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Brioche and Croissants

Traditional Croissants

Baking bread is a difficult and time consuming task, where the smallest details can make or break the outcome. It is especially difficult to follow bread recipes in a book that describes what to do, since without proper experience you won’t really know if you’re overworking your dough or if it has proofed (a.k.a. risen) enough before baking. To help improve my bread baking skills and learn from an expert first-hand, I decided to take the Brioche and Croissant class at the Institute for Culinary Education.

The class spanned two days, with the first day dedicated to making the dough, and the second day dedicated to filling and baking our creations. After the first day of mixing ingredients and kneading dough I thought that a bread baker could never be fat. While making bread you are never tempted to pop a piece of yeasty dough in your mouth, and you use every arm muscle you have to mix and roll. After the second day of filling and baking, I quickly changed my mind and realized how a bread baker gets their traditional round shape. Once you see something golden brown and buttery come out of the oven, it takes every bit of will power to stop yourself from eating it all!

My creations

I will spare you the cookbook descriptions of how we made the dough and get right to the point of what I learned; dough takes a lot of time and effort to make, but once you have it ready the possibilities are limitless. The 3/4 lb of butter we rolled into the croissant dough resulted in a golden, flaky crust that tastes great with chocolate, fruit, almonds and anything else you can imagine. With the croissant dough I made traditional plain croissants, Pain au Chocolat and my own sweet roll invention with cinnamon, sugar and currents.

Sticky Buns

Pain au Chocolat

The brioche dough is enriched with butter, but not drowned in it like croissants, resulting in a lighter dough perfect for rolls and loaves. With the brioche dough I made a beautiful Brioche au Sucre loaf, where the dough is braided and placed in a loaf pan and topped with pearl sugar, and Brioche en Couronne, where 3/4 cup candied fruit is mixed into dough that is then shaped into a large circle for baking. Everyone in the class made something different with the ingredients we had avialable in the kitchen, and it was amazing to see how two basic doughs could turn into anything one could imagine.

Brioche au Sucre

Some tips I learned from the class include:

  • Cake yeast (a.k.a. “fresh” yeast) and dry yeast can be used interchangeably, but cake yeast dissolves easier in the warm water. The drawback to using cake yeast is that since it is fresh it will go bad long before dry yeast. If swapping one for another in a recipe, 1 envelope of dry yeast = 2 1/2 teaspoons (or 1/4 oz.) cake yeast.
  • When flattening the butter to roll into your croissants, use a rolling pin to work it out, not your hands. The heat from your hands will result in oily butter that will seep through the dough.
  • When baking traditional croissants, always turn the tips of the croissant away from the edge of the pan during baking or they will burn.
  • The instructor informed us that croissants are traditionally baked to be very dark in color throughout France. By American standards they seem burnt, but a true baker should keep them in the oven until very dark brown in color.
  • To keep your sweet rolls moist and shiny, heat apricot jam (a.k.a. nappage) until very thin and almost clear. Use a pastry brush to lightly spread a thin layer of jam on the top of the rolls while they are still warm.
  • If you want to freeze your dough for later use, freeze immediately before the final proof (it will look ready to go into the oven, and just need more time to rise before baking.) When ready to use, take the frozen dough out of the freezer and let it complete the final proof, keeping in mind that it will take longer since the dough is cold.

If you’re brave enough to try the bread on your own, here is the brioche dough recipe we used during class.

Brioche Dough
by Melanie Underwood
Institute of Culinary Education

Yield: Two 8″ loaves

1 1/2 ounces cake yeast OR 2 envelopes dry yeast
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups flour

1. Dissolve yeast in lukewarm milk (about 100ºF, do not exceed 120ºF) and add to flour, mixing thoroughly. Allow to rise in bowl, covered in plastic wrap at room temperature for 45 minutes.

1 1/2 sticks butter (6 oz.)
6 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1 egg yolk
2 1/4 cups flour

1. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter with sugar and salt. Add eggs and yolk, one at a time (make sure each egg is thoroughly incorporated before adding the next.) On low speed, beat in the flour just until dough is smooth. Add sponge and beat smooth again. Knead dough in bowl, or on a lightly floured board, about 5 minutes, until dough is smooth and elastic. If you prefer to knead it in the machine, leave the dough in the mixing bowl and switch to the dough hook attachment. Mix on low speed (keep speed constant, don’t go up and down or it will alter the dough’s texture) for about 10-20 minutes or until the dough is smooth, elastic and makes a slapping sound as it works its way around the bowl.

2. Turn dough into a buttered bowl and turn dough over. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and allow dough to rise at room temperature until double in bulk – about 2 hours. Deflate dough by punching it down, return to bowl, cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate dough and allow to rest at least 4 hours, or overnight.

Brioche au Sucre Loaf

Divide 1/2 batch brioche dough into 3 pieces and roll each into a rope, approximately the length of the loaf pan to be used. Braid pieces of dough together, making sure that each end is well sealed. Place braid in loaf pan and paint top with egg wash. Allow loaf to proof until double in size. Brush with egg wash once more and sprinkle pearl sugar or crushed sugar on top of the loaf. Bake at 350ºF-375ºF for about 30 minutes (it will be a dark golden brown and sound hallow when tapped on the bottom once removed from pan)

Institute of Culinary Education
Brioche and Croissants
$190 – 2 Sessions
Information and Registration: (212) 847-0770


Yuriko says on September 9th, 2005 at 11:56 am:

Hi Keli. I have been a baker for 5 years and was impressed by your wonderful blog! I’m originaly from Tokyo, but by your wonderful blog! I’m originaly from Tokyo, but used to live in Paris and miss so much french pasteries and particularly baguettes!!
I personaly make them at home and would love to try your recipe one day. Thank you. I learned that you are leaving for Japan in November to discover Wagashi. ;-) That’s Japan in November to discover Wagashi. ;-) That’s another thing I have been missing a lot… I recommend you (if your stay will not long enough) to go “Depachika” you not long enough) to go “Depachika(= Department store in underground floor)”. There are a lot of Wagashi shops in major Department stores found in major train station such as Shinjuku or Shibuya in Tokyo. you can find info here: http://www.japanwelcomesyou.com/cssweb/display.cfm?storyID=1299
Definitely you will find good wagashis!!

Mariko says on September 9th, 2005 at 3:07 pm:

Jeez, you make me want to run out to a bakery right now!

Jennifer says on September 9th, 2005 at 9:37 pm:

Kelli, what a great experience! I’ve taken a few baking classes and they always inspire me to do more and more baking at home. I have to say your creations look quite impressive…oh so buttery and yummy…!

S.L. Plant says on September 10th, 2005 at 1:13 pm:

Making bread is still scary to me but your pictures of buttery croissants has got me thinking…

Laurie says on September 10th, 2005 at 1:48 pm:

My mouth is watering at the mere thought of fresh hot bread/croissants! What a delightful treat! You bake, I’ll watch & be the official “taster!” Can’t wait! :-) My mother would occasionally bake bread & pinwheel cinnamon rolls with the leftover dough. Wow, the memory lingers on…

Debbie says on September 11th, 2005 at 7:37 pm:

Wow, your baking looks like the work of a real, seasoned pro. I can almost smell the aroma for fresh baked bread right now. I vote for some chocolate filled croissants.

Kelli says on September 11th, 2005 at 10:43 pm:

Yuriko– Thank you for the great link! I will be sure to check out the department stores while I’m in Japan. The food looks amazing. I can’t wait for our trip.

Thanks everyone for the nice comments. I encourage everyone to try making the bread themselves. Fresh out of the oven it tastes better than the kind you’ll get at most restaurants!

lori says on September 12th, 2005 at 4:03 am:

Your breads look great, Kelli! Brioche is one of my favorite breads to make — definitely better than the ones at the deli. I’ve made Danish pastries twice, but I’ve never tried to make croissants, although I know the dough and the procedure is similar.

rootlesscosmo says on September 25th, 2005 at 10:53 pm:

Currants! Yes indeed. Years ago there was a bakery called Sutter’s, on Greenwich Avenue across Patchin Place (where e. e. cummings lived) from the old Women’s House of Detention (aka the House of D)–even earlier, Sutter’s was over at Abingdon Square, by 8th Avenue and 13th Street. They made a cinnamon roll with currants–LOTS of currants–that was about the best I’ve ever had. Tartine here in San Francisco makes a very fine morning bun and I tried to talk the owner (an ex-New Yorker) into developing a currant version, but without success…

Luisa says on October 6th, 2005 at 11:48 am:

Hi Kelli

Oh, wonderful. I love the classes at ICE and have always dreamt of taking some of the baking ones, so this post let me live vicariously through you! The tip on the cake yeast vs dry yeast was incredibly helpful – thank you for posting it! Now I’m off to peruse the class listings and sigh longingly over my keyboard.

Sherine says on November 15th, 2008 at 12:20 pm:

Thank you so much for your recipe ! I am french expatriated in the USA, and I missed good brioche soo much ! I’ve done your recipe and it turned out absolutely wonderful from the first try. The only thing, I could never get my dough to make that slapping sound you mentioned when I used the dough hook, it kept on sticking to the sides of the bowl. But it was a very humid and rainy day so maybe that’s why. Also, I assumed “low speed” was 2, so maybe it was too slow, I dunno. But the results were OUTSTANDING !

Here are a few pictures I took. This is the loaf : http://i141.photobucket.com/albums/r64/Atheen/Recipes/briocheloaf1.jpg

I also made a few smaller pieces, here are jam filled braids http://i141.photobucket.com/albums/r64/Atheen/Recipes/briochejambreads.jpg

Here is a look inside the buns (brioche burger buns are THE BEST) http://i141.photobucket.com/albums/r64/Atheen/Recipes/briochebuns.jpg

Thank you SO MUCH ! You should have seen the look on my husband’s face when I brought this out to the breakfast table :)

sadie says on January 22nd, 2009 at 4:33 pm:

i love this blog and enjoy hearing about the true way to bake a croissant but i have had the experience that a croissant that is too “dark brown” tends to be hard on the bottom thus not very dleicious. i have issues with a bakery in my city that does this. in france remember them being very golden brown and perfect, never verging on burnt. i guess it’s just a matter of taste. i am after all an “americain” ;) .

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Lovescool is the documentation of a journey to discover what sweet things are out there, why people love them so much, and perhaps what it takes to start something new.

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An interest, that turned into a blog, that turned into a career. Kelli Bernard is now the owner and baker of Amai Tea & Bake House.

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