How to Make French Pastries: The Secret to Making Brioche
In this post, join expert baker Joanne Chang as she shares a few secrets behind making delicious brioche. Then, be sure to sign up for her new Craftsy class Classic & Creative Brioche Pastries where you’ll learn how to master this classic French dough in the best way possible — by making eight mouthwatering pastry variations!
Have you ever walked into an elegant French patisserie, drooled over the glorious display, inhaled a rich buttery pastry and thought to yourself, “I could never learn how to make French pastries like this at home…” You know what? You can! I was trained in one of the top patisseries in the US and learned how to make brioche pastries of all kinds.
Here, I’ll share with you the tricks of the trade for making brioche that Francois Payard, third generation French pâtissier, taught me.
What is brioche?
Brioche is a French dough that pretends to be a bread but is really more of a rich pastry. I always that that saying it’s a type of French bread is a bit of a misrepresentation. It is made with flour, yeast and water, so in that respect, it is very much a bread dough. But, once you add all of the butter and eggs that make brioche so decadent, you start to see why the French created a panoply of irresistible pastries to showcase this dough.
I run into baker wannabes all the time who say, “I’m afraid of brioche” or “I don’t do well with yeast.” Honestly (and I’m not just saying this to convince you that you should try your hand at brioche) in all of my experience working with doughs, brioche is one of the easiest.
What do you need to know to make great brioche?
A few tips will give you the confidence you need to recreate pastries that you’ve seen in fancy bakery counters. First things first- read the recipe from start to finish. Measure all ingredients beforehand so you’re not scrambling to find the eggs you need or soften your butter in time.
I can’t say enough about getting a kitchen scale: It will make ALL of your baking easier, and I promise you’ll thank me for it. Finally, when making the dough, remember that it’s all about patience. After all these years, I still have a momentary sense of panic when I make a batch of brioche, worrying that the dough won’t come together.
Initially, you work together all ingredients except the butter and the dough can look rough and dry. This is normal so don’t stress if you think it looks funny. Once you add butter it seems as if it will never mix in — the butter sometimes just floats around on top or underneath the dough, and as it softens, it starts to make the whole dough look like a soggy mess! This is when I typically start to freak out wondering, will the butter mix in? Will the dough come together? What if I forgot a key ingredient??
But, I’ve learned to just WAIT. And, sure enough, after 10 or 20 or sometimes even 30 minutes, the butter eventually DOES mix in, the dough DOES come together and all of the ingredients DO make it into the final dough. When the dough finishes it has the most lovely soft and smooth sheen. You’ll feel such pride in your brioche!
At this point, the dough goes into the fridge to rest and proof (i.e., grow and develop flavor). After it is proofed, it is one of the easiest doughs to work with because it looks and acts like Play-Doh. And, if a kid can make treats with Play-Doh so can you!
What else do you need to creating delicious brioche? A fabulous recipe! Get that recipe, plus more recipes, tips and tricks by joining Joanne Chang’s class Classic & Creative Brioche Pastries. You’ll even learn the sticky buns recipe (using brioche dough, of course) that took down Iron Chef Bobby Flay on an episode of Throwdown With Bobby Flay!
How can you make brioche fit into your busy life?
No question, we are all busy, and the idea of finding time to make brioche from start to finish can be daunting. Yet at my bakery, Flour, we have all sorts of ways to fit brioche making into a packed day, and you can take these tricks and apply them to your baking at home! Once you’ve made the brioche dough (and then shaped them into pain aux raisins, brioche au chocolat or sticky sticky buns) you can freeze the shaped unbaked pastries for up to a few weeks.
The evening before you want to enjoy your pastries, move them from the freezer to the countertop and let them come to room temperature for about 2 to 3 hours until they start to poof up a bit. At that point, the brioche can go into the fridge where they will proof overnight. In the morning, they will be ready for the oven. This is how we have fresh baked brioche each morning at Flour without having someone making and shaping brioche overnight into the wee hours of the morning.
What pitfalls have you had in making brioche? I’d love to help troubleshoot issues you may have had — I’m on a mission to make brioche baking easy and straightforward for all. So let me know what your experiences have been!
About the author
Joanne Chang co-owns Flour Bakery + Cafe and Myers+Chang in Boston and is the author of Flour, Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe, and Flour, Too, Indispensable Recipes for the Cafe’s Most Loved Sweets and Savories. You can follow her on twitter at @jbchang, on Facebook, on Instagram at @joannebchang and read about Flour Bakery and Myers+Chang at their websites.