A Brioche Tart So Good, It Made Julia Child Cry

Sep 30, 2018

It's good to be a Food Guy, especially when you're Jon Jackson showing up in the kitchen of fellow Food Guy, Greg Patent. As Jon puts it:  "Quite often, he has something on hand he wants me to try." Recently, that something was Nancy Silverton's brioche tart with white secret sauce.

Guest baker Nancy Silverton made this magnum opus of a dessert on an episode of Julia Child's TV series, "Baking With Julia." In the second video below, you can watch Julia take a bite, tear up, and exclaim that it's the most delicious dessert she's ever eaten. 

This tart illustrates the notion that good things come to those who wait; it consists of four parts, and requires at least two days to prepare. The first step is making a brioche dough and refrigerating it overnight. The next day, the brioche is shaped into a flan ring, filled with a crème fraiche-egg-sugar custard, and baked.  The "secret" sauce follows; it's a caramel-wine sauce of sugar, water, cream, vanilla beans and dry white wine. The third step is a sabayon of egg yolks and sugar, beaten into a froth with hot white wine. Last is the garnish of seasonal or dried fruit, poached in some of the wine-caramel syrup. When assembled and topped with toasted almonds and confectioner's sugar, the combined brioche, custard, sauce and fruit garnish have the power to delight Food Guys, Julia Child, and your lucky guests.

We'll start with Greg Patent's step-by-step instructions for creating brioche dough. Nancy Silverton's brioche tart recipe follows. 


The hallmarks of brioche are a light texture with a fine crumb and a buttery, eggy flavor. The very idea that a bread rich with the heaviness of eggs and butter can at the same time boast a feathery lightness of texture has always seemed oxymoronic to me. But that is exactly what distinguishes a fine brioche.

The beauty of the dough is that it has so many uses besides being shaped into classic rolls with topknots. Once you’ve mastered the technique of making brioche, you can substitute it for more traditional doughs and achieve sublime results in all sorts of recipes.

Brioche must be made at least a day ahead because it needs to be cold when shaped. It will keep well in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days.

I always make brioche with my heavy-duty KitchenAid mixer. The flat beater is ideal for the initial beating of the dough, and the dough hook completes the kneading of the soft and slightly sticky mass in just a few minutes. If you don’t have this kind of mixer, I’ve given instructions for making the dough by hand. For best results, do not double the recipe. If you want to make a lot of brioche, repeat the instructions.

For maximum flavor and texture, the dough is made in stages: a sponge and final dough. Each requires a few hours of rising, but with no attention on your part. Just plan your time around the whole process. You are about to embark on a baking adventure.

I’ve developed and tweaked the brioche dough recipe over a period of years.

Brioche Sponge:

1 package (2 ¼ teaspoons) active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
2 ¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour (scoop measuring cups into container, fill to overflowing, and sweep off excess)
1/3 cup warm whole milk (100 to 110 degrees)
2 large eggs, at room temperature

Final Dough:

½ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon ground mace
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces, very soft
½ cup flour, plus more as needed

For the sponge, combine the yeast, milk and 1 tablespoon sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer or large mixing bowl. Let stand 5 minutes for the yeast to soften. Stir in the ¾ cup flour with a wooden spoon to make a firm, sticky lump of dough.

If using a stand mixer, add the 2 eggs to the bowl and beat them in with the paddle attachment on medium speed until the batter is smooth. If making by hand, use a sturdy wire whisk or wooden spoon and beat until the mixture is smooth.

Scrape the bowl and beater, and sprinkle the remaining 2 cups flour over the batter. Do not mix the flour in. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and set it aside at room temperature for about 3 hours, until the yeast mixture bubbles up and almost completely engulfs the flour.

For the final dough, add the ½ cup sugar, mace, salt, and remaining 2 eggs to the sponge.

If using a stand mixer, beat with the paddle attachment on low speed for about 1 minute just to combine all the ingredients.

Increase the speed to medium and beat for 1 1/2 minutes.

If making the dough by hand, beat well with a wooden spoon until smooth.

Add the butter one piece at a time, beating on low speed or with the wooden spoon until each piece is incorporated (15 to 20 seconds if using a mixer). Scrape the bowl and beater, then beat for 2 minutes more on medium speed or for 5 minutes by hand.

If using a mixer, attach the dough hook. Add the ½ cup flour and knead it in thoroughly on low speed. Then knead on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes. This very soft, sticky dough, will ball up on the hook and slap around the side of the bowl. Scrape the dough off the hook and scrape down the side of the bowl. Sprinkle the top of the dough with 2 to 3 tablespoons flour to prevent a crust from forming. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap.

To finish the dough by hand, stir in the ½ cup flour, then beat with a wooden spoon for at least 5 minutes. Scrape the bowl and sprinkle the top of the dough with 2 to 3 tablespoons flour.

Let rise at room temperature until tripled in volume, 5 to 6 hours.

Refrigerate the risen dough-don’t deflate-for 1 to 2 hours.

Now you must exercise care in handling the dough. Carefully dislodge the dough from the bowl with a large plastic scraper, and place the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Gently pat the dough into a rectangle measuring about 8 by 12 inches. What you are doing is redistributing the yeast cells, and it must be done with care or the texture of the brioche will suffer. Fold the dough in thirds, like a business letter, enclose it tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate it overnight. The dough will then be ready to use for the tart.



For the Tart:

1/2 recipe brioche dough, chilled
1 cup crème fraiche or sour cream
1 large egg
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg white, beaten
Crystal sugar
For the Sauce:

1 1/2 cups sugar
2 vanilla beans
1/3 cup water
2 1/4 cups dry white wine
4 large egg yolks
1 cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks
For the Garnish:

Assorted firm fruits, such as apricots, peaches, nectarines, and plums
Assorted dried fruits, such as raisins, prunes, apricots, and peaches
Almonds, toasted and chopped
Confectioner's sugar    Serves 8 to 10

Line a baking sheet with parchment and butter a 10-inch flan ring. Work dough into a ball, flatten to a 5-inch disk, and on a floured surface roll into 12-inch circle. Center flan ring on dough and press to make a crimping guide. Place ring on lined baking sheet. Crimp edge by pinching dough between fingers, twisting slightly to make a diagonal crimp. Let dough fall about 1/4 inch inside guideline. Lift dough up and into the ring. Working around the edge, firmly press down the base of the dough while lifting the edge. Let rise, uncovered until doubled. Center rack in oven and preheat to 275°F.

Whisk crème fraiche and egg together. Press fingertips deeply into dough on bottom of pan to make dimples. Spread crème fraiche mixture over bottom of tart. Sprinkle sugar over crème fraiche. Brush edge of tart with beaten egg white and sprinkle with crystal sugar. Bake 40 minutes, until crust is golden and custard is almost set. Transfer to a cooling rack. After a few minutes, slide a cardboard cake round under the tart and lift off the flan ring.

To make caramel syrup, put sugar in a heavy saucepan. Split vanilla beans, scrape seeds into pan, and add pods. Pour in water to cover, and bring to a boil. Wash down sides of pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water. As soon as the sugar is a deep gold, immediately remove pan from heat and add wine. It will sizzle, seize and harden. Return pan to heat and bring syrup to a boil. Pour 1 1/2 cups syrup through a strainer into a heatproof measuring cup. (Reserve remaining syrup for fruit garnish.) Put yolks into a mixer bowl and, whisking constantly, drizzle in hot syrup. Put bowl over a saucepan of boiling water and whisk constantly for 5 minutes. Attach the bowl to the mixer and whip on medium-low for 15 minutes, until cool, pale, and tripled in volume. Fold in whipped cream.

To garnish, dice dried fruit, soak in hot water for several minutes, drain, and pat dry; or slice fresh fruit. Bring reserved caramel-wine syrup to a boil. Add fruit. Swirl pan and stir until fruit is softened. To serve, place a slice of tart on each plate. Spoon on some sauce and caramel-poached fruit, and decorate with nuts and a dusting of confectioner's sugar. 

(Broadcast: "The Food Guys," 9/30/18. Listen weekly on the radio at 11:50 a.m. Sundays, or via podcast.)