Thursday, September 27, 2007

Let us eat brioche.

When confronted about the bread shortage that precipitated the French Revolution, Marie Antoinette infamously replied, "Let them eat cake."

Only she didn't. First of all, it wasn't Marie Antoinette who said it. The phrase first surfaces in the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau in 1766, when the future queen of France was a child in Austria. Rousseau claims the words were spoken by a "great princess," but no one in particular is mentioned. Moreover, he did not use the word "cake" (or its French translation, gâteau), but, instead, brioche. To quote: "S'ils n'ont plus de pain, qu'ils mangent de la brioche."*

If you don't know what goes into brioche, you might not think this is so bad - the remark may seem tempered: "Oh, she's just telling them to eat a different kind of bread. Lighten up, people!" But then you make brioche, and you realize that, honestly, it might as well be cake. It's the gâteau of breads, the foie gras of baking. (OK, the latter title probably belongs to croissants, but you get the idea.)

I discovered this for myself during my trip to Ohio in July, when Louisa and I decided we needed to make bread. Given our love of all things French, we thought brioche would be a good place to start. I remembered that Ina Garten had a recipe for brioche in her Barefoot in Paris cookbook, and thought that might be a good place to start. Garten's recipes are always easy to follow, and are typically the cooking equivalent of the straight line - they represent the shortest distance between two points, without sacrificing taste or quality.

People give Ina a lot of grief for the amount of butter and eggs she uses in her recipes, and brioche is no exception (though it's not really her fault, since the definition of brioche is an eggy, buttery bread). Her recipe features six extra-large eggs and half a pound of unsalted butter - like I said, foie gras. Heart attack in a loaf pan, baby, but a remarkably easy one to bake up. You just mix the ingredients together in your electric stand mixer, give it a minute or two with the dough hook, and let it rise. That's it!

Now, it's easy, but you'll need to plan ahead, since the dough needs to rise, refrigerated, in a buttered bowl overnight, and then on the counter in the loaf pans. Once the rising is done, you paint the loaves (the recipe makes two) with an egg wash and pop them in the oven till golden-brown. Bread is one of those things with very few ingredients, so if you decide to give brioche a try, please, please, PLEASE spring for high-quality butter and fresh, preferably local eggs. You'll be doing yourself (and the environment) a favor.

After all, if you're spending the calories, why wouldn't you spend them on the best food you can find? Except for Cheetos - there's always room for Cheetos, empty, crappy calories be damned.

*Translation: "If they have no more bread, then let them eat brioche."


Louisa Edwards said...

And it was gooood, too. Hmm, maybe it's about time to reprise that brioche. Julia Child does have a recipe for it, I discovered, but it's in Volume II of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and I'm not quite ready to graduate from Volume I yet. So Ina it is! (Because James Beard's recipe sucks. I know, gasp, sacrilege, but what makes him think he can cut the rising time in half, and still have it turn out wonderful?)

Liz said...

Meg! I'm waiting for your post about the Chef's table (wasn't it?). :)

Or anything else you want to post about really.

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