Pastries were a daily habit when I lived in Paris. The first floor of my apartment building in the 15th arrondissement was occupied by one of those nameless, nondescript bakeries that are in every neighborhood in the city. The stairwell smelled constantly and deliciously of baguettes and croissants, and in a picture-perfect display of unexpected Parisian welcome, the baker carried my bags up the five flights of stairs to my studio on my first day living there. More importantly, though, he introduced me to my new obsession: the brioche suisse.
I ordered it before I knew what it was called, after first verifying that the brown bits spilling from the sides of the flattish pastry were in fact chocolate chips and not raisins, and that the cream-colored filling was indeed cream and not cheese. “That one, there,” I said, figuring it would be as good a breakfast as any of the other raisin-free items in the case. At first bite, though, I realized I would need to know its name so I could order it in all of the bakeries in all of the neighborhoods in France. “Brioche suisse,” my baker told me – a name that rolls off the tongue more easily than “croissant” or “pain au chocolat” or “kouign-amman,” and all the more reason for me to order une, deux, even trois brioches suisses at any boulangerie or patisserie that sold them.
For the uninitiated, a brioche suisse is a particularly delightful viennoiserie consisting of brioche dough or croissant dough rolled out and then folded around vanilla pastry cream and chocolate chips. The chocolate is more evenly distributed than in pain au chocolat, and the pastry cream is less overwhelming than, say, the filling in a Danish. While brioche is delicious on its own, chocolate makes it better. (Chocolate makes most things better.) It’s perfect for breakfast, dessert, or midday goûter. So why, you may now find yourself asking, is this the first time you’re reading about it?
When I came back to New York from Paris, I managed to break my daily pastry habit, but I never stopped missing morning brioches suisses. I googled variations of “brioche suisse New York” regularly in the hopes of finding it listed on a menu at one of New York’s many bakeries and pastry shops. When little came up, I looked for brioche suisse recipes to confirm it was indeed what this perfect pastry was called. My Parisian baker wasn’t wrong, but New York was – they were absent from almost all of the city’s pastry, bakery, and café menus.
In 2011, during one of my menu-reading sessions, I was overjoyed to see brioche suisse listed on the website for the newly opened Epicerie Boulud. I trekked to midtown with the express purpose of getting one for myself. When I arrived at the Lincoln Center location, I didn’t see them out amid the croissants, danishes and other viennoiseries. Were they sold out for the day? Or perhaps waiting to come out of the oven in the back? The woman at the counter pointed me to a muffin-sized brioche, dotted with pearled sugar and pink candies. It wasn’t remotely what I wanted, and I walked out with nothing.
Later, on a separate internet deep-dive, I discovered that “Brioche Suisse” was also listed on the menu at Colson Patisserie, a Park Slope café not too far from my own Brooklyn address. Skeptical of what that meant to the pastry chefs of New York, I tried my luck there. Somehow, they were sold out every time I stopped by.
I was finally reunited with the most delightful of pastries a few months ago at Colson’s second Brooklyn location in Industry City. Their croissant-dough brioche suisse, which is sometimes also called a pain suisse or chocolatine, successfully filled the rectangle-sized hole in my stomach. But why did it have to take so long? Are Americans just not interested in the delicious combination of dough, pastry cream, and chocolate?
Yonatan Israel, owner of Colson Patisserie, says Colson’s customers tend to be confused by the brioche suisse—they find the visible pastry cream unsettling or assume that there is Swiss cheese involved (which, I agree, would be gross). And Colson’s wholesale partners generally aren’t interested in selling a pastry that needs to be explained, so Colson doesn’t make as many brioches suisses as they do the more basic viennoiserie.
Thankfully, though, Israel considers the brioche suisse, along with the related escargot-shaped pain aux raisins, a part of the classic French pastry canon, and as a classic French patisserie, Colson will continue to make them, even if it’s just for the few customers who understand and appreciate them. He also pointed out that Levain Bakery makes a brioche suisse with brioche dough, billed as a chocolate-chip brioche. This explains why it never came up when I searched, but not why it’s not even half as popular as Levain’s cookies.
So now, in this temple to all things breakfast, I’m asking the bakers and pastry chefs of New York and across the States: Introduce the brioche suisse to the pastry-loving masses. This is something we need—need like we need more kouign-ammans (a discussion for another day). I’m not asking for a Cronut-level craze, only that the brioche suisse reclaim its rightful place among the rest of the viennoiserie—here, in America, where I can eat them.