For one because it’s handy. Bakeries tend to like doughs that are multi-taskers, and is brioche ever one of those. You can use it for brioche (obviously), both loaves and têtes, monkey bread, doughnuts, cinnamon rolls, the list goes on. But then I suppose the question becomes why is brioche so darn useful? If I had to reduce the answer to just a few words: because it’s rich and because it’s tender. And those two characteristics, it turns out, are related.
The tenderness of brioche arises from the fact that it has very little developed gluten, despite the fact that it’s beaten vigorously in a machine for upwards of fifteen, even twenty, minutes. Normally a ball of dough that’s undergone that much agitation is as elastic as a superball. And brioche would be, save for the fact that certain gluten “spoilers” are introduced to the mix as its made: notably eggs, sugar and butter. For you see fat and sugar are both hell on gluten, bonding to the ends of gluten molecules, keeping them from bonding to one another. And where gluten can’t bond, you get no stretchy network.
It starts in the sponge phase of the dough with an egg and a tablespoon of sugar. More eggs go in during the initial stage of the dough mixing, followed by heaps and heaps of butter. So much butter, in fact, that the mixing of brioche is often extended past the point where the butter is fully incorporated, to encourage any ungreased gluten molecules who haven’t given up already to give it the ol’ college try. However the result is invariably a light, fluffy, rich and exceedingly tender bread.
You don’t get the same thing making cinnamon rolls by hand, since the hand method (as I wrote yesterday) requires that the dough be made first and the butter poured on later. This gives gluten molecules plenty of time to find and adhere to one another, and once that’s done, no amount of fat laid on will break those molecular bonds. Certainly there are a number of by-hand cinnamon roll recipes out there that call for fat (often melted shortening) to be added at the start. Still, the result — at least to my palate — is a firmer and tougher (though also higher rising) product.
Is that to say I won’t eat cinnamon rolls made the old fashioned way? Perish the thought! The things are amazing. I just find brioche cinnamon roller amazinger…if that’s a word.