Of all smells, bread; of all tastes, salt.
~George Herbert, English poet

You might guess that I purr at the layers of egg in this dish. Audibly so. Egg bread, egg custard, and poached eggs mated with a medley of mushrooms and cheese.

Brioche is a soft enriched bread, whose high egg and butter content make it lusciously rich and tender. It shows a dark, golden, and flaky crust from an egg wash applied just after proofing.

First appearing in print in the early 15th century, this bread is believed to have evolved from a traditional Norman recipe, pain brié. Some even posit that brioche has Roman origins, as a similar sweet bread is made in Romania (sărălie).

In his autobiography entitled Confessions, Jean-Jacques Rousseau notes that an unnamed “great princess” is said to have commented about starving peasants: S’ils n’ont plus de pain, qu’ils mangent de la brioche (“If they have no bread, let them eat cake”).

Although there is no record of her having uttered these words, this callous aside is often mistakenly attributed to Marie Antoinette, wife of Louis XVI. No doubt her frivolity and extravagances in a time of dire financial straits and xenophobia played a role. But, the comely teenage Austrian Archduchess (soon to named Madame Déficit) had yet to even arrive in Versailles when Rousseau’s book was published. To cast further doubt, Rousseau had even mentioned the same phrase in a letter in 1737 — a full eighteen years before Marie Antoinette had even been born. Most historians suggest that either Rousseau was actually referring to Marie Thérèse, the wife of Louis XIV, or that he altogether invented an anecdote which has little source support.

Sound familiar? Seems strikingly similar to a recently published memoir, Decision Points, which is rife with mistruths and spins. Ironically, GW was just down the street peddling signed copies of his Alice in Wonderland remembrances of things past. While the mollycoddled man — who eerily admitted “I miss being pampered” during his days at the White House — was jovially exalting his exploits in a cozy, warm chapel, others were huddling and shivering in the cold nearby at the somber funeral of another fallen member of the 101st Airborne.

Befitting a bread, the etymology of the word brioche is hotly contested. It is believed to be derived from the Norman verb brier (an old form of broyer, “to grind, pound”) used in the sense of “to knead dough.” The root word, bhreg or brehhan (“to break”), is thought to be of Germanic origin

BREAD PUDDING WITH MUSHROOMS, GRUYERE & POACHED EGGS

1 lb. loaf brioche bread, cut into 1″ cubes
2 C whole milk
2 C heavy whipping cream
6 fresh eggs
Slight drizzle of white truffle oil
4 thyme sprigs, stemmed and leaves chopped

1 shallot, peeled and minced
2 C morel mushrooms, sliced
2 C crimini mushrooms, sliced
2 C shittake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
2 pinches of dried herbes de provence

4 C gruyère or comté cheese, freshly grated, divided
Sea salt and freshly grated black pepper

6 fresh eggs
1 tablespoon white vinegar

Parmigiano-reggianno, freshly grated

Preheat oven to 350 F

Bread Pudding
In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, cream and eggs. Season with salt and pepper and mix in the cubed brioche, truffle oil, and chopped thyme leaves. Set aside.

In a large skillet over medium high heat, sauté the shallots for a minute or so. Then add the morels, shittakes, criminis, and herbes de provence. Season with salt and pepper and sauté for another 2-3 minutes. Place in a bowl and allow to cool to room temperature. Add half of the gruyère cheese to the brioche mixture, then stir in the mushrooms and shallots.

Pour the bread pudding mixture into a deep sided baking dish or casserole. Strew with the remaining gruyère cheese. Season with salt and pepper and bake until puffy and golden brown on top, about 45 minutes. Allow to rest, tented with foil, while poaching the eggs.

Poached Eggs
Fill a large, heavy skillet deep enough to cover the eggs with water. Bring to a simmer, and add the white wine vinegar. Crack each egg into a shallow bowl or saucer to assure they are not broken. Then, using a slotted spoon, spin the boiling water into a sort of vortex. Once the water is spinning rapidly, gently drop the egg from the bowl in the center of the whirlpool, where it will spin around and coat the yolk in a ball of egg white. Cook until the eggs are barely set, about 3 minutes. Remove the eggs, draining well with a slotted spoon and dab the bottom with paper towels to dry.

On each plate, top a serving of bread pudding with a poached egg and then a fresh scant grating of parmigiano-reggianno.

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Sauce Béchamel

November 25, 2009

Sauces comprise the honor and glory of French cookery.
~Curnonskey

One of the mother sauces (sauces mères). Some claim that Catherine de Medici’s skilled Tuscan cooks imported Béchamel to France from Italy in the 16th century. Others assert that the father of French haute cuisine, chef Francois Pierre de la Varenne created this sauce during King Louis XIV’s reign. It has been fairly firmly speculated that the sauce was named after a courtier, Louis de Béchameil, marquis de Nointel who was maître d’hôtel (major domo) of that same sun king, Louis Roi—perhaps Europe’s longest ruling monarch (1643-1715).

Crème, Mornay, and Soubise are compound sauces derived from Béchamel as a base.

Clarified butter means the milk solids and water have been removed from the butter. Use unsalted butter and melt it slowly in a saucepan over low heat without stirring. Let the heated butter sit still so that the milk solids and water separate from the butter fat. Skim the foam from the surface. Remove from the heat and let stand a few minutes until the milk solids settle to the bottom. Carefully pour the clear yellow liquid (the clarified butter) into a container, leaving the milk solids in the bottom of the saucepan.

Béchamel can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week.

BECHAMEL SAUCE

5 T clarified butter
5 T flour

3 C whole milk, brought to a simmer in advance

1/2 C veal or chicken stock
2 T yellow onion, finely chopped
2 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
Pinch of nutmeg
Sea salt and white pepper

In a heavy medium saucepan, add the clarified butter and the flour. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon for 5 minutes to make a blond roux. Add the milk and whisk until smooth. Then add the stock, onions, thyme, bay leaf, nutmeg, salt and pepper and simmer gently for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Strain through a cheesecloth.