Pain au Lait vs Brioche: French Bread Face-Off

Pain au Lait vs Brioche

For pastry and bread lovers the world over, both pain au lait and brioche are perennial favorites.

What’s so divine about them, aside from their flaky goodness, is the versatility that they share. Both are fantastic to enjoy at almost any time of day or for any reason.

Whether it’s a formal brunch or just a delightful breakfast or afternoon treat, there’s no doubt that either of these scrumptious baked goods will satisfy the most discerning of palates.

The simple fact that they can so often be used interchangeably leads many to conclude that they’re the same thing, but that’s not quite true.

While there are some differences, they are quite subtle and, for many of us, not enough of a reason to necessarily favor one over the other.

However, the reason you’re probably here to is find out what those differences are and we aim to please so we’ll cover all of them for you.

With that, the main difference between pain au lait and brioche is the ingredients used in each. The ingredients they share are flour, eggs, sugar, butter, yeast, liquid (milk, cream, water) and salt. However, pain au lait only uses milk as the liquid ingredient, whereas brioche might contain milk, cream, water or occasionally brandy as its liquid ingredient.

Besides the ingredient differences, there are some others between these two beloved French creations and so, if your taste buds are ready, so are ours!

Origin Differences

The brioche hails from the country of France.

Although the exact date of its creation is not known, food historians speculate that its likely to have appeared in the early 14th century. While its origins are unclear, what is known is the history of the term “brioche”. The word loosely translates from tool called a “brie” which was used to knead dough.

Like so many other French staples, such as the croissant, brioche has proven its staying power over the centuries. The main reason for this is the versatility of it. From breakfast to lunch or dinner and everything in between, brioche has a place. Part of the reason for this is that the dough can be used with both savory or sweet recipes.

Common ingredients for savory brioche recipes include sausage or beef. In terms of sweet recipes, brioche is often served filled, usually with jelly, jam, or sweet cream.

The closest known first mention of pain au lait was in a recipe for yeasted milk dough in the 7th edition of Gastronomie pratique.

Later, in 1933, a recipe for small Viennese loaves appeared in La boulangerie d’aujourd’hui. From there, additional versions of this early creation appeared, most notably the ever popular pain au chocolat. In this delectable delight, the dough enclosed baker’s chocolate and made for a sweet treat that is beloved the world over to this day.

Brioche Pain au Lait
Origin: France First mention: 7th edition of Gastronomie pratique
Creation date: Early 14th century (speculated) 1933: recipe for small Viennese loaves appeared in La boulangerie d’aujourd’hui
Versatility: Can be used for breakfast, lunch, dinner and everything in between Variations: Pain au chocolat
Savory ingredients: Sausage or beef Sweet ingredients: jelly, jam, sweet cream
Name origin: Loosely translates from tool called a “brie” which was used to knead dough

Taste and Texture Differences

Even though the ingredients that pain au lait and brioche share are quite similar, there are some differences between them as it relates to taste and texture.

Thanks to the higher amounts of butter used in brioche relative to pain au lait, brioche is soft with a tender crumb. On the tongue, this translates into a rich experience that often contains notes of sweetness as well.

Pain au lait on the other hand, lacks the higher concentrations of butter used in brioche and also places much more emphasis on the liquid portion in terms of milk.

The result?

For most, pain au lait is more likely to possess the texture of a biscuit than the richness of brioche. It’s light and tender like brioche, but definitely not as rich.

Brioche Pain au Lait
Ingredient: Higher amounts of butter Ingredient: Less butter, more milk
Texture: Soft with a tender crumb Texture: Light and tender, not as rich as brioche
Taste: Rich experience with notes of sweetness Taste: Light and tender, not as rich as brioche

Similarities Between Pain Au Lait and Brioche

Ingredient differences aside, this article would be incomplete without pointing out some characteristics that pain au lait and brioche share with each other, most notably how they are classified and how they are prepared.


Along with many other types of baked goods, including croissants, both pain au lait and brioche are classified as Viennoiserie. Viennoiserie literally translated from French means “things of Vienna”.

This classification speaks to Austria, which is the country of origin. A man named August Zang was an Austrian entrepreneur that’s widely credited with popularizing this style or method of baking.

The key distinction is that these baked goods share key ingredients among them, including yeast leavened dough, butter, sugar, salt, milk or cream and eggs. While the amounts, ratios and preparation methods vary between many of them, sharing these key characteristics is what they have in common.


Both brioche and pain au lait trace their histories a long way back and because of this, the methods used to make them were fairly simple and have changed little over the years.

Mostly, the dough for them is made with what’s called the sponge and dough method. This is a fairly straightforward approach that involves a period of fermentation prior to the addition of any final ingredients.

It’s thought that this method results in a finished product with has a higher taste quality and, perhaps more importantly, a long shelf life.

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