plum brioche with cinnamon crumble topping
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Gloriously buttery brioche base with syrupy plums sitting on it in rows, and all of it smothered in crunchy, melting, cinnamon crumble. Warm or cold, it’s divine.
Brioche is a soft, rich bread bun with sweetness racked up to the cake standards. Or so we think as in reality all those French breakfast confections are not that high in sugar content. But pain au chocolat, croissants, brioche and pain au raisins all LOOK sweet and SMELL sweet so we assume they also taste it. And that’s the case of misleading appearances.
Brioches, pains aux anything and croissants, plus any laminated pastry dough called Danish or Viennoise depending on where you are, contain very little sugar. Brioche dough has some but then so does challah and challah is within the bread not cake realm. Croissants and laminated pastries can be made completely without sugar even though mine do have some only to give the yeast a little encouragement. The sweetness is in the topping or filling: raisins, chocolate, fruit and icing – or all of these at once.
Classic brioche has the prescribed fluted shape from being baked in a dedicated tin, and an odd dough ball on top, the purpose of which is unclear to me. Its crust is more like a skin than bread crust: lustrous, shiny and paper thin; it hides the softest, meltiest, richest and butteriest centre, which obviously doesn’t need extra butter slathered on it for your breakfast but I do it anyway.
This time I’ve risked turning it into a cake, to see if the trace amounts of sugar in the dough amplified by sweet fruit and copious sprinkling of crumble on top would deceive into thinking it’s a cake. And of course it works – the base is soft, tender and pillowy, the first bite is into the crunchy streusel followed by syrupy baked plum so who would notice that the dough isn’t very sweet? It actually needn’t or shouldn’t be sweet to create a non-sickly balance.
A note to the recipe: brioche dough is so rich when freshly kneaded it’s almost liquid. That’s why it needs to chill for an hour or overnight to be manageable. If you desperately need to do the whole thing in one day, allow at least a couple of hours of chilling.
I have based my basic dough recipe on a dive into assorted French brioche recipes with Larousse Cuisine providing the biggest input. Topping a rich yeast dough base with fruit and crumble is more of a German or Austrian thing and that I owe to my grandmother’s delightful Zwetschgenkuchen.
plum brioche with cinnamon crumble toppingServings: 18Time: about 1 hour, plus overnight proving
- 10g (1 tbsp.) fresh or 3 g (1 tsp) instant yeast
- 65g (¼ cup) buttermilk, at room temperature
- 45g (3 tbsp.) caster sugar
- 250g (2 cups) French flour type 55 or strong bread flour
- ½ tsp fine salt
- 2 large eggs
- 115g (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
- 9 large plums
- a handful of raisins (optional)
- For the crumble topping:
- 90g (¾ cup) plain flour
- 50g (½ cup) ground almonds
- 20g (1 heaping tbsp.) rolled oats
- 70g (1/3 cup) dark brown sugar
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon plus more to sprinkle over plums
- 70g (5 tbsp.) cold unsalted butter
1. Stir the fresh yeast into the buttermilk in a large bowl, or the bowl of the standing mixer (it will be a real chore to knead it by hand). Sprinkle a spoonful of sugar and leave to foam up a little, about 30 minutes.
2. Add the remaining sugar, flour, salt and eggs to the bowl and mix with a dough hook attachment for 10 minutes at high speed until the dough gathers into a ball and, ideally, bounces off the walls of the bowl.
3. Turn the speed down to medium and add the butter by a tablespoon, waiting for each one to be absorbed. Scrape the sides of the bowl if necessary. The dough should be smooth, glossy and very sticky. Place it in a lightly oiled bowl in a warm place for 2 hours, till it doubles in volume; then chill it in the fridge overnight.
4. To make the crumble, place all the dry ingredients in a bowl and dice the cold butter into it. Rub the butter into the mix with your fingers (or pulse it in a mixer) until it turns into coarse breadcrumbs. Chill overnight.
5. The next day butter a 20 x 30cm cake tin with removable bottom or an ovenproof dish. Take the dough out of the fridge and gently transfer it to the dish (if you failed to oil the bowl, prise the dough gently off the bowl with a spatula). Try to handle the dough as gently as possible, stretch it roughly over the base of the dish.
6. Halve and stone the plums and arrange them over the brioche; push each half in. Sprinkle the raisins in between the plums, if using. Loosely cover with cling film and leave in a warm place for about 1 hour, until the dough plums up significantly and puffs up in between the plums.
7. Preheat the oven to 180C (no fan)/350F/gas 4.
8. Press the plum halves in if they rise up too much, sprinkle them with cinnamon and sprinkle the cake generously with the crumble topping (straight from fridge). Transfer to the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes, until the brioche has risen evenly, has coloured golden brown and the crumble is crisp.
9. Cool the brioche in the tin on a cake rack for 15 minutes, then remove the sides and let the cake cool down to room temperature. If it is baked in a ceramic dish, leave it in until cooled.