Last week I mentioned I was going to share another excitement drawn from my viewing of the Tony Awards. I enjoy all forms of theater, really, but nothing more than musical theater. I’ve joked for years that if we get to come back and do this life again I would like to be a Broadway performer. I am willing to be in the chorus.
I watch the Tony’s with glee taking note of the musical performances that catch my ear and then I wait. If the production is successful it will make its way to Los Angeles. Sometimes quickly. This was the case in 1987 when Les Miserables, the musical adaptation of the Victor Hugo novel, won the Tony for best musical of the year.
First of all, perhaps because I had a real flair for the dramatic (I didn’t even need a stage) in high school, I devoured Hugo’s 1862 novel. It was required reading in my English class, and I read the book with true fervor. I have a funny memory of trying very hard to read it in French. Four years of high school French…I do NOT speak the language! But I so badly wanted to absorb the story of love, redemption, good versus evil, revolution…it’s a powerful masterpiece.
In 1988 I didn’t have any knowledge of what was appearing on Broadway short of what I learned by watching the annual Tony Awards. I no longer remember precisely which segments of the musical were showcased that night, but I do recall that I came dangerously close to self-combustion! Later in the same year Les Mis came to Los Angeles, and an obsession was born. I no longer know how many times I’ve seen it, but I believe I’ve only missed one Los Angeles company in 24 years.
This year I didn’t watch the Tony’s live. But later watching them taped I was buzzing through the commercials and something familiar caught my eye. The joys of a recording…I zipped backwards and caught my first peek at a trailer for Oscar-winning director Tom Hooper’s adaptation of Les Mis. Courtesy of all-knowing Facebook–I had previously “liked” the play–I was informed that a movie was in the making. But I did NOT know that Hugh Jackman was to play ex-convict Jean Valjean. Very nice! I am eagerly awaiting. I can already predict I will not be disappointed. Nothing compares to live theater, perhaps self-combustion is off the table, but I don’t think I can hear “Can You Hear the People Sing” without goose-flesh, and I will always cry with the students singing “Drink with Me to Days Gone By.” Oh let’s face it–I cry through the whole thing!
So here’s a segue.. Cake. French cake! Brioche. We all know the phrase “Let them eat cake,” attributed to Marie Antoinette. Historians disagree on this attribution, but someone in power, upon learning that the people were suffering due to widespread bread shortages, quipped, “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche.” I love to bake, and would do more of it if I could develop better self-control! But I have company coming and so I have an excellent excuse, so I am making brioche. The rich bread-like cake, which I like to serve for breakfast, is baked in a specific brioche pan and makes a very pretty presentation.
Traditional recipes are easy to pull together and one of the advantages is that the dough, once doubled at room temperature, can be punched down and allowed to rise again in the refrigerator. But do I have an added treat for you!
Are you familiar with this book? Oh, but you must get acquainted! I enjoy making bread the good old-fashioned way, but sometimes there just isn’t time. The time-saving secret? Keep the dough refrigerated. Not just the brioche mixture, but dough for all manner of artisan breads. The dough is mixed, no kneading necessary, left to sit for about two hours and then shaped and baked. The remaining dough refrigerated for use over the next couple of weeks. The book outlines all the easy details, recommending a baking stone to support a good crust, and provides numerous recipes for a variety of flours and densities.
I may not be as excited about this as I was with Les Mis, but I do love bread–and I can’t resist mentioning that Jean Valjean went to prison for stealing a loaf of bread. But I digress…
Here’s the dough recipe for four 1-pound loaves. The recipe is easily doubled or halved.
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
8 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup honey
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, melted, plus butter for greasing the pan
7 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 TB water)
1. Mix the yeast, salt, eggs, honey, and melted butter with the water in a 5-quart bowl, or a lidded (not airtight) food container
2. Mix in the flour without kneading, using a spoon ( I do use my Kitchen Aid with dough hook, but it isn’t necessary)
3. Cover, not airtight, and allow to rest at room temperature until dough rises and collapses (or flattens on top) approximately 2 hours.
4. The dough can be used as soon as it’s chilled after the initial rise. Refrigerate in a lidded (not airtight) container and use over the next 5 days. Beyond 5 days, freeze the dough in 1-pound portions for up to 4 weeks.
On baking day:
5. Dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a 1-pound (grapefruit sized) piece. Dust the piece with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go.
6. Elongate into an oval and place in the prepared pan. Allow to rest for 1 hour and 20 minutes.
7. Twenty minutes before baking time, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. If you’re not using a stone in the oven, 5 minutes is adequate.
8. Using a pastry brush, brush the top crust with egg wash.
9. Place the bread near the center of the oven and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a medium golden brown. The bread is high in fat so won’t form a hard crust.
Enjoy the buttery goodness! One nice thing about baking in a pretty brioche pan is that you’re less inclined to cut into it early! It spoils the presentation!
This recipe is wonderful. This BOOK is amazing! I will share the companion book, Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day, another time. Get the basics down first, and definitely give the brioche a try.
Hope you enjoyed my French Connection…I am now hungry for brioche, and will perhaps need to bring out my DVD of the 10th Anniversary of Les Miserables: Dream Cast in Concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall (2008). Filmed originally in 1995, this release is a must for any fan (fanatic). I can’t help myself!
Breathing lighter just thinking about it all…Debra
- Anne Hathaway Talks Singing ‘Fantine’ in LES MIS Film (broadwayworld.com)
- First look: “Les Mis” on the big screen (patheos.com)
- Half a year to go and I can’t wait to see the film of Les Mis… (underthelobsterscope.wordpress.com)