Sunday, 18 November 2012

Dear Alexandre Dumas (1802 - 1870),

As an urbanite, living in turbulent economic times, I should perhaps be thinking about security.

The news tells me stories of economic decline, and the papers tell me stories of impending ecological catastrophe, and popular culture tells me that we are mere moments away from a zombie apocalypse.

I should bar my windows! Barricade my doors! Install acid-spitting gargoyles outside my building! I should train myself in fencing! Practise fighting duels!

But being the sort who would rather read a book than do any actual work, my training must be literary in nature. I want to read myself into preparedness.

That is where you come in, Mr. Dumas. Surely, if I read The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo in quick succession, I'll magically be able to hold my own against the impending hordes of zombies/recessions/climate change deniers? When I close the back cover, I'll find my hand free of book and full of sword, quick and nimble, and ready to carve a giant 'A' for Anaise into the chests of those who cross me.*

Or perhaps I'll find myself, head full of swashbuckling self-belief, still displaying the patented Irvine Sword Hold, modelled loosely on how Liz Lemon holds a sandwich.

Beware the wrath of my blood-stained... oh wait, I dropped it.
 The most realistic outcome is that I'll get to the end of The Three Musketeers and not particularly want to stop reading, so I'll continue with the other D'Artagnan romances. By the time I get to the last one, entitled Ten Years Later, I'll stumble across a passage which actually does talk about security precautions:

Was it a wall that M. Fouquet was constructing? Was it a fortification that he was erecting? ... Le Croisic has a port of fifty feet, it has a look-out which resembles an enormous brioche (a kind of cake) elevated on a dish. The flat strand is the dish. Hundreds of barrowsful of earth amalgamated with pebbles, and rounded into cones, with sinuous passages between, are look-outs and brioches at the same time.

Uh-oh.  Food was mentioned! Stay focused, think about safety, look-outs, fortification, the brioche is just a metaphor for... briochey... brioches of... brioche...

Nope, too late, I'm looking up recipes. At least the bread will fortify my satiety. That counts, right?

*Except that marking someone with an 'A' is from another book, and this isn't meant to become a crossover blog post.

Fortifying Pear Brioches

Makes 12 big 'uns


3 1/2C bread flour
150g butter, softened
3 room temperature eggs
2 tbsp dry active yeast
4 tbsp caster sugar
2/3C warm milk
Pinch of salt

Rustic frangipane (almond cream):
3/4C sliced almonds
1/4C sugar
1 egg
3 tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp flour

3 cans tinned pear halves
50g pistachios, chopped
50g dark chocolate, shaved


To make the brioches:
Sift the flour into an enormous bowl. Add the yeast and make a well in the centre. With clean hands, slowly pour in the warm milk and use your fingers to work it all in. Add the sugar, butter, salt, and eggs, and do some more finger-smooshing after each addition. It probably looks far too sloppy for a bread dough, but bear with me. Turn the slop onto a floured board and knead for 10 minutes. Yes, your hands will resemble monster movie props at first, but eventually the dough will coalesce into a smooth ball of goodness. Turn the dough into a buttered bowl and leave to rise in a warm place overnight. In the morning, punch the dough down and give it one more knead. Divide it into 12 pieces, and roll each piece into a ball. If you are a sensible person, roll out the balls into small rounds with a rolling pin. If you're like me, smash them down with your fist. Preheat the oven to 180C, and leave the brioche rounds to rise a little more while you make the toppings.

To make the rustic frangipane: 
Throw all the ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth with a few knobbly bits of almond skin. Spread a teaspoonful of frangipane onto each brioche round.

To top, bake, and finish the brioches:
Top each brioche round with half a pear, and press it firmly into the frangipane-topped dough. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Pull them out of the oven and sprinkle over the shaved chocolate and chopped pistachios. (Tip: because I am a chocoholic, I like to use thinly sliced dark chocolate buttons as a thicker version of chocolate shavings.)

Serve warm with coffee. If intruders approach your estate, offer them spare brioche to ward off attack.

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