Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Delicious Things with Leftover Brioche

I constantly overestimate how much two adults (greedy ones) can eat in one sitting.

I am incapable of throwing food away.

I love making brioche. I worry about it in phases - boringly enough for those I feed, for weeks on end - where I'll bake nothing else.

And so, before I'm siezed by another bout (which according to retrograde analysis, can't be too far off down the line), the freezer needs to be purged of the vestiges of one such last attack. Not that I'm complaining - brioche, when wrapped and stored properly upon cooling from being first baked, freezes and reheats wonderfully. The remaining petites brioches à tête (made from the fabulous 87.7% butter-to-flour recipe for Rich Man's Brioche in Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice) have long been enjoyed at recent breakfasts, served piping hot with some more good French butter and preserves. The space-hogger in question is a pullman-style shaped sandwich loaf (the lovely Brioche Loaf recipe in Nancy Silverton's Sandwich Book).

Sure, leftover brioche makes the definitive pain perdu or French toast. It also makes for a richly custardy, vanilla seed-flecked, raisin-studded bread-and-butter pudding. But rather than sweet beginnings to the day and endings to a meal - both routes I've had plenty brioche to go previously explore - I had bigger main-event designs on that last generously-proportioned loaf.

In the savoury scheme of things, brioche is superb partnered with myriad foie preparations both hot and cold. Spliced into chubby fingers and toasted, you'll be hard put to find a happier trooper for dipping into eggs soft-boiled or en cocotte, accompanied by a fat scrunch of sea salt. Brioche is also most obliging in certain sandwiches (many fantastic ideas for which abound in the aforementioned book). It's this last, the comforting meal-unto-itself that happens to sit on a tranche of brioche, that inspired the final fate of said loaf - no ordinary sandwiches, these two, and by no means sandwiches in the conventional sense.

Baked Ham & Cheese Bread Pudding

The idea for this was sparked by a recipe in Tessa Kiros' Apples for Jam. Sepia memory, heirloom recipe and charming anecdote are threaded together with the poetry and grace of a daisy chain in this beautiful cookbook-meets-journal - an eclectic and original style fans of Falling Cloudberries and Twelve will be familiar with.

Depending on what appeals most to you, think of this one-dish bake-and-serve wonder as a strata, a twist on ham and cheese sandwiches, or a savoury bread-and-butter pud. The recipe acts much like a template that invites tinkering. Use whatever combination of bread, ham and cheese is most convenient or alluring to you, or add an additional ingredient between the layers if you fancy - I used brioche in conjunction with Bayonne ham, gruyère, and parmesan.

A savoury custard, rich in eggs and cream and scented with freshly grated nutmeg, melds the layers together. No more than 15 minutes of prep work, the oven does the rest - in other words, the perfect antidote for when you're feeling less than up to a big production for dinner.

Oeufs Bénédictine, or Poached Eggs with Brandade & Saffron Hollandaise

I first read about and consequently lusted after oeufs Bénédictine - not to be confused with eggs Benedict - thanks to Elizabeth David's French Provincial Cooking, where at the end of her evocative explanation of that Nîmes' speciality, la brandade de morue, she casually mentions that "one of the nicest subsidiary dishes to be made with this creamed salt cod is oeufs Bénédictine, poached eggs placed on top of the brandade and covered with sauce hollandaise". So when I finally came by a full-blown recipe for what on paper already sounded like a sublime combination, I was over the moon. The recipe comes from Damien Pignolet's French, a book I've come to utterly adore. This particular rendition is inspired by Gay Bilson's signature dish from the heady days of Berowra Waters Inn, in turn her very special take on classic oeufs Bénédictine - the legendary Australian chef would place the brandade and poached eggs in a puff pastry case and coat the eggs with a saffron hollandaise sauce. Damien Pignolet describes it as "a sumptuous dish with a perfect balance of texture and flavour", then graciously proffers "a simplified version I urge you to try" - resistance, as they say, is futile. This vibrant revival of a dish that has all but disappeared from restaurant menus keeps the exquisite saffron-hued hollandaise of Gay Bilson's imagining but uses thick slices of toasted brioche in lieu of puff pastry.

OK, it's not exactly something to put together in a hurry, requiring as it does time and effort on the cook's part. It's just the thing, however, if you happen to rouse early on Sunday morning and are in the mood for leisurely preparation of a luxurious brunch. Quite aside from the brioche - hopefully homemade - and the last minute flurry that the making of hollandaise sauce entails, there's the brandade of salt cod to contend with, for which there's an excellent, precise, and meticulously detailed recipe in the book. After soaking the salt cod for 24 hours, it needs to be gently poached in a court-bouillon before being pounded in a mortar, with warmed olive oil and cream gradually worked in, trickle by patient trickle much as you would with mayonnaise so the emulsion doesn't break.

And if you're somewhat obsessed with doing things from scratch, have little access to decent salt cod, or simply fancy giving it a whirl, there's the cod to salt. While fresh home-salted cod will never possess the unique flavour and texture of the staple over which legions of avid bacalao consumers - split into camps along regional lines - argue so passionately about (see Mark Kurlansky's Cod for a fascinating biography of "the fish that changed the world"), it's certainly a very fine alternative to say, not making brandade at all because there's no quality salt cod to be had where you're located. (I like the simple, fool-proof method given in Rick Stein's Seafood.)

As for the poached eggs, I take the stress-free route by cooking them ahead and holding them in cold water till needed. To reheat a poached egg, simply immerse in a bowl of boiling water for 30 seconds - a nifty trick I picked up from Michel Roux's Eggs, which completely de-mystifies the poaching process with clear instructions illustrated by step-by-step photography, and incidentally, happens to be a stellar collection of every egg-centric recipe you may care to cook.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

J, you've made me hungry just reading this. The Oeufs Bénédictine look absolutly delicious. I was at Bistro Moncour last month and loved the food. I should have picked up the French cookbook when I was there.

You have now convinced me it's definitely worth purchasing. Thanks

3:49 pm, June 28, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tip on reheating the poached eggs! Now, I don't have the stress of poaching 10 eggs at Sunday brunch for friends anymore.

8:14 pm, June 28, 2006  
Blogger Krithika said...

Pictures are great !

9:12 pm, June 28, 2006  
Blogger Annette Tan said...

Wow wee :-) Croque Monsieur pudding - what a fabulous idea! Thanks again for those peaches. They were super sweet and delicious. I was going to turn them into some kind of confection at first, but the scent of them made me dig into them raw. So did M - he ate them complete with skins. And I'm so glad we did. Are those the ones your dad brings back from Japan? If they are, I may have to fork out at Meidi-ya; they were that good!

12:23 am, June 29, 2006  
Blogger Nic said...

Very beautiful, as always, J. I must say that I admire your ability to store the brioche for such long periods, as I'm always tempted to eat nothing else for days when I've made some.

3:08 am, June 29, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ham and cheese bread pudding sounds like the best of comfort food. I am always amazed how you have the most wonderful ingredients lying about your place to turn into the most wonderful creations!

6:03 am, June 29, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

looks amazing. would you share your recipe for the ham and cheese bread pudding? would love to try it.

10:40 am, June 29, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must agree...that ham and cheese bread pudding looks amazingly comforting and delicious! What a great idea! :) I'm definitely bookmarking this...

10:05 pm, June 29, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You've made me so hungry I want to cry!

The brioche is too brilliant. Of course my problem is that there is almost never leftover brioche in the house.

Mostly because I eat at all ...


10:07 pm, June 29, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Joycelyn, I remember the brioche post last year - they looked flawless and they still do! I've been wanting to make them but haven't got round to it yet, you've encouraged me (again) to go ahead - although I know mine won't be as beautiful as yours :) Oeufs Bénédictine looks/sounds wonderful, I'd definitely like to try.

I love your obsession about doing things from scratch ;)

10:14 pm, June 29, 2006  
Blogger Michelle said...

J, I think brunch is one of my favorite meals - especially when it contains such gorgeous elements as you've pictured above and when the champagne is flowing. I've been wanting to read "Cod" for quite some time, but had forgotten about it - now I'll have to remember and add it to my list again - thanks!

8:40 am, June 30, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is called the comfort food to its perfection! I love to make brioche as well, the scent and taste so much pay off for the effort put into making it! Your pics make me so hungry!!! ;-)

11:11 pm, June 30, 2006  
Blogger Steffles said...

I'm staring adoringly at your pictures and feeling the grumbling for a big sunday brunch.... especially the baked ham and cheese bread pudding looks gorgeous!

9:08 am, July 02, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also remember the brioche post from last year and how much I drooled - this time is no different! I've had Peter Reinhart's rich man's brioche bookmarked for ages, but the continued absence of a stand mixer in my life has proven to be quite an obstacle... Even though I'm limited to the store-bought stuff, your ideas for savory preparations are going on my list - the ham-cheese strata is sheer brilliance!

2:51 am, July 03, 2006  
Blogger Claudia said...

Here I am again stunned by this post which apparently is about brioche. I love simply adore salt cod and never thought of serving brandade on brioche with eggs and holandaise. I have always served the conservative way, on top of garlic baguette slices...

Girl I miss these savory posts of yours, please come back to them one day...


7:48 pm, January 08, 2010  

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