Friday, August 1, 2008

Brioche Attempt #1

I have no idea why I have become obsessed with making my own brioche. Within a 5 minute walking distance from this house on rue Portagnel in Arles, there are at least 3 bakeries. Actually, the idea began in March after returning from Arles with my group of 8th grade students from Durham Academy. Carlton Rollins and I ate orange brioche here for breakfast and fell in love with them. She asked for a recipe and I began searching my cookbooks and the internet for one that looked like what we wanted. I came up empty handed. When I arrived here, Chef Érick found a prepackaged mix at the supermarché and I tried that. You add your own butter (beaucoup de beurre) and milk. I added the sweet orange flavoring. It was okay, but not what I was looking for and truthfully, I don't think it qualified as attempt #1 since it came from a package. That feels like cheating somehow. Dorette went on line and found a recipe that seemed more to my liking. So, yesterday I went off to the Monoprix down the street (I love never having to get in a car and drive anywhere) to buy more butter and milk. After dinner, I got down to business and made the dough. It rose beautifully after an hour in the stainless steel bowl. I shaped the brioche and put them in the refrigerator overnight. This morning I got up in time to let them warm to room temperature and rise for the second time. I then brushed them with egg yolk and sprinkled them with the sugar that I had added orange oil to for a little extra orange flavor. I wasn't able to find the coarse white sugar that the bakery down the street uses so I just used organic sugar. I put them in the oven and anxiously waited. We only had two guests, an Italian couple, for breakfast this morning, so I thought I would experiment on them. The woman ate half of one and her husband didn't eat anything except a crêpe and yogurt. Oh well. Dorette and I poured a cup of coffee and sat down to seriously critique my brioche #1. Very nice to look at- golden brown. Not in a traditional brioche shape. I didn't want to use the traditional pan. The sprinkled sugar on top was a nice touch. I was looking for a little sweeter taste, however. The recipe only calls for a teaspoon of sugar to be mixed in with the warm milk and yeast. Attempt #2 will get more sugar and perhaps a bit more butter and another egg to make it richer. We are not counting calories here! I decided to put some of Érick's homemade apricot jam on my second one. Afterall, this is serious research. That sweetened the taste and was a very nice addition. The original recipe calls for a cup of dried apricots, but I decided not to put them in. Érick, who walked around in circles in the kitchen while I was making them and occasionally looked over my shoulder (giving up his kitchen to Dorette and me once in a while perhaps makes him a bit nervous?), tried one, too. He has a gluten allergy, but well, once again, sacrifices must be made in the search for the perfect orange brioche, n'est-ce pas? His only comment was "Oui, c'est une brioche." Yes, it's a brioche. He put a little salted butter on his and ate it all. And he did comment that we have enough for l'Armée russe. I should've known the Russian Army comment from my birthday dinner would come back to haunt me! Maybe I'll take some to Didier, Monique and Gilles. I don't know if my ego is up for that yet or not, though.
Before I offer up the recipe, just a few side comments. It has been wonderful sharing new wine finds with Craig and Seth at the Wine Authorities. We went to Pic St. Loup a couple of days ago to taste wine and bring some back to the house. This is Chef Érick's favorite wine region and a spectacularly beautiful place. The cliffs reminded me a bit of Pilot Mountain in North Carolina but on a much grander scale.
Last night, we had a bottle of white, La Gravette 2006 Vieilles Vignes Coteaux du Languedoc and sampled another white, Bergerie de l'Hortus Classique 2007 Vin du Pays du Val de Montferrand, with our dinner. Both excellent- pronounced très agréable à boire- very pleasant to drink- by the chef. We had a salad of chopped tomatoes, zucchini, green pepper and onions with a lemon-olive oil dressing, tomatoes that Dorette had prepared using fresh mint and basil, couscous and sausage. The appetizer was something totally new to me- les pistes. As best I could tell, they are baby squid or calamari, quite expensive at the market, 20 euros a kilo (1 kg=2.2 lbs, 1 euro = $1.60). Chef Érick fried them in olive oil and added fresh basil. They popped in the pan as they were cooking, reminding me of Mexican jumping beans! Quite a sight. They were simply delicious. We ate every one of them, while listening to a 33rpm record of silly songs by Boby Lapointe. The songs are all plays on words and are very funny. I am sure that I didn't catch half of it. The French are very fond of this kind of humor. Another great find from Didier and Monique's shop.

Back to brioche! I dedicate this to Carlton and promise to make them for her when I return.

1 tsp sugar (or honey)
2 packages yeast (or 5 tsp)
4 eggs
1/2 c. warm milk (110 F)
4 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 c + 2 Tbsp butter
1 egg yolk, beaten (for glaze)
orange flavoring (optional)
1 c. dried apricots (optional)- snip and add to dough during the second rising

Stir sugar into warm milk and sprinkle in yeast. Wait 5 minutes. Sift flour and salt together. Melt butter and cool slightly. Lightly beat butter and eggs into yeast mixture. Add orange flavoring. Add 2 cups flour and then slowly add more until a dough forms and you can knead in enough to make a smooth dough. Cover and let rise 60 minutes in a warm place. Grease small or large brioche pans. Take 3/4 of the dough and shape into balls. Use the remaining 1/4 to make small ones to place on top of the larger ones. Place in baking pans. Brush brioche with egg yolk and sprinkle with sugar. Let rise another 20-30 minutes. Preheat oven to 425 F. Bake 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Bon appétit!

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