Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Birthday Brioche

Today is Laura's birthday, and instead of cake, she wanted me to make her some Pain Au Chocolat, otherwise known as scandalously buttery brioche filled with decadent chocolate. The recipe comes from Bernard Clayton's "New Complete Book of Breads".

First, you make the starter, by dissolving one packet of yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons), in 1/2 cup of warm milk.
Add 1 cup of flour and mix for 3 minutes. I don't mess around with bread and will usually do whatever the recipe says. Cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for 2 hours.

Then, in a large bowl, measure 2 cups of flour and make a well to receive 4 of the 6 eggs, breaking eggs one at a time and blending into the flour.
Add 1/4 cup of warm water, 3 tbsp of sugar and 2 tsp of salt. Blend to make a thick batter.

On your counter, work the butter (3 sticks) until it becomes soft and pliable. This is really fun.
Blend the butter into the batter and add the remaining two eggs. Stir the rest of the flour (approx. 2 cups) until the dough is soft and elastic. Press dough into an oval and lather on the starter. Knead by hand until the two doughs have blended into a light yellow mass. This takes about 10 minutes. I don't have a fancy mixer with dough hook, but if you do, you could make this job a lot easier. This dough tends to be sticky because of the butter, but don't add too much flour or it will become too rough and dry.

Let rise for two hours under plastic wrap. It should double in size.
Just when you thought you could start shaping, baking and enjoying your bread, you have to transfer this beauty into the fridge for at least two hours, or overnight. It does tend to enrich in flavor, the longer you let it rise.

The following day (or after two hours), punch down the dough and start shaping it into whatever you want. I made the little chocolate bundles for Laura, using Ghiradelli 60% cocoa chips. This recipe makes a ton of dough.
 Adorable, right?
 Don't forget to paint them with egg wash before baking for extra sheen.

Laura insisted on taking this photo of me as I was hard at work:

I then braided the rest of the dough.

And, voila:
Happy birthday, Laura Jo!


Sunday, August 26, 2012

My Father

When I was nine or ten years old, I overheard my mother tell my father that he should stop favoring me so much or the other kids would get jealous. I was the youngest of four and I knew, for sure, that he loved me. I was pretty awesome then. I was kind. I was free and open. I was me. I was his sous-chef. I was his favorite.

I must have hidden in corners a lot and listened to my parents because there was another time when I overheard them discuss my artistic abilities. My father mentioned how I may be gifted as an artist. My mother scoffed, saying that if I was a true artist I would be able to draw pictures with much more realistic detail than I was doing at the time.

I was eleven years old and dabbling with oil paints. Art was my thing. It was what I did and loved. My teachers praised me, which reinforced my passion. I was crushed by her words. The memory of it  makes me tear up, to this day. She didn't say it with spite. She didn't mean it for my ears. My mother was kind and nurturing. She would never consciously use words that would be emotionally hurtful. It was not in her nature. But this was her truth. And my shame.

That evening, I stormed to my room, angry and devastated by my mediocrity. I drew a picture of my father as I saw him in my mind, with more detail than the artist in me usually allowed. I even drew the stubble on his face. I secretly dropped the picture on my parents' bed and fled, not brave enough for a confrontation. I waited (stalked) until they found it and all I remember is the condescending adoration of my parents, saying how cute this was. Cute. There was no redemption. There was no, "See, she IS brilliant after all!"

I gave up on art that day.

Later in my life, I found words and their perfect combination in poetry and prose. This replaced the visual arts and became my voice.

My father always supported me in my artistic dreams. He believed in me. Despite all of our differences he had faith in me. Even when I sucked as an artist, he supported me. He embraced the spark, even if it was dim and not yet actualized. When I talked to him on the phone, as an adult, he always asked me about what I had written. When I said "not much", he encouraged me to find the time, to find my truth.

And now that he's gone, I want to find it even more.