I got such a kick out of making homemade marshmallows earlier this month. Remember how I mentioned that they had been on my culinary bucket list? That was probably part of it--the thrill of checking something off the list and even succeeding at it. (The other part was how wacky they were to make, how delicious they turned out to be, and the crazy blue mold that started growing on them five days later.)
So I started thinking more about my culinary bucket list. And I realized that it isn't a list that actually exists, either in zeros and ones on the Interwebs or on a piece of water-crinkled paper on my fridge. In fact, I didn't even know I had anything on it until I thought about homemade marshmallows.
If I had been responsible about my hopes and dreams and had made such a list, though, you know what would have been up at the top, near the marshmallows?
Like with the marshmallows, my fascination with brioche started at the natural foods co-op I worked at in college. I was a barista on the cafe side of the store, and I often worked the opening shift with an awesomely die-hard feminist lesbian with a thick Michigan accent named Beth. We'd pop an Enya CD in the cafe stereo and put the morning pastries out together: croissants, bagels, coffee cake, and brioche rolls. She'd regale me with stories about the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival and how San Francisco was a mecca of queer, attractive, available women who congregated en masse like a cattle call at the Lexington Club in the Mission. As soon as she finished her Masters in Social Work, she was headed out there, no qualms about leaving her Midwest roots in the dust for greener, more lesbionic pastures.
(When I moved to San Francisco three years later, I found her description to be mostly true. San Francisco felt like a mecca, yes. The women were really queer. And they were attractive, for sure, and many of them could be found at the Lexington Club, like she said. "Available" is where Beth's description fell short, however, which is how I found myself outsourcing true love to Portland. One afternoon during an out-of-the-ordinary trip to the East Bay not too long ago--we San Franciscans rarely cross the Bay voluntarily--I ran into Beth at a pizza joint in North Oakland. She had just moved to Berkeley with her girlfriend.)
Anyway, this was my first encounter with brioche. It looked like a bready cupcake and no one ever bought it. Beth called it "breee-ohh-shh." I thought that was a great way to ridicule an undesirable pastry, so, to one-up her, I would put it on really thick and call it "BREE-YO-SHH" and hurl the leftover rolls against the wall and into the compost bin at the end of my shift. I only realized later that Beth wasn't making fun of it when she extended the vowels like that--that was just her accent.
In retrospect, it wasn't fair for me to treat the brioche like that. I had never tried it; I just assumed it was nasty since no one bought it and because Beth's accent made it seem like she disrespected it as well. As it turns out, though, brioche is pretty good. It's amazing in French toast, and can make a superb hamburger bun. So I added it to my bucket list.
I found a recipe for homemade brioche on Epicurious. The reviews said that it was a cinch to make, and I couldn't disagree with them more. This is one of the most high-maintenance things I've ever made. You beat the shit out of it with the bread hook on your mixer until you think your mixer is going to break into pieces. You let it rise for an hour at room temperature. You put the dough in the fridge for two hours and deflate it every 30 minutes. You leave the dough in the fridge overnight. The next day, you take it out and let it rise again (anyone feeling Biblical here?) for another 2 hours. Finally, you bake it, and by the time it comes out of the oven you're not sure you want it anymore.
Taste-wise, the bread came out good, although it has a bit of a yeasty aftertaste to it (try reducing the amount of yeast called for in the recipe if you're going to make it yourself). I made rolls and not loaves (bake rolls for 12-15 minutes, not the full 30 minutes in the recipe), and I added a couple of bittersweet chocolate squares in the middle of some to give them a pain-au-chocolat vibe. Next time, I'll add more than just a couple of squares, though, because two just wasn't enough.
There is SO MUCH BUTTER in brioche.
First time I'd ever used my bread hook on my mixer!
This is what the dough looks like after you've beaten the shit out of it. This was also the best part of the whole experience: I had beaten it so hard that the mixing bowl GOT STUCK IN THE MIXER. B had to help me get it loose--it was so tightly stuck that it required TWO PEOPLE to dislodge it.
Fast-forward to day two. Here's what it's like to knead the dough into roll-esque shapes and put what turned out to be not enough chocolate in the center.
After rolling it out, you let it rise for two whole hours before popping it in the oven. It's so high maintenance.
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