Breaks your arms, but French Cooks don’t fool around.
Ever so often I surprise myself…as well as a few others, by making a batch of bread. It is wonderful and eaten to comments such as “Why don’t you do this more often?” and “Now this is what I call good eating.”
Now my friends and family say this whenever I make bread, but, I tell you, this was special. It was French Brioche. It was golden. It was light. I was springy. It had a crisp, brown crust. It was rich and it was full of calories.
But it also took two whole days to make and left both my arms in slings.
The recipe intimated that a heavy duty mixer or a strong arm might be needed, but pshaw, I thought, what’s at little mixing to me? Those people were talking to an old hand at bread making. Why, my mother had me mixing bread like a veteran as a 10-year old child. Their cautionary words were for some neophyte, not Ethel.
What they didn’t have the nerve to say, however, was that the muscle work involved was more in line for stevedores rather than some homemaker.
You mix 2 packages yeast with ¼ cup warm milk. Then add ½ cup plus 1 Tbsp, scalded and cooled milk along with 1 Tbsp. sugar and 2 tsp. salt. “See,” I said to myself, “they’re making it complicated, but I’ve done this kind of bread making hundreds of times.” Nothing to it, I thought.
Next, you add 1 cup (2 cubes) soft butter. Beat it in and then add 5 eggs, alternately with 4 ½ cups sifted flour. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Yeah, I thought so, too.
I soon found out, however, that it becomes a sticky doughy mess. It climbs the shaft of the mixer and if you use too high a speed, you’ll see daubs of it fly all over the room. I quickly called out for help, and one reluctant helper operated the controls, up and down, off and on, while I fought to keep the batter in the bowl.
It looked like nothing but “ugh” at this point. Here, though, is where the work starts and the difference between Brioche and good, plain bread becomes evident.
You put the mixer aside. Grab the dough with your hands (yes, this is what the directions say) and then vigorously slap or throw it right back in the bowl, or prepared counter top. It sticks to your hands like glue, but you must ignore that and keep this slapping of the dough until it finally begins to pull cleanly away from your hands and the bowl or counter. No nice and tidy kneading as with regular bread at all.
With patience and hard work, it does respond just as the recipe says it will, but before reaching that point, I could think of several places I preferred throwing it instead of keeping it in my kitchen. However, it all of a sudden surprised me when, eventually it did became nice, stretchy and easily handled. It must have also been good to eat, as people passing through the kitchen would reach out, and pinch off samples to pop into their mouths.
After doubling in bulk, you punch down, mix again, cover and refrigerate until the next day. I suppose the batter becomes less oily, but I’m not certain as to the why of this time in the refrigerator. But then the next day, you shape it into loaves, let double again in bulk, brush with a glaze of one egg yolk mixed with 1 Tbsp. cream and then bake in a moderate 350 degree oven as you would any loaf of bread.
It is supreme. It is worth all your time and more. Even though you can’t use your arms for at least a week, you forget all that as you eat and ponder, “Was it really me who created such perfection as this?”
Yes, sometimes the gods (and the French cooks) are kind. They sent us Brioche, but boy oh boy, do we ever have to work for it. And though I often mistily recall that wonder I created . . . I’ve never done it again. And I excuse myself saying, “Well, you see, I’m Swedish, not French. You gotta have some kind of an excuse.