Thursday, December 11, 2008

Our Daily Bread - rediscovering the joys of food

After a recent break-up, I had one of those epiphany, change your life around moments. No, I didn’t cut all my hair off (I don’t have much to begin with), or move house, but I did rediscover an old passion of mine. Previously suppressed due to other (ahem) peoples’ influences, the need to cook began to bubble up inside me, like a well about to overflow. I don’t mean cook as in cooking a quick weekday evening meal, but real cooking, getting back to basics, and enjoying it for the process alone. Breads, fresh pasta, pies, tarts, cakes… there is something truly spiritual in transforming a bunch of ingredients into something delicious. In fact, I always used to say, and will begin to say again, that if I had to choose a religion, it would be cooking, and if there was a god, it would be food. Not that my god would be so good for our waist-lines, but I like to live like the French Women do, and see not good food and bad food, but all food in moderation and appreciation. So there is no heaven and hell in my religion? Suits me.

I have just finished a batch of brioche, a rich and buttery French bread. The entire experience was an affirmation to my faith. From the first step of preparing the warm bath water for my yeast to grow, making brioche is a feast for the senses. Watching the yeast bubble and fizz and develop was a revelation in itself, the scent of my growing brood filling the kitchen. My parental instincts kicked in and I found myself caring deeply about the wellbeing of my fungi. I separated the eggs using my fingers to experience the full sensuality of it. Then I mixed and kneaded, pulling, stretching, and pounding the dough until it was silky and shined like a wet puddle. With love and care, in it went to a warmed bowl, slicked with pungent grassy olive oil; I watched, and waited, and made myself a cup of steaming coffee, as my beautiful dough sat in the sun on my windowsill alive, and growing. I know if my brood of yeast has been well cared for, because it dances with happiness inside the mix of flour, eggs, butter and milk, and turns it into a mound of stringy, sponge-like dough. With all the sorrow in the world I knocked my dough back down with my fists and separated it, placing each piece into its’ new bed of fluted little brioche pan. After a second rising (rather like Christ I think) it cooked, until the sweet bready odour permeated the entire house, wafted up my nostrils, and sent me a-running for the oven.

Now they done, but it is not over, because now it is time to share my little jewels with friends and loved ones and let them taste the passion that one brioche bun can contain. I am a food missionary and my aim is to convert them, and you, to the joys of cooking. Try it and see for yourself.

Recipe for Brioche:

¼ cup warm water
2 teaspoons yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
4 cups high grade flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk, warmed

2 large eggs
2 egg yolks
150g butter, softened
1 egg, beaten lightly with a pinch of salt to glaze

Place warm water in a small bowl and sprinkle with yeast and sugar. Sit bowl in a dish of hot (not boiling) water to retain the heat in the yeast mixture. Leave to activate for 5 minutes or more, until the mixture appears foamy and thick.

Combine flour, and salt in a large bowl. Add activated yeast mixture, milk, eggs, egg yolks, and softened butter, and mix. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and glossy.

Place dough in a pre-warmed, lightly oiled bowl and cover with glad wrap. Sit in a warm place until the dough has doubled in volume. This should take about an hour. Knead again lightly.

Shape dough into 12 portions and place in oiled brioche moulds, (if making one large loaf, place all dough in oiled loaf tin). Poke spoonfuls of jam or a small piece of chocolate in the centre of each bun if desired. Set aside to rise again for 20 minutes more.

Preheat oven to 190°C. Glaze brioche with beaten egg and salt mixture and bake for 15-20 minutes (about 25 minutes if making a loaf), or until golden and firm.

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