I was intending to start this post by being a bit clever, quoting “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche“, writing something about French Queen Marie Antoinette and mentioning the common inaccurate translation of her phrase as “Let them eat cake”… I am so glad I checked the details before writing! The quote is correct, but is often wrongly attributed to Marie Antoinette wife of Louis XVI. The words were said by Marie-Therese, the wife of King Louis XIV who lived around 100 years previously. So not what I had thought, but interesting nonetheless and I thought worth sharing! Back to the subject in hand… One of our first purchases on arrival in France is a Brioche loaf. We find it so useful: it keeps well, is good for breakfast and handy for emergency use. Brioche and Gâche Vendéenne (its cousin from the Vendée region in Western France) are soft, light, puffy and slightly sweet crosses between cake, pastry and bread. They are made from a yeast dough enriched with butter and egg and often flavoured with rum, brandy or – our favourite – fragrant orange flower water. Some years ago on holiday I bought recipe postcards and a bottle of orange flower water with the intention of making brioche. I even bought a fluted Brioche tin. Until now I had not got round to making the brioche although I have used the tin for jellies! and the orange flower water in other recipes (including Fragrant Marmalade Cake and Moroccan Style Beef Stew with Oranges & Beetroot).
Orange flower water can now easily be found in the UK and is the one ingredient we feel gives brioche that little extra something, however it was not an ingredient in my Brioche postcard recipe so I turned first to books and then the Internet for help. I eventually found the recipe below, Brioche with Fleur d’Oranger posted by Gary at Meltingpan.com I would have left him a note to say how successful his recipe had been, but could not see where add a comment and the site now seems to have disappeared completely (I have left the links in case it does re-appear). Gary recommended it spread with unsalted butter but never toasted, though I have to say I think it makes lovely toast! Initially I carefully made a half quantity but will definitely be making the full amount in future. I used the French method of dough making, where the dough is thrown and scraped which makes the initial extreme stickiness easier to manage. Do ‘stick’ with the recipe and it will eventually come together into a smooth ball. Once you have this it can be kneaded in the conventional English way. Brioche, apparently, makes a delicious rich bread and butter pudding, but I am not sure we will ever have any left to make one! The recipes for Paddington Pudding (Marmalade Bread & Butter Pudding) or Toffee Apple Croissant Bread & Butter Pudding could easily be adapted. I shaped my loaf by dividing into three strands and plaiting them before putting into a tin, which is the usual shape of the loaves we buy. Probably the most familiar shape is the brioche à tête (literally ‘bun with a head’) usually made in the fluted tin with a small ‘top knot’ of dough added on top, similar to a Cottage Loaf. La Gâche Vendéenne is torpedo shaped and slashed from end to end. The Brioche (or Couronne) des Rois, translated as King’s Brioche or King’s Crown, comes from Provence in the south of France (this linked recipe looks good but is untried) and is normally a ring shaped loaf decorated with crystallised fruits. It is served on 6 January at Epiphany, the feast celebrating the Wise Men’s visit to the infant Christ.
The original recipe advised that if you have a bread machine you simply put in all the ingredients apart from the butter. Put it on the dough setting and after about 10 minutes (or whenever it alerts you to add nuts or other ingredients) add the softened butter. Although I have a bread machine I used the conventional method so cannot comment on the success or otherwise of using a machine. The instructions were not very clear but I assume that the brioche was kneaded in the machine but cooked conventionally in the oven.
300g of white flour, sifted
2 eggs, beaten
50ml of milk
10g of dried active yeast
50g of sugar
3 tablespoons of Fleur d’Oranger (Orange Flower Water)
70g of unsalted butter, cubed and softened
1 teaspoon of salt
For the loaf pan(s):
2 tablespoons of melted butter
2 tablespoons of sugar
1. Preheat oven to 180oC/350oF/Gas 4 and place a pan of water on the lowest rack.
2. Sieve the flour into a bowl. Add the salt and sugar and then the dried yeast.
3. Warm the milk slightly, which helps the yeast to start to grow more quickly and stir into the dry ingredients along with the beaten eggs and orange flower water.
4. Gently mix together with one hand adding the butter little by little. The mixture will be very sticky. Avoid adding extra flour at any point as this makes the dough tough.
5. Turn out onto a cleaned work surface and start to knead, bringing the edges in with a dough scraper or a palette knife. It will come together eventually if you keep working at it and the dough will eventually form a soft ball. Continue stretching and scraping until conventional kneading is possible. This took at least 20 minutes.
6. Once you have a soft ball of dough that is no longer sticky put it in a bowl, cover it with a tea-towel and let it sit in a warm place for 20 minutes to allow it to rise.
7. Meanwhile butter the loaf pan (or pans) and shake over sugar so it is well coated. The sugar can, of course, be omitted.
8. When risen knock the dough back and knead well for a further 20 minutes.
9. Make either one large or two smaller loaves. Before placing the dough in the pan(s) the dough can be split into three strands and plaited or shaped into a long loaf with a gash cut down its length.
10. Drop the dough into the prepared loaf pan(s), cover with a clean tea towel and leave it in a warm area for 20-30 minutes to allow it to rise again.
11. Place in the preheated oven and bake for 30 minutes. The finished loaf/loaves will be golden brown and doubled in size.
12. Turn out of the pan(s) and cook on a wire rack. Eat and enjoy!