i like things that take their time. don’t all good things do? take yesterday morning, for example. i went running. it was already rather hot out at 7am, so it was a slow and languish run. but i was still advancing. and i was so lucky to experience a mouse crossing my path (literally) with her short but hurried legs, brown fur and large ears. we were both running for the sheer
pleasure purpose of it, it seemed. and i saw a heron, majestically standing there on one leg (why do they do it? cold feet?) taking a sun bath. he stood there stock-still. and if i wasn’t sure it’s impossible, i’d swear i heard him hum with happiness, just there.
why does the heron take a sun bath, in all peace and quiet? he’s got all day to soak up the sun. actually, it’s rather inevitable for him to be out and about and exposed to the sun, anyway. yet, he stood there, purposeful, seemingly determined to seize the moment, to slow down, to put this morning’s moment to good use while he (and i’m somehow convinced it was a dude) still had the chance. in spite of what’s to come.
i felt an odd connection to the heron. just like him, i was starting the day with a slow run. not thinking of later. or, okay, i was thinking of what’s next, actually. i was making mental to do lists and notes. but also, i was just getting lost in the moment, in running, in the sunshine on skin sensation, in the soft (and warm) breeze, in the happiness of the moment. the heron as my example.
also, i sometimes like making things that take time, recently. does it come with age? i must have lost some of my juvenile jumpiness, somewhere, somehow, along the way. suddenly, i like to make breads, or maybe cookies, or anything that’s a nuisance, in a way. because it’s strangely meditative and exhilarating to be lost in the process of baking or cooking or creating. some call it dedication, even. let’s make small things – cooking dinner for someone we really like, cleaning, ironing, or doing the laundry, maybe – with great dedication. and give the tasks more meaning, so, and make them our happy moments in the process.
now, if you’re up for a nuisance: making brioche is the ultimate baking challenge. the art of brioche making requires many a skill. among them: accuracy and paaaaaaatience. both of which i am not remarkably well-known for. ahem. still, i had to give it a go. because i just love me a good tarte tropézienne. it reminds me of st. tropez (unsurprisingly, because that’s why it’s named tarte tropézienne, obviously… kaching!) and maybe of the south of france and summers spent there, lazily by the beach and busy eating cakes and patisserie at all times of the day. so, brioche making was the challenge. and although you can’t taste the final result (and they were really good, the tarts, the big one and the small ones, equally) i leave you to judge weather i lived up to it.
recipe adapted – as ever so often – from the bouchon bakery. i should make a category for ‘bouchon bakery’ recipes here on f&f. as always, it’s a massive recipe. but i said it was a challenge, so… don’t complain! because i surely didn’t (not all the time, anyway). and another note: at bouchon, they make the tarte tropézienne with nutella plus pastry cream. i must say i was intrigued. yet, i thought my first real attempt at making a tropézienne had to be the classic version. you can flavor the crème patissière with some orange blossom water. we didn’t though. we like ourselves some plain vanilla. pure, plain and simple, vanilly vanilly. btw: makes 1 large (about 25cm diameter) and 4 small tartes.
for the brioche:
175 g all-purpose flour
4 g instant yeast
21 g granulated sugar
4 g fine sea salt
88 g eggs
29 g whole milk
79 g unsalted butter, cut into tiny cubes
note: everything should be at room temperature (because thomas keller says so).
for the pastry cream:
132 g egg yolks
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds discarded
110 g granulated sugar
83 g custard powder or all-purpose flour
550 g whole milk
27 g unsalted butter, cut into tiny cubes, at room temperature
start by making the brioche ahead of time. and i mean well ahead of time. like, “the day before” ahead (oh, and it helps sometimes to read the recipe first, ahem. i’m not implying i never do that, because i sometimes do). even more so if you do not own a stand mixer. ahem. *
grease a large bowl with some oil. place the flour and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook and mix for about 15 seconds to distribute the yeast evenly. add all of the remaining dough ingredients, except the butter, and mix on low speed for 4 minutes. continue to mix on low speed for 30 minutes. add the butter a few pieces at a time, incorporating each addition before adding the next. stop and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and push the dough off the hook. continue to mix for 10 minutes. using a bowl scraper, release the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured board. the dough will be sticky. pat, stretch and fold the dough and place it back in the prepared bowl, cover and set aside for 1 hour. after that, repeat the pat, stretch and fold, place back in the bowl again. cover and refrigerate overnight.
line a sheet pan with parchment paper. prepare a cake ring, sized at about 25-26 cm diameter. lightly flour your work surface. using a rolling pin, roll the dough out, flipping and luffing it, into a 1.5 cm thick round that is just slightly larger than the cake ring. transfer the brioche circle to the parchment lined sheet pan. dip the bottom of the cake ring in flour and tap off any excess. center the ring over the dough and press it down into the round of dough in one clean motion. remove the trimmings (and make four tiny tartes with this – but bake separately). brush the top of the brioche with egg wash. cover the sheet pan with a clean towel and let proof for about 1.5 hours, until the dough has risen halfway up the sides of the ring.
preheat the oven to 160 c / 325 f. brush the top of the dough with egg wash again and sprinkle with the pearl sugar. bake for 28 minutes in a standard oven, until the top is a golden brown and the center is baked through when tested with a toothpick. set the pan on a cooling rack and cool completely. the uncut, unfilled tropézienne can be stored wrapped lightly in a few layers of plastic wrap at room temperature for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 1 week.
when cooled, carefully run a paring knife around the edges of the brioche to loosen it and lift off the ring. using a serrated knife (bread knife) cut the tropézienne horizontally in half. lift off the top and set aside.
for the pastry cream**, set up an ice bath. place a medium bowl in the ice water and set a fine-mesh strainer over the bowl. put the yolks in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted the whisk attachment. scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean, add them to the yolks, and mix on medium speed for about 30 seconds. reduce the speed to low and slowly pour in the sugar, then whisk on medium speed until lighter in color, about 1.5 minutes. scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, then whisk on medium-high speed for about 3 minutes, until the mixture is pale yellow and thick. when the whisk is lifted, the mixture should form a slowly dissolving ribbon.
reduce the speed to low, add the custard powder or flour, and mix for 30 seconds. scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. with the mixer running on the lower speed, slowly pour in the milk. scrape the bowl again and mix on low sped for another minute, or until combined. pour the mixture into a large saucepan, set over medium heat, and stir gently until it begins to thicken. switch to a whisk and whisk as the cream comes to simmer, rotating the whisk around the bottom to keep the cream from scorching. once you see bubbles breaking the surface, cook for about 5 minutes longer, whisking constantly, until the pastry cream has thickened. pour the pastry cream through the strainer, pressing gently on it to push the thickened cream through. whisk for about 1 minute to cool slightly, then whisk in the butter in 2 additions. pour into a covered container and press a piece of plastic against the surface to prevent a skin from forming. refrigerate for at least 1 hour. the cream can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.
when ready to assemble (i.e. ideally just before serving), stir the pastry cream to loosen the consistency, then transfer to the pastry bag (with a round tip). beginning in the center of the bottom layer of brioche, pipe a spiral to within 1 cm of the edges. pipe a second spiral of filling on top of the first spiral. replace the top half of the brioche and press down gently.
the tropézienne is best the day it is made, but the dough can be baked up to 1 day ahead, wrapped in plastic wrap, and stored at room temperature. the tropézienne can be filled up to 2 hours before serving and refrigerated.
* you will need a stand mixer. if, by any idiocy, you should try to make this with a hand mixer,
like me, then, well… good luck. and lots of time. because your day will seem to flow by with nothing else but mixing. also, i must be the last cook on earth without so much as an idea of a stand mixer in my kitchen. literally not even a hint of it anywhere. and to be blunt, because that’s what i’m good at, i mean a kitchen aid… okay? a kitchen aid has been on my wish list for, like, oh, only the past 10 years? not really urgent, see. but, here’s my apply to kitchen aid international:
dear kitchen aid marketing people, i’m sure you’re fabulous. should you read this, and should you want to consider making me a brand ambassador, i’d willingly oblige. and the color of choice would be white or silver. but i’m not picky, ofc. yours faithfully, eternally, sunshiny, scarlett
** thomas keller is a son of a bitch. sorry. but it has to be said eventually, by someone, and i volunteer, because i’m selfless like that. he’s a son of a bitch, because his pastry cream is, admittedly, super delicious, but also a hell of a lot of work…? craziness. should you want to go for another recipe, i really can not blame you.
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