Bringing authentic French brioche to America

by Laurie Gorton
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Brioche Tressee, sliced brioche loaf, fits the need for sandwiches of all sorts

RICHMOND, CALIF. — Could brioche be the next pastry trend adopted by Americans?

Sometime this summer, Jean-Yves Charon, Paul Levitan and Pascal Pasquier will make a decision that could change America’s morning pastry preferences and afternoon snacking choices. The executives of Galaxy Desserts, Richmond, and Brioche Pasquier, Les Cerqueux, France, already started the ball rolling with the introduction of four authentic French brioche items in Northern California and the Northwest.

“We believe the U.S. is ready for brioche,” said Mr. Levitan, Galaxy’s president and chief executive officer. “There’s large growth potential since brioche is already being used by high-end restaurants and is now going mainstream in the quick-service segment. All this makes the case for brioche being on trend.”

Mr. Charon, Galaxy’s founder and pastry chef, said the market is also ready for truly authentic French-style brioche, especially the styles that turned Pasquier into Europe’s leading producer. Galaxy Desserts joined the Brioche Pasquier “family of bakers” in 2012, with both companies investing in each other.

“Food trends change,” Mr. Charon said. “It was the croissant in 1984, then muffins, then bagels. Now, the world is ready for brioche.”

Galaxy launched brioche in May 2013 in Northern California, its home territory.

“We are earning close to 100% acceptance from our retail customers when we offer them the brioche line,” said Avi Hangad-O’Shaughnessy, Galaxy’s marketing manager. At present, the company imports four brioche styles from Pasquier facilities in France. Two of the four feature chocolate in the form of chips or smooth fillings.

Pain au Lait, which are French sweet milk brioche rolls, suits use as dinner rolls, hot dog buns, slider rolls and so forth. Two styles of Pitch, the company’s branded brioche rolls filled with chocolate or chocolate chips, make tasty treats for after school, sporting events or any other snacking occasion. Brioche Tressee, sliced brioche loaf, fits the need for sandwiches of all sorts, especially croquet monsieur, the French version of a grilled cheese sandwich.

“We have to learn exactly what the American consumer wants,” Mr. Charon explained. “Chocolate in bread is new here. But in a way, this is much the same as when we launched our chocolate croissant, and we now sell more of those than the plain ones.”

If all goes according to plan — and the plan is going well — Galaxy Desserts will double the size of its Richmond facility to install a large new line the likes of which American bakers have never seen before. Mr. Levitan revealed that executives have already committed to saying “yes” on making brioche at this location; it’s now a matter of deciding when to start.

What gives brioche, a rich egg-and-butter-laden French specialty bread, so much potential?

“We see brioche as a harbinger of change in the American bakery market,” Ms. Hangad-O’Shaughnessy said.

First finding a home in high-end restaurants serving pricy Wagyu beef burgers on brioche buns, this variety is going mainstream, moving into quick-service restaurant chains such as Wendy’s and IHOP.

“They see the trend,” Ms. Hangad-O’Shaughnessy said.

So, why Pasquier-style brioche? Mr. Charon explained, “There’s brioche, and there’s real brioche. In many ways, the brioche today is like the croissant in 1984. There are a lot of people making it, but remember, it took 30 years to get a quality croissant into the mass market.

“What Gabriel Pasquier’s sons did 40 years ago was to change brioche from a Sunday-only purchase by making it affordable as an everyday item. We can do that in the U.S.”

And this brioche is the genuine article, the real deal.

“American consumers want authenticity,” Mr. Charon said. “It’s different from what has been available in the U.S. until now.”

How authentic is Pasquier brioche? The levain used at all of its 17 bakeries in France, Spain, Germany, Belgium, South Korea and England remains the same as the original 1936 starter. The process, although highly automated, requires nearly the same six hours of the original manual method, which demonstrates how grounded the company is, observed Mr. Charon.

As of early May, consumers in Northern California and the Pacific Northwest could find Brioche Pasquier products in 30-plus markets and more than 170 stores of larger regional chains, Ms. Hangad-O’Shaughnessy said. She said one chain now stocks it in nine states, and the company recently added 80 independent stores throughout these regions.

A new variety — sliced brioche loaf with chocolate chips — was introduced at the I.D.D.B.A. show in early June this year.
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