A brioche bread has that fluffy rich texture (see all those small bubbles?) and taste. We discuss the science of brioche breads, what makes it so special? | foodcrumbles.com

The Science of Enriched Breads (+ Brioche Recipe)

When you’re looking for a super soft, rich, slightly sweet bread, look no further: a brioche style bread is what you’re looking for! A brioche bread has a soft, fluffy structure and slightly sweet flavour.

A brioche uses a what you would call very rich dough. The dough contains quite a lot of butter and eggs which give it that unique texture and flavour. However, it also makes it a bit more complicated to make since yeast in your bread doesn’t get along with them as well as it does with the flour and water.

What is special about a brioche bread?

A brioche bread is a very ‘rich’ bread. Whereas standard breads can be made from nothing more than water, flour, salt and yeast, a brioche will contain plenty eggs, milk and butter. That makes a bread ‘rich’. The high fat and protein contents of these ingredients is what makes the bread so special.

A brioche used to be a bread for the rich, or at least those who had access to butter. Before the era of refrigeration that wasn’t very common. Butter would go rancid a lot more quickly and was more of a privilege, the poor would eat bread made from just water and flour, without the more expensive ingredients.

So why do butter and milk make a brioche so special?

The role of butter in brioche

Brioche contains a high amount of butter (the recipe at the bottom of this post contains 150g of butter per 500g of flour, but there’s certainly recipes with even more!). Butter consists of approximately 80% fats, the remaining is mostly water and some proteins.

Butter basics

Different fats, have different melting points (think olive oil vs. butter vs. coconut oil). Most of the fats in butter are solid in the fridge. However, at room temperature part of the fat will melt. That results in a softer butter (and is something we try to prevent from happening in short crust pastry). When heating the butter a little more (approx. 40C) the butter will be liquid and almost all fats will have molten.

Role of butter in brioche

So why do we want these fats in a brioche bread?

The main reason is sensory: fat in products makes them ‘richer’ and gives them a different mouthfeel, it becomes more smooth. Besides this general role, in brioche butter has a slightly more specific role. When a brioche dough (which contains the butter) is placed in a hot oven the butter will melt. As a result the fats become a bit more mobile and they will re-organize themselves slightly. Since fats don’t tend to like to sit in water, it has been found that the fat will actually surround the air bubbles in bread. This way the fat stabilizes the air bubbles. As a result, brioche breads tend to have a lot of small air bubbles.

At the same time fat lubricates the dough. It will help the flour particles move alongside each other more smoothly. That makes doughs with a lot of fat very flexible and stretchable. The fatty lubrication helps expansion of the dough.

Since the fats remain in place after baking (they cool down and solidify again), they will remain around these air bubbles. That helps in keeping the bread fresh, it serves as a protective layer.

Using butter in brioche

For a brioche bread we don’t tend to melt the butter when using it in the dough. We do soften it (to help with kneading), but melting it would make the dough too soft and sticky.

Also, butter shouldn’t be added at the start. Reason being that butter (or more specifically fats) interfer with the formation of a gluten network. This gluten network is of importance for creating a strong, springy consistency of the bread (as we’ve described in a separate post dedicated on gluten). The fat in butter will cover the gluten proteins, preventing them from doing their job in making a strong dough.

Therefore, butter in a brioche dough is ended towards the end of the kneading process. At that point in time the gluten network should have been able to form. The butter will still coat the gluten particles creating fat bubbles in the dough. These will then melt when the bread is baked.

The role of eggs in brioche

Eggs have several roles in a brioche bread. One of the roles is very similar to that of butter. Egg yolks contain a lot of fat and this has a similar role to that of the fats in the butter.

The eggs however contain a lot more water than butter does, so it also contributes significantly to the moisture content. This is why the eggs are added during the kneading process, else there wouldn’t be enough moisture.

Besides fats and moisture the eggs also contain a lot of proteins. These proteins will set when baking and will influence the texture of bread, however, the influence should be pretty minor. They have a bigger impact actually on the colour of the bread. Since these proteins can participate in the Maillard reaction which is a browning reaction between sugars and proteins. The more proteins in a bread dough, the faster it becomes brown. Since a brioche dough also contains quite a bit of sugar, they tend to brown very quickly.

The role of milk in brioche

Last but not least a brioche dough contains milk instead of water. Milk again plays several roles. It contains proteins which contribute to browning and (unless you’re using skimmed milk) it contains fats. The roles they play are again pretty similar as to those of eggs. Milk enriches a bread, makes it a little softer, affects that flavour and changes the overall appeal of the product.

A brioche bread has that fluffy rich texture and taste. We discuss the science of brioche breads, what makes it so special? | foodcrumbles.com

Brioche recipe

Below you can find a recipe for such a Brioche style bread. It is inspired by a recipe from Paul Hollywood. Notice the high eggs, butter and milk content!

A brioche bread has that fluffy rich texture (see all those small bubbles?) and taste. We discuss the science of brioche breads, what makes it so special? | foodcrumbles.com

Brioche bread

Yield: 1 large brioche bun
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 55 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 25 minutes


  • 500g flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 50g sugar
  • 1 tsp yeast
  • 3 eggs
  • 240ml milk
  • 150g butter


  1. Mix the flour, salt, sugar and yeast by hand.
  2. Add the eggs and milk and use a stand mixer to create a smooth dough (or knead by hand). The dough should be moist, but shouldn't stick to the sides of the bowl anymore.
  3. Once a good dough has formed, add the butter (best at room temperature and cut in small pieces) to the dough. Leave the stand mixer to mix in the butter, this will take several minutes.
  4. The dough will become very sticky at this point.
  5. Cover the dough with plastic or a lid and leave to rise for at least 1-1,5h, but feel free to leave it for 3-4 hours. It will not increase in volume that much
  6. Once proved, knead it through again and shape it into the shape your prefer. I used a cake tin.
  7. Leave to rise for at least another half an hour.
  8. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 210C for 55 min. The brioche will brown very quickly, so you might want to cover the brioche after approx. 15 min with aluminium foil. It's best not to do this at the start since the bread will still expand quite a bit.


Scientific article on the role of lipids in bread making, Journal of Cereal Science, nov. 2011

Extensive scientific article on bread and bread doughs, also discusses the role of fats.

Read our other basics article on the role of ingredients in breads in general (not geared towards brioche),

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    • Hi Ladis,

      A good flour for croissants is one with a moderate protein content (in between the high contents required for bread and the low contents for things like cakes). You want a gluten network to be formed, but not so strong that it will impact your rolling of the dough. Recommendations would be around 11-12% protein content but you can still make croissants (at home) when that content is a little lower or higher.
      In my personal experience, I’ve used all-purpose (=moderate protein) & bread flour (=high protein) for decent croissants. That said, the better you get at making them, the more important the flour becomes to really fine-tune that recipe! I thought these two sources were helpful as well: focused on UK flours (so more European focused) and US reco’s.

      Lastly, don’t forget to check out our post on the science of croissants, hope that’s helpful as well!

  1. I get that you have to add butter all at the end of a dough, but most brioche recipes tell you to add pieces at a time gradually, waiting until that piece is incorporated before adding more. Do you think that does anything specific, or is it something like “adding butter gradually gives time for the dough to develop some gluten as its kneaded”?

    • Hi Alex,

      I’ve always doubted whether this really is something you need to do, especially for smaller batches. I can see it being necessarily for large batches where you might run the risk of it not mixing in well and maybe even separating (?). I’ve found that at home, it doens’t really matter for me, especially since you tend to knead the dough before anyway to ensure those gluten are developed. Curious to hear what you’ll find though!

      • I mostly ask this because I was recently making Liege waffles and all recipes I saw called for a traditional brioche slow kneading method with stand mixer and was curious if butter could be added all at once. I found Foodgeek on YouTube did an experiment where he slowly kneaded in cool butter, and compared it a dough with completely melted butter, and the end product was almost identical, only a small difference in rise height. I was trying to adapt Liege waffles for a simpler recipe that didn’t require a stand mixer, so gave it a shot with a no-knead method mixing in melted butter, and it seemed to work out okay.

        • Nice, glad to hear you found something similar. I tend to think that those instructions have come from the pre-electric-mixer time. If you have to mix in a big block of butter by hand, that’s going to be a lot more challenging, than just adding it to a mixer.

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