Inside a Franglish Pantry: Attempting to make a ‘brioche vendéenne’

Inside a franglish pantry

I’ve wanted to learn how to make brioche for ages but like most people I’ve assumed it was completely out of my reach as a standard amateur home baker (i.e. not suitable for The Great British Bake-Off in a million years). I’ve also fallen for a special kind of brioche called a ‘gâche’, which is traditionally made in Vendée and perfumed with orange flower water or rum. We bought one from a French supermarket during one of our annual summer trips and never looked back. It’s like a normal brioche but tastier. It is made with an enriched dough that contains crème fraîche so it’s not recommended if you’re on a diet but it is so delicious and rich you don’t need much anyway. And again, unattainable outside of France, or so I thought, until one day early in our marriage I decided to try and make one to treat Badgerman using an internet recipe.

So far, the three separate attempts I have made over the last five years have proven that my capacity for making idiotic moves in the kitchen knows no bounds. It is sheer luck that we have been able to eat any of the resulting scraps, but despite their awkwardness, they have been out of this world delicious. Before we get to the recipe, here are some

Lessons You Can Learn From My Kitchen Nightmares

1. Remove all hand jewelry and have friends and family within earshot: during my first attempt, my hands got stuck in the batter so strongly I could not move them at all and could lift the entire bowl above my head by the sheer glutinous power of the dough. I had to shout at Badgerman to come un-stick me and I nearly lost my lovely new rings in the process. He thought it was hilarious of course.

2. Beware to follow the EXACT measurements, especially for the liquids: my second attempt last week resulted in a wet lumpy mess that would not settle into a proper dough no matter how long I worked on it. It is possible that the yeast was not fresh enough but in any case, just don’t think about adding that second spoon of rum for luck (I know, I know… greedy). I had to add at least 200 grams more flour to get it to a manageable consistency and that made the dough lumpy and very dense. The final product did taste and smell delicious but because of its density it was really only three-quarters cooked, so you would occasionally chew on a bit and go ‘mmm, dough’. Not my finest moment.

3. Allow enough time to rest the dough and don’t forget you put it in the oven to prove if you’re going to cook dinner in it half-way through: today was my third time lucky, apart from the fact that I forgot I had put the dough in the cold oven to rise and turned it on to cook dinner. I only realised once the oven was hot. Since I am not going to taste the brioche tonight, only time (AND MY CROWD OF BIRTHDAY GUESTS TOMORROW) will tell.

One Final Word Before We Get On: they say baking bread and making brioche is time-consuming. I used to believe that too. It turns out it is not true. The actual time spent working on the brioche is about 25 minutes. What takes time is the proving (i.e. resting the dough). For this you need to allow at least 6 hours, so do it last thing on a Friday night to eat it freshly baked in the morning.

The recipe I used is provided to you in the original French by Sandra on her blog Le Pétrin. Below is the translation, and good luck.


  • 550g plain flour
  • 125ml milk
  • 2 tablespoons crème fraîche (not heaped)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1.5 teaspoon salt
  • 110g sugar (I used golden granulated)
  • 110g butter, cut in small cubes
  • Flavourings: 1 tablespoon dark rum + 1 tablespoon orange flower water + 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 25g fast acting dry yeast (I used Allinson’s Easy Bake Yeast)

Stage One

All the ingredients should be at room temperature before you start the process.

Mix the yeast in with the milk, add the eggs, crème fraîche and salt then add the flour. Mix well with your hands then start to knead. The dough should be fairly dry and flaky, this is normal.
Add the sugar by letting it fall lightly over the dough (like rain). This will make the dough lighter and give it a better texture. Once the sugar is fully incorporated, add the butter cut in small cubes and knead until the dough is no longer sticking, at least 10-15 mins (once in a while, check that the dough stays fresh and stop kneading if it is warm).

Add the flavourings and continue to knead for about 5 mins until your dough is elastic, doesn’t stick and is soft and smooth. (I’ll be honest, I’ve not once managed to do this yet; it’s always a bit lumpy and I have to add flour to get it to un-stick – still tastes good though, but I am slowly getting there. One day!)
Make into a ball and put it in a bowl, cover in cling film and leave to rest for 6 hours at room temperature.

Stage Two

Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and separate into 3 parts of approximately 330 grams each. Shape them into slight oval shapes and put them onto baking trays covered in baking paper.
Paint with sugared eggwash (1 egg and a little bit of sugar mixed together). Leave to rest at room temperature for 3 hours or until the dough triples in size (depends on how warm it is, basically, if it’s a hot summer day, or you’ve got the heating on at full whack, you might only need half the time).

raw gache vendeenne

Stage Three

Paint with more eggwash, make a slight cut at the top lengthwise and put in a preheated oven at 180°C for approximately 20-25 minutes, covering with foil half-way through.

Gache Vendeenne

If this doesn’t make you hungry, I don’t know what will.

**UPDATE AFTER TASTING**: I can officially confirm that the third attempt was another disaster. It tasted fine but was overcooked and did not rise properly so it was dry, crumbly and more like a sweet bread than a brioche. I was just too impatient and should have let the dough rest more than it did (and also not turn the oven on during proving). So until next time, with fresh yeast and the full 9 hours rest for the dough …


Apricot and Marzipan Tart

Apricot and Marzipan Tart recipe

I had to ice my first fruitcake at the weekend after offering to bake his favourite cake to my father-in-law for his birthday. I don’t particularly like fruitcake so I had never made one before, and I had never iced a cake in my life. So a weekend of firsts, and at very short notice!

I ended up cheating a bit by buying a (nice) ready-made fruitcake but I did get some icing. Unfortunately, it’s only on the Saturday morning that I realised that the marzipan hiding in my cupboard was over a year old so I sent Badgerman to the shops about an hour before we were due to leave. It was a bit stressful.

He came back with the most delicious-smelling brandy marzipan, which I clumsily laid out on the cake before doing the same with white icing. It was a very lumpy looking thing in the end but decent enough for a first attempt. You can tell I’m more of a ‘substance over style’ sort of baker.

The fruitcake that started it all
The fruitcake that started it all

However there was a lot of marzipan left, and I was determined not to waste it, hence my never-tried-before made-up-on-the-spot Apricot and Marzipan Tart. I had no idea whether or not it was going to work but my hope was that the marzipan would melt a bit.

I can confirm that it did indeed melt and it was one of the tastiest – and easiest – tarts I have ever made. The smell alone was pure (alcoholic) heaven.


500g ready-to-roll puff pastry

about 200g Marzipan – whatever is left over from other baking projects

6 fresh apricots

1 egg, beaten

1 tsp icing sugar to sprinkle at the end


  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
  2. Roll out the pastry on a baking sheet.
  3. Roll the marzipan to about 2 mms thin and put on top of the pastry, leaving about 1 cm of pastry clear all the way around.
  4. Cut the apricots into quarters and distribute them over the marzipan.
  5. Paint the egg over the pastry sides.
  6. Bake for 25 minutes.
the raw tart
the raw tart
The final product in all its glory
The final product in all its glory

3 Ways I Know Christmas is coming

3 ways I know it's Christmas header 061211

If you live in the UK, I suspect that like me, you knew Christmas was ’round the corner’ in August when Tesco started selling mince pies. I put these distressing news at the back of my mind so successfully that now, a mere three weeks before the actual event, I have only bought 2 presents and starting to inwardly tremble.

We all have our treasured routines, our seasonal pleasures, all these little signs along the way that tell us that something exciting is around the corner. And there are the specific things that shout Chriiiiiiistmaaasss! Here are a few of mine:

1. The Radio Times double issue magazine is out and omg is there going to be anything good on telly and then…

2. Dr Whoooooo! My goodness, but I love Dr Who and I cannot wait for the Christmas Special, it sounds like it could be a good one. I love science fiction and fantasy and Dr Who is always so. much. fun. So there, nerdom becomes me and I am not ashamed.

3. Something tasty this way comes: I bought a duck at the weekend, because there’s only the two of us (plus milk-fed baby) on Christmas Day and we’re having turkey on Boxing Day. On an even tastier note, I made chocolate chestnut purée cupcakes at the weekend for Little Girl’s dedication and let me tell you, they were amazing, and perfect if you can’t eat wheat as chestnuts are very starchy and make the perfect replacement for flour. Chestnut purée is so Christmassy. It speaks to me of winter, the warmth of fire and roasted chestnuts in the streets. If you’ve never tried it and you are lucky enough to live in France, you could have a lovely alternative Mousse de Marrons, which can be found in the yoghurt section of most supermarkets. Anyway, the cupcakes were basically chestnut purée, sugar, eggs and ground almonds and I stole the recipe from the BBC Good Food website from which a great deal of good things come. The topping itself I could eat on its own for breakfast.

In which it is painfully obvious I have zero photographic skills