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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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brioche a light but rich French bread/cake, made with flour, butter, and eggs, and raised with yeast.

The word, which has been in use since at least the 15th century, is derived from the verb broyer, meaning to break up, and refers to the prolonged kneading of the dough.

The brioche may have originated in Normandy. In support of this theory is the fact that the quality of the butter is what determines the quality of a brioche and that Normandy has been famed for its butter since the Middle Ages. Whatever the truth, the brioche arrived in Paris in the 17th century. Cotgrave translated the term, in his Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues (1611) as ‘a rowle or bunne, of spiced bread’. The earliest surviving recipe is in Suite des dons de Comus (1742) and prescribes brewer’s yeast (whereas baker’s yeast is now used) and a relatively small amount of butter. In modern times, brioches can be made with little or much butter, the standard having become 500–750 g (1–1.5 lb) butter to 1 kg (2 lb) flour. Lacam (1890) gave an amusing table of five grades, all the way up from 125 g butter/500 g flour (brioche très commune) to 625 g butter/500 g flour (brioche princière).