For Christmas, Georg got me Ginette Mathiot's translated, updated, classic French cookbook Je sais cuisiner (I Know How to Cook). It's a brick of a book which contains nearly 1500 simply-written (but not simplistic) recipes that any French home cook should have in his/her repertoire. Interestingly, it was translated into English and updated to suit the modern cook by Clotilde Dusoulier, the Parisian author of the food blog Chocolate and Zucchini.
I like the book...many of the recipes are beautifully photographed and the illustrations are interesting and eye-catching. I also find it well organized and there really does seem to be a recipe for almost anything you'd want to make. The writing doesn't get too superfluous, which I appreciate. In the index lie several special treats...my favorite being menus and corresponding recipes written by famous chefs all over the world that you can use when you want to throw an impressive dinner party.
I usually find myself drawn to unusual recipes, but this cookbook has gotten me thinking about cooking French classics: vanilla souffle, green beans nicoise, baked eggs. As a special first recipe to immerse myself into the world of French home cooking, I selected the I Know How to Cook recipe for Brioche.
Brioche is a dense, rich, buttery bread I've had on a few occasions. It's soft and slightly sweet, and makes great French toast. The dough contains yeast, sugar, milk, flour, and three eggs. After this combination has had a chance to rise, you knead in a whole stick of butter to add to the richness.
The dough turned out to be quite difficult to work with. At first it was far too dry, and after I added a bit more milk it was sticky and stiff. It was really difficult to knead. I was worried, but my fears were assuaged when the rested dough rose to a big, yeasty pouf.
I proceeded to knead in a whole stick of room temperature butter. The book said to add the butter a lump at a time, and to knead until each lump disappeared. I followed the instructions faithfully, but in the end I didn't feel like I had the smooth, elastic dough I was supposed to have created. I let the dough rest in the refrigerator overnight, and the next evening shaped the dough into one large and one small boule, which I then stacked on top of each other (this is a classic French shape for brioche). I let the shaped dough come to room temperature and I even allowed it an hour or so of final rising time (which was generous, as the book didn't suggest rising any rising time). When I felt like enough was enough (I had started the bread the previous day's morning) I brushed it with egg yolk, and then baked the brioche.
On the plus side, it turned out shiny and nicely browned. On the minus side, it turned out a much more rough and crunchy on the outside than I knew brioche was supposed to be. The flavor is good--it's got the rich taste of eggs and butter, and you can't beat the fresh, yeasty flavor of bread that's just popped out of the oven. But the texture is a little off. Brioche is dense, but this bread didn't rise much after I took it out of the refrigerator and is almost heavy.
A sampling I took from the brioche boule
I am still perfectly happy to slather the brioche with even more butter and some marmalade and eat it before I've even left the kitchen at completely unscheduled moments in the day. I am looking forward to trying the brioche recipe again--I think I have to just be more assertive with the dough and knead it more thoroughly into submission. I will probably also avoid refrigerating it for nearly 24 hours before baking; I wouldn't be surprised if the extended chill forced the yeast into dormancy.
Since I got I Know How to Cook, I also tried a delightful, layered, garlicky tomato and eggplant dish that turned out perfectly. My next conquest will be vanilla souffle...stay tuned!