Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Paschal Theology of Brioche

**sorry for any duplication--blogger hiccuped last week and deleted a few of my posts, so I'm re-posting them now**

When I reached for my Flour cookbook on Holy Saturday, I was a bit taken aback at the length of time the brioche recipe took. I wanted to make this egg- and butter-rich bread for our Pascha this year, but Saturday was the first time I'd looked at the recipe. "Still," I thought, "I can just break it up around our schedule."

And thinking about it after-the-fact, I think it fit perfectly with so much about Easter. Let me tell you about it.

Ingredients (for such a rich bread, it's surprisingly simple--life lessons, anyone?):
5 eggs, for the Pentateuch: the foundation of our faith, and the beginning of God's work in the world. Eggs for new life; eggs to remind us what we have given up for Lent.
Butter! So much butter: 18 tablespoons, to be precise. Nine in each loaf of brioche. Six sets of three. Oh, the richness of the Trinity :) 
Yeast, because we are Children of the Resurrection! 
Flour and water--can't make bread without these. 
Salt. We are the salt of the earth, after all.

So, in making the brioche, first you mix the flour, yeast, salt, eggs, and water together in a mixer, making a stiff dough--hardly pliable at all and not soft or supple like bread dough is supposed to be. But kneading is key in this recipe. In order to entice the gluten to break down, forming lovely, long, elastic strands, you have to knead the heck out of this dough. And you also need butter. Lots of it.

The recipe says to add the butter incrementally, waiting to add more until each addition is fully incorporated. Have you made brioche? Do you know how difficult it is to get (slippery, gooey, room-temperature) butter to mix into a stiff dough? It... takes a while. And even then, when all the butter is mixed in, the dough just sits on the bottom of the bowl all gooey and sticky. "How will this ever be bread," I wondered. Joanne said "trust me," though, so I did.

Knead for 10 minutes. Or longer. On medium speed, until the dough comes together and gets satiny smooth and much more bread-dough-like. I was amazed at this transformation. By the end of the kneading, you turn the mixer up a notch or two so that the dough is audibly slapping the side of the bowl. I guess you have to really beat the dough to get a soft, springy loaf... who knew?

Then you put the now-soft-and-supple-and-tasty dough into a bowl, cover it, and let it rise in the fridge for 6 hours, but preferably overnight. I only had 6 hours before we returned from the vigil with a tight schedule Easter Sunday, so I put it in the fridge, hoping for the best.

All the while we waited the Resurrection of the Lord, the dough was resting. "This is the night.." the priest chanted the Exultet. This is the night that Christ rose from the dead, triumphant over death forever. Oh death, where is your sting? Oh grave, where is your victory? And our Easter Bread rested, waiting.

When we got home, late at night, I took the cold, clammy dough out of the fridge and shaped it into two loaves, reserving two little bits for shaping the cross for the top. And, after I placed the braided crosses on top, I covered the loaves in their pans and set them to rise over night. In a warm, cozy spot in my kitchen, the dough slowly expanded and grew to fill the pans, popping over the top, ebullient with the life of the yeast.

Early in the morning, before the sun was up, I woke to my alarm. Time to turn the oven on! Time to bake our Easter Bread. While the oven was warming, I brushed the tops of the loaves with beaten egg, creating the perfect recipe for a golden, shiny crust. Into the oven; set the timer; snooze on the couch.

The bread was done just as the sun was rising, just as the sky was brightening on our happy Easter morn.

And it was delicious.

So delicious, in fact, that I didn't take any pictures. Oops :(


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