the luxury of bread

I grew up in a family that takes bread very seriously. I was taught that bread should come from a bakery preferably over a grocery store and - during the fad of bread makers in the 1990s - from home. My family does not include any expert bread makers, but it does have many expert bread eaters. Case in point: after spending a few months in rehab for a hip infection, the first thing my grandfather did upon leaving was drive to Bagel Plus for onion buns and Bagel World for poppy seed bagels. I trust that he bought some pumpernickel somewhere along the way.

I grew up eating whole wheat and dark breads. My mother - an avid runner and healthy eater - taught me that white bread is simply not bread. She often bought whole wheat or seven grain brain. This idea I completely absorbed during my childhood and whenever I went to a diner for breakfast my answer to "white toast or brown" was already determined. My father, who lived in another city, also never was a white bread eater. To this day, the only bread that I have ever seen him buy is rye.

And then like all good parental intentions often do, my whole wheat, dark bread eating hit an obstacle. This obstacle is called France. I moved there when I was 18 to become an au pair. I moved to France because of how seductive French culture - and the myth of French culture - are. I moved there because of the language and because of the food. I moved there because of the cheese, the outdoor markets, the wine and the pastries. Well, white bread became a highlight of my new French life and brioche became a new everyday (well, not quite everyday, but a regular) luxury.

Like most good French recipes, brioche has a lot of butter. Fat is what makes things taste good and butter is what makes this bread so luxurious. Of course, France did not completely cancel out my whole wheat and dark bread upbringing. Most of the time I eat only dark breads (and I am lucky enough to have a roommate who is excellent at baking bread as I am still learning), but every once and a while brioche is the perfect luxury. There is much debate about Marie Antoinette's infamous "Let them eat cake!" quote and whether it referred to a bread shortage in Paris when she was married to Louis XVI, or if she actually first said this years before at the age of ten. Either way, the English translation has done us a disservice as the French is "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche!" Brioche might not be cake, but it is still extremely luxurious.


from la tartine gourmande


1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
78 grams (2 3/4 oz) butter, room temperature
2 organic eggs, room temperature
1 tbsp dry baker's yeast
2 tbsp sugar
1/3 cup warm milk
a pinch of sea salt

1 egg yolk, for glaze
1 tsp sugar, for glaze

In a medium to large mixing bowl, mix together the flour and baker's yeast. Make a hole in the middle of the mixture and add the warm milk. Mix with a spoon, or the tip of your fingers. Add the pinch of salt and the sugar. Add the butter one piece at a time while stirring to make sure that all of the butter is absorbed. Once butter is absorbed, add one egg at a time. Mix well before adding the second egg. Work the dough until it begins to detach more easily from your fingers and it feels elastic. Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and place in a warm spot (away from a draft) until it doubles in size, about two hours.

Once double in size, work the dough again for about 10 minutes. Divide into four balls and place into a greased 10" long loaf mold. Cover again with the tea towel and place in a warm place for 1-2 hours until the balls rise.

Preheat oven to 400F/200C. Brush the brioche with the egg yolk. Sprinkle the tsp of sugar on top. Make small cuts at the top of each ball with a pair of scissors. Bake for 10 minutes and then reduce the heat of the oven to 350F/175C. Bake for about 20 minutes. Cool on a rack and then serve. Eat with apple butter, or lemon curd. Eat in a sandwich with spicy shrimp, or cucumbers.


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