Every baker that I ask about brioche instantly tells me how much they love it.
“It’s like the Bugatti of bread doughs,” says Baking Ambassador Martin Philip.
“It’s a little miraculous,” proclaims Baking School Instructor Lucas Diggle.
“It’s one of the more magical bread doughs,” declares Head of Bakery Carrie Brisson.
“It’s one of those essential recipes you need to have in your arsenal,” asserts Baker Support Specialist Laurie Furch. She adds, “I just really love brioche.”
First of all, what is brioche?
Brioche is a classic French bread distinguished by the addition of butter and eggs, which makes it an “enriched” dough. The high fat content results in a bread with an exceptionally tender crumb, pillowy softness, and rich flavor.
Making brioche starts with an egg-based dough that’s kneaded to begin developing the gluten and create elasticity. Once the dough has some strength, you begin to slowly add in cool room temperature butter a knob at a time (kind of like making buttercream) and continue to knead until you have a smooth, soft, somewhat sticky dough.
There are no hard and fast rules for making brioche, but in general, the butter is typically anywhere from 30% to 70% of the flour weight. The method itself can vary beyond the basics above: Lucas mentions a version that involves a preferment, room temperature butter, and folding, while Laurie points to a recipe in The Joy of Cooking that features a floating water-sponge and hand-kneading. (If that piques your curiosity, I’m duty-bound to inform you that I tried this Joy of Cooking recipe, and it was very stressful. I’d recommend sticking with a machine for kneading!)
Why is brioche so great?
It’s a pillowy bread loaded with butter — need we say more? “It’s a beautiful, silky, light bread,” explains Lucas. Despite the large amount of butter in the dough, properly made brioche will be tender and fluffy, plus flavorful from all that fat and some additional sugar.
It’s also incredibly versatile. Laurie describes it as a “mother dough,” the kind of foundational recipe that can be used as a base for everything from classic French shapes to laminated pastries and even babkas and buns. One fantastic use is in Maritozzi, a fluffy Italian bun as big as a softball and stuffed with whipped cream.
Keys to successfully baking brioche
What makes brioche so great — its high percentage of butter — is also the thing that can make it difficult to master. Without proper technique, you can end up with dough that’s greasy, slack, or unbearably sticky. To avoid such headaches, follow these tips:
Keep everything cold: “Make sure all your ingredients, except for the butter, are cold,” says Carrie. That includes the flour, which you can refrigerate before using, and the eggs. For instance, this Maritozzi recipe calls for eggs that are straight from the fridge to keep the dough temperature low and prevent the butter from melting when it’s added. “It’s such a long mix that you run the risk of overheating your dough, and then it won’t incorporate the butter very well,” emphasizes Carrie. And you’d be wise to judge your kitchen conditions before baking: “Sometimes it’s just too hot to make brioche,” acknowledges Lucas.
Have your butter in the Goldilocks zone: You want your butter to be at just the right temperature and texture: not too cold and hard, not too warm and soft. The friction and heat generated by the long mixing will warm the butter, so if the butter is too soft to begin with it may melt, causing it to separate in the dough and make it greasy. But if it’s too cold, it will remain in hard chunks and won’t easily blend into the dough. For success, you want the butter to be at cool room temperature — what bakers refer to as “pliable.” Treat the butter like you would if you were laminating it: Pound it with a rolling pin to make it pliable but still cold, and it will be ready to use.
Be patient: “When you throw in the butter, it’s going to slosh around and streak on the side of the mixer. It’ll look like an unholy mess,” says Laurie. She stresses: Don’t panic. Wait until the dough is slapping against the side of the bowl before you add more butter. And make sure the butter fully incorporates in the dough; according to Laurie, the dough should be softer than a baby’s bottom, but when you touch it, it won’t stick to you. “It takes patience and time, but not a lot of skill,” she reassures.
Choose the right yeast: You can make brioche with “regular” yeast — for instance, the instant yeast called for in Maritozzi. But for extra success, turn to SAF Gold Instant Yeast, which is specifically formulated for doughs that are higher in sugar. That’s because sweet breads can be slow risers. Why? Sugar attracts water, and when it's in bread dough, it pulls water away from yeast — leaving the yeast thirsty and unable to grow. The special strain of yeast in SAF Gold is "osmotolerant" — it requires less water, so it's able to grow happily despite the sugar.
Let a mixer do all the work: “Don’t try kneading by hand,” stresses Laurie. (Although technically it can be done — Julia Child made brioche without a mixer — trust me when I say you don’t want to.) You need to develop the dough fully and build sufficient strength to hold all the butter, something that’s difficult (and both time- and energy-consuming) to achieve by hand.
Succeed with the knead: “If you don’t have proper development, you won’t get strength and volume in your dough,” explains Martin. “You need strength to hold all that fat from enriched ingredients like butter.” Even when you use a stand mixer, it can take 10 minutes (or more!) to get your dough properly developed. Make sure to give it the full amount of time necessary and don’t rush things. Carrie advises using the windowpane test to ensure your dough is fully developed.
Cold proof your dough: According to Martin, letting the dough proof in the fridge overnight provides extended fermentation time, which in turn develops more flavor. This step is extra-helpful since most brioche doughs are made without a preferment for flavor.
This step has benefits beyond flavor development — it also makes the rich dough easier to work with and shape. “You can’t work with brioche dough when it’s warm, or you will cry,” says Laurie. When you chill the dough, the butter resolidifies, making it easier to handle. You also want to make sure brioche gets a full proof for proper baked texture; use the tips here to gauge: How do I know if my bread dough has risen enough?
Can you save broken brioche dough?
The biggest detriment to brioche is butter and/or dough that’s too warm. If this happens, the dough will turn greasy and streaky, rather than beautifully lush and cohesive. The first sign of trouble is the “butter leak” — melted butter that starts to seep out of the dough when you’re trying to incorporate it.
If you start adding the butter and realize it’s too soft right away, stick the rest of the butter in the fridge until it’s chilled and has reached that pliable, cool room temperature stage. If you’ve already added a significant amount of the butter and start to see it leaking from the dough, pause and refrigerate the covered dough for a little while (15 to 20 minutes), just enough to cool the dough slightly, then go back to mixing.
And even if the butter melts so much that your dough feels beyond salvaging, Laurie advises to keep calm and carry on. “It won’t be quite perfect, but it will still be perfectly edible — and making mistakes is how we all become better bakers,” she says. The beginner’s loaf will likely make an exceptional bread pudding, batch of French toast, or pile of croutons. (See more ideas in our post on 6 ways to use up leftover bread.)
Breaking down our brioche recipes
If you take a stroll through our recipe site, you’ll see there are plenty of versions of brioche to choose from. Here are some worth knowing:
Brioche: This is the go-to version of this mother dough, a base that’s used in recipes ranging from Brioche Buns to Maritozzi. It features 43% butter in relation to the flour for a tender, rich bread; because the butter amount is on the slightly lower side, it’s also a good entry-level recipe before you dive into brioche doughs with higher butter content, which can be trickier to work with.
Classic Brioche: This is another take on brioche, with a few slight differences: It features a preferment and a higher ratio of butter at 69%, making it a great next-level brioche to try. It’s also a wonderful example of the foundational French shaping technique (either as a large loaf or small individual buns) involving a small top knot of bread, called brioche à tête.
Brioche Buns: In this recipe, our master brioche recipe takes a handy form: buns! Rich and pillowy, they make ideal hamburger buns.
Cardamom Brioche Buns: As if buttery bread wasn’t enough, brioche dough can also be laminated for an extra-decadent experience — Lucas calls laminated brioche an “even more extraordinary” way to use this dough. This technique is put on display in these buns, which have the breadiness of brioche and the flakiness of a croissant.
A brioche shortcut: baking mix
If you’re feeling nervous about taking on brioche or just want to streamline the process, start with our Golden Brioche Baking Mix. It’s a simpler way to bake this soft, fluffy bread — all you need is butter and water, and the dough can be mixed by hand, stand mixer, or bread machine. You can use it to make a standard loaf, dinner rolls, or larger sandwich or hamburger rolls, showcasing the versatility of this beautiful bread.
However you make brioche — as a classic loaf, in the form of a sweet bun, or from a mix — you’ll be able to embrace all that this foundational dough has to offer. And while brioche may be a bit more challenging than other bread recipes, Lucas stresses that “it’s wonderfully worth doing. It shows off what the baker is capable of.” No risk, no reward, right?
Cover photo (Maritozzi) by Rick Holbrook; food styling by Kaitlin Wayne.