09 February, 2009

Ode to a bread (the continuing saga).

Today it was brioche. Perhaps I should explain. The kids are home from school this week, as it is winter break. For the kids, that is. And "my" baker.

The baker I go to for breads (usually sologno, a delicious, free-form multi-grain, and tradition, a crunchy, old fashioned baguette with a great, hole-y texture) is closed for two entire weeks. He's off to the real sun and sand. For two weeks. After a moment of feeling a bit shocked and abandoned--I mean, he's always open!--I started baking. And baking.

Yesterday it was pains au lait for the children's afternoon snack. And yes, I had some too, but just to keep the kids company, you understand. Pain au lait is essentially a rich, slightly sweetened white bread made with milk, a brioche without the egg. The day before, it was banana clafoutis, which deserves an entry--perhaps even a site--of its own.
Before you write me off as some sort of obscure country culinary diva (see photo above), I want to emphasize that these particular recipes are easy, and definitely a pleasure. Not a realistic weekday project if you have a conventional 9 to 5 job perhaps, but perfect for relaxing and spoiling yourself and anyone else you choose to include on a lazy sunday.

Take the classic brioche. There is something primordial and right about kneading brioche dough. It is so elastic, far better than the play-dough of your childhood--even after you'd warmed it up in your little fist. Brioche dough lives under your hand, it responds and changes, your hands feel their intimate way through the process (does it feel ready yet?). It is redolent of butter, eggs, milk and yeast; the perfume will fully impregnate your hands. It is not messy, the way many doughs can be. And does it ever rise.

Have I tempted you yet? Because the best part--the eating--is still to come: the fine crumb, still meltingly oven-warm; the golden yellow inside, whose hue matches the taste; the thin brown shining crust, that holds it all in.

(adapted off the back of the bag of Francine brand flour)

  • 350g of white flour
  • 175 ml of milk
  • 2 packets of active dry yeast
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 3 Tbsp of sugar
  • 1 egg, plus
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 100g of butter, cut into small pieces and brought to room temperature
Pour the milk, egg and one egg yolk in a saucepan and allow to warm on the stove at the lowest temperature. In the meantime, mix the flour, sugar and salt together in a large bowl. Make a pit in the center and add the two packets of yeast. Once the milk and eggs are lukewarm, pour slowly into the bowl while stirring to combine. Add the butter and stir for about 5 minutes, so that it combines. Flouring your hands, further knead by hand for a few minutes until all ingredients seem well-incorporated, and the dough is supple and fairly smooth; this is the only slightly messy bit. Cover and allow to rest 15 minutes. While the dough is resting and you are tidying up, preheat the oven at its lowest possible temperature for 5 minutes then turn off, keeping door closed.

On a clean, floured counter, make a ball with the dough, and knead it for a few minutes. Finding your own rhythm, press into it with the heel of your hand, then turn the dough slightly and repeat. If you have a brioche-type mold (see my mold in the photo above), butter it and place the smooth ball in to rest. If not, divide the ball into four even, smaller balls, and place side by side in a medium to large sized, buttered loaf pan. Either way, cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel and place in the preheated oven (which is now off), close the door and let it rest one and a half hours.

Putter around the house. Dig out an old CD or two. Call a friend you haven't heard from in too long. Write me a comment.

After it has rested, remove the now-swollen brioche, and preheat the oven 180 degrees celcius (or 350 fahrenheit). In the meantime, gently, gently paint the crust with the remaining yolk. Once the oven is ready, pop in the pale brioche and allow it to bake 25 minutes (well, that is what the flour company recommends, my oven needs 35 minutes or so) or until the crust is nicely browned.

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