Today was a rainy day in Washington, DC. The air was thick with mist, almost obscuring the buildings in the distance from view. Here on the eighth floor of my apartment building, those buildings usually seem so close, despite their distance of a few miles. Today, they appear worlds away.
And in spite of the “miserable weather”, as I so indifferently referred to it earlier, this day was a reprieve. It was a reprieve from the lively, boisterous birth of flora and fauna that comes along with spring. The noisy act of living and the brassy sunlight that we so desperately and recklessly greet with open windows and bared skin- after the quiet of winter it’s a shock to the system.
So, today was a day for calm, and now that night has fallen,
it is a peaceful night. The rain is quietly falling outside and the streets are
shrouded in fog, faintly glistening in the orange glow of the streetlights. Finally
after weeks of hot sun, the false starts of summer and the ups and downs of
everyday life, I have a moment to breathe. Sometimes we need a “miserable”
rainy day to remember why we rejoice so heartily in the warm breezes of spring-
to remember where we’ve come from and where we’re going.
Lately I’ve been forced to reflect on just that- where we’ve come from and where we’re going. Birth, life, death- the marching orders to which we must all adhere. It’s not easy to accept, nor does it become easier as we grow older. With the passing of my grandfather, the lesson that a life well-lived must come to an end did not ease the blow of his absence. Instead, I am busy, busy. Busier than ever, it seems, with the arrangements of death, the care of my family and, now that I am back in D.C., the hectic pace of my own semi-grownup life. And so, in the face of the thousands upon thousands of things I knew I must get done, I began to bake.
And as I baked, I began to realize that life is like the brioche that I was baking (it spoke to me when I came across it in the Silver Palate cookbook). It starts with nothing: raw flour, eggs, sugar. With the addition of yeast, it begins to grow. With the addition of flour, the dough takes shape and with time, it rises. Like in life, this recipe calls for the dough to be punched down. But also like in life, it resiliently rises again. Then, it is formed and allowed to rise once more. Finally, the dough is baked in a warm oven until it becomes something else entirely. It becomes bread.
Following the recipe, I kneaded the dough until was smooth and perfect and waited for it to rise for the final time, anticipating the moment when it would be brown and perfect and fluffy, ready for me to eat. But as I waited for that moment, I realized that the stirring and kneading and waiting is what life is about. I mean, isn’t it? Like our lives, bread goes through so much to reach that subliminal stage wherein it is devoured with butter and jam- the realization of the bread’s purpose, the point we are all trying to reach. Whether it’s career or family or status, we are ALL trying to become fully baked, but every moment until that point is just as important as the day we are pulled steaming and perfect from the oven.
Whether or not you agree with my tiny bread-life epiphany, there is something therapeutic and good about making bread. You’re all working together to make something delicious and new- you, the yeasts, the eggs and butter and sugar…it takes time and it pays off. I invite you to make this brioche on a rainy day and feed it to someone you love (or remember someone you love), like I did. Perhaps to you this bread is nothing like life…but I guarantee it will be delicious either way.
Bake on, friends.
- 2 cups milk
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 packages active dry yeast
- 4 tsp salt
- 3 eggs, at room temp
- 8 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2-3 tbsp vegetable oil
First, combine milk, butter and sugar in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and pour into a large mixing bowl to cool. When mixture is lukewarm (105-115 F) stir in the yeast. Let it get all yeasty and foamy in there for about 10 minutes. Then, stir in the salt.
Beat eggs thoroughly in a small bowl and add to milk mixture. Stir in 7 cups of flour, 1 cup at a time til the dough becomes sticky. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface. Now wash and dry the bowl since you'll need it a little bit later.
Sprinkle more flour over the dough and knead it, adding flour as necessary until you achieve a smooth, elastic dough. Silver Palate recommends about 10 minutes of kneading.
Pour about 2 tablespoons vegetable oil into the freshly washed bowl. Put your nice little doughball into the bowl, rolling it around to coat well in the oil. Cover with a towel and set dough aside to rise for about 2 hours, until it has tripled in bulk. Now, punch down the dough, turn onto floured work surface and knead for about 2 more minutes. Return to bowl, cover and let rise again- until doubled this time.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
If you are baking in loaf pans, use 2 pans that have been lightly buttered. For traditional brioche, use buttered muffin tinsor actual brioche molds.
Bake until golden brown about 30-40 minutes. I let my loaf bake for about 35, which seemed to work out well. Cool slightly before turning out of loaf pan, and cool completely before wrapping it up.
When it's cooled a bit, slice off a warm, thick slice. Slather it with butter and if you're lucky enough to have some blackberry preserves from the Loveless Cafe on hand, load that baby up and savor every bite.