It wasn't cake that Marie Antoinette wanted to feed to the masses. Her instructions were actually, "Let them eat brioche." Brioche is certainly as rich and buttery as cake, but that's where the similarities end.
Brioche is definitely more of a bread than it is a cake. For one thing, it's yeast-risen and has a chewy, bread-like interior. It's also far less sweet. Brioche gets a few tablespoons of sugar, but the focus is more on enriching the dough with eggs and butter. Lots of eggs and butter.
The result is a bread that is not exactly sweet and not exactly savory, which makes brioche a fantastic bread for any meal of the day. Smeared with jam or sliced into French toast, it's breakfast. Split open and stuffed with sandwich meat and cheese, it's lunch. Served as small rolls alongside a braise or soup, it's dinner. Brioche doesn't make a bad midnight snack, either!
Brioche can be a bit tricky to make at home, at least without a standing mixer. In culinary school, we were taught how to make it by hand - working the butter into the wet dough by smearing them together against the counter and then getting it to form into a cohesive ball by repeatedly throwing it down on the workspace. Trust me, it's much easier to make in the standing mixer.
Traditionally, brioche is formed into loaf-sized or smaller dinner roll-sized "brioche à tête" ("tête" translates as "head" - perhaps in honor of Marie Antoinette?!). These are large balls of dough with a small round knot positioned on top. But certainly there's no rule that says you can't make brioche as a regular sandwich loaf or round sandwich buns.
Curious to try it at home? Take a look at these recipes:
What do you like to do with brioche?