Marie Antoinette got a bad wrap. Everyone has heard about her "Let them eat cake" quip but in reality that's just a bad translation. What she really said was "Laissez-les manger du brioche." Since there is no English equivalent to brioche, it wound up historically solidified as cake. Of course the villagers didn't have access to this rich buttery delicacy any more than they had access to cake however it just doesn't sound as bad when you know the reality of the quote.
Traditionally, brioche dough is baked into "a tete" shapes. "A tete" means "with head." I've always wondered if this shape came about after Marie Antoinette's head rolled off the guiolltine. Personally, I think they look a little more like boobies. Although, I am currently nursing my son every two hours and everything looks a little like boobies these days...
Baking perfect brioche a tete is a difficult skill to master. In culinary school, I had to shape perfect tetes on my practical examination in order to graduate. If you don't shape them just right, the heads like to bobble to one side instead of resting in the center. They are a rare site to see in bakeries. I made them at The Patisserie but no one appreciated their grandeur so I stopped putting them on display.
Brioche is my absolute favorite dough to make and it also sums up the reason I became a baker. You can not rush this dough! It is very temperamental. All the ingredients except for the butter are mixed until the gluten in the flour is developed. If the butter is added upfront, the gluten strands will slip slide around and never fully develop. The butter accounts for 80% of the flour weight in this dough so we're talking about a lot of butter. (That's why it tastes sooo good!) Once the gluten is developed, the butter gets added little by little until it's all incorporated. This is the best part. I stand by the mixer with a huge bowl of butter cubes and a cup of coffee, patiently waiting for the dough to do it's thing. It's kind of like feeding bread to the ducks at the park. The dough then starts to have a teenage phase where it separates and looks really ugly and awkward. Just when you think it will never come back together it starts thwacking against the side of the bowl and curling up the dough hook. It's finished...a beautiful, silky smooth dough!
Brioche was one of the formulas I worked tirelessly on while baking for Wegmans and one of the reasons I stopped baking for Wegmans. In order for a bread to make it to production in every store, a corporate board has to agree on the product. The members of the board have never studied bread or any sort of culinary arts for that matter. Once, they thought that we should add more butter to the challah dough (if you're Jewish or a baker, you should be laughing your tete off right now). Suffice to say, it was very difficult to get them to agree on anything. The head corporate baker used to have a laugh by changing quantities of ingredients by a few grams just to be able to tell them he upped the sugar, honey or whatever they were complaining about that week. One of the members of the board was the regional manager for the Rochester, Buffalo area. He was a huge (read: fat) guy who wasn't very subtle in his approach. One day he came into the store where I baked and asked me if I had any of that "Bree-otch-ee" to take his wife. When I figured out that he was asking for Brioche and not a venerial disease, I knew it was time to get out of the corporate world.
Mangez Brioche; know there's a lotta love going into that dough and give a nod to poor Marie A!