Craquelin is a type of bread, quite similar to brioche and often using the same basic recipe as brioche, which typically includes sugar cubes within it. This type of bread can be baked as large loaves or made in individual cups, such as those used for cupcakes and popovers. Sugar cubes are placed within the bread dough prior to baking, and these cubes are often flavored with lemon zest, lemon juice, or alcohol such as orange or coffee liquor. Craquelin is a Belgian bread typically served as a midday treat or dessert, due to its rich flavor and sweetness.
The basic dough used in making craquelin is essentially brioche dough, which lends terrific flavor and texture to the finished bread. Brioche is often noted for its light sweetness and noticeable flavor of eggs and butter. The baked bread often takes on a yellow coloration that enhances the sense of eggs and butter tasted in the bread itself; this coloration is due to the large amount of butter used. What sets craquelin apart from other brioche breads are the sugar cubes placed in the bread prior to baking.
These sugar cubes are often treated with other flavors before they are used in the craquelin dough. The sugar cubes are not necessarily left whole before baking; they can be cut in half or crushed lightly, and are often mixed with lemon zest for enhanced flavor. Some recipes even call for lemon juice to be sprinkled over the sugar cubes, or for a baker to briefly soak the sugar cubes in citrus or coffee-flavored liquor before using them in the craquelin. Other flavors can be added as well, and personal preference can dictate experimentation with ingredients such as vanilla and almond extract.
Once the sugar cubes are properly treated, they are typically wrapped in small amounts of the brioche dough. Individual cubes can be selected, or several pieces can be wrapped together in a thin pouch of the dough. This prevents the sugar from leaking out into the rest of the bread as it is baking.
The wrapped sugar cubes are then placed in the rest of the dough, or are placed in individual balls of dough, which are baked in cups like those used in making cupcakes. As the craquelin bakes, the sugar cubes melt and enhance the flavor of the surrounding bread. Since they are in the small pockets of dough, however, the sugar re-crystallizes as the bread cools and creates pockets of crispy sweetness.