For the typical bread lover, a pain au lait or a slice of brioche can be the ultimate treat. In fact, both are highly loved foods whether it’s for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or dessert! They are extremely versatile and their flaky, buttery goodness is a treat for almost everyone’s tastebud.

Both are so similar that in a lot of cases they are not only used interchangeably, but they are also confused for one another. This means that it can be particularly difficult to favor one over the other, however those differences do still exist. You are probably here to find out what these differences are and whether you should be choosing one over the other.

Well, today I am here to answer just that! Hold tight and in no time you will be one of the few people out there that can give a distinctive description of these globally-loved French treats!

What is Pain au Lait?

First, we should really understand what each bread really is.

Pain au lait – translating to “milk bread” – are delicious, sweet, buttery buns which are not only a perfect treat, but are very popular to have for breakfast. It originated in France and is light, fluffy, and a very popular choice with kids. It is also really easy to make your own pain au lait.

From pain au lait, we have seen many other alternatives arise such as pain au chocolat and pain au raisin.

What is Brioche?

Brioche also originated in France and means “sweet bread”. This is because similarly to pain au lait, brioche is also very light and fluffy and has a very sweet flavor. This means it is also perfect as a treat, but works as a delicious and light breakfast roll.

The dough used for brioche can work well both savory or sweet, making it extremely versatile and popular. It can often be filled with sausages or beef, or alternatively with sweet cream or jam. The light and fluffy texture means it is easy to rip apart and enjoy with a coffee.

Pain au Lait vs Brioche: The Differences

Pain au Lait vs Brioche_Alices Kitchen

It is clear that both are very loved breads, and very versatile. Both are sweet, light, and make a perfect breakfast. However, they are named different and considered different for a couple of reasons and so it is important we investigate these reasons.

Ingredients

The only liquid ingredient in pain au lait is milk, hence the name. However, the main liquid used in brioche can vary depending on the recipe. Sometimes it may be milk, but more likely it will be cream, water, or even brandy. Brioche is also often flavored with additional tastes such as vanilla, lemon or orange .

Regardless of this, they both share flour, eggs, sugar, butter and yeast and so although the liquid may differ, the rest of the recipe is very similar which can contribute to confusion between the two products.

Taste and Texture

Not only are the recipes very similar despite the alteration in liquid choice, the taste and texture of brioche and pain au lait are very similar too.

Both use a large amount of butter, however brioche does trump pain au lait in this. The higher amounts of butter in brioche mean that it is slightly softer and provides a richer, melt-in-the-mouth experience with a slightly fluffier brioche and sweeter sensation.

In contrast to this, the lower concentration of butter used in pain au lait means there is a larger liquid content used. The larger quantities of milk used in pain lait means that it possesses more of a biscuit texture and although it is light and fluffy like brioche, it is not as rich and dense.

Similarities

Whilst they differ slightly in ingredients, meaning that they have variations in their flavor texture, they do hold many similarities and it only seems fair to consider these when comparing the two products.

Classification

Both brioche and pain au lait are considered French breads, however they are both in fact classified as Viennoiserie. Viennoiserie translates into “things of Vienna”. This is because the breads that fall into this category are derived from a style of baking created by August Zang, an entrepreneur from Austria.

All baked goods in this category are made from a very similar list of ingredients. Although the quantities and preparation methods vary, the key characteristics of Viennoiserie breads are always present due to their similarities and so they all have a lot in common.

Preparation

Pain au Lait vs Brioche_Alices Kitchen

Not only are they classified in the same category of baked goods, but brioche and pain au lait are created using extremely similar methods. The methods used for both are very widely known and have had little alterations made to them over the years.

They are made using the “sponge and dough method”. This means that there is a period of fermentation of current ingredients before any additional ones are added. This helps it develop a richer taste and texture, but it is also believed that it can help give the breads a longer shelf life.

Final Thoughts

Although brioche and pain au lait are very similar in their preparation, but also their appearance and purpose, they do have some differences. Both are of similar origin, however the recipe for brioche calls for a lot more butter, meaning it is a richer, more dense bread.

The lack of milk in brioche compared to pain au lait also means that pain au lait has more of a biscuit texture and is slightly crumblier than brioche. It also means pain au lait is slightly sweeter in flavor and so brioche works better with savory foods than pain au lait.

It is possible to make both at home, and both are also available in most grocery stores in the bread section. They both have a very sweet flavor and work well at any time of the day. The sugar used and the fermentation that happens during the preparation process means that both have a slightly longer shelf life than usual bread, and also a sweeter taste.

So, if you are torn between the two, then my suggestion is to opt for brioche if you want savory and something slightly denser, and pain au lait if you are looking for that light, tasty breakfast!

FAQs

Is pain au chocolat a brioche?

Pain au chocolat is very similar to pain au lait, however it contains chocolate and has more of a pastry texture. Pain au chocolat is not a brioche and would be considered more similar to a croissant due to the crumbly pastry it is made with.

What makes a brioche different to most breads?

Brioche differs to most breads due to its high sugar and high butter content. It has a very airy texture and a much sweeter flavor.

How is brioche different?

Brioche is made with a lot more butter than pain au lait and other breads. This means that although it is very rich, it is also very sweet.

Why is brioche bread so expensive?

Brioche bread can be slightly more expensive due to the preparation times, but also the fact that it consists of a lot more butter than other breads and therefore it is simply more expensive to make.