Ham and Cheese Brioche: c’est la saison…

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Ah, pray tell, what is this lovely loaf, with its buttery interior, golden crust, and tiny/tasty bits of smoked ham scattered throughout?

Why, I’m so glad you asked. That would be Ham & Cheese Brioche.

And you thought brioche was sweet…

Actually, brioche is buttery, and eggy, and soft and tender and delicious – but it’s not necessarily sweet.

A typical brioche may have a bit of coarse sugar sprinkled on top, but the dough is only very lightly sweetened – which means it’s an easy conversion to a strictly savory version, like this one.

One thing you can say about brioche – it’s not the easiest yeast dough in the world to deal with.

Just about the highest-fat dough you can imagine, it’s a bear to develop – unless you have a) a stand mixer, or b) a bread machine. Yes, this is one time when your hands just won’t do the trick – unless you’re a French chef pâtissier, and used to kneading dough for, oh, 20 to 30 minutes at a time.

So, given the challenge – is brioche really worth making at home?

YES. Brioche isn’t something you can walk into your local CVS and buy.

In fact, unless you’re in a fairly urban environment, you’re not going to find it at your mom and pop bakery, either.

Which means it’s time to break out the flour and yeast and butter and eggs and DIY.

Not a problem, when you love to bake!

Place the following in the bowl of your stand mixer; or in the bucket of your bread machine:

2 3/4 cups (11 1/2 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/4 cup Baker’s Special Dry Milk or nonfat dry milk
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup Vermont cheese powder*
1 tablespoon instant yeast
2 large eggs + 1 large egg yolk, white reserved
1/4 cup lukewarm water
10 tablespoons unsalted butter**

*For a good-looking, tasty loaf with great texture, we recommend using cheese powder, rather than freshly grated cheese. If you don’t want to mail order our Vermont cheese powder, other types of cheese powder can often be found in your supermarket alongside the canned grated Parmesan/Romano cheeses, in the pasta aisle. But use 1 cup diced or grated fresh cheddar or Parmesan, if you like. We found that adding chunks of cheese made the dough lumpy and challenging to shape; and grated cheese gave it a speckled crust; but either is tasty.

**Reduce the salt to 1 teaspoon if you use salted butter.

OK, firs tip: unless you’ve made brioche without benefit of a mixer or bread machine before, and know what’s involved, we don’t recommend trying to knead this dough by hand. It’s super-sticky, and takes a lonnnng time to come together.

Your bread machine, set on the dough cycle, is a great tool for this particular dough; we’ve found it does an excellent job taking the ingredients from sticky mess to cohesive dough.

A stand mixer will do the same thing; it just requires a bit more hands-on attention. If you’re using a stand mixer, scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl every 5 minutes for however long it takes to develop a cohesive, relatively smooth dough – which might be up to 20 minutes of kneading.

So, where’s the ham? You don’t want to add it until the dough is fully developed. You’ll need 1/2 pound of good-quality ham. It pays to use full-flavored smoked or baked ham in this bread; save the pale, boiled deli ham for sandwiches.

Dice the ham in 1/4″ to 1/3″ cubes, and knead it into the dough. If you’re using a bread machine, add it about 5 minutes before the end of the kneading cycle.

If you’re using a mixer, form the dough into a ball (it’ll be very soft), place it in a greased bowl, cover the bowl, and it let rise for about 2 hours at cool room temperature; it won’t seem to change much, but don’t worry.

Refrigerate the dough for several hours, or overnight. This will allow fermentation to slowly continue; and will chill the butter, making the dough easier to shape.

If you’re using a bread machine, allow the dough to remain in the machine for about 1 hour after it’s completed its cycle; then refrigerate. Check out the final photo in the sequence above, which shows the dough after an overnight rest in the fridge. It doesn’t look like it’s risen much, but when you peel back the surface, you’ll see lots of tiny bubbles.

Remove the dough from the fridge, and place it on a lightly floured or lightly greased work surface; a silicone rolling mat works well here.

Notice how stiff and clay-like the dough feels; actually, this is a good thing; it makes it easier to shape.

Shape the dough into a long (28″) log.

It’s best to work as quickly as possible; the warmer the dough gets, the stickier it is, the more challenging it is to work with.

Lightly grease a 9″ round cake pan. Coil the log into the pan in a spiral.

Cover the pan, and let the shaped brioche rise for 2 to 3 hours, until it’s come to room temperature and nearly reached the edges of the pan.

Toward the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 400°F.

Brush the brioche with the reserved egg white, which you’ve mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water. This will give it a shiny crust.

Bake the brioche for 20 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F; gently tent the loaf with foil, and bake for an additional 35 to 40 minutes, until the loaf is golden brown (peek under the foil), and an  instant-read thermometer inserted into the center registers at least 200°F.

Remove the brioche from the oven, and very carefully slip it out of the pan onto a rack to cool.

Don’t worry about any “shreds” in the crust; with dough this rich, they’re bound to happen. If you slice the bread in the kitchen rather than at the table, no one will be the wiser!

Serve the brioche warm, or at room temperature; refrigerate any leftovers, tightly wrapped. Reheat before serving; a toaster or toaster oven works well here.

And remember: brioche makes great French toast. Imagine using this particular recipe for your favorite French toast – the salty ham, the sweet maple syrup… heavenly!

Read, bake, and review (please) our recipe for Ham & Cheese Brioche.

Print just the recipe.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. Ricardo Neves Gonzalez - Petrópolis, RJ, BRAZIL

    Here in Brazil i make fantastic Ham and Cheese brioches and the way we do is to open dough in great rectangle shape, add lots of cheese slices all over the dough, add another lay of sliced Ham and fold it like a roll, same as you did with that cinnamon buns or pizza buns, and rest those shaped rolls for at least one hour before baking. They become AMAZING!!! Softly, Yummy…hummm

    Oh, Ricardo, those do sound totally delicious… LOTS of good filling. Kind of sounds like that banana “strudel” you shared with us, remember? PJH

    Reply
  2. AnneInWA

    PJ-
    This looks wonderful! Could I shape this in a loaf pan? I was thinking I could make this and use it for a savory french toast! Yum… I just love brioche, the buttery, velvety crumb…I can almost smell it now baking in my oven. I just started the dough and I already want to dig in! I am actually using prosciutto because I am out of ham, but with parmesan cheese it will be great!

    Thanks again PJ! My pants are getting tighter, I have to up my running milage now!

    Sorry about your pants, Anne! But this time of year, hey, what can you do? :) I’d think this recipe would bake up just fine in an 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ loaf pan – go for it! PJH

    Reply
  3. marcin

    You’ve got me hooked on brioche! I debuted your French toast brioche this summer, to a standing ovation from my family. For Thanksgiving, I made two of the four recipes that were in the Baking Sheet this past month. Again, wild applause! So for Christmas I have made two more, one with German sweet chocolate folded in and the other will be the creme fraiche brioche again that I made for Thanksgiving. Your method works so well in my kitchen. I have tried and failed so many times to make brioche over the years. I am so excited to be able to finally succeed. This ham and cheese brioche will be the next one I try. Thank you!

    Reply
  4. Wren

    Looks amazing. Can’t wait to try it.

    Also, I don’t know where else to ask this, but would you please consider doing a couple of posts about adapting recipes for altitude and extremely arid climates? I just moved to an area that is 4800 ft., not exactly “high” high altitude, but it sure seems to make a difference from when I was at 500 ft. The fact that it’s not unusual to have humidity in the single digits to mid-teen numbers seems to make a big difference, too, and it’s like I’m having to learn to cook all over again! Nothing I’ve made involving yeast has behaved as I expected.
    This is a great idea! In the meantime, please see tips for high altitude baking here. ~Amy

    Reply
  5. Richelle66

    If you want to limit your use of butter in recipes for the holidays (or whenever), just replace up to half of the amount of butter stated in recipes by a stiff gel, made with chia seeds and any liquid you like. I do it all the time, when making cookies, brioche breads, cakes and works like a dream.

    Reply
  6. amgbooth

    This looks like it would be great for Christmas morning. Can I make and shape the dough and set it to rise overnight in the fridge and then proof it in the morning? Like I do my cinnamon rolls? Thanks.
    Yes, this will work just fine. ~Amy

    Reply
  7. Danielle

    This looks great and have already added the Baker’s Special Dry Milk and the Vermont Cheese Powder to my cart. I will make the dough in my bread machine as your describe. Is it necessary to use instant yeast? I usually use the Red Star active dry yeast for bread baking and making pizza dough in my bread machine. Would I use the same amount of active dry if substituting for the instant yeast in this recipe? Thanks!

    Absolutely go with instant if that’s what you like, Danielle. Use the same amount – should be just fine. Enjoy – PJH

    Reply
  8. mkasten

    Wren, I know what you mean about baking at altitude. A fantastic book for high altitude baking is called “Pie in the Sky – Successful Baking at High Altitudes” by Susan Purdy. I live at 4800 ft as well and while there are plenty of higher locations, even our altitude and dryness can cause untold trouble for the baker. Susan Purdy bakes and tweaks the same recipe at different altitudes and her book gives fantastic suggestions for how to modify other recipes for altitude. It is clearly not one change fits all and experimentation is a must! Luckily my family and coworkers love it when I test-drive a new recipe because it means I will often make it 2 or 3 times to get it the way I like. Happy Baking!

    Reply
  9. aamoe

    This recipe sounds yummy. I’m going to make this for Christmas morning instead of something sweet this year. Fingers crossed it turns out as good as it sounds!

    Try it as French toast – awesome… PJH

    Reply
  10. Torie

    I would like to serve this for breakfast and would like some advice regarding how much I can do ahead. Once the dough log is coiled in the pan and has risen the 2 – 3 hours, could I then put it back in the refrigerator overnight and bake it the next morning? Could the dough be frozen?

    Yes, Torie – once it’s risen, refrigerating and baking the next morning is fine. If you want to freeze the dough, mix it; let it rise at room temperature as directed, then freeze, well wrapped. When you’re ready to work with it, thaw overnight in the fridge, then shape, let rise, and bake as directed. Enjoy! PJH

    Reply
  11. pat219

    Made this yesterday morning and it’s absolutely terrific. We had it with turkey corn chowder, but today I’m taking the leftovers, toasting them, and serving with sliced tomatoes. Yummy!

    Reply
  12. cr8zyamy

    You slay me. I just finished rereading this blog along with the Irish raisin bread blog. I am going to try ham and cheddar stuffed mini brioches. I also have a challenge for the test kitchen geniuses, can brioche be done gluten free and if so how? My sister has had to make this change and it kills me that I can no longer bake my usual goodies for her. I am trying my hand at some pineapple glazed crescents using the GF all purpose flour. I’ll let you know how they turn out. The recipe is a very old one from our childhood I hope it works.

    I think brioche would be difficult, given it’s a challenging rise even with gluten. Unless you’re willing to potentially waste a bunch of eggs and butter and GF flour, I wouldn’t chance it. Sorry to sound discouraging… How about adding some cheese powder and diced ham to our GF bread recipe? PJH

    Reply

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