Sunday, December 26, 2010

Fêter Noël Avec Brioche

We're at the point where most people are lounging around like a load of stuffed turkeys, making decisions of such magnitude as "black and white classic or witty adult-friendly animation?" and "turkey and stuffing sandwich or the rest of that box of Celebrations?". I'm in bed right now, contemplating a delightful stack of books, and battling a nasty set of symptoms that have had me on antibiotics for almost a week now. It's a lazy and indulgent time of year, and that's what I love; the way everyone revels in doing cosy communal activities that involve eating lots and enjoying togethersome activities like movie-watching and playing Scrabble. I decided that this year I was going to spend my Christmas Day giving a little back, and so I spent some time volunteering in a hostel for the homeless. Since my big bro and his wife and two children live right beside me, I wasn't family-less for Christmas; on the contrary, I had double the celebrations, including two Christmas dinners. Heh heh heh! Since I wasn't contributing to any Christmas dinner cooking efforts, I felt that the least I could do would be to bake a little offering to start the day, so I dusted off the brioche tin that I have been harbouring for months now, and set to work.

You know the way some people buy clothes that are a few sizes too small as an incentive to lose weight? That is the way with me and cooking-related items. Books and utensils are amassed that glare me into using them; such is the storage situation in my small house that there is no room to hide unwarranted purchases that are going unused. And so it was with the brioche tin that I bought in Lidl all the way back in August. "Looooook, it's so...French..." I cooed, conjuring up romantic visions of puffy golden brioche practically floating out of the oven on a lazy weekend morning. It's always the way with these impulse buys that I fail to consider the stages involved in getting to that rosy point, and so when I actually sit down to plan it all out I usually end up shrieking "It takes HOW long?!!! Sure where would I get THAT stupid obscure ingredient?!" and the item in question is consigned to a shelf or cupboard, gathering dust and causing me untold guilt. I was quite sure that brioche recipes would be ten a penny in each and every one of my many cookbooks, not to mention online, but this was not the case. Darina, however, never lets me down; when the trendy/pretty/earnest  pretenders to her practical throne have let me down with their beautifully packaged presentations, Darina is waiting patiently to provide the guidance required to indulge my latest culinary whim. I had put the brioche-making on the long finger when I saw that the dough required lots of lounging-around time, like a wealthy man's mistress in recovery after a bout of plastic surgery. How VERY French of it. Come Christmas Eve I was ready to embrace this high- maintenance creation, and, of course, I realised that it actually wasn't such a demanding piece of bakery after all.

I was a little perturbed by Darina's photographic depiction of how my efforts were expected to turn out, but decided not to put too much pressure on myself to achieve these levels of perfection. Another iconic foodie packaging design: McDougall's dried yeast.

A packet of yeast and 25g caster sugar dissolved in 1.25fl oz tepid water, 2 well-beaten eggs, 225g plain flour with a pinch of salt:

I managed to create a dough, which to be honest is always a bit of a will-she-or-won't-she moment with me. In this instance I had to gradually add more and more flour, as the dough was a little too wet, and eventually I ended up with a consistency that I was satisfied with.

Then came the bit that I was most trepidatious about: the addition of the butter. I wouldn't quite call it beating it in, it was more of a coaxing, smoothing and swirling type manoeuvre. And, in spite of myself, I managed to make it work. It was thoroughly satisfying to watch the butter disappear into the other ingredients to create a shiny, glossy ball of promise.

Ok dough, pay close attention: this is what you are expected to turn into, capiche? And, to that end, you will be spending a chilly Christmas Eve night in the fridge.

Christmas morning I rose to butter up the piece of equipment that kicked all of this off: the romantic reverie-inducing brioche tin.

Darina had all sorts of instructions about creating some sort of thingie in the middle. Clearly, I read those all wrong, Oh well. I have always displayed an impressive talent for doing the exact opposite of what I am asked or have been instructed to do.

A little eggyness on the top and off it went to hang in the heat for an hour and a half and get nice and fat.

It dutifully plumped itself up nicely, and here it is multiplié par deux.

Now that I have a sparkling clean oven, I am happy to show you shots of things baking inside! I must add that what you see beneath is the grill that had just been busy cooking up saussies for my first brekkie of the day, which I will freely admit is lowering the shiny clean tone of this pic, but has been restored to cleanliness and is no longer casting a grimy pall over my sparkling oven. Yes, I had already had one breakfast at this point - well you hardly thought I was going to wait two hours for some buttery eggy bread to fill me, did you?! Anyhow, I am perhaps slightly overly pleased with my cleaning efforts, to the point where sometimes I just open up the oven and have a look inside to admire the results. I was fairly sick when I did it though, and I don't think that the fumes did me any favours. Gosh, who KNOWS what dizzying heights of shineyness I could have reached had I been in the full of my health! I have resolved to clean my oven more frequently in 2011.

I am no longer too guilt-ridden to look through the glass oven door, so I can keep a good eye on the progress inside.

Fluffy Christmas morning indulgence, delicious with a thick layer of homemade lemon curd, eaten to the sounds of two small boys earnestly explaining the nuances of their various Christmas presents.

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