food / travel

The Humble Brioche Goes Haute Cuisine

Every French region has its own version of brioche, which has a solid but modest history. But now in some corners, this lightly sweet breakfast bread is taking on a high-end air.

Tasting brioches from Guy Savoy's new Paris shop
Tasting brioches from Guy Savoy's new Paris shop
JP Géné

PARIS â€" On Oct. 5, 1789, when Parisian women, who were suffering from bread shortages, marched on Versailles with revolutionaries, Marie Antoinette supposedly said, "If they have no bread, Qu'ils mangent de la brioche," or "let them eat cake." Though this is a very famous utterance, it's also apocryphal. Book 6 of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Confessions, where the quote prefigures, was printed in 1782, a full seven years before Marie Antoinette could have said these words.

In truth, very little separates bread and brioche. In addition to the bread's flour, yeast, salt and water, making brioche requires similar techniques under virtually the same conditions and only the addition of butter, sugar and eggs. Brioche bread, a product halfway between the two, is perfect proof of their harmony. The leap from bread to brioche is the first step of social mobility in the baker's world. It's the humblest of cakes.

Couque, fouace, fallue, cramique, etc.

Brioche exists everywhere in France, and it has its own special characteristics in each region. It is believed to have first appeared in Normandy during the 15th century and was called brier, an ancient Norman word for broyer (grind) that meant molding the dough with a wooden rolling pin. The suffix "oche" would then have been added to designate the product of this work and, like its bread ancestor, the number of different brioches grew from there.

The varieties are numerous: Normandy's runny brioche (fallue), the Saint-Genix praline brioche, the Vendée orange-blossom-flavored brioche, the Metz weaved brioche, the Vosges brioche stuffed with hazelnuts, raisins and dried pears, the Gannat cottage cheese brioche, the cougnou or Flemish couque (which looks like a swaddled baby Jesus), the Paris ball brioche, the Provence sugar and candied-fruit brioche, and of course the fouace, the pomp, the cramique and other koeckbotteram from Dunkirk.

Brioches in Rouen, northwestern France â€" Photo: Frédéric BISSON

From breakfast to desert, sweet to savory, brioche is represented at all intersections of the good food and of social gatherings. In eastern France, it is customary to share brioche after a funeral. In the north of the country, like in the south, it's usually during Christmas. In the Vendée region, it's prepared for the traditional brioche dance. Its quality is indicated by the gold of its crust, the softness of its dough and the taste of butter.

Now on restaurant menus

Next time you leave the Tours train station, turn your nose towards the Grand Hôtel. For more than 100 years, behind an unassuming front window, the Lelong Briocherie â€" better known as "the station's briocherie" â€" releases the buttered exhalations of its latest batches at regular intervals. Small, large, round or rectangular, plain or with chocolate chips, brioche is the only product sold here, and for just a few euros.

The ultimate "people's pastry," brioche has stood out in particular over the past few years. For a long time, a poor person's Sunday dessert was bread pudding, made with stale crusts leftover from the week, dipped in eggnog (egg, milk and sugar beaten together), glazed with butter in a frying pan and rolled in powdered sugar. Now, brioche pudding stuffed with the best ingredients is on the menus of starred restaurants.

Chic choux pastries are in vogue in Paris right now. And restaurateur Guy Savoy, a great enthusiast of his childhood's brioche â€" the Bourgoin variety, filled with pralines, sugared almonds and sprinkled with red and white sugar â€" just opened Goût de brioche, a shop exclusively dedicated to these.

As head of the bakery, Savoy has appointed his pastry chef Christian Boudard, who has created a collection of puff pastry brioches: with crystallized fruit, pink pralines, chocolate, caramelized hazelnuts, pistachio-apricot, clafoutis-like seasonal fruits, parmesan or mushrooms.

They are meant to be enjoyed immediately. As French poet André Suarès once said, "Luxury is the bread of those who live for brioche."

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"The Truest Hypocrisy" - The Russia-NATO Clash Seen From Moscow

Russia has decided to cut off relations with the Western military alliance. But Moscow says it was NATO who really wanted the break based on its own internal rationale.

NATO chief Stoltenberg and Russian Foregin Minister Lavrov

Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS via ZUMA
Pavel Tarasenko and Sergei Strokan

MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry's announcement that the country's permanent representation to NATO would be shut down for an indefinite period is a major development. But from Moscow's viewpoint, there was little alternative.

These measures were taken in response to the decision of NATO on Oct. 6 to cut the number of personnel allowed in the Russian mission to the Western alliance by half. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the removal of accreditations was from eight employees of the Russian mission to NATO who were identified as undeclared employees of Russian intelligence." We have seen an increase in Russian malicious activity for some time now," Stoltenberg said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry called NATO's expulsion of Russian personnel a "ridiculous stunt," and Stoltenberg's words "the truest hypocrisy."

In announcing the complete shutdown in diplomacy between Moscow and NATO, the Russian Foreign Ministry added: "The 'Russian threat' is being hyped in strengthen the alliance's internal unity and create the appearance of its 'relevance' in modern geopolitical conditions."

The number of Russian diplomatic missions in Brussels has been reduced twice unilaterally by NATO in 2015 and 2018 - after the alliance's decision of April 1, 2014 to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between Russia and NATO in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats' access to the alliance headquarters and communications with its international secretariat was restricted, military contacts have frozen.

Yet the new closure of all diplomatic contacts is a perilous new low. Kommersant sources said that the changes will affect the military liaison mission of the North Atlantic alliance in Moscow, aimed at promoting the expansion of the dialogue between Russia and NATO. However, in recent years there has been no de facto cooperation. And now, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced, the activities of the military liaison mission will be suspended. The accreditation of its personnel will be canceled on November 1.

NATO told RIA Novosti news service on Monday that it regretted Moscow's move. Meanwhile, among Western countries, Germany was the first to respond. "It would complicate the already difficult situation in which we are now and prolong the "ice age," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.

"Lavrov said on Monday, commenting on the present and future of relations between Moscow and the North Atlantic Alliance, "If this is the case, then we see no great need to continue pretending that any changes will be possible in the foreseeable future because NATO has already announced that such changes are impossible.

The suspension of activities of the Russian Permanent Mission to NATO, as well as the military liaison and information mission in Russia, means that Moscow and Brussels have decided to "draw a final line under the partnership relations of previous decades," explained Andrei Kortunov, director-general of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, "These relations began to form in the 1990s, opening channels for cooperation between the sides … but they have continued to steadily deteriorate over recent years."

Kortunov believes the current rupture was promoted by Brussels. "A new strategy for NATO is being prepared, which will be adopted at the next summit of the alliance, and the previous partnership with Russia does not fit into its concept anymore."

The existence and expansion of NATO after the end of the Cold War was the main reason for the destruction of the whole complex of relations between Russia and the West. Today, Russia is paying particular attention to marking red lines related to the further steps of Ukraine's integration into NATO. Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously stated this, warning that in response to the alliance's activity in the Ukrainian direction, Moscow would take "active steps" to ensure its security.

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