Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Babette Learns to Bake

I already mentioned--in the brioche threads--that I had the enormous pleasure of meeting Dorie Greenspan, baker extraordinaire. She mentioned a great group of bakers who are doing Tuesdays with Dorie, where someone selects a recipe from her book, Baking From My Home to Yours. I've always wanted to improve my baking skills (forget that I once worked as a pastry chef at a fine hotel in Louisville, KY. I was the best? Sheesh. I gave two weeks notice two weeks in...the shift was 11 PM to 7 AM. I was three months preggers with Bryn. Nuff said. And I digress.)

Anyway I joined. Then read the recipe for marshmallows...even went and got good corn syrup. And didn't make them. Then the carrot cake recipe came..and went. Then I got an email. From the boss of Tuesdays with Dorie. PARTICIPATE. What could I say? The site is only as strong as its bakers, right?

So when the Fluted Polenta and Ricotta Cake recipe landed in my box yesterday (or Monday?), I vowed to bake. You know, the way I WANTED to bake. The way I wanted to LEARN to bake. This was a good way for me to start. I love Italian cheesecake with polenta. I love love LOVE corn meal. This had the added goodness of mission figs.

I got started. 16 figs for the recipe. 1 for me. MMmmmm. Fig Newtons got NOTHING on a straight up fig.

The tart comes together easily, really. No rocket science. I measured well (okay, let's not talk about me almost--ALMOST--forgetting the regular flour. Ahem.), mixed well, followed directions well.

The results? Spectacular. Really. I'd probably like this just as well without the figs, to be honest. I had to bake it a bit longer than the directions instructed, but I liked the way it looked when it came out...the knife came out clean...There's still an incredible moistness to the cake...We love it...I think my family doesn't know the treat they are in for on (or about) Tuesdays. With Dorie.

Elegant, Ethereal Eggs

I've been on a protein-in-the-morning kick for a few months now, and eggs are my breakfast of choice.

I recently had the very good fortune of meeting someone who is bringing farm fresh eggs to South Florida...She brought me six lovely eggs, which come from a farm in central Florida.....

I read a book awhile back called The Perfectionist: Life and Death in Haute Cuisine by Rudolph Chelminski. It was a bit of a downer about a chef in France who gets so dispondent about keeping his Michelin stars that he ends up taking his own life...but for someone who loves food, it was a fascinating look into his life. It consumed him. How appropriate.

At any rate, in that book, there's a reference back to a passage from a classic French tome about making eggs...None of this scramble til set order. The whole set of instructions has you treating the egg with finesse. I think they made a fried egg, but I adapted the method for my own scrambled eggs. The tips: Low heat. A touch of butter. Eggs that are white and yellow. Scramble gently until just set. Finish with salt. Good salt.

Here's how:

1/2 teaspoon butter
2 eggs
sprinkle of good salt

In a small, non-stick pan, melt the butter over just below medium heat. When melted, swirl butter around the pan. Crack the eggs directly into the pan (when I was in West Virginia, I learned this is country scrambled eggs...who knew?). Don't touch the eggs until you see the white start to set. Then with a wooden spoon, stir gently to break up the yolks. Continue stirring gently until the eggs are just set--they should still be glistening. Sprinkle salt over all. Enjoy without delay.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Definition of Brioche

Brioche, noun. (bree-osh) Butter held together by bits of flour, yeast and egg.

When I toasted a slice this morning, it sizzled all on its own.

That's all. Just an observation.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Beautiful Brioche: The Finale

Wow. It was one baking morning. As noted below, after an early start, I had the loaf rising and the sticky buns rolled, cut and rising by about 7.45 a.m. The sticky buns were a definite success.

I did as I was told--egg wash, baked at 400. I cannot believe how lovely this turned out. As I said elsewhere, every time I make bread--even something that sounds as daunting as brioche--I wonder why I don't do it more often. Sure, this brioche recipe has 12 ounces of butter in it (that means the little loaf has half that--6 ounces..I started slicing very thin slices once I realized that...), but that's the only expensive ingredient in it...even a plain, Publix baguette costs me $1. I'd say the extra bit of money for this particular loaf? Worth it.

The bread is so rich--you SO taste the butter--I am happy eating it all by itself. A brioche purist, that's me. I could picture it with some bitter orange marmalade, though...Or I'd like to try the bostock Dorie mentions...spread stale brioche (who gets a loaf to last til it's stale?) slices with almond cream, sprinkle with sliced almonds, bake until the almond cream is puffy and hot.

But I don't think it will last long enough.

Brioche Beautiful Part 2

I woke at 7.15. Visions of brioche and pecan sticky buns by way of Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours invaded my mind...I knew I had a lunch to go to with a food professional, and I have a feeling she's bringing me some farm-fresh eggs. I don't want to show up empty handed. Brioche will be my gift.

So, I was anticipating a sticky mess--but I forgot what butter does in the hardens. So the dough was extraordinarily easy to handle. I divided it. Half is for a loaf, the other half for sticky buns. (What? What diet?) And I divided the sticky bun dough in half again, making 8 today, then rolling the other half for the freezer. One day I'll be able to take that little spiral out of the freezer at 10 p.m. and wake up to bake fresh brioche sticky buns. I am wonder woman, I am Supermom.

Let's see. The sticky buns go in about an hour and 45 minutes after prepping. The loaf, about 2 hours later...Look at my results...

And I will vouch for the taste (hey, it's in the job description: eat). A big complaint I had with a batch of sticky buns I made relatively recently was that the bread part itself was leaden. Why bother with that gooey goodness if the bread is like a rock? Well, this brioche sticky bun recipe absolutely knocks that problem out of the park. They are melt-in-your-mouth, buttery lightness. I've eaten half of one bun. 7 1/2 brioche pecan sticky buns are now staring me in the face. I'm watching out the window for my neighbor to come home so I can give her some (my town is such a pain. All the women are on "social x-ray" diets, to borrow that phrase from Tom Wolfe. But at least my neighbor has two little girls...)..then I'll be able to take a couple to the woman I'm meeting for lunch...then if I'm really inspired, I'm going to drive to Boca to deliver the remaining few to the great people at JES Publishing/Florida Table offices. They'll help me salvage my own nutritional crisis...

On to the brioche loaf...

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Brioche Beautiful Part 1

Dorie Greenspan is a delight. I had the incredible good fortune of meeting her recently at The Greenbrier. In fact, I had the funny and near-silly experience of sharing a bar of Vosges Chocolate Bacon bar with her. Picture about 10 avid food writers, food literature readers, food magazine editors...I think it was Dorie who did the honors of breaking it into pieces for everyone to experience. It was passed around the table like a communion plate. We all took a shard of chocolate...Then someone read the near zen-like instructions from Vosges on how to enjoy the chocolate...At one point we all had our eyes sounds were being made...and then you couldn't keep us quiet...because of COURSE we all had opinions. (For the record, we didn't like the chewy texture of the bacon left in our mouths when we let the chocolate melt first...some of us liked it more when we chewed right into it, releasing salty, smoky, sweet all at once...)

But this post isn't about the chocolate. It's about my discovery: Dorie's Brioche. I got the lowdown from the insiders: The Brioche is to die for. And the sticky pecan buns--to die for a second time...So when my signed copy of Dorie's Baking: From My Home to Yours arrived in the mail (no way I was dragging those pounds and pounds of books home on the plane...), I had to get started on the brioche.

I knew enough that the process would be easier if I made the dough the day before...Clever me: I'll throw it together at 10 PM and get it right into the fridge. Mmmhmmm.

Like any bread, the ingredient list is short. Yeast, water, milk, flour, salt, sugar, eggs and butter. Lots of butter. But it is lovely. Once again, Kitchenaid comes to the rescue. When discussing this with Dorie, her first question was: Do you have a mixer? Apparently her first experience was with this dough, a wooden spoon and her aching shoulders. At any rate, it starts as an ugly, mealy dough.

Then the eggs go in and it looks a bit better. And then you start beating the butter in, about 2 tablespoons at a time. Here's me holding the mixer to keep it from walking itself off the counter as it works that dough...
When all is said and done, you are left with a glossy, silken mass of dough.
It is gorgeous (I happily had about 1/2 pound of lovely, yellow Irish butter on my counter to use here...)

Oh, back to my cleverness...First punch down: after one hour. Then every 30 minutes or so FOR THE NEXT TWO HOURS. Until it stops rising. And THEN you get to go to bed...I mean and THEN you get to put it in the fridge (and go to bed...)

It will be a late night...This last shot is of the dough rising on the back porch, where it's warmer.
Just did the first punch down..The dough is just so nice to touch...Do you think anyone else is out on her balcony punching down brioche dough? Now it's 12.43 a.m. Do you know where your brioche is?