Baking School Day 13: Rich Yeast Breads & Sweet Breads

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Lindsay Ribe)

The Kitchn’s Baking School Day 13: All about rich yeast breads and sweet breads.
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Buttery brioche, mouth-watering cinnamon buns, and pillowy-soft challah — rich yeasted breads are what Sunday brunches and lazy mornings were made for. As opposed to lean doughs (like sandwich bread), rich doughs contain much higher amounts of sugar, eggs, and dairy. The result is soft, decadent bread that is excellent alongside your morning coffee, essential for making the most desirable French toast, and perfectly paired with savory meats and cheeses.

(Image credit: Lindsay Ribe)

The Difference Between Rich and Lean Doughs

Rich doughs, like lean doughs, start out with the usual suspects — flour, water, and yeast — but these breads also have sugar, eggs, salt, fat, and/or dairy.

Although it usually contains a slightly higher percentage of sugar, rich dough is not necessarily sweet on its own (think: fluffy dinner rolls). Breads made with rich doughs tend to have a softer crust and less chewy crumb, and are more flavorful in general.

Cinnamon roll dough, enriched with dairy and eggs. (Image credit: Melissa Ryan)

The Nitty-Gritty of Yeast Fermentation in Richer Doughs

As we learned earlier this week, yeast fermentation is affected by a lot of different factors. In addition to temperature, some ingredients slow or speed up the rise of the dough.

Here are three reasons rich dough may take longer to ferment and rise.

  1. Sugar: Whereas lean doughs only have at most 5 percent sugar, rich doughs can have up to 10 percent. The hydroscopic nature of sugar makes it attract moisture, which makes it harder for the yeast to hydrate. This fight for moisture increases the time it takes for rich doughs with higher percentages of sugar to rise.
  2. Salt: Salt is important for developing flavor, despite its potential to kill off yeast when in direct contact. It helps strengthen the gluten and regulates the yeast’s activity, making sure it does not go overboard and expand uncontrollably. Too much salt, however, will slow down fermentation.
  3. Fat: The extra fat (butter, oil, and eggs) that makes rich dough, well, rich, also slows down fermentation.

However, the slower rise allows the flavors to develop and soft, supple texture to build. So while it might take longer, a slow rise is not necessarily a bad thing.

Remember this: Richer doughs may take longer to rise because they have more sugar, salt, and fat.

Common Recipes that Create Rich Dough

Adding in different amounts and ingredients, like eggs and butter, can turn rich dough into a variety of breads: Add oil and you’ve got challah; add butter and swap the water for milk, and you are on your way to glorious brioche; add a touch more sugar and a sweet filling or glaze and you’ve got sticky buns or sugary breakfast rolls. Sometimes using the same base dough and simply filling or shaping it differently can result in an entirely different product.

Let’s take a closer look at the common rich doughs out there.


While not necessary difficult to make, brioche does require time and commitment. The buttery, versatile dough can be baked (or fried!) into a multitude of savory breads and sweet treats. Brioche is rich with eggs and butter — as opposed to its lighter, dairy-free cousin, challah.

Brioche is great for making sandwiches and French toast. It is commonly baked in individual fluted tins with it signature knot on top, or brioche à tête. Brioche buns may be stuffed with savory meats and cheeses as well.

Using brioche dough, you can make loaves, bagels, doughnuts, pretzels, sweet buns, and more!


Beautifully braided into a loaf or round, this enriched yeast bread is slightly sweet and is rich with eggs and oil. Challah is traditionally made to celebrate Jewish holidays, but can be enjoyed any time of year. It is similar to brioche, but it is not quite as rich, as it’s made with water and oil instead of dairy.

Leftover slices make fantastic French toast and decadent bread pudding.

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How To Make Challah Bread

Cinnamon Rolls

The sweet, rich dough responsible for most dessert-like and filled sweet breads is used to make this quintessential breakfast treat. Cinnamon rolls are made up of flattened rich dough that has been spread with cinnamon and sugar, then rolled and sliced into glorious swirls of buttery pastry and gooey filling.

Besides cinnamon, as the name dictates, changing up the filling with the same sweet dough (think: lemon or other spices, like cardamon or ginger) creates a variety of breakfast buns. Finish them off with a simple sugar glaze or cream cheese frosting!

Sticky Buns

Similar to cinnamon rolls, these sugary-sweet treats are typically covered and filled with pecans. Fill the wells of a muffin tin with the caramel-pecan topping before placing in a cinnamon-pecan bun (swirl-side up), baking, and inverting for individual treats. Alternatively, you can bake them all together.

Monkey Bread

Using a sweet dough equivalent to that of cinnamon rolls, 1-ounce portioned pieces of dough can come together to make monkey bread. Dunk the pieces of sweet dough in a sugary syrup before piling them all in a bundt pan. After it is done baking, the little puffs of dough become one sugary, sticky treat for all to share. Pull off the puffs and enjoy!

Pull-Apart Bread

Speaking of pulling off pieces of dough, pull-apart bread is similar to monkey bread, just in a different shape. Instead of balls of dough, folded rectangles are stacked horizontally and baked in a bundt pan with a sugary glaze. Alternatively, slip pieces of cheese and/or meat between the layers for a savory version.

Kugelhopf or Yeasted Coffee Cake

Looking like a bundt cake, this yeasted sweet bread is like a chewy, almost doughnut-like pastry. You may find it studded with dried fruit and raisins, baked into individual breakfast buns, and even swirled with chocolate. Soaked in butter and sprinkled with sugar, kugelhopf is a tempting treat from morning until night.

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How To Make Kugelhopf Breakfast Rolls

Dinner Rolls

While not particularly sweet, dinner rolls take on more qualities of a rich, sweet dough rather than a lean dough. With their soft crusts and fluffy centers, a basket of tender dinner rolls is great for making mini sandwiches, sopping up soup and sauces, and just topping with a pat of good-quality butter.

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Lessons in Shaping Rich Breads

As you’ve started to notice, the shape and filling make all the difference between different breads and pastries made with rich dough. In fact, sometimes the dough itself in interchangeable; it’s the filling and how you shape the dough that turns lemony morning buns into a cinnamon bread wreath!

Like other lean and artisan bread doughs, be sure to let the dough rest after it rises. This rest will relax the gluten so the dough is easier to shape and roll out.


To make a classic dinner roll or brioche buns, portion the dough and pull them into plump bulbs of dough. Tuck under the ends and rotate the balls of dough between the palms of your hands on a lightly floured work bench to tighten and smooth out the skin.

Rolling up cinnamon rolls. (Image credit: Melissa Ryan)


When making cinnamon rolls, sticky buns, or any other filled morning bun, punch down the risen dough and roll into a rectangle. Spread on your filling of choice within a 1-inch border and roll, starting on the long side, into a log with your fingertips. Seal the log closed and keep the seam-side down as you slice it into pieces. Try tying a piece of dental floss around the dough and pulling tight to cut it into clean, even pieces!

Be sure not to overstuff your baking dish with buns, since they will continue to rise!


To make an impressive wreath of dessert buns, begin the same preparation as regular cinnamon rolls, except do not cut the log of filled dough. Instead, shape the uncut log into a ring, proof, then slice, starting form the outside of the ring, but not all the way through! Rotate the cut pieces to show off their fillings and form a wreath!

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How To Make a Cinnamon Roll Wreath

(Image credit: Faith Durand)


Believe it or not, there are multiple ways you can braid bread. Using the same process as making cinnamon rolls (see “spirals” above), instead of cutting the log of filled dough into pieces, carefully cut the length of it in half, leaving an inch or so still together at one end. Turn the cut sides 90 degrees so they are facing up. Starting at the uncut end, carefully twist the ropes of filled dough together. Bake in a loaf pan to expose of the layers of rich dough and filling, or shape into an ultra-festive wreath!

For a non-filled braided bread, like challah, divide the dough into three or six equal pieces and roll into long ropes. To braid, gather the ends of the ropes and pinch them together at the top. Separate the ropes and begin braiding under and over each other for the entire length of the dough. Tuck the ends in and either shape into a wreath (braiding the ends together if you are feeling up for it) or plump up the ropes and bake as a loaf.


To make a bread knot, in its simplest form, roll out portioned dough into little ropes and simply tie into a knot. Coat in garlic-herb oil for a savory bite!

For more ornate knots using cinnamon roll dough and filling, first roll the dough out to a rectangle and cover with the filing. Fold the dough into thirds (like a business letter), roll out again, then cut into long strips. Twist each strip, then wrap and coil it around itself to create a knot.

Remember that after the dough has been shaped, another rise is usually required before heading into the oven!

Washes and Glazes

Before being baked, many rich doughs are brushed with egg, water, milk, or a combination to create glossy, golden crusts.

An egg yolk wash will give finished breads a deep, golden color and soft crust, like with brioche. Mixed with a bit of cream, the finished bread will be rich in color with a beautiful sheen. An egg white wash will create a shiny finish, like with challah. Alternatively, a milk wash typically yields a dull, but soft crust.

(Image credit: Lindsay Ribe)

Every lesson has three homework options. Maybe you’ve already got one down, or you just have time for a quick study session. So pick one, and show us by tagging it with #kitchnbakingschool on Instagram or Twitter.

(Image credit: Lindsay Ribe)

Find a delicious-looking rich yeast bread or sweet bread on Pinterest
and share it with us in the comments.

(Image credit: Lindsay Ribe)

Buy a brioche roll and a dinner roll; compare appearance, taste, and texture.

(Image credit: Lindsay Ribe)

Make a challah loaf or pull-apart cinnamon roll wreath.

(Image credit: Melissa Ryan)

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