Homemade Honey Brioche Bread Recipe
* This post is sponsored by Nielsen Massey Fine Vanillas & Flavours. Recipe and opinions are my own.
I’ve been working on my bread game lately. I always seem to get into “bread mode” in the middle of spring… ya know, when we’re up to our eyeballs in seedlings and weeds and outdoor projects that need to be tackled. I mean, as if there’s a better time of year to dive into baking and bread-making!
But the heart wants what it wants. So I’ve been feeding my sourdough starter more regularly, baking more loaves of sandwich bread and French bread and buns and biscuits (if you want to call biscuits a “bread”). But I decided to really take things to the next level when the good folks at Nielsen Massey Fine Vanillas challenged me to use some of their decadent Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla in a bread recipe, and knead it the old fashioned way… by hand.
I decided to try my hand at making brioche: a rich, French pastry-style bread that’s loaded with butter and eggs.
What is brioche bread?
Brioche is a little like a mix between croissants and a sandwich loaf. It’s soft and a little flaky, and pulls apart like a croissant or a pastry, but it’s usually shaped into a loaf or buns of some sort and eaten like a more traditional sandwich bread, with a little jam spread over it, (or my husband’s favourite: a light layer of butter sprinkled with cinnamon and brown sugar). It’s often braided and baked in a bread pan, but you can also roll it into balls and bake it into rolls, or shape it into buns to use as burger or sandwich buns.
I decided to braid mine, because, ya know, that seemed like the most challenging of all the options. I also decided to skip the traditional sugar that’s added to brioche and substitute honey instead.
I also substituted duck eggs for chicken eggs in my first attempt of this honey brioche bread recipe, and it turned out great! The chicken eggs worked just fine too, but if you can get your hands on some duck eggs, they’re renowned for their use in baking and their ability to make breads and baked goods super light and fluffy, apparently due to the higher protein content in their egg whites.
However, if you do use duck eggs, you can’t just substitute one duck egg for one chicken egg because duck eggs are a lot bigger than chicken eggs. In general the rule is two duck eggs for every three chicken eggs. So this honey brioche bread recipe can be made with two duck eggs or three chicken eggs, so long as your chicken eggs are on the average to large size.
We just got a flock of laying hens and they JUST started laying this week! Their eggs are still small, so I would probably use 4 of their eggs since each of theirs is about half the size of the duck eggs that we’ve been lucky enough to get from our neighbours.
Regardless whether you use duck eggs or chicken eggs, if you do brioche right, it will be light and flaky and HEAVENLY in the end.
Eggs and butter are key!
As far as the process of actually making the dough, brioche is a little more involved than other bread doughs simply because it takes two days to make as it requires an overnight proofing in the fridge. But for the most part, it’s pretty hands-off.
Also, you want to start with warm (room temperature) ingredients, so you’ll want to pull your eggs and butter out of the fridge and keep them on the counter for a few hours or overnight to allow them to come to room temperature.
Basically, brioche dough is the exact opposite of pie crust. When making a pie crust, the goal is to keep all of the ingredients (especially the butter) as cold as possible. But for this honey brioche bread recipe, you want all of the ingredients to be soft and warm and creamy in texture.
The high ratios of butter and eggs also means that brioche is a really wet dough, and handling it can seem more like handling a thick, glutinous cookie batter more than a traditional bread dough, especially if you’re kneading it by hand. But surprisingly, despite how wet and sticky it is, it’s actually pretty easy to work with and I must admit, it’s now one of my favourite breads to knead by hand!
Kneading by hand: The French Fold
For this honey brioche bread recipe, since it’s a wet dough, I used a different kneading technique than I usually do. Usually when I’m baking a sandwich loaf or an artisan roll, I use the Stretch-and-Fold kneading technique where you stretch the bread dough away from you, fold it back over on itself, turn it 90º and repeat over and over again until it’s well kneaded. But while this technique works great for most standard bread doughs, those that are wetter and stickier (like brioche), are much easier to knead using the French Fold technique, where you slip your fingers under the dough (thumbs on top), scoop it up off the counter, turn it 90º and then slap it down on the counter and fold it over itself and repeat.
It makes wet doughs, like brioche and baguettes and even sourdough, much easier onto work with and knead by hand.
I recommend checking out the quick how-to video below that shows the two different types of kneading so that you can see what the French Fold looks like.
I think knowing how to properly knead bread dough is an important but simple enough skill that every homesteader and home cook should learn and (hopefully) master at some point, and knowing which type of kneading technique to use with which type of dough will instantly allow you to up your bread game!
(Because, while I do love my stand mixer, there’s something about kneading dough by hand that makes me feel like I’ve earned my stripes in the kitchen).
Troubleshooting: what if my dough is too wet?
Kneading brioche dough by hand requires time and patience. It will stick to the counter (and your hands) quite a bit at first, but the more you knead it, the more it starts to come together and develop those gluten strands. Gradually it will start to stick less and you’ll be able to shape it easily.
If it’s really too sticky and it’s still sticking to the counter a lot after kneading for 8 to 10 minutes, you can add a bit more flour in increments, no more than one tablespoon at a time. You don’t want to add too much flour as it will ruin the consistency of your dough. But you may need to cautiously add a tablespoon or two if your dough is still super sticky after quite a lot of kneading.
Once it’s well-kneaded for 12 to 15 minutes or so, shape it into a ball and place it in a mixing bowl. Cover with a tea towel and let rise for about an hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.
At this point, you want to punch the dough down to deflate it and then form it into a ball. Do this by tucking in each edge of the dough toward the middle and pressing them into the dough, then shaping the dough into a tight ball.
Flip the dough ball over, seam-side down, and place it back in the mixing bowl. Cover it and eave it in the fridge for at least 8 hours or overnight (up to 24 hours max.) letting it rise slowly.
This overnight rise in the fridge is important because it helps develop the flavour and texture of the bread, and makes the dough much easier to work with and shape into loaves the following day.
Shaping ideas for honey brioche bread
On day two (or after at least 8 hours in the fridge), pull the dough out of the fridge and turn it onto a lightly floured surface. Deflate the dough by pressing it down and then it’s time to shape it!
You can either shape it into a regular loaf just as you would with sandwich bread, or into buns just as you would burger buns. But if you’re going for that classic brioche look, I recommend braiding your dough.
To braid it, divide dough into three equal pieces and then stretch each piece out into a long rectangle. Roll each rectangle up to form three long “ropes” of dough. Then pinch one end of all three ropes together to start your braid.
Braid the dough, being careful not to pull or stretch it too much, or braid it too loosely.
When you get to the end of the dough, pinch the ends together again and then tuck each of the pinched ends underneath the loaf.
Butter and flour a bread pan and carefully transfer your loaf into the pan.
Cover the dough and let it rise again in the bread pan for about two hours. Then preheat your over to 350ºF, brush a little egg wash on the top of your loaf and bake for about 35 minutes.
While the brioche is baking, you can mix up a little bit of honey glaze to go on top if you like. This step is optional, but I think it gives this honey brioche a perfect honey-flavoured, slightly sticky glaze on top that really takes this bread to the next level. However you can omit the honey glaze if you’re wanting to use the bread for more savoury dishes.
To make the honey glaze, mix one tablespoon of honey with one tablespoon of lukewarm water. Stir with a fork to dissolve.
Remove brioche bread from the oven and immediately brush with the honey glaze if using. Let the brioche cool for about five minutes in the bread pan, then transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely before slicing(or at least until it’s warm, but not too hot!)
The perfect at-home Mother’s Day meal
Enjoy your brioche as is with a little honey or, my personal favourite, strawberry vanilla jam. Toast it, butter it and sprinkle with a little cinnamon sugar, use it in place of sandwich bread and enjoy with deli meat, cheese and/or veggies, or for the ultimate homemade brunch, turn your brioche into the best French toast you’ll ever eat!
Since Mother’s Day is coming up in a few days and we’re still currently under quarantine (meaning we won’t be going for our usual Mother’s Day brunch at my favourite restaurant), I’ll be saving a loaf of homemade brioche and turning it into some decadent French toast this weekend. Er, I mean I’ll be making my husband make me French toast. Which is only fair, since I made the brioche, and he’s enjoyed at least half a loaf to himself so far!
But I figure that’s just a testament to how good this recipe for homemade honey brioche bread really is, and a testament to how great a mother I am since I make such awesome food for my family! And that, in itself, is enough for me for Mother’s Day this year.
… Well, that and a homemade brunch that I don’t have to cook 😉
Have you ever made brioche bread before? What’s your favourite way to shape it and enjoy it after? Let me know in the comments below!