Saturday, July 2, 2011

Simple pleasures

Sourdough brioche
For me, summer is about simple pleasures. It's about eating wild blueberries straight from the bush along a well-worn, wooded trail, about marvelling at the fireflies in the yard at dusk, winking in unison, about strolling between stalls at the farmers' market on sun-drenched mornings, everything fresh from the fields. And so, when summer hits, most of the activity in my kitchen comes to a standstill. It's too hot to labour over the stove, and I just want to eat everything pretty much as it is anyway.
Bread is an exception. For warm, fragrant loaves to be torn into at the end of the day alongside radishes and butter or a simple salad, it's worth it--I will sigh and fire up the oven. Sure, it requires a bit of planning and mixing and waiting--a drag, I know--but eating it? Now that's a simple pleasure...especially if what you've got is brioche.
Brioche is one of those breads that needs no adornment that first day--no butter, no jam, no preserves. Just savour it as is--plush, buttery, and barely sweet. If the croissant had a darling little sister, brioche would be her. Unlike with the croissant, the generous amount of butter that goes into brioche is incorporated bit by bit directly into the dough, making brioche more bread than pastry compositionally but almost every bit as buttery and luxurious.
Typically, my style in the kitchen is a little old-school--I'm a wooden spoon and whisk kind of girl. I've waved off the need to get a stand mixer, happy to mix and whip and knead with my own hands. But last week, I caved when my boyfriend's parents offered to buy us one (a housewarming gift--but more on that some other time). One of the reasons I gave in was, of course, brioche.
You can make brioche by hand. I did it a couple of Thanksgivings ago and ended up with quite the collection of blisters. The brioche was really good, but as you might anticipate, I haven't tried it again since. 
The stand mixer makes brioche a breeze--once you've got your yeasted dough together (from Tartine Bread in my case), you just drop in the butter, one half-inch cube at a time, until you have a gorgeously silky and buttery dough. And if you aren't imprudently eager to break in your stand mixer like I was this week, you'll do all this in a kitchen that isn't breaking 80 degrees--though, if you really can't wait, just let your dough proof in a bowl set over an ice bath, and you should be fine (the butter will melt out of the dough, otherwise).
I won't post the recipe for Tartine Bread's brioche here--because it takes off from the basic method used throughout the book, it's a little complicated and probably best explained in the book itself. I've already gushed about it before--if you're into making bread and want to try your hand at sourdough, it's well worth having. However, you can find Dorie Greenspan's recipe for brioche, the one I used two Thanksgivings ago, here--it's a little more traditional, a little fussier, but, again, still a breeze if you've got a stand mixer.
Need I even say that brioche makes the most indulgently awesome and custard-like french toast?
Brioche French Toast
In anticipation of my next post: my copy of the first issue of Lucky Peach finally arrived in the mail late this week, and it's so awesome. David Chang is a madman. Using instant ramen as an ingredient in another dish? Perverse but likely brilliant. 

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