The Brioche Vendéenne is the most iconic variations of brioche. In fact, in 2004 it became the first baked good to obtain a Protected Geographic Indication (PGI). Only brioche made in the Vendée and its neighboring departments in central western France are therefore able to call their brioche “Vendéenne,” so long as the strict preparation standards in line with the traditional know-how have been met.
For starters, brioche is a fluffy French bread enriched with eggs, sugar and butter often recognizable by its signature braided folds. It belongs to a category of bread called Viennoiserie, or ‘Vienna-style bread,” and falls in between standard bread and pastries. Brioche can range from a lightly sweet plain loaf to a denser, more decorated cake like the Brioche des Rois customary around the Christmas season in Provence. Chocolate and fruit are also common additions to this delicious bread, and it is usually enjoyed in the morning for breakfast or at tea time.
So what makes a brioche Vendéenne? it is a golden braided bun in a round, oval or bar shape, made from a dough rich in sugar and eggs and a perfect balance of butter and either alcohol, vanilla or orange blossom. Acceptable alcohols are eau-de-vie, rum or Cognac. The interior is characterized by a consistent golden crumb (the soft inside of the bread) in a honeycombed form, with an airy melt-in-your-mouth texture. For it to be considered a true Brioche Vendéenne, the dough must always be made fresh and can never be frozen.
Once the dough containing ingredients from the approved geographic regions has been hand-kneaded, it should be left to rise for a minimum of 4 hours at an ambient temperature or a minimum of 24 hours at a low temperature. The goal of this long fermentation process called “pousse” is twofold: the development of specific aromas and the production of carbon dioxide, which creates the distinctive airy crumb. These two characteristics are what separate Brioche Vendéenne from other types of brioche. The dough is then hand-braided and brushed with egg-whites before being cooked in a tunnel oven at a low temperature for 20-45 minutes, depending on preferred heat.
Historically, it was customary to serve Brioche Vendéenne during Easter holidays and at weddings. Due to its higher sugar content than the average brioche, it was often prepared and decorated as a cake. The Brioche Vendéenne gained national repute in the mid-1900s, during which time the baking and pastry industry was expanding and tourism to Vendée was on the rise. Brioche thus became the blanket term for all Vendée-styled viennoiseries around the country.
Try Brioche Vendéenne as is or with your favorite jam. It also makes a for a great tea companion!