Marie Antoinette got me thinking…

A few posts ago I made an indirect reference to a famous quote allegdly spoken by Marie Antoinette: let them eat cake.  I knew at the time that this saying was of dubious origin, and even dubious existence. But, it fit my theme and so I exercised my own creative license.  Whether Jean-Jacques Roussea, the author who claimed that Marie said what she said was telling the truth, the literal translation from French is actually: let them eat brioche.

So, not only did I mis-attribute a quote, but I misquoated the quote (well, the English language mis-interpreted the quote, I’m simply guilty by association).  To make amends for my own historical transgressions, I sentenced myself to an attempt at baking brioche.

In The Bread Bakers Apprentice, author and bread baker extraordinaire provides three brioche recipes of increasing “richness.”  Playing the role of a typical American, I chose the middle-class recipe.  Less butter but also (supposedly) easier to work with.

As a yeast levaned bread, brioche begins with a sponge: a little flour, some yeast and a little warm milk.

Which, if you make the middle-class version as I did, gets a slightly extended fermentation time of 30-45 minutes.

While your yeast is getting its feast on (see what I did there?),  the remaining ingredients get assembled: eggs, more bread flour, a little sugar, a little salt and, oh yeah, that which makes brioche, brioche–butter.

After  sponge has risen and falls (see the second picture), eggs are added.  If you are a rock star this can be done by hand.  Apparently I’m more of an easy listening girl and used the paddle attachment and a standing mixer.

In go the dry ingredients.

And finally, the butter, two tablespoons at a time.

Reinhart describes the dough at this stage as smooth and soft.  Well, mine was that, but it was also alarmingly sticky.  Into a greased dish, covered tightly and then rested in the fridge overnight.

When ready to make the bread, remove the dough from the fridge.  The first time I attempted to make brioche, I stopped here. After 12 hours of cooling and arrested fermentation time, the dough lost none of its stickiness.  And, when I attempt to roll-it, much of the dough stuck to my hands.  Thinking I failed, I tossed the whole thing out.  And started again.

The second time around, the dough came out the same.  So, I liberally dusted my hands with flour and then took a stab.  Ahha!  Success.  I decided to make briohes a tete (why yes, this does translate to how it looks).  Reinhart suggests that the mold be filled no more than half, so I made one to appropriate size, weighed it and then weighed-out the dough accordingly.  This recipe will make 12-16 1 1/2-2 ounces brioche a tetes.  My molds were smaller so the batch made about 2 dozen.  The idea is to work with cold dough.  So, either quickly form your balls or put the dough in the fridge and work in batches.

The tops get a misting of oil and then are covered loosely in plastic wrap where they proof for an additional 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until the almost fill the mold.

Next comes a gentle egg wash and another 15-20 minutes of proofing.

Then, they finally go into a hot (400 degree) oven for 15-20 minutes until dark golden brown.  The rolls should sound hollow when thumped on the bottom.

They’re pretty in the mold but will stand up just as well naked.

While a true pastry chef would probably laugh at  the texture (the pockets should be larger), I don’t think it’s too shabby for a first try.  Let them eat cake, I’ll take this brioche.


Wilco with Billy Bragg. California Stars reminds me of camping in the middle of the summer…a nice little bit of nostalgia for the middle of winter.

Middle-Class Brioches a Tete

The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, Peter Reinhart.  Ten Speed Press, Berkeley California.



  • 1/2 C (2.25 ounces) unbleached bread flour
  • 2 tsp (.22 ounce) instant yeast
  • 1/2 C (2.25 ounces) wold milk lukewarm (90-100 degrees F)


  • 5 large (8.25 ounces) eggs, slightly beaten
  • 3 C (13.75 ounces) unbleached bread flour
  • 2 TBS (1 ounce) granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 tsp (.31 ounces) salt
  • 1 C (8 ounces) unsalted butter at room temp.
  • 1 egg, whisked until frothy, for wash
  1. To make the sponge, stir together the flour and yeast in a large mixing bowl (or in the bowl of a standing mixer).  Stir-in the milk until all flour is hydrated.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and ferment for 30-45 minutes or until the sponge rises and then falls when you tap the bowl.
  2. To make the dough, add the eggs to the sponge and whisk or mix using a paddle attachment until smooth.  In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, sugar and salt.  Add this mixture to the sponge and eggs and stir on low speed for about two minutes, until all the ingredients are hydrated and evenly distributed.  Let the mixture rest for 5 minutes (to get the gluten going).  On medium speed, gradually work-in the butter, about 2 tablespoons at-a-time, waiting until each addition assimilates before adding more.  Once all butter has been mixed-in, continue mixing for another 6 minutes or until the dough is very well mixed.  You will need to scrape-down the bowl from time to time because the dough will cling to the sides.  The dough will be very soft and smooth (and sticky).
  3. Line a sheet pan or casserole dish with baking parchment and mist lightly with spray oil.  Transfer the dough to the sheet pan, spreading it to form a large, thick rectangle measuring about 6 inches by 8 inches.  Mist the top of the dough with spray oil and cover the pan with plastic wrap.  Immediately put the pan/dish into the refrigerator and chill overnight.
  4. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and shape it while it is very cold.  If it warms up or softens, return it to the fridge.  Divide the dough into 12-16 inch pieces for petite brioches a tete (if making 1 1/2 to 2 ounce rolls).  Shape each portion into two small balls of about a 1:3 ratio.  Place larger ball into a greased mold, make a slight indent on the top-center with your finger and place the smaller ball in the divit.
  5. Place the molds on a sheet pan, mist with oil spray and loosely cover with plastic wrap.  Proof the dough until it nearly fills the molds (1 1/2 to 2 hours).  Gently brush the tops with egg wash.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and proof a final 15-20 minutes or until the dough fills the molds.
  6. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and place the rack in the middle slot in the oven.
  7. Bake for about 15-20 minutes.  The internal temperature should read 180 degrees (I didn’t do this I just went by sight).  The bread should sound hollow when thumped on the bottom and be golden brow.
  8. Remove brioches from the pans as soon as they come out of the oven and cool on a rack for at least 20 minutes before serving.

One thought on “Marie Antoinette got me thinking…”

  1. These are gorgeous! A pizza dough recipe that I’m perusing (from the Mozza cookbook) starts with a sponge — thanks to your post, I finally know what the hell it’s talking about. If I try it, I will try not to be discouraged by the stickiness.

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