Having grown up during the ’80s in a home where meals boasting canned green beans and sloppy joes were the norm, it was only natural that we eschewed butter in favor of the “healthier” tubs of plasticized oils. Thankfully, we’d managed to snag a pass when visiting Grandma – secretly saying “to hell with it!” – while indulging in the glorious artery-clogging gold. But at home, not so much.
Many years later, we learned through carefully constructed Google searches that not only was butter not Satan’s gift to heathens, but that it was actually good for you. But not just any butter. It had to be organic, cultured butter made from happy cows who frolicked in meadows of lush grasses every freakin’ day of the year. Of course I tossed the turmeric-enhanced margarine.
Despite my love for smearing the stuff on everything edible, I had this sense that there were some culinary places to which I just couldn’t go. It defies logic, for sure – kind of like the Thanksgiving when my MIL turned down lefse (which is like a Norwegian potato tortilla topped with butter and a single spoonful of sugar) in favor of pumpkin pie because lefse had too much sugar. Okay, so that may just have been her way of avoiding having to tell me that a potato tortilla simply didn’t interest her. And, truth be told, I wasn’t disappointed as it meant more lefse for me.
Anyway, in my case of my own peculiar culinary aversions, I avoided making brioche because I knew that my heart would explode if I ever even tasted the stuff. Never mind that I’d been known to consume an entire half-pint of whipping in a day (which admittedly was used to hide the mounds of butter filling the deep crevices of my Belgian waffle).
My friends, you can thank the KonMarie Method of decluttinering for this post, for as I was reviewing the discardability of my baking pans, I came across my grande brioche à tête mold. I couldn’t get myself to part with the thing, despite the fact that I’ve used it only once or twice…and about a hundred years ago at that. There was just something about it that brought me joy, despite it’s single-use impracticality. I rationalized that I could keep such an impractical yet joy-inspiring pan if and only if I used it once again. This meant that I would have to subject myself to the ultimate sacrifice. I would have to make brioche.
Before you get started, there are a few things you ought to know about brioche:
- Queen Marie Antoinette allegedly lost her head following a callously-made comment about peasants and brioche. The takeaway: always behave humbly when discussing your brioche-ing activities to minions, especially if they happen to be French.
- You will need to allow two days to make brioche (it needs to chill overnight).
- Brioche takes forever to adequately proof once it has been shaped, so you will need to get up at baker’s hours if you want brioche cinnamon buns for breakfast.
- All ingredients need to be super cold. This includes flour.
- You get to beat up butter with a rolling pin. Please do so responsibly.
Finally, it’s worth noting that brioche is something between a pastry and a bread. It is incredibly versatile. It can be made into French toast, shaped into tiny or grande brioche à têtes rolled out into cinnamon buns, topped with berries, stuffed with olives and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, or braided into loaves. With the recipe that follows, I had enough dough to make both the pictured cinnamon buns and a grande brioche à tête, the latter of which I turned into French toast. All were well-received.
The recipe that follows instructs you how to make brioche cinnamon buns while giving you the option to do as I did – make one loaf or grande brioche à tête as well. After all, both rely on the same base brioche dough.
Brioche Cinnamon BunsPrint Recipe
- 24 oz. flour (5 1/2 c.)
- 1/4 - 1/3 c. water
- 6 eggs
- 1 T. salt
- 6 T. sugar
- 1 1/2 t. instant dry yeast
- 12 oz. unsalted butter (3 sticks)
- Cinnamon sugar
- 6 1/2 T. sugar
- 1 1/2 T. ground cinnamon
- a few cups of powdered sugar, sifted
- 1 t. orange extract or any other flavoring you dig
- 1/4 - 1/2 c. warm milk
- a pinch of salt, to taste
Mix the dough
Place the flour, 1/4 c. of the water, eggs, salt, sugar, and yeast in the bowl of your stand mixer. Using a dough hook, mix on first speed until fully incorporated. If the dough is simply too dry and crumbly to come together into a respectably strong lump, add another tablespoon or two of water.
While the dough is coming together, unwrap the butter and place it on a sheet of waxed or parchment paper. Then, take your rolling pin and beat it with a few really good whacks until it's pliable.
Once the dough has come together, increase the speed to the second setting, and add small amounts of the beaten butter. Continue to add butter in small increments until there is none left. You do not have to wait until the butter is incorporated before adding more. Once the butter has been well-incorporated and the dough appears uniform, continue to mix on second speed for eight minutes or so.
Test the dough for strength by breaking off a walnut-sized chunk and gently stretch and pull it until it becomes nearly transparent without breaking. If it breaks, mix it for another couple of minutes and test again. If it doesn't, woo-hoo! You're good to go.
Fold the dough & allow it to rise
Very lightly oil or butter a large mixing bowl and transfer the lump of brioche dough to it. Roll it around a bit so that it has the faintest film of oil on all sides. Cover the dough with plastic wrap by ensuring that it makes contact with all surfaces of the dough that are exposed to air. Do not "seal" the dough, as it needs to be able to expand during it's first rise.
Allow to rise at room temp for about an hour. Then, fold the dough by first stretching it out gently and folding the left side into the middle, followed by the right. Envision folding a letter before stuffing it into an envelope and you'll do just fine. Now, flip the dough package over and repeat the whole thing (if you need a visual, this ciabatta bread post covers the process in detail in its accompanying downloadable guide, which you can access directly righthere). Place the dough back in the bowl and replace the plastic wrap. Refrigerate. In an hour, repeat the folding process and refrigerate. An hour later, repeat one last time. Refrigerate undisturbed overnight.
Turn the dough into cinnamon buns (and a loaf, should you desire one) and proof
Remove the dough from the fridge. Now, if you want variety, you could do what I did and divide the dough in half. Turn one half into a grande brioche à tête following the directions provided in your favorite baking tome or online, or just plop it into a greased loaf pan, brush with a beaten egg, and bake at 380 °F until deeply browned and with an internal temperature of around 190 °F. Immediately remove from the pan and let cool completely on a wire rack.
Now, if you are only into making cinnamon buns, as this recipe suggests, just roll out the entire lump of dough into a rectangle that's about 2/3" thick (if you are only rolling out dough for a half recipe of cinnamon buns, the process is the same). The remaining dimensions are are more based on personal taste. If you want super fat buns, the length should measure about 12". If the dough requires the strength of Arnold Schwarzenegger to roll out, just let it rest (covered) on the counter until it's more malleable.
Mix the sugar with the cinnamon and sprinkle quite generously over the entire surface area. Now, roll the dough up and slice into buns about 1 1/2" thick (a tiny bit more for jumbo buns, and a tiny bit less for baby buns). Place buns spaced about 1/2" apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet, positioning them so that the tails are facing their neighbors rather than the pan's edges. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rise until nearly doubled. Yes, they should be touching each other. How long this takes is dependent on a bazillion variables, including the temperature of your kitchen. Mine took about four hours to double in size, and the last hour of it was spent in a cold oven with the light turned on.
Bake the buns
Preheat the oven to 350 °F. When the buns have properly proofed, remove the plastic wrap and place the baking sheet on the middle rack (if you have two baking sheets of buns, use the upper and lower middle racks) and bake for about 15 minutes. Turn the baking sheets and bake for another five to 15 minutes. It should come as no surprise that thicker buns will take longer to bake, right? They are done when they are golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the baking sheet(s) for about 10 minutes.
Glaze the buns & enjoy
While the buns are cooling, whisk together the powdered sugar, orange extract, salt, and enough warm milk to turn the mixture into a thick, pasty fondant. Spoon generously over the buns and allow to cool on a a wire rack. For ease of cleanup, I transfer the parchment to the rack as well, but it's not necessary to do this.
Enjoy the slightly warm buns by themselves or do what I do - slather a ridiculous amount of lightly salted butter onto them and enjoy. Because, as you know, brioche doesn't already have enough of the stuff!
If you don't have a standing mixer, this recipe will be a nightmare and I'd advise against tackling it. You might hate me otherwise. Also, note that I am using a Kitchen Aid mixer. If you are using a different make or type of stand mixer, you may need to alter your mixing times. Finally, it's very important that all of your ingredients are cold. As in very cold. Before making this, I stored everything - flour and water included - in the fridge for several hours.