Brioche: a quasi-fail (#bba)

Sometimes you think you’re doing the right thing but it turns out you’re not.

This was one of those times.

Although, in reality, it’s a small problem and nothing that can’t be resolved by EATING THE EVIDENCE. Still, it would have been nice to get it a little closer to “right”. Woe is me. Let me tell you what happened…

I decided to give bread #4 in The Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge a go yesterday and of course (since you already know what the post title is) it was Brioche. There are three variations of it to choose from and I went with Rich Man’s version. This one  has a whole whopping pound of butter in it, vs the Middle Class and Poor Man’s versions with a half and a quarter pound of butter, respectively.

So let’s follow along the process.


As you can see, the ingredient list isn’t exactly strange. Except that we’re not using just a little bit of that butter, we’re using the WHOLE thing. The recipe indicates that, in baker’s percentage, this loaf is 87.7% butter in the end. In case you’re thinking that means it’s 3% other things, allow me to explain in a little more detail.

The 30-second Crash Course in Baker’s Percentage

In order to keep a recipe consistent whether one makes 2 loaves or 274, there’s a formula bakers use that will tell them exactly how much of any ingredients (by weight) they need to use to get x-number of loaves. The baker’s percentage , simply put, assumes that whatever total flour goes into a dough is 100% of ‘something’. So in the case of this brioche, we’re using a total of 518g of flour. This is now our 100% value.

The butter is 454g which is 87.7% of the flour’s weight. Water, salt, etc. each get figured to what percentage of the flour we’re using. Then if we wanted to use 4000g of flour, we could see that we’d need 87.7% of that in butter, so 4000 X .877 = 3508g butter and so on. This assures that regardless how big or small a batch of bread we’re looking to make, the proportions are always the same.

A couple more points about the Mise-en-place above:

  • The milk is “warm” as in 90-100ºF so the sponge yeast can rise
  • The eggs are in some warm water to get them up to room temp quickly.
  • The butter we’ll cut up so it can warm up fast too.

So, having pre-measured all our ingredients to make sure we have everyything and won’t easily forget to include this or that, we’re ready to start.

First, we make the sponge, simple enough. Mix the flour and yeast in a bowl, add the warm milk, mix and let stand 20 minutes to rise.


Not an exciting photo, is it? Moving on…


20 minutes later, we’ve lightly beaten or room temp eggs and add it to our now bubbly sponge.

Side note: It’s important to make sure you use room temp eggs whenever you bake anything as cold-from-the-refrigerator eggs can cause issues to your recipe since they won’t have the same properties as warm eggs and they will also chill your ingredients. Since all it takes is a couple of minutes soaking in lukewarm water, it’s very simple to do while you get the rest of your area prepped.


We now mix the eggs and sponge. While that’s happening, we add the sugar and salt to the remaining flour and stir then add to the eggy mix.

picture-7 picture-8

We continue to mix at medium speed for a couple of minutes until we get a dough something like the above, then cover and let rest for 5 minutes (autolyse) to let the gluten develop.


While our sponge was growing a while back, I cut up the butter into four, then cut thse quarters into little bits, all on a sheet of parchment. (If I were clever, I’d have used this same greased up parchment to line the tray a little later on but I didn’t think ahead. I’ll know better next time.)

picture-10Once our dough has had some time to rest, we can slowly add the room temp butter to it while mixing at medium speed. Take this step nice and slow, it does take a while to get the butter well incorporated between each addition. Here’s a little tip: scrape all the dough off your beater before going into this phase and then smear it with some of your butter so the dough doesn’t stick to the beater so much. I found (with ungreased beater) that the dough pretty much just stuck on the beater and went for a ride while the butter coated the bowl. With a less sticky beater, the dough would get mixed with the butter a little better.


In the above photo, the butter has been thoroughly incorporated. It was then mixed at medium speed for a further six minutes.

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We turn out the dough lump onto a tray lined with parchment (this is where that buttered sheet should have gone) and spread it out to a rectangle about 8″ by 6″ (20cm by 16cm for those keeping track in metric). This then goes into the refrigerator overnight or at least 4 hours.

We get to clean up the kitchen, try to wipe the butter off the camera and head off to bed.

zzzzNext morning, we pull our cold dough out and begin working while it is cold. Peter stipulates if it starts to warm up, put it back in the fridge; you want it cold.


The dough rectangle rose a bit in the fridge.


I’ve decdied I’d try two pan loaves  and some medium sized “brioches a tête” which I’ll be putting into some little tart pans I found in the back of the cupboard. So to start, I find out my total dough weighs 1337g, so a third is about 445g. I slice up the dough into equal thirds.


Once divided, I take one third and cut into six pretty even pieces, then form each into a ball.


I then lay them out as above, a little offset.

Man, this is really odd dough. With so much butter, it’s very soft even when cold. Need to work fast so as to not melt the butter.


For the next loaf, I make three ropes and lay them out like above. Someone somewhere said this was called a “Parisian” style, although I have not seen photos of it; I’m merely going by text description. I hope this is close…


Lastly, I split the last third into two then each half into 2/3 and 1/3 for the large and small balls. I pop these into the little tart pans which were liberally oiled.


Here’s the whole lot, ready to proof for 90 minutes to 2 hours. They get spritzed with oil and plastic wrap to keep from drying.


Two hours later, they’vc expanded sideways to fill the pans (almost) but haven’t risen upwards very much. At least not to a point where you might say they’ve “doubled in size”. But the recipe doesn’t say “doubled in size”, it wants them to simply “fill the moulds”. I’m confused and unsure here. None-the-less, it’s been 2 hours, they’ve expanded, so I do the egg wash thingy.


Click the above thumbs and you’ll see the dough has pretty much “filled” the moulds. Once egged up, we let them proof another 15 minutes or so until the dough’s reached all corners of the pans. Now the balls, for example, started out about 3cm or 1.5″ tall and here they’ve made it to about 2″ tall so this isn’t even doubled. And it certainly hasn’t filled the pan UP a lot. Hmmm… we carry on.


Into the 350ºF oven. Within the next minute or two (literally) the dough starts to expand quite noticeably so I figure they have a LOT of oven spring. I keep an eye on things, they’re expected to stay in there for about 35 minutes to 50 minutes (for large items, 15 to 20 if they were little personal brioches). We’re looking for an internal temp of 190ºF.


Here they are at about 25 minutes; they were getting pretty tanned and I didn’t want to risk them burning; the loaves were also at 190º at this ppoint so out they came.


Immediately flipped onto cooling racks. As you can see, the loaves are not very tall at all. Dang. I probably should have simply waited for the dough to expand up a lot more before baking.

(This be where the “quasi-fail” comes in.)


I was also not too sure how the cheapy aluminum tart pans would work, but they seemed to be fine. Not as fancy as fluted “real” brioche moulds but a lot cheaper and I had them already. No issiue with sticking at all, either.

After letting them cool a bit, I sliced one of the small breads. Nice soft crumb, very delicious. And needs no butter!


Conclusion: a very nice bread, needs to be redone and fix the proofing issue, would go a ways to changu=ing the texture – not that this is bad right now, just that it’s not “right” and I’d like to see what that should be. Also would be nice to get a couple of “normal sized” loaves so we could use it as toast for a bit. I’m sure there’ll be no problem moving this one, even though it isn’t “precisely” spot on.


Several members of the Challenge are putting up their Brioche results, here are a few…

Sean’s Brioche at Want and Kneads looks great
Katya over at Second Dinner did a Poor Man’s version
Phyl (gaaarp) is going for all THREE versions (he’s certifiably mad, I tells ya!)
Heather at Flour Girl ponders deep buttery questions
Victoria of Goth Panda had results and process much like mine


As always, your comments, critiques, grammatical corrections welcomed!

11 Replies to “Brioche: a quasi-fail (#bba)”

  1. I love your detailed account of your adventure. It all sounds familiar. 🙂
    I let mine rise over 4 hours and baked and I should have waited longer as I didn’t get a good high loaf either. I think the overnight fridge thing just takes a very long time to rise and I’m impatient I guess. It could be ALL THAT butter not helping the rise issue to.
    Great read.
    Wonderful photos.
    As always nice baking with you.

  2. I don’t know that I’d even call it a quasi-fail. Honestly, I was expecting something much more spectacularly wrong or mutant or something. 😀 Those end up looking very very nice.

    Thanks for all the pictures and step-by-steps. It’ll come in handy when I tackle brioche’s next week. 🙂

  3. I can’t call this failed in any way. Your Brioche looks grand here.
    Doesn’t need any butter, that’s good.

  4. Loved your synopsis of the baker’s percentage lesson. Your detailed photos and description are fantastic. Lots of pitfalls for me to avoid when I make it tomorrow. I’m tempted to do the medium brioche. I think your little ones are adorable and look perfect to me.

  5. I’m attempting the “Rich” version as well (in the oven as I write) and I need to thank you for your pictures. I was thinking my dough looked so funny, but I think the pound of butter definitely changes the regular attributes of the bread I’m used to! I can’t wait to dig in, and hope they look as good as yours!

  6. What a good write-up, very instructional, this will be useful when it’s time for me to bake these.

    And I fail to see the failure in your brioches!

  7. Nice job, Paul. I wouldn’t call that a failure, quasi or otherwise. I noticed in the recipe, although it’s not really clear, that the larger loaves might take longer to rise than the brioche a tetes. Good to know, as mine are rising as I type.

  8. A lot of people had lack of rise out of the loaf pans. I also love the tip about greasing the beater with butter. I was constantly fighting mine from climbing and it was getting frustrating!!!

    They look amazing too!

  9. But did they TASTE good!? Thats the test of whether your bread was a fail or not!

    I always have trouble with the butter temperatures too. It’s like, you never know if an extra 30 seconds out of the fridge will wreck your recipe.

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