The perfect day needs no more than a person I love as much as he finds me annoying, and enough drinks and food to keep us going – let’s be honest, mostly drinks.
It might get even perfect-er with the addition of bright-green grass to lay on, and a sun just warm enough for our skin to feel the heat.
But this is – obviously – optional. From my records, the perfect day can also be spent in bed or at the pub, drawing on each other with felt-tip pens until the sun goes down.
The perfect day will lead to the perfect night. But because the perfect day feels like it lasts for years – or at least, that’s how you want it to feel – let’s not rush things.
What happens in between the perfect day and the perfect night is up to you, really. On our side of the world, we got lost somewhere. Past Mayfair, and before Chinatown.
We stumbled upon NOPI, the new-ish restaurant by Yotam Ottolenghi – a place I had been wanting to try for quite some time now. And even though it was really just a few minutes away from our starting point we made sure to take as many detours as humanly possible, wearing flip-flops and making fun at each other.
There we shared a few plates of good food. A few glasses of the cheapest white wine on the menu. A plate – each – of something sweet for an ending. Of the perfect day, that is.
I made sure to photograph everything that was standing in front of our eyes – a delicious confit artichokes served with goat cheese and a sprinkle of broad beans; some perfectly chargrilled octopus that was as octopus should be – all the time – ; and twice-cooked baby chicken that had a lovely smokiness from the chilli oil.
Scared my memory would fail me after being drunk on happiness all day.
Turns out it didn’t. And it’s probably for the best since the pictures came out as grey as grey can be.
Not even close to reality. Or perhaps a reality I do not want to see.
In all measures, I advise to end your day at NOPI. Sit downstairs on the communal table overlooking the kitchen, visit the bathroom to recreate the mirror room of your childhood visits to the park. Just don’t bring a camera along, or do – but don’t forget the batteries. And just because I plate desserts all day – almost every day – do try the pineapple galette. Even if just for the pandan.
And for the record, 60£ for two not-so-hungry stomachs and a bottle of wine does feel like the perfect start to your perfect night.
Five days where the blossoms turned into snow. Five days where I got less sleep than what a normal night means to you. Five days where everytime I came home, I opened the fridge to imagine that bubbly dough turn into brioche.
And then on the night before the fifth day, I set my alarm to eight am; two hours later than a day on. Still dizzy from a sleep overdose, I walked to the kitchen. Fleurer le marbre [sprinkle the marble with flour]. Couper la pate [cut the dough]. Bouler [make balls]. Faire pointer [proof]. Et se recoucher [and go back to bed].
This, my friends, is the recipe for happiness. Especially, if I then braid my hair and spend the day with someone I love.
A couple of hours later, we slowly emerged from that broken night – or more accurately, morning nap; a concept that I should put to practice more often.
The loaf went in the oven. And then got sliced, topped with the strawberry jam he made last week – with the somewhat bland berries I was a little too excited with at the market – and then eaten in bed, with the necessary dose of good tunes and the occasional sun peaking through the window.
It felt like a Sunday. With all the trimmings, bar the messy kitchen. And, no matter how much I love to get my hands dirty by kneading the hell out of a sticky dough until it becomes smooth, it seemed appropriate to take a shortcut this time.
Even more so that this brioche proved the die-hard French that I am wrong.
First came Dan. And his focaccia. Almost no-knead. And almost more delicious than any bread I’ve ever tasted. Then came the no-knead bread that got everyone crazy. And now, Zoë.
So as much as it hurts me to say it, it is possible to make brioche in a matter of seconds. In one bowl. With one wooden spoon.
Brioche en cinq minutes
Adapted from Zoë François and Jeff Hertzberg’s Five minute bread.
I once read somewhere that in order to make a good brioche you need time. I think it was actually mentioned as part of the ingredient list, which I thought was clever as I remembered the hours spent kneading – by hand – a three-kg batch at school.
And while I love the process, I must admit it does feel good to – every now and then – take the easy option. It says five minutes. But it really is less than that.
Butter gets melted. And mixed with water, eggs, honey, and salt. No sugar. Just honey, which being inverted sugar – kind of natural trimoline – helps the brioche to stay moist after baking.
Flour and yeast get incorporated. And the dough is left outside to proof. Only to be, later, chilled; for a day or two. Or in my case, five.
And if there is ever a good moment for confessing such a thing, it shall be now: I leave all of my doughs to proof in a microwave. Basically, place a bowl of water in the microwave and ‘cook/bake’ (which word should I use?) for a minute or two, just to create enough steam. Quickly switch the bowl of water for the bowl of dough. And home Panem prover you have!
This does not decrease the proving time, but creates the perfect conditions for your yeast – and by consequence, you – to be happy.
And for the record, I only made a quarter of a recipe. But only because I didn’t have enough honey in my cupboards. A morally despicable fact that got fixed. As soon as I bit into a slice of warm brioche.
As a side-note, I do think this recipe could take more butter. Possibly twice more. Possibly because I’m French. Possibly something I will try and report. Which will also allow me to show you how to bouler une pâte [shape the dough into a ball], because – let’s be honest – I’m not sure it translate into words.
Brioche en cinq minutes
makes four loaves
350g butter, melted and cooled down
170g clear honey
1kg strong flour
15g instant yeast
one egg, beaten, for the eggwash
In a bowl, combine the melted butter, water, salt, eggs, and honey. Add the flour and yeast. And mix using a wooden spoon until smooth.
Cover the bowl with a cloth and allow to rest at room temperature for a little over 2h (or feel bad-ass and stick it in a turned-off microwave – make sure you read the note above beforehand though).
Transfer the cloth-covered bowl to the fridge and chilled for at least 24h or up to five days.
On the day you’re ready to bake, generously butter a loaf tin and cut 450g off your dough. Then using a scraper – or a knife – divide into four bits. Have some flour handy and gently pat each piece into it. Putting the flour side up – and sticky side down – shape it into a ball using the palm of one of your hands.
Place the four balls into the prepared tin and allow to proof for 1h30.
Preheat the oven to 190°C. Brush the top of the dough with the eggwash and bake for 40 to 50min, or until golden brown. Unmould and allow to cool on a wire rack, or not.
[On the menu today – The (not so) classics of my childhood]
Childhood memories are – more often than not – strongly related to food.
The slice of store-bought chocolate marble cake – Savane, for those of you who grew up in France – that would leave in your pocket in the morning only to be eaten as a mid-afternoon snack when reduced to a mess of crumbs.
The brioche your mom would make over and over in an attempt to turn a hard yeasty bread into a soft chewy treat.
The tiramisu you would make on Sundays, which you still remember the recipe you once scribbled on a piece of paper: 500g de marscarpone, cinq oeufs et 100g de sucre. It was certainly not the best, but sure tasted like it twenty years ago. At least to you.
Today, I feel like revisiting those fond bites. But really, what should I make?
Last night, I might not have been there when the flap clock on my wall roared and clicked – just like the train-station departures board of my grand-mother’s village – but I could feel that April was around the corner.
I’m not going to lie. March went down faster than expected. And with barely no time to focus on what makes me feel alive.
So for this month, I have some plans. Mostly fun ones. Because, everything will be fine.
April is for settling into a new routine, walks in the park, baking at home, drinks at the pub, kissing my favourite lips goodbye, saying hello to new faces, slowing down, collecting blossoms to dry them in between two pages of a book, coffee with a friend, and celebrating with cheap wine.
Hopefully, I will find – if not, make – time, to share those ideas I have when most of you are asleep. And yes, it does include the dream-at-night lover who is practising his best sleep moves – right now – next to me.