Does it come from southern France? That’s very hard to say, reader Peg. “Probably not” is about the best answer I can come up with for that excellent question. Brioche is a very old bread, or rather to be more precise, it is a very old word for bread. Brioche as we know it now, full of brewer’s yeast, eggs and butter, has only been around for 200 years. Prior to that it was just a fluffy white bread…along the lines of what people used to call “cake” before the thing we know as cake was invented. Confused? Good. Me too.
The word “brioche” first appears in print right around the year 1400 in France. As to what sort of foodstuff that word denoted, what it tasted like or where it came from there are only guesses. My personal guess is that the enriched bread that is now called brioche came from Vienna, since Vienna was the center of the baking universe around 1800, and the Viennese were very much into enriching their breads with dairy. They gave the French both croissants and baguettes, I suspect they gave them brioche as well.