Brioche: not just a buttery French breakfast

Sicilian brioche

One of the projects I set myself last year was to perfect brioche. Specifically, I wanted a recipe where I could give a final prove overnight then bake in the morning to have for breakfast. I haven’t achieved that yet as the research is proving seemingly endless.

In many ways, brioche is the classic enriched dough. An enriched dough is a standard bread dough – yeast, water, flour, salt, time – that’s been made into something more indulgent by the addition of sugar, eggs, butter etc. Indeed, I always thought butter was pretty essential. But when I started looking at recipes, I realised there was enormous variation.

I already knew it was a bread that came in many forms – personally I’ve done tin braids, freeform braids (like challah), rings, and the classic Brioche à tête or parisienne, with the smaller ball on top of a large ball, usually baked in fluted tins. The variation, however, goes beyond the shape. I’ve got a list of 20-plus recipes, with the first eight alone coming from the 2011 Phaidon English version of Ginette Mathiot’s The Art of French baking, first published in the 1930s in France as Je sais faire le pâtisserie (“I know how to make patisserie”). There’s classic brioche, rich brioche (lots of eggs and butter), poor man’s brioche (very little butter and egg), brioche with no butter but crème fraîche instead, a brioche leavened with baking powder not yeast (and therefore more cake than bread) and even a Norwegian brioche (no eggs; peel and dried fruit).

The recipe I’m doing here, however, is another variation, from Sicily. Naples and Sicily have historical connections to France – not only did Normans invate Sicily around they same time they conquered England (what an incredible logistic achievement), but there was a 15th century invasion and claim to the throne, and a Napoleonic Kingdom in the 19th century – which in part explains a French influence in their baking traditions. Notably in the presence of brioche. I don’t know these parts of Italy, but I’m aware of the stupendous idea of eating small brioche as a kind of gelato sandwich, or with granita.

Interestingly, this brioche, based on the version in La cuccina Siciliana by Maria Teresa di Marco and Marie Cécile Ferré, doesn’t even contain butter. It’s instead made with lard, strutto. It’s called “Brioche con il tuppo di Nonna Adele”. So many Italian recipes seem to originate with someone’s nonna (grandmother).

A tuppo is a chignon, though it may also be related to tappo – plug, cork, stopper. Di Marco and Ferr also give the dialect variation tuppitieddu, which may be Catanese – from the port of Catania. Which is all getting a bit much for me with my basic linguistic skills.

250g strong white flour
250g plain flour
200g milk, tepid
80g caster sugar
75g lard, softened (or butter, see below)
2 eggs, about 110g beaten egg
15g fresh yeast (or about 8g active dried yeast)
3g fine sea salt
5g vanilla essence, or to taste
1 more egg, lightly beaten, for the glaze

1. Combine the flour, sugar and salt in a bowl.
2. Dissolve the yeast in the milk, then add this to the flour.
3. Add the vanilla and the salt and blend.
4. Add the softened lard and keep blending.
5. Keep working to achieve an elastic dough.
6. Rest the dough in the fridge, covered in plastic, for at least 6 hours, up to about 10.
7. Take the dough out of the fridge. The total dough weight should be about 1kg. Divide into 10 pieces, each scaled at about 100g.

Form bigger and smaller balls

8. Take pieces, about 20g, off each ball to form “u tuppitieddu”. Form small balls.

9. Tighten up the balls. Then roll the smaller ones into a teardrop shape.

Form teardop shape and poke a hole in larger ball

10. Form a hole in the top of each of the bigger balls with your finger then insert the teardrops, pointy bit first. Make sure they’re well attached or they can fall off.
11. Put on baking sheets, cover with a cloth and leave to rise until doubled in volume, around an hour, hour and a half in a warm-ish kitchen.
12. Preheat oven to 180C.

Prove up and brush with beaten egg

13. Brush the buns with beaten egg then bake for about 15 minutes.

Now, I must say, I like these little brioche, the shape is fun, and I can imagine they’d work well with gelato or granita. As a breakfast bun, however, the lard quality isn’t half so nice as buttery brioche. It just feels like something’s missing.

Historically, poorer people may have had a pig, and therefore pig fat, as they can be kept in small spaces and eat almost anything. Dairy fats, on the other hand, require grazing – and land ownership was the preserve of the wealthier. So I can see how a lardy brioche might have evolved among Nonna Adele’s ancestors and their demographic peers. But these days, when we can easily buy butter, frankly, I’d use that instead. Unless you particularly like lard.

Oh, and apologies if my blog updating is a little haphazard these days. Not only did my computer just die an unfortunate death, forcing me to try and cope with Fran’s aged, badly maintained old laptop, but we’re also in the process of expanding our family. Big changes afoot.

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12 Comments

Filed under Baking, Recipes

12 responses to “Brioche: not just a buttery French breakfast

  1. Well the last sentence leaves us all intrigued. Sending you and Fran the very best for the expansion. I look forward to more news. I love the shape of these brioche and I am intrigued by the lard. I know you say it is missing something but I feel I need to make these to try them. I am partial to lardy cake so I might be partial to these. What do you think?

  2. Usually lard is a bonus to so may things, but (without taste testing) I think I agree with you on the butter vs lard contest with breakfast brioche. Look forward to further news on baking for extra mouths!

  3. I love making brioche but I’ve always made it in a loaf tin and with butter. I must try making it with a tuppo alla siciliana and with lard. I’ve actually just finished reading a great book I think may interest you – Chewing the Fat: An Oral History of Italian Foodways from Fascism to Dolce Vita by Karima Moyer-Nocchi – on how extensive the use of lard was in Italy pre-WWII, even in areas where olive trees were cultivated for their oil. The latter fat was used very sparingly (people often reserved it for Lent when animal fats were not to be consumed). Butter, too, like you say, was the reserve of the wealthier …

  4. The brioche looks absolutely perfect – in fact, when I first saw your photo of these on instagram, I thought how lucky you were to pick up such great-looking brioche near where you live!

    As a German I am rather partial to the taste of butter (you can’t imagine my frustrated searches for decent butter that didn’t cost an arm and a leg when I lived in Rome – I always used to tell my Italian friends that they only did not like butter because they had never tried good butter), so I am not surprised to hear you prefer an all butter version!

  5. Not made Brioches but going to give it a go. If you like recipes books with a difference keep an eye out for this one Yashim’s Istanbul Cook Book out soon. The author is Jason Goodwin.
    http://blimeyawesomegrub.wordpress.com/

  6. Pingback: Cucina conversations: a Sicilian coffee for the summer months – Turin Mamma

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