The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

A Truly Authentic Brioche Recipe

Mr. Waffles's picture
Mr. Waffles

A Truly Authentic Brioche Recipe

I've often wondered what brioche actually was in the 18th and 19th centuries. Over the years, I've collected dozens of recipes, in both French and English, from that time. And while they're all fairly similar, I never had one that I could call unimpeachably authentic. 

Then, a few weeks ago, I finally found what seems to be the most credible source possible: "The French Cook", 1815 edition by Louis Eustache Ude. Not only did he work in Louis XVI's kitchens, but his father was a chef (in the traditional sense) to Louis XVI, as well. His measures are as follows:

"In Paris we call to make a brioche with twelve pounds of butter, as we reckon a bushel of flower to weigh sixteen pounds. In this case we take sixty eggs, we ascertain whether they be all good, and to these we add a quarter of a pound of salt, the same quantity of sugar, and half a pound of yeast…" Louis Eustache Ude, The French Cook p.461

In baker's percentages that's 100% flour : 75% butter : ~41.3% egg : 1.6% salt : 1.6% sugar : 3.1% liquid ale yeast

Of course the flour and yeast are nothing quite like what we use now. The flour would have been stone milled from soft white wheat and then hand-bolted -- to yield something in between modern pastry flour and AP flour, yet with much of the wheat germ still present. And then the yeast was a totally different animal -- straight from the local ale brewer -- whose method of preparation and incorporation he details in the full recipe.

How bread flour and milk came to be such common ingredients in modern brioche recipes is puzzling. They really create something else that's not brioche. Add a new major ingredient and use the wrong flour in any other bread, and no one would think you're making what you claim to be. Maybe it should have another name? Fauxoche?

FueledByCoffee's picture
FueledByCoffee

I don't follow your logic.  I can make a baguette using various types of flour because the defining characteristic of a baguette is its shape and scoring pattern, the ratio of crust to crumb etc.  The defining characteristic of brioche is not the type of flour it is made with or the use or milk, it is the ratio of butter to flour and the presence of a large quantity of eggs making up the liquid.  I don't understand how using modern flours makes the doughs we produce now not authentic.  By that measure none of the bread we produce today is authentic bread because our flour is so incredibly different than it was at the time when bread originated.  Maybe we all just make fauxbread now?  I don't understand what the purpose of saying this would be.  The history is cool though so thumbs up for that, always cool to learn some new history.

Mr. Waffles's picture
Mr. Waffles

If one were to make a baguette with milk, instead of water, is it a baguette? Few, if any, would say so. It would fundamentally change the character of what's being baked.

The same goes for brioche. For hundreds of years, milk wasn't an ingredient, so there's no reason to call what's made now brioche. It isn't brioche.

My point is that we can't just add major ingredients to a recipe and claim it's the same product as before. If one were to take a milk and bread flour brioche to the late 18th century, I'm sure people would enjoy it, but there's no way they'd say it was brioche. They'd come up with a new name.

My issue with the flour was a two-parter -- one minor point and one major point. The minor issue is the one about stone milling and retention of the germ. It certainly made a slightly different flour, but it wouldn't be perceptible to many. So on that point, no, we're not all making faux bread. But in the sense that all French flour of that time was nowhere close to the protein content of bread flour, bread flour has nothing to do with brioche. Make a "brioche" with it, and it's not brioche. 

Historical accuracy is my passion. I had just read a Dorie Greenspan article on Bon Appetit, before I wrote this. She said, "...I learned how to make brioche. I mean really make brioche. The way it was made when Marie Antoinette lost her head over it." She then goes on to talk about milk and her speculation of how they mixed it. And I just about died. Not only is she perpetuating the Marie Antoinette myth, but she's saying they used milk, and then later going on about yeast from the pantry and how she "guess[es]" they used a bowl and spoon to mix it at Versailles. None of it was accurate. It was just appalling food journalism.

Though I use a stand mixer, I do my brioche with the old ingredients, all the way down to the milled and bolted flour and ale yeast. The texture is nothing like the fauxoche most people eat. I wish more could experience what it was meant to be.

Sorry. Just had to vent!

Danni3ll3's picture
Danni3ll3

So you are telling us that what they sell in France is fauxoche?

I, for one, will continue to enjoy present day brioche, or should I say gâche vendéenne, since my mother assures me that this is the real brioche. ;-)

Mr. Waffles's picture
Mr. Waffles

Yes. Having lived there for many years, I can assure you that much of what they now create is brilliantly authentic and amazing. But when it comes to brioche, I can't say many of them are doing what would appropriately be called brioche. It's still delicious. It's just not brioche.

And you're correct that there are older varieties of brioche, under different names, that are even more deeply rooted in history.

drogon's picture
drogon

Not all brioche recipes use milk - the one I use for brioche doesn't have milk in it. (Only the cheaper ones in my readings of them so-far).

But people change. Tastes change, as does ingredient availability (and to some extent cost).

Historical accuracy is fine - for a historian. For the rest of us there is the practical matter of making stuff regularly in a repeatable manner. I'm not personally that fussed for some stuff - e.g. Borodinsky using the GOST method or Andrew Whitelys method? Give me Whitleys any day... :-)

-Gordon

Mr. Waffles's picture
Mr. Waffles

I think it's crucial to have context for how things were done. 

Case in point is the whole myth of, "Let them eat cake." Marie Antoinette never said it. It wasn't cake the speaker was referring to. It was brioche. And what was meant when the person said it was essentially that the government should cap the price of brioche to that of regular bread so that the common man could get more for his money. And that of course was insane for a variety of reasons. But people today go, "Marie Antoinette told people to eat cake!" Like that means anything.

And that lack of respect for any anchoring in tradition or history extends to brioche itself. There are ingredients it classically had until about 150 years ago. Much of what is used today makes a different bread. Brioche, per se, is not really made anymore. And if miffs me that people exalt something that isn't what it's purported to be. Real brioche isn't hard to make. Would people enjoy it?

Danni3ll3's picture
Danni3ll3

Can you explain how different is your so called authentic brioche from what you call Fauxoche? I don't mean in terms of ingredients since we know that what was available then is diff if not impossible to obtain today. I am asking in terms of crust, crumb, and flavour as well as shaping. A picture would be awesome!

Mr. Waffles's picture
Mr. Waffles

Next time I bake it up, I'll be more than happy to upload some shots. I wish I had been able to do so when I posted this.

However, I do think the ingredients are possible to obtain today. Granted, you need to have a flour mill and bolting equipment (I do, and I know that's crazy). And having a friend or local brewery to get the ale yeast from is key, too. The technique aspect you can check out if you Google "Louis Eustache Ude brioche" and click on the 1815 edition -- and scan up to page 461. I don't use that method, because I'm lazy. I guess that makes me a hypocrite, but stand mixers are amazing inventions :)

I'm at a loss for how to explain the flavor difference. Even the smell of the fresh flour is completely different from bagged flour. In terms of texture, however, I always feel that the crumb looks like cake. It's fine in appearance and very tender to eat. The first time I did it the old way I instantly got why there's the myth of, "Let them eat cake." I mean it's low protein flour with eggs and a ton of butter. It's very close to cake.

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

was derived from ale yeast or barm. they are pretty much the same thing.  What is different is that most beer made in the UK is ale yeast base - top fermenting where much of the beer made in France was lager or bottoe fermenting.  The yeasts are pretty similar though.  You can just add some ale or lager to the dough mix and call it close enough to barm.

Words change meaning all the time, especially when the original word was thought of as being good and others wanted to associate with it.  Brioche today isn't the same as it was 200 years ago because as, the recipe changed, those making the changes wanted their bread to be thought of as good as brioche and saying as good as requires one to explain why and how it is different and why it it is better and come up with a new name that no one knows.  This is way more difficult but more honest then just saying Me too Me too! .......and saying hey - I'm making really good brioche. It is just way easier that way - no explanation necessary. After a few hundred years no one remembers what the old brioche was or is and almost no one even cares.

The Me Toos are always wanting to associate themselves with words that they think are good and change their meaning willy nilly trying to say I'm, or my stuff, is just the same and just as good - even when it isn't and they aren't.  Marriage is an easy example.  For thousands of years a marriage was considered good and between humans, it had to be between a man and woman and any other combination was bad, not allowed - an abomination.  But gay people wanted to associate thenselves with the word they considered good and wanted to be married too so that they could be the same and just as good as other married folks.  Now marriage as a word had been modified to mean just about anything an, as a result, nearly worthless and most people agree with me since half of them get divorced to prove it:-)  I'm not making any moral judgement here just using an example to explain why people change the meaning of words.

Artisan is the same way.  Everyone wants to be an artisan and make something artisan so the word has been dumbed down to the point where it is meaningless - anyone can be one and what ever they make is artisan just because they say so. That is the way the world of words works.  No one wants to be a mass murderer , a whack job or liar.  Those definitions don't seem to change much over time because there aren't any Me Toos pointing to themselves or their output wanting to be something known to be bad.

So changing the meaning of words can't be stopped because people want to be good and thought of as being good..... no matter how bad and messed up they are..... they want to be Mee Toos not .....what ever they used to be called:  Only people can change the meaning of words - the stuff they make can't do this.  What I have noticed is that the more words change the less they mean and the harder it is to communicate, remember history and the way we were.  It is almost to the point where people can't easily talk to each other and be understood without a lot of explaining what they really mean.

So now when I say to autolyse for 20 minutes I always have to say ....dough flour and water only now that people have changed the meaning to mean possibly with salt or yeast or SD or oil or who knows what else!  When they say autolyse to me I have to ask what they mean by that becsue it can man anything today :-).

So now when someone says brioche you have to ask .....does it have milk in it, how about butter how about eggs or just egg whites maybe?  It is always better and easier to be dumb.  Ignorance really is bliss.

Happy brioche baking 

Mr. Waffles's picture
Mr. Waffles

Indeed, baker's yeast is derived from ale yeast. But I'd prefer dry ale yeast over dry baker's yeast. The variety I use, T-58 from Safbrew, is a Belgian strain that has a much less intense odor than baker's yeast + is far more lively. I can use less of it and still work with the same proofing times I otherwise would have.

In terms of the evolution of certain products, I think there are simply some that shouldn't be messed with, especially when they're tied, in the collective imagination, to a certain time period.

A madeleine, for instance, is a Proustian delight of fin de siècle France. If the interpretation of what makes a madeleine goes too far afield from what would have been around in 1870s-1880s France, then people would have no good reason to mention Proust and madeleines in the same breath. Why rhapsodize about something the man never ate, right?

Like the madeleine, brioche is a concept anchored in our imagination of another time period -- in this case the late 18th century. Even if Marie Antoinette is mistakenly called to mind, the romanticism of French nobility eating this bread that, in its finest form, was inaccessible to the unwashed masses, is tied up in the product itself. When people eat it, my feeling is that there should be a strong connection between what it is and what it once was -- otherwise why not just call it egg'n'butter bread, forget what it was for the vast majority of its history, and never mention anything about who ate it and why? 

I suppose the bigger philosophical issue is, "Would the modern version of anything have been good enough to sustain a legacy?" We have brioche now because what is was was beloved for hundreds of years and became ingrained into a culture. Is what we call brioche now that good? Would we even care to eat it still, if it had started out with milk and high gluten eastern European wheat in it? I don't know. Maybe. But I'd prefer to eat the version that made it iconic.

kenlklaser's picture
kenlklaser

Thanks for the pointer to an ale yeast which you believe is suitable (T-58 Safbrew) and authentic.  There are actually quite a few ale yeasts from which to choose, T-58 is roughly similar to Wyeast 3724, a Saison yeast.

All of that leads to my question, what temperatures do you use for bulk fermentation and proofing?

 I also thought the following was somewhat curious,

   waterfat
flour100.00%   
butter75.00% 11.90%60.83%
egg41.30% 31.45%3.93%
salt1.60%   
sugar1.60%   
liquid ale yeast3.10% ? 
   43.35%64.76%

the water is awfully low. It's even low if the liquid yeast is 100% water for a sum of 46.45%.

RightNow's picture
RightNow

Please leave examples like marriage out of this kind of discussion. It is politically charged; but, more importantly, what you posted was incorrect. You omitted countless ancient and accepted definitions including multiple spouses, and more. I get your point, I just feel the specific, and incorrect example, is wrong for this outlet. 

Danni3ll3's picture
Danni3ll3

Even though I find this thread a little pretentious (sorry but that is how I feel), it triggered the desire to try making what I eat at my aunts and uncles that are in the Vendée and Loire regions. What do you think of the following recipe?

http://cuisine.journaldesfemmes.com/recette/312057-gache-vendeenne

I am going to use instant yeast though instead of the fresh yeast. And my amazing hubby found orange blossom water! 

Mr. Waffles's picture
Mr. Waffles

Someone has to be pretentious, I guess, if it's pretentious to call out modern relativist standards as b.s. It's like the people on here who use a bread machine and say they bake bread. They have, but have they? No.

That recipe looks interesting. If you were asking for thoughts from a historical perspective, then going off the idea that brioche is most likely a Norman/Viking import, then the liquid vanilla (or any vanilla for that matter), rum, and that quantity of sugar (or any sugar) would not be accurate ingredients. The same goes for the baker's yeast. The orange blossom water, however, is definitely credible. That started popping up in many recipes, from the turn of the second millennium.

 

pretentious

yy's picture
yy

I vote for the name "brifauxche" rather than "fauxoche." I'm surprised by how little sugar is in the classic formula. I wonder if these days it's more common for people to prefer a pillowy bready texture rather than a cake-like texture. Judging by the 41.3% percent egg content, I would guess that butter was not incorporated into pre-hydrated flour in a separate step, but rather that everything was mixed together at once. 

Mr. Waffles's picture
Mr. Waffles

I like your new name. I'm going to use that. Brifauxche! 

As for the sugar, not many recipes used that, back in the day. Sugar was quite pricey, until Napoleon started beet sugar factories in the 1810s. And the recipe I cited used it specifically to take the bitterness off of the yeast in the mix.

Regarding the egg and butter, yes, they are mixed at the same time into 3/4 of the total flour. The rest of the flour is prepped in advance with the yeast, and then everything gets all mixed up with the sugar and salt. 

StudentofBread's picture
StudentofBread

Hi, I'm a baking student researching different breads throughout history and I was wondering if you would be able to expand on the method for making this traditional brioche. I have made "brifauxche" and I could see how the methods would be similar. I'm quite an amateur but very willing to experiment. 

I know this is an old thread, but I've got my fingers crossed!

Mr. Waffles's picture
Mr. Waffles

So here is Louis Eustache Ude's recipe: https://books.google.com/books?id=b3mE__OTi98C&pg=PA460&lpg=PA460&dq=louis+eustache+ude+brioche&source=bl&ots=1uQ35_u4UQ&sig=ux2BCsUDxeUyqbYdLhN3geXq-...

It starts on page 458. He was the son of Louis XVI's chef. The guy would have made brioche for royalty, including Marie Antoinette, so this is as real as a recipe gets -- presumably handed down from father to son.

So there are a few things that would make this recipe very different from what we do now...

The first, you'll notice, is how he handles the yeast. He talks about washing it. That's because the yeast is the leftover product of brewing that he would have received from an ale brewer. It basically behaves as our current yeast does, but it would have be something different to work with.

His flour was almost definitely soft white wheat (pastry flour) and freshly milled, with the germ still in it, yet with the bran removed. You can recreate it with a good home flour mill and #70 or #100 mesh for sifting.

He uses no milk. It was basically impossible to keep it fresh, so bakers rarely used it in recipes.

The eggs may or may not have been chicken eggs. He was cooking for the wealthy, so they probably were chicken eggs. Poorer communities that had brioche may have had goose or duck eggs in use.

The sugar he uses is derived from beets. It's not cane sugar. French sugar, from ~1810s onward, is pretty much beet sugar.

Let me know if you have other questions.

StudentofBread's picture
StudentofBread

If substituting for fresh yeast, or any more modern yeasts, would you assume that an instant or fresh would be more potent than the left-over/brewing yeast they would have been using? Therefore I would use less?

Thank you very much for your insight. 

Mr. Waffles's picture
Mr. Waffles

I've never had much time to experiment with it, but my impression -- after reading a lot of yeast-based recipes from back in the day -- is that you use quite a bit of it and it contains quite a bit of water. So yes, instant yeast or even fresh would likely be more potent by weight. So you'd less instant or fresh and much more ale barm, if you ever try to recreate it. 

StudentofBread's picture
StudentofBread

I'm going to do a side by side comparison of this version and a more recent version of brioche. Thank you for your help. Obviously I won't be able to fully recreate a traditional brioche but I'll give it a try. 

Thanks again for your help. 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

tasting than chicken eggs, I bet they were goose eggs.  

Danni3ll3's picture
Danni3ll3

Do I dare admit I used a bread machine to mix my dough tonight? *ducks*

tom scott's picture
tom scott

because I believe you have.  Your courage is commendable.

Danni3ll3's picture
Danni3ll3

Mr. Waffles's picture
Mr. Waffles

Nice gâche indeed.

Danni3ll3's picture
Danni3ll3

The crumb is everything I wanted. I am super happy with the texture which is identical to what I had in France at my aunt's house. However, the flavour is not quite right. I am thinking of trying to find eau de vie and using that instead of rum. It also tastes a bit yeasty and I am not sure how to correct that since I am a very novice baker. Any suggestions for fixing the flavour would be greatly appreciated. 

lepainSamidien's picture
lepainSamidien

While I certainly cannot claim to have delved quite as deeply into the history of brioche as the author of the thread, I am not convinced that one example of a brioche recipe--granted, from a figure of some authority (though we must recognize that this is, in fact, an informal fallacy)--necessarily qualifies to define what is (or has come to be) a more porous category of bread. It seems that an historical romanticism has supplanted authentic historico-scientific inquiry. Is 1815 indeed the first appearance of the brioche ? Why does Ude's formula, and Ude's formula alone, deserve to be regarded as the definitive brioche ? Who is to say that there weren't French bakers in the 16th century using milk, clabbered or otherwise, in their brioche formulas ? M. Ude does indeed provide a classic brioche, but there were other recipes kicking around at the time. Bonnefons's "Les délices de la campagne," dating from the 17th century, provides a recipe for brioche that includes soft cheese ("un formage mol") and no eggs. You can find this recipe in Chapitre II of the aforementioned text.

Who ultimately gets to determine the standard for an "authentic" brioche, at day's end ? That is my primary question.

And just to up the pretentious quotient of this thread (and this post), Proust himself wasn't eating madeleine. More than likely, according to the most "definitive" (whatever that means) biographies, he was noshing on stale toast dipped in coffee.

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

there are moire ancient brioche recipes, probably not called brioche, that go back before 1815.  There are many French bread books of note that go back to 1290 AD and the bakers back then were very accomplished as Professor Calvel found out.  We rarely give ancient bakers their due but we know that Ancient Egyptians were sprouting and malting grains for beer and bread thousands of years ago and long before PR's 'Revolution' 

I'm sure the French were making enriched dough of all kinds way, way before 1815.

Mr. Waffles's picture
Mr. Waffles

Indeed, there were likely other varieties of enriched doughs, though from what I've read, brioche would have been king. 

Whether with cheese or butter, it caught on in the 16th century, likely as a sourdough. Then it morphed into one of the few regularly ale-yeasted breads of the 17th century and became a staple for many bakers, across France, and a big-time favorite in urban markets. Most other breads were made from non-wheat grains, so their density and lack of gluten would probably have kept much fat out of the mix.

I'm going to spend some time looking into this though. It would be especially interesting if there other varieties from the 15th century or earlier, as they may have informed how brioche evolved.

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

barm too.  Since ancient times, once people started brewing beer and found out barm made great bread that rose better and wasn't sour, almost all bread was made with barm since that time - just like today.  Even with the resurgence of SD today, it makes up a very small portion of bread made and consumed.  Most people don't like sour tasting bread that costs much more because it takes takes much longer to make.  People haven't changed much

Most of the bread made in France in the 1500's was wheat based, after it was introduced by the Romans at least a thousand and a few hundred years before.  Nobility ate sifted white bread and the poor brown bread but it was pretty much wheat.  You have to go farther north to get into places where wheat wouldn't grow well.  The French were among the the richest and ate the best -  just like today.  Colder climes switched to rye breads - also just like today.

The old adage that the Egyptians taught the Greeks how to make bread and the Greeks taught the Romans and the Romans taught the French and the French taught pretty much everyone else how to make bread - is pretty much spot on until you get to Northern climes.

Happy baking 

Mr. Waffles's picture
Mr. Waffles

It's unlikely barm was used much, prior to the mid-to-late 17th century. The earliest I've seen anyone cite is the 15th century. But, notably, it was in 1666 that the French medical assembly started to debate whether beer yeast was dangerous -- leading to them banning it from bread in 1668. Had it been used widely for 200 years, I doubt they'd care to legislate its use or even be able to effectively do so.

The oldest beer yeast brioche recipe I've ever found is from 1662, which lines up nicely with the idea that beer yeast had quickly ascended in popularity, right before it got outlawed. Whatever the case, it was in 1670 that the law was overturned in French parliament and that barm really could have entered into wider use.

And, no, the French didn't have wide access to wheat breads, probably until the 17th century. While true that the finer breads were bolted wheat and that there were cheaper whole wheat varieties, rye was a major staple for the lower classes. Oats, buckwheat and other cheap grains were also very common in breads. The grain used was very much a regional thing, too.

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

off base in many regards.  I will take your ale based wheat breads earlier than the 17th century back at least 1,700 years before then.  The Gauls during the first centuyry were actually quite famous all over the known world for their light and fluffy breads made from barm.

Pliny the Elder of Rome wrote during the first century AD the following.

In Gaul and Spain, where they make a drink by steeping [grain]... - they employ the foam which thickens upon the surface as a leaven : hence it is that the bread in those countries is lighter than that made elsewhere.

We have to know a half dozen other things to bring history full circle.  First off The Greeks colonized the Southern part if France in the 5th century BC.  The Greeks taught the Gauls how to make beer and bread using barm that the Greeks had learned from Egyptians the Greeks had trades with Egypt but also Alexander conquered Egypt not long after.  Even then, information and technology spread fast around the Greek Empire as fast as their ships could sail.  It was also the Greeks who introduced wine making to France at that time and not the Romans who came 500 years later.as so many believe erroneously for some reason

So the Gauls had been making barm bread for at least 400 years before the Romans arrived in the first century BC.  The bread wasn't made with wheat though but usully made with emmer, spelt and barley.  It was the Romans who introduced wheat to the Gauls around 50 BC.  The Roman army marched on wheat bread leavened with sourdough and they drank beer.too.  They preferred wine and non sour bread though but marching and conquering on bread is way easier  using SD when no breweries are to be found along the march but you could make beer in a couple of week's but it could take a year to make some wine. 

This is why SD survived all these centuries from Ancient Egypt.  Travelers and armies could take starters.with them to make bread but they couldn't carry a brewery with them.  This is how SD got to San Francisco.  French bakers from New Orleans (originally from Acadia), pioneers and gold rushers brought it with them when they moved to California.  As soon as they could set up a brewery they did and then barm bread replaced most of the SD bread being made because it was not sour, faster, cheaper, lighter and perceived as better by most people - just like it had been everywhere else throughout history since ancient Egypt and why Barm Bread, even today since commercial yeast is nothing more than barm yeast, is by far the most produced throughout history by far and away - not even close - even in France since 500 BC or so.

The last things to remember is that 100 years after the Romans brought wheat to France in 50 BC, and when Pliny wrote about it, France was the largest producer of wheat in Europe - just like today by a wide margin.  Production was so great the Romans soon introduced buffalo powered grist mills.  By the end if the 11n centy=ury AD windmills were on teh Normandy cost to poer grist mills making whet flour.  Today France only trails the US, Canada, Russia, and China in wheat production but in 100 AD it was the by far Europe's largest producer if flour and the Gauls were so famous at making Barm Bread , Pliny the elder wrote about it - and he never ever went to Gaul - his information was 2nd hand but very accurate since he was Romes Historian in Vespasian's who happened to be the ruler of known world at that time.

I will try to help point you in the right direction when it comes to really ancient enriched dough using wheat, eggs, milk, barm, butter and a sweetener, what the French call brioche. today.  But it is almost certain that what the French call brioche was not invented by the French at all and is much,  much older than the 1500's.  I have an old recipe from Italy dating to the 13th century royal court for a Christmas bread called Panettone..  If you toss out the wheat and say emmer, spelt or durum, but is still what the Italians called panettone at that time, then the recipe instantly becomes 500 years older.  I'm guessing a non wheat version of an enriched dough with eggs, barm, milk and butter goes back to the ancient Greeks though.

To include wheat you would have to go back to around the Ancient Romans around 250 AD or so and that would be the place to start looking for the first modern version of what the French call brioche.

We don't give enough credit to the ancients and most bread stuff originated with them.  The Gaul's aren't nearly old enough and the French not even close to inventing what they call brioche.  Making bread and beer are two if the mist ancient things man did at the beginning of civilization.

There hasn't been anything new for thousands of years as a result.- except for Lucy's 7 starter, 17 grain, sprouted bread where the levain was a  combo: YW, 1 white and 2 rye SD starters, Witch yeast started with corn meal, 1 cooked potato and 1 raw potato.starter.  But this only gets you back to the early 1500's because of the corn and potato:-)

Happy researching

Mr. Waffles's picture
Mr. Waffles

Sorry, I was being sloppy in how I was referring to the use of yeast. I didn't mean to suggest ale yeast had not been used in France or had not been established elsewhere, centuries prior. Of course it had.

But I know of no recipes from the 1st millennium, Pliny even says sourdough was the most common leavening, and certainly by the 2nd millennium, beer yeast wasn't a feature in French bread. It's also unlikely ale yeast would have been common in France, since beer was a very regional product of northeastern France, while wine dominated elsewhere. True, people all over France were known to make cervoise (beer) at home, but I still imagine it would be far easier to use sourdough on any given day vs. waiting to harvest barm. Breweries barely existed until the 11th century, too. And again, the lack of widespread wheat availability in much of the country would have meant their breads made of other grains would do best with sourdough. Even cheap brioche was made with sourdough, up until I believe the 17th century. I can't find my notes on it, but I have an account somewhere of a visitor to Paris describing the market's two types of brioche - the sour one for the common man and the finer ale variety.

And, yes, the French probably didn't invent the precursor to brioche. From what I've read, it seems it was a Viking import. But of course the French ran with the idea and turned it from cheese bread into "pain de chapitre" and then into "brioche".

But getting back to the point I keep harping on in all these posts, it had neither cheese nor milk in it for the vast majority of its history. The most common form, over the centuries, was flour, water, salt, ale yeast, butter, and egg.

 

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

Vikings invented the precursor for Brioche.  The only way this could be even possibly be a possibility, and it isn't, is if the Vikings picked it up when Ragnar Lodbrok sacked Paris in 845 AD since the precursor for brioche, both SD and Ale versions with milk and or water, were already made in Paris long before any Viking ever heard of it. 

We know for facts that enriched bread using wheat, milk or water, honey, eggs and either beer yeast or SD for leaven were common in both Ancient Greece and Rome.  If you want to find precursors, look there  If you think what the French call brioche is new, after, 1 AD and didn't contain milk then you need to do some better research.

Also the Greeks were putting cheese in bread too at least by 400 BC.

Happy baking 

Mr. Waffles's picture
Mr. Waffles

It's quite something to assume that just because the Greeks or the Romans did anything "first" that they are the origin of that practice, centuries or millennia later. Two societies can independently invent essentially the same product. Or one society can invent it and popularize it, only to have it fall out of fashion and be supplanted by a similar product from another group.

As an example of another food Greeks unduly get credit for: waffles. In antiquity, they used irons to press cakes called obleios. Millions upon millions of people would have had them. I'm sure the obleios irons made their way around the Mediterranean, too. Given how popular they were and long they were produced, it should be assumed other countries got exposed. It was a great invention, and it may have even inspired the invention of communion irons - which verifiably led to waffle irons. But there's no direct link between what the Greeks were doing with obleios and what the French started doing with wafer irons in turn of the 1st millennium France. The concept of the two products is the same, but there's a 1000 year gap. The same goes for brioche. 

It's absolutely true that ale-leavened and enriched breads were done by other societies in antiquity, but that doesn't mean they started an unbroken thread of tradition. According to Raymond Oliver in Gastronomy of France, "We know that butter did not become popular until comparatively late...the Francs used it more than did the Gauls, and the latter more than the Romans; but its range was extremely limited." What we do know is that 9th century Norman invaders did settle in France and did bring both livestock and culinary traditions. Numerous French dictionaries, of the past centuries, give the origin of "brioche" as Norman. Larousse Gastronomique speaks of the Normandy towns of Gisors and Gournay as being the hot areas for the best brioche, in centuries past. Had it been more firmly rooted in Greek and Roman traditions, wouldn't we expect it to be a staple across the entirety of France (or regional to Mediterranean France) for the last two millennia vs. being regionally popular in a heavily Norman-influenced region of the country + exceptionally popular within a few hundred years of the arrival of the Normans?

So I'm sticking with "Viking"/Norman origins.

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

Here is a map of Roman colonies in France in the 2nd century AD 150 years after they first came calling.  As you cans see they covered the entire country with each colony less than a days walk from each other.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colonia_(Roman)

While the north of Gaul was not colonized by the Greeks and civilized it sure as by the Romans.  The saying that the Greeks invented civilization but it was the Romans that forced it on the known world is quite true.  In the south of Gaul the Greeks husbanded pigs, goats sheep and cattle but iwas the Romans that brought farming to the north especially cattle.  It tales a lot of land to raise cattle and grow wheat and the Romans found plenty of it in Northern Gaul.  Unlike the Greeks, Caesar placed a livestock tax on the Roams and Gauls in what is now the whole of France  The farming estates in Gaul were some of the most profitable and rich in the Empire adn Rome wanted its fair share of these riches.

The idea that the Vikings brought sheep, goats,cattle milk and butter to Gaul in the 9th century AD is only about 1,400 years after the Greeks did to southern Gaul and Romans did to Northern Gaul by the 2nd century AD.

Romans in Gaul were eating Panattone, what the French call Brioche using wheat, milk, butter and honey in the 2nd century AD just like they were in Rome at the same time.

'https://books.google.com/books?id=GjNaT7FMohwC&pg=PA51&lpg=PA51&dq=Livestock+in+Gaul&source=bl&ots=72YBc00FGR&sig=1SVOSFElYmxf1K161EnezyVFizc&hl=en&sa...

Mr. Waffles's picture
Mr. Waffles

Perhaps my original post should have better laid out my assertion/opinion that if a good becomes fused with a certain time period, then that incarnation of it should be the reference point, if not the standard. Derivative versions should be renamed.

As I wrote to another here, if the recipe was not what it was, would we even remember it now? Would a milk-laden brioche have caught on hundreds of years ago? And if it a product evolves to the point that those who made it popular wouldn't recognize it, is it still "it"? 

Take a martini, for example. Its ascendance was in the 1910s and 1920s, and it's an icon of that era. It was gin and vermouth. These days, the term is bastardized into almost meaninglessness, given the number of drinks that use neither gin nor vermouth and still are sold as martinis. But the craft cocktail trend of the last two decades has many elite bartenders enforcing a respect for tradition, and the books they publish make sure those now learning about the drink understand what it truly was and should be. Bakers could be doing the same with something like brioche. 

As to your questions of historicity, let me address those. No, 1815 is not the first mention of brioche - not even by a longshot. Ude, however, makes an excellent reference point because of not only where he and his father worked, but because he specifies his ratios as being a common practice among Parisian bakers of that period. Having personally read way too many brioche recipes from the 18th and 19th centuries, I can say his ratios were mostly in accord with others. Other recipes tended to use less butter (about 50% of the flour's weight), but Ude describes a 50% version in that same 1815 text.  

Pretty much all brioche recipes from the 18th and very early 19th century look the same. If you go back to the 17th century and earlier, you'll see cheese as a common ingredient. If you go further into the 19th century, cream and then milk start popping up. But there's a very clean 100+ year-long window where it's almost always flour, water, ale yeast, butter, egg, and salt. And that's the period of its romantic ascent, so I'd say that makes for a fine marker of "authentic".  

But not, no one really gets to be the arbiter of "authentic". I was just hoping to spur a debate on what "authentic" might be. I don't see how it could include milk and bread flour.     

My real concern is with Liège waffles, which are based on brioche. What people use in them now - margarine, cane sugar, Madagascan vanilla extract, higher gluten flours, milk, etc. - are literally ingredients that no one in France or Belgium had or would have used. I get mildly enraged that they've become so popular, in recent years, when essentially everyone preparing them has zero clue how they were originally made. It's like calling a Twinkie a cream puff. 

Anyway, that's an interesting note about Proust. I just looked that up, and indeed his early drafts were about toast. Lucky us that he opted to romanticize madeleines instead. 

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

about being authentic.  If things don't change they die.  It is the survival of the fittest and all part of evolution.  Words, people and the things people make always change.  It is just the way things are in the scheme of things.  When something better come along it replaces the old.  The reason it is thought to be better may be suspect but if it wins, the old goes away and becomes history.  There is nothing wrong with that because it is the only way things could turn out.

i want my brioche to have cream, egg yolks, and cane sugar in it because it is better in my book and it is no wonder it replaced the old..  The word authentic doesn't exist because what was authentic yesterday will be replaced in the future by a new one,and the new one will be just authentic as the current one but it won't be the same.

The reason to study the past isn't for know what was authentic but to know what it was like and why people made the decisions they did so we don't repeat the mistakes of the past going forward.  It is opinion that humans use to make decisions,  no matter when they lived in history,  and decisions are almost always made when there is inadequate, bad or even no information to base the decision on.  Sad really, but that is the way it has always been.  It isn't going to change.

Opinions are tied up in fear, pride and ego - the 3 character attributes that cause human failure.  We make assumptions all the time about the past and the future because we eventually have to make a decision.   Assumptions are just guesses at where the facts and truth may lie - they are our opinions.  But we don't even know what we don't know most of the time it seems.

Scientists estimate  that 97% of all facts throughout history turn out to be proven wrong by later people who know enough information to have eliminated the assumptions to be able to nail down the final resting place of the 3% of the facts that are eventually proven right..  Another way to look at it is that there are 97 things wrong for every 3 right out there right now - even though we think we have come a long way in knowing about things..  But things will change as they always do and new authentic stuff will replace the old just like always - and it will be just as authentic..

So rather than being mildly upset about things that once were but have now been replaced by the new and better, it is better to be happy that we don't have to live with the old, inferior past and know why the old was replaced by the new - even it turns out to be wrong .....which is likely when that new is replaced by even newer and better sometime in the future.

Solving problems, on the other hand, require one to be upset about the current situation because it you aren't upset you won't have reason to do anything to fix it...... and likely don't even know something is wrong.  Problem solvers are always upset and pissed off about the way things are it seems.  They are the ones who study history as part of their problem solving methods that they use to create the new and better...........and authentic brioche of the future.

Being upset is what solves problems and change things but that is for another discussion far removed from brioche history.

.Happy brioche baking 

 

 

 

Danni3ll3's picture
Danni3ll3

Posts like this one make me wish that TFL had a like button!

Mr. Waffles's picture
Mr. Waffles

I’d agree that the newer way is generally better when it comes to most products and ideas. That’s how they evolve. When it comes to baking, however, I don’t know that that often holds true.

By your argument, if we were to look at the historical trajectory of bread, we’d conclude that a loaf of Sunbeam or Wonder Bread was the pinnacle of the craft. After all, most people prefer their convenience and price and are more than happy to eat it and feed it to their children. Yet there are millions of people in the U.S. who see that “bread” as garbage, and we have a few hundred people on the site here who would probably not only frown on it but also on most popular trends (as opposed to artisanal trends) in bread of the last 50-100 years. Although most of us here use modern techniques, the ingredients, recipes and much of the equipment is – in part or in totality – a throwback to at least the 19th century.

Does a healthy dose of cream, egg yolks and sugar make for something better? Maybe. But is it brioche? I don’t think so. Add arms and a hood to a tank top, and it becomes a sweatshirt. Better? Maybe. But it’s not a tank top. Add a motor and thick tires to a bike and it becomes a motocycle. Better? Maybe. But it’s not a bicycle. Side-by-side, no one would confuse these things. I don’t think brioche is any different. No one in Louis XVI’s court would eat what is made today and go, “Great brioche!” They may very well love it, but they’d also ask what it’s called.

I also don’t think the brioche of the late 18th and early 19th centuries is inferior. It’s quite good. We’ve really lost something, now that it’s effectively no longer made. There’s more character to the flavor of the flour. The crumb is finer and more tender – quite enjoyable as something distinct from most any modern bread. The flavor of ale yeast is even more subtle than baker’s yeast. If an artisanal bakery were to start making it, like many other old-school breads that have been brought back, I can see it being fetishized.

Would I occasionally still like to have the modernized version? Sure. I wish it had another name though.

alfanso's picture
alfanso

Does it really mean something is better because it is authentic or original?  Not necessarily.  But maybe some folks like to create things that way.  I don't think anyone would call a flint lock or musket a better firearm than today's because they are authentic or original.  It doesn't mean it is better or worse, just another version of something from a bygone day.  And sometimes folks like to duplicate things from bygone days.  Nothing wrong with that.

The term "old fashioned" always intrigued me on menus.  Does it mean old fashioned like my grandmother made or like her grandmother made?  And what will be old fashioned 100 years from now?  Maybe some version of something that doesn't yet exist today.

Someone finding and trying to recreate a recipe from a century or so ago.  Well, that's just intriguing and probably a fun project.  And that original/authentic recipe is also probably not up to date with the current tastes or ingredients or techniques or tools or safety standards of today.  But that's okay too.  Unless you are a professional, it's a skill and a hobby.

Mr. Waffles's picture
Mr. Waffles

Yeah, there is a definitely a “chicken or the egg” quality to the concepts of old-fashioned, originality and authenticity. There’s rarely a clean line between what something was and what it now is.

If I were to take “authentic” brioche to the extreme, I suppose I’d first need to find an illiterate stone miller who’d beat my wheat through sacks of Dutch silk bolting cloth. Then I’d have to start working 40-pound batches of dough by hand. And I’d always need to get fresh barm from someone making French ales. Even I’m not that ambitious.

Anyway, if people insist on bastardizing established terms, I wish they knew they were doing it. It’s like how we speak American English and would acknowledge, if begrudgingly, that it’s not proper English. And yet even the English would admit their version is much different than in 1500 and virtually not at all like what they spoke in 1000.

That said, I’m still preoccupied with the 17th-19th centuries, when virtually every classic baked good was born. So I’m going to keep hand-bolting my flour.

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

line between old and new I suspect that they would have given the new type of bread a new name rather than calling it brioche  The change to things in the olden days was slow and the y had had to draw the line but didn't..  Brioche changed from old to new a bit at a time so people had the luxury of trying the slightly new and deciding over a long period of time if they liked it or thought it different enough to give it a new name   With brioche they decided to not give it a new name - it just wasn't different enough - fast enough.

What mankind faces today, that is so often overlooked, is that the pace of change is no longer on a slower, more human scale and it is the pace of change itself that is the problem - not necessarily  the change - no matter what you call it.

Happy baking . 

tgrayson's picture
tgrayson

"It’s like how we speak American English and would acknowledge, if begrudgingly, that it’s not proper English."

Ah, no. American English is just as legitimate as British English. Language evolves and no one has the "right" form of the language. But you're right, the biggest obstacle to communication is thinking that you understand when you really don't. I would be disappointed at what I received if I ordered a biscuit in London.

Reynard's picture
Reynard

My oldest cookery book, which dates from circa 1895. It's a German-Jewish book from the Alsace region. There are three recipes for brioche in there - each of them different. It's late at night and my head is too fuzzy to read recipes in old German printed in gothic script. I need good daylight for this...

The way I see this debate is that (and it's still true today) bakers will bake what the customer wants, because tastes change. And the price / quality of ingredients. And the necessity for convenience, keeping qualities etc. No point having a shop full of bakes that while beautifully correct from a historical point of view, just simply won't sell because they're not to people's taste.

On the other hand, the home baker is free to indulge in a culinary history lesson, purely for the pleasure of it. Hell, I do, but my personal passion is Lebkuchen. Yes, I have modern books with Lebkuchen recipes in them but the best recipes are from the book I've mentioned above, and from a Bavarian book I have that was published in the 1930s... 

Mr. Waffles's picture
Mr. Waffles

As you point out, I think costs are a major factor in what happened to brioche -- particularly where the flour is concerned. Flavorless, roller-milled, higher gluten flours are way more convenient (in terms of both acquisition and eventual production) and less expensive than stone milled and hand-bolted flour. 

And while I'm sure the old style of brioche wouldn't have suited tastes for much of the last 150-200 years, I think people would be as into it now as they are into the nuances of other artisanal breads. Who knows, though.

I wouldn't mind some 19th-century lebkuchen. Sounds tasty. I'm a gingerbread (cake) obsessive, so that would be right up my street. 

Reynard's picture
Reynard

Though what might float the boat in trendy east London won't cut the mustard in much more traditional north-east rural Cambridgeshire...

Anyways, on to Lebkuchen... The book is titled "Ausfuehrliches Kochbuch fur die Einfaches und Feine Judische Kuche von Marie Elsasser". Here is the recipe for Katarinenlebkuchen:

3 whole eggs

300g sugar - it doesn't specify what kind, so I usually use muscovado

75g ground almonds, lightly toasted

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground cloves

1/4 of a nutmeg, grated

75g candied peel blitzed to a paste

1 tsp baking powder

300g plain (cake) flour

glaze: 1 beaten egg white plus icing sugar to dust.

Whisk the eggs and sugar together until light and fluffy. Blend in the spices, the mixed peel and almonds. Sift the flour and baking powder together into a separate bowl. Work in the flour into the wet mix a couple of teaspoons at the time. Knead the dough briefly until everything is blended together. Wrap in cling film (my concession to modern methods) and leave in fridge overnight. Roll out to 1/2 cm thickness on a floured board and cut out with cutters - I don't have the traditional shape for Katrinchen, so I use 4 cm round cutters. Place on a greased & floured baking sheet. Brush with beaten egg white and dust with icing sugar. Bake in a preheated oven @ 180C / Gas 4 for 10 mins. Remove, cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight tin.

They do get better with keeping, but are pretty good right away. TBH, they never last very long around here LOL

P.S. If you want to be totally authentic, the instructions are to whisk the eggs and sugar for around half an hour, but I use a stand mixer for that, otherwise my arms might fall off ;-)

Reynard's picture
Reynard

From 1901 as best I can tell - I thought it was a wee bit older going by the art nouveau style design on the binding.  Apparently it's the most comprehensive Jewish cookbook written in the German language. Me? Even if I did pick it up in a charity shop for 50p, and even if it's not in the best nick, I just love it for the cakes and biscuits... :-)

RightNow's picture
RightNow

I have really enjoyed this thread about the history involved. Feeling a more direct connection to the past in this way is what excites me to continue baking and exploring the world of food. 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

had an influence on brioche recipes.  Cheese and whey tend to come together and whey is sweet.  It would add sweetness and be a ready product standing in many cheese kitchens.  Wouldn't take anyone long to use it for bread.