Monday, July 04, 2005

Petites Brioches a Tete with Prosciutto & Gruyere

I hesitate to count the trays of eggs and pats of butter I've imprudently consumed in the name of working on brioche. Some time last year, I became somewhat obsessed with making a decent brioche. In my books, that's one that manages to be tenderly feathery in texture yet bursting with buttery richness in taste. To create a tight-crumbed brioche that's cake-like in texture (which some may prefer) was not my goal - for that, if you ask me, I might as well make pound cake, which also happens to be a tiny fraction of the trouble. Naturally, many said trays of eggs and pats of butter were flagrantly dumped in recipes that promised one texture but turned out another. To minimise waste of time, I have since learnt - an education paid for in eggs and butter - to sort the feathery from the cakey by scrutinising the recipe instructions (no matter what the author may purport) before springing for my KitchenAid. After many intermittent spells of brioche recipe tinkering (poor "Why can't we just eat normal bread?" W), I have finally grasped the essentials (invaluably gleaned, amongst others, from Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice, Julia Child and Simone Beck's Mastering the Art of French Cookery Volume II, and Nancy Silverton's advice in Baking with Julia) for creating some semblance of the texture I so desire, and have thus officially entered the second phase of my pathological brioche baking, the miasma of myths that shrouded my path to perfect brioche having been cleared...

Mention the word prosciutto, and I used to immediately think of the justly legendary prosciutto di Parma, the fabulous air-cured ham from Langhirano in Emilia- Romagna. Well, as of a couple of days ago, not anymore. Thanks to Chubby Hubby and his lovely wife, S, who generously gave us some of the prosciutto di San Daniele he had brought back from a recent trip to Venice, I now know why this mandoline-shaped ham from the province of Udine in Friuli is considered by many to at least rival, if not better, its more famous cousin. Less assertively salted than Parma ham, the San Daniele ham seems sweeter in contrast. As Fred Plotkin (the author of the indispensable Italy for the Gourmet Traveller guide) puts it in La Terra Fortunata - his ode to the glorious food and wine of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region - prosciutto di San Daniele at its best is "a miraculous hybrid of flesh and silk". I had taken out some slices for a quick lunch of cold cuts, cheese and bread yesterday. We polished off everything laid out save a few scraps, which I was reluctant to toss out - the idea of buttered fresh egg noodles tossed with sage and ham was burning dimly at the back of my mind, I guess. As happens a lot when there are too many reminders of meals past, present and future - read: odds and ends - lurking in the fridge, I got sidetracked. Namely, by a big bowl of hibernating brioche dough leftover from some flamiche I made a few days ago (brioche dough, incidentally, makes a terrific tart shell). I am particularly fond of this batch, which is bursting with buttery flavour thanks to the unsalted beurre d'Echire used.

Inspired by the spicy salami and cheese flecked Casatiello bread I had read about in Carol Field's wonderful The Italian Baker, I decided to make some petites brioches a tete flavoured with prosciutto di San Daniele and gruyere. Depending on your frame of reference, Casatiello (being an egg and butter enriched dough) is like a piquantly flavoured Italian relative of brioche, or a savoury version of panettone (the rich Milanese bread consumed at Christmas) studded with cured meat and cheese in lieu of nuts and candied fruit. The resulting little rolls were pretty tasty - I can't wait to try making the Casatiello recipe proper.

12 Comments:

Blogger Chubby Hubby said...

Hi. GREAT photo! Where did you shoot this? I've brought the brioche to work and will have it as an afternoon tea break. Yum. Lovely post.

2:13 pm, July 05, 2005  
Blogger Chubby Hubby said...

By the way, here's a picture of "the Do" after helping us eat some prosciutto and melon. :-)

http://i3.photobucket.com/albums/y93/chubbyhubby/brando.jpg

3:26 pm, July 05, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love your blog! The photos are fantastic and your culinary skills are impressive. I am not familiar with European food at all but am learning alot from your blog. Will you be sharing your recipes? Can't wait to try out some of your pride dishes.

5:14 pm, July 05, 2005  
Blogger eatzycath said...

The photo is inspiring, and as usual, so is the writing! I have to say that you must be quite a franco/euro-phile gourmand (foodie is too mild a word to use) the way these foreign words and culinary delights seem to weave their way into your daily life. My own husband doesn't even know what is prosciutto, and I'm like, wow, there are people in Singapore who can actually tell the difference between prosciutto di Parma and prosciutto di San Daniele! Very impressive indeed! :)

6:35 pm, July 05, 2005  
Blogger J said...

hi c.h., thanks for kind words, as always...picture of "the do" (and what you can see of S) is adorable!...re: "location". being totally clueless about adjusting the white balance and what-not, i always shoot in daylight - which translates into the spot next to the balcony/sliding doors, and involves moving the armchair outta the way!

hi eatzycath, you are very kind. well until c.h. kindly proferred the prosciutto di san daniele, i didn't know the difference either!

9:29 pm, July 06, 2005  
Blogger tara said...

I have to say, I adore San Daniele as well. You're right about the sweetness, and I find that without the agressive salt you have a better sense of the suppleness of the ham. What gorgeous brioche you've made - and considering bread, cheese and meat is my favourite meal, these seem perfect in my mind. Gorgeous photo, as usual.

10:07 pm, July 06, 2005  
Blogger J said...

hi tara, thanks for visiting; kinds words coming from as talented a cook and photographer as yourself, i blush!

11:03 pm, July 06, 2005  
Blogger Pille said...

What a lovely looking brioche! I’ve been thinking about baking brioche for a while, but as the recipes I’ve come across are so different, I’ve been put off it. Maybe I should give it another try – especially as now’ve you’ve mentioned some of the more reliable and inspirational sources (i.e. Reinhart, Child&Beck, Silverton). Thanks!

11:16 pm, July 07, 2005  
Blogger J said...

hi pille, thanks! good luck with the brioche baking...

11:32 am, July 08, 2005  
Blogger Chin Ru said...

So thrilled that someone else has attempted Brioche! Isn't it shocking the huge amounts of butter that go into making it? I made mine from Baking with Julia's recipe (does this make the fluffy brioche you're looking for?) - although i made mine into a sticky bun instead. Do visit my posting on it when you have the time!
www.sweetoven.blogspot.com

2:36 pm, August 08, 2005  
Anonymous stephen said...

Hi J..congratulations on taking 4th place in this month's DMBLGIT! I think I already told you that I am quite in awe of your consistently high quality photos...!

9:34 am, September 08, 2005  
Anonymous Emily said...

This is magnificent. Do you have a recipe to share? :)

9:52 am, March 03, 2011  

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