactly what I had been looking for.
Flaky, fluffy brioche, i.e. pure heaven. I mean, with that much butter in it, it might as well be. The best part is that you can recreate authentic French brioche at home. It’s not very difficult to make, and you’ll definitely beat out some French bakeries with this recipe. I use it for my own baked goods business and people go crazy for it. The tete in the title “brioche a tete” is the word for head in French, and it represents the ball shape on the top of the individual brioche. I’ve outlined how you can obtain that shape in the directions below. With a dollop of your favorite jam, you’ll be indulging in this French breakfast pastry for years to come.
Brioche a Tete
- 2 c unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2.5 tbsp granulated sugar
- 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast 1 packet
- 1 tsp table salt plus a pinch for the egg wash
- 2 large eggs room temperature, plus 1 egg for the egg wash
- 1/4 c whole milk at room temperature
- 1/2 c unsalted butter 1 stick, slightly softened, cut into 8 pieces , plus more for the pans
In your mixer’s bowl, combine the flour, sugar, yeast, and salt using the paddle attachment. Stop to add in the 2 eggs and milk. Mix on medium-low speed just until the dough starts to clump. There should still be some unmixed egg in the dough; that's OK.
Replace the paddle attachment with the hook attachment. Knead on medium speed for 2 minutes. Stop to scrape the dough off the sides of the bowl and off the hook. Again, knead for another 2 minutes. Add in half of the butter (a couple pieces at a time) as the hook attachment continues to knead your dough. Stop every minute or so to better incorporate the butter into the dough using your spatula. Scrape the dough off the sides of the bowl ￼and hook attachment before adding in the remaining half of butter, a couple pieces at a time. Knead the dough for another 2 to 3 minutes. Remove your bowl from the stand mixer and use your spatula to spread the butter into the dough as best as possible. Dough will be buttery and moist.
Lightly flour your work surface before scooping the dough out into one big heap onto the floured surface. Use lightly floured hands to knead your dough, folding the sides into the middle at 12, 3, 6, and 9 o’clock. Flip the dough ball over and repeat the folding. Place the dough ball, smooth side up, into a clean, large bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and place in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size (approx. 1 to 1 1/2 hours).
Transfer the expanded dough ball back onto a lightly floured work surface and again knead your dough, folding the sides into the middle at 12, 3, 6, and 9 o'clock. Flip the dough over and repeat. Place the dough back into the bowl, smooth side up, and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Place dough in fridge overnight (or at least 10 hours) for best flavor.
The next morning, place the dough out on the counter to come to room temperature (about 2 hours). Grease your brioche tins (3 inch tins work well) and set aside. Lightly flour your work surface before transferring your dough out of the bowl. Knead the dough, folding its sides in towards the middle again to create a compact ball shape. Use a bench scrape or sharp knife to divide your dough into 8 equal pieces. Place 7 of the pieces in your bowl, covered tightly with plastic wrap, while you roll and work on one piece at a time.
Roll each piece of dough into a ball shape. Then using the side of your hand, with your fingers tightly pressed together (similar to a karate chop motion), press down onto the ball about one-third of the way from one of the edges of the dough ball (leaving one-third of the dough to one side of your hand, and two-thirds of the dough to the other side of your hand). Saw back and forth just until you've almost cut through the dough, but just before you've actually separated it completely. Grab the smaller part of the dough ball (it's head, or tete), and use it to gently lift the dough ball upright. Then press the head down into the dough ball's body before placing the entire piece into one of your buttered molds. Loosely cover with a large piece of plastic wrap, before repeating this step with the rest of your dough pieces. Once all of the pieces have been fitted into the molds, pull the plastic wrap loosely over all the molds and let rise in a warm place for at least 1 hour.
Preheat your oven to 375°F, with the oven rack positioned in the middle. Create your egg wash by whisking 1 egg with a tiny pinch of salt. Brush the brioche with the wash, trying your best not to let the wash drip down onto the molds (or else the brioche might stick to the molds). Bake until tops and sides are golden brown, approximately 18 minutes. Gently lift the brioche from their molds to carefully check their sides if you're unsure. Brioche is best served barely warm.