When Marie-Antoinette [supposedly] stated that the starving people of France should eat cake rather than bread, she was not the first to use such a phrase. Qu’ils mangent de la brioche has been found in writings before the doomed-queen’s time (McNamee). The word brioche is often translated as cake, but seems a far more insidious word choice.
We all know cake: light, sweet, often beautifully decorated, a luxury food, especially if made for royalty. Brioche, also light, just ever so sweet, but still bread, would be much more heartless for the queen to recommend to the starving populace. A people demanding bread. The King’s wife advising they eat enriched white bread, bread full of eggs and milk and sugar. A people with no bread, no eggs, no milk, told to eat bread made rich with those ingredients. It’s no wonder she lost her head.
Brioche is delicious food. Traditionally made from white flour, kneaded for a long time, even by machine, to develop the gluten to handle the softened butter added slowly at the end of mixing. Softened butter, not melty or greasy, fed into the whirling dough, more added only after each bit incorporated. That dough then let to rise at warm room temperature, refrigerated over night to develop flavor then shaped and eventually baked the next morning.
My brioche uses the high extraction Sequoia and Edison flours, creating even more flavor, flavor inherit in the wheat varietals themselves. While not fully fermented, I do use sourdough starter as part of the enrichment, giving the finished products a tinge of tang and longer shelf life. Moving baked goods away from pure white flour gives them more nutrition, more flavor. Taking that brioche dough and adding a bit more butter, along with some brown sugar and cinnamon, makes a cinnamon roll worthy of royalty but full of real-food flavor for the people. To me, brioche is a special occasion food, not daily bread. However, knowing there is a pan of cinnamon rolls in the freezer, means that a soon-to-be Sunday will indeed become a special occasion.
McNamee, Gregory Lewis and Blake, Susannah. “brioche”. Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/topic/brioche. Accessed 20 January 2023.