When you think of brioche, you automatically think sweet breakfast rolls or pretty marbled loaves (mmm sliced and made into eggy bread/cinnamon toast). But it doesn’t have to be sweet – a savoury or plainer brioche is a lovely, fluffy, bouncy thing and there are probably more savoury versions than sweet; it’s just what we tend to see sold or made most often. What you may come across is the description ‘enriched bread’ rather than savoury brioche.
You can find below my recipe for a delicious cheese and caramelised onion savoury brioche. It makes the most gorgeous rolls for a lunch, a wintry picnic or to go with some delicious seasonal soup.
So what is an enriched bread? It does what it says on the tin, so to speak. A normal flour, water, salt and yeast dough* is enriched with the addition of at least one (and sometimes all) of the following: eggs, extra fat (usually butter but sometimes a good oil) or milk or quark/other too. For a sweet version there’s also honey or sugar and often in either case (sweet or savoury) there are additional ingredients to add flavour and texture, such as chocolate, dried fruits or cheese and herbs. A laminated dough such as a Danish or croissant pastry can also be described as enriched, although here the fat is layered in to get the laminated leaves, rather than mixed in. (*enriched doughs can use wild yeast sponges).
There are a number of differences between a straightforward loaf and an enriched loaf. Obviously there’s the taste: the eggs give it a richer, more rounded flavour and the fat content gives a softer mouthfeel. The dough will rise higher (although some enriched doughs use plain not strong white flour and this will be negated) during the proving process and it’s stickier and harder to knead the ingredients together – in fact it can get quite messy. You may want to use a stand mixer, but either way stick with it as it produces the glossiest, shiniest dough with a slight warm tinge from the egg yolks.
One other characteristic is that because of the fat and protein content the dough can take a lot of handling so is really great for plaiting and shaping. Many regional speciality enriched breads (sweet or savoury) have their own particular shape. Think of Challah with its definitive plait or the reducing braid of butterzopf.
Bagels, Austrian kifli, German mornhörnchen, Slovakian vánočka, German Zweiback, Japanese milk bread and Italian pane di Pasqua (see my own recipe), pannetone and Pand D’oro (also see my recipe for this) are other examples and there are many more.
Savoury brioche rolls with cheddar, herbs and caramelised onions
Makes twelve fluffy rolls or can be made into a loaf (just fold in the ingredients after knocking back the dough and bake for a total of 30 minutes)
- A very large bowl
- A smaller bowl
- Casserole dish, about 26cm – 30 cm in diameter
- Cling film or a clean tea towel
- Frying or saute pan
- Strong white flour – 400g
- Eggs, large – 3
- Fast acting dried yeast – 1 teaspoon (levelled off)
- Salt, fine – 10g
- Milk, warmed (use semi-skimmed or full fat milk) – 90ml
- Unsalted butter – 90g
- Red onion – 1
- Strong or aged cheddar – 80g
- Fresh thyme – a small sprig* or 1 teaspoon of dried thyme (about 4-5 cuttings roughly 5cm long)
- Fresh oregano – a small sprig* or 1 teaspoon of dried oregano (*see note for thyme above)
- Olive oil
- Rock salt
- Mix the flour, yeast, salt, eggs, milk and butter together in the large bowl – it will be a rather gooey mess!
- Now it requires kneading – you can do this by hand but if you don’t want to get too messy it can be done in a stand mixer or on the dough only setting in a bread machine
- Knead for around 10 -12 minutes until the dough is glossy and smooth skinned. It is a messy job, but try not to resort to adding too much extra flour as that will dramatically alter the ratios of the ingredients and change the outcome of the bread. To start off by hand you are more likely to be making a scraping action rather than kneading as the dough will want to grasp hold of the surface and your hands, but do persevere: it will eventually start coming together
- Lightly oil the bowl and leave to rise, covered with a tea towel or cling film somewhere relatively warm (but not too hot). Make sure there is plenty of room between the top of your dough and the rim of the bowl or it will rise and hit your cling film/tea towel as it is a vigorous bake (if using cling film you can oil the underside of it to act as an added method to stop the dough sticking to it). The dough will need 40-60 minutes to rise
- Meanwhile, finely chop the onion into little shards and gently fry in some olive oil until it becomes translucent – this will be a good 15 minutes (beware instructions that imply softening onions is a quick job! This is slow and low)
- Once cooked sufficiently, leave to cool on a kitchen towel sheet
- Strip the herbs (if using fresh)
- Mix the herbs together in the small bowl – take out about 1/4 of the herbs to sprinkle on the top of the bread and place to one side
- Chop up the cheddar and combine with the herbs and the cooled onion
- When the dough is risen, place on a lightly floured surface and knock back
- Flatten the dough to about 1cm in depth and shape into a large oblong
- Lightly flour the base of the casserole
- Sprinkle the cheddar, onion and herbs onto the dough and roll up from a long side into a Swiss roll shape
- Cut the roll into twelve equal slices and arrange them in the casserole (easiest to place nine round the edge and three in the middle)
- Cover the casserole dish and leave to rise and fluff up for another 30 – 40 mins
- Just before the bread is risen fully, warm your oven to 200º C fan / 220º C conventional
- When ready, drizzle over a little olive oil, scatter some rock salt and the reserved portion of herbs
- Place in the hot oven for 10 mins, then after this time reduce the temperature down to 180º C fan / 200º C conventional and bake for another 20 – 25 minutes