Brioche

Snow today.  Not much, just enough – and the damp cold that accompanies it – to make you want to stay in, if you can.  I can.  And I’m going to make pictureBrioche.  I started last night, mixing a soft, supple dough of flour, eggs, sugar and butter, placed it in a large bowl and set it in the refrigerator.  It’s an overnight rest for the best rise and flavor; this rich dough needs time and a cool temperature to develop to perfection.  Soon, I’ll remove the buttery ball from its chilly environment and continue the kneading process. By hand of course.  Sure, I could use the mixer or the food processor, but I would lose the pleasure of the contact (connection?) with this silky dough, as I watch it change consistency and shape under my fingers.  I have my French mold ready, the scalloped one for the Briochea tête, since I believe this shape is the most visually appealing.  But my Brioche is not that French.  Let’s say, I make a French Brioche all’italiana. That is, a simpler, less rich version, since the traditional method for this classic bread requires elevated pastry skills possessed only by an expert Parisian patissier.  Sure, I have the memories to go with it.  I lived in Capodichino when I was a very young child, a neighborhood in Naples where the airport by the same name is located, and my remembrance of those days is tenuous.  But I can still see the Brioche.  My mother, overworked woman that she was – with school, house, daily food shopping and cooking, and three demanding small children – once in a while enjoyed surprising us with some culinary delight, a field she loved, but to which had very little time to dedicate. Her Brioche was tall, golden, shiny, and smelling like heaven.  It was the first time she had made it and it was a great success.  We made a b-line for it, but were instantly halted:  Too hot, can’t cut it yet, you have to wait.  …Oh, sweet torture, would that hour really pass? It did, and the blond, fragrant slices were well worth the wait.  No, my mother never made it again.  Like other special dishes, she would make them once, to prove to the world (and mostly to herself) that, yes, she was capable of doing it even though she didn’t have the time to pursue this passion of hers.  Another flashback, a few years forward.  I lived in Portici by then, my one and only.  I was clinging to my mother’s hand, my short legs barely keeping up with her as she dove into the market street, zigzagging between fruit stands and displays of colorful kitchenware.  She had a firm grip on my fingers, while pulling a wheeled shopping bag with the other hand.  She walked fast through the crowd of rambunctious shoppers, focused, knowing exactly which vendors would have the sweetest tangerines, the freshestfriarielli.  But, always, we passed by the small bakery where the most adorable brioscine were sold in a glass case, tiny, round baby brioches, with a shiny golden crust, warm and fragrant straight out of the oven. I didn’t even need to ask.  My mother always paused there; she would leave me outside to guard the shopping bag, while my anticipation grew and nearly exploded; then a few minutes later, she reappeared with a packet filled with those warm, delightful brioscine, which she’d slip into the shopping bag, but not before handing me a couple to hold in my palm and warm my childish soul.  Brioche is not very common in America, and it’s a real shame.  There’s no other sweet bread as sublime. It was Brioche which selfish Marie Antoinette flippantly recommended for the peasants who couldn’t get bread, not cake, as it’s commonly known. Well, then, I’m done writing about it.  I’ll pull my dough out of the fridge now, gently knead it again, sleek and smooth, pliable, rich but light, and place it in the buttered mold, to rise tall and spongy.  I’ll brush the top with egg yolk, so a dark gold, glossy crust will form when it emerges from the oven, glorious, majestic, sweet-scented, fragrant with yeast.  Oh, sure, my children will run down, drawn by this magical smell, more compelling than the sweet music of the Pied Piper.  But wait, I’ll have to say, it’s too hot, can’t cut it yet…Yes, sweet torture…Recipe

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