Tag: Baking

Brioche à la fleur d’oranger

“Trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit.” Molière

November has been quite a moody month so far, with torrential rain and strong winds. There’s a certain melancholy saying goodbye to the last melons, berries and roses. There’s even a hint of frost in the morning, a gentle reminder that cold winter days are ahead. This is the best time to get cozy with a warm cup of tea sitting by the fireplace. It’s also the most inspiring time to bake. As soon as I feel slightly chilled, I want to prepare something delicious with a mesmerizing aroma filling up the house. I have a special passion for eau de fleur d’oranger (orange blossom water). It’s one of the ingredients I use most in my cooking, especially for waffles, pancakes, madeleines and brioches. The smell is pure comfort, which is exactly what I need right now. So what a better idea than baking a brioche à la fleur d’oranger. My family and I love having goûters with thick slices of brioche with butter and jam, along with hot chocolates for the kids. It’s such a timeless moment of joy. The thicker the slice, the more fun it is. If childhood had a scent, it would be the aroma of orange flower blossoms.

It does take time to prepare a good brioche, but it is so simple to make. I would advise to make this in the evening and let it rise overnight. When you wake up, you’ll just have to knead the dough for a few minutes and let it rise a little longer. Then it’s off to the oven for a brioche bien ‘dorée et gonflée‘ (golden & puffed up)!

300 g/ 2 cups 3/4 plain flour (sifted)
2 eggs
50 g/ 1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 pack of baker’s yeast (8 g/ 1 tbsp)
90 g/ 1/3 cup + 1 tbsp butter (cubed, at room temperature)
1 tbsp butter (for lining mould)
1 pinch of salt
90 ml/ 1/3 cup lukewarm milk
30 ml/ 2 tbsp orange blossom water
2 tbsp lukewarm water (to dissolve yeast)
1 egg for glazing
A handful of small sugar grains (to sprinkle on brioche – optional)

Note: I used a traditional brioche mould, but you can really use any types you wish. It can be baked in a deep cake tin or a rectangular tin.

Dissolve the yeast in a small bowl with 2 tbsp of lukewarm water. Set aside for 5-10 minutes or until it turns frothy. In a large bowl, mix sifted flour, salt, sugar, yeast and butter. Add eggs and milk gradually and mix well with a big wooden spoon. Start kneading until you get a smooth ball-shaped dough, about 8-10 minutes. Cover bowl with a cloth and leave to rise in a warm room/environment overnight.
The next day: Start kneading the dough on a non floured surface, just to get rid of a few trapped air bubbles, about 1-2 minutes. Line the brioche mould generously with butter and place the dough inside. Cover with a cloth and leave to rise again for 1 to 2 hours (depending on how patient you are!). Preheat the oven to 180°C/ 350°F. With the help of a brush, glaze the surface of the brioche with the egg. Sprinkle with sugar grains all over and bake brioche for 30 minutes. If the top starts to brown too much, place a sheet of parchment paper to protect.

Bread winner

When you think of France, do you see a béret, a marinière top and a baguette under the arm? To this day, this image has been inked into our minds. I sometimes reflect on the origins of this postal card, souvenir, movie-like ‘cliché’. The characteristics of a baguette remind us of the simplicity and originality of the French way of life. The morning ritual of going to the boulangerie, or in other words the village’s social rendez-vous. You meet everyone there, exchanging stories, saying hellos, overhearing gossip. You can also dive into someone’s life by knowing their bread preferences. And that is how life is all over France. We buy our daily baguettes, hold them under the arms, nibbling the tip out of sheer ‘gourmandise’. The crusty smell of a freshly baked baguette is enchanting.

Baguettes in the making & a charming client buying her baguette tradition

Perfect baguettes.

Baguette ordinaire (left), and a client buying a ficelle.

Baguette is France’s daily bread. Finding a perfect baguette is a sacred quest. Once found, you shall forever be faithful. It’s a family affair.

When we lived in Paris, we found a boulangerie with baguettes just how we like them (Pain D’Epis, 63 Avenue Bosquet, 75007 Paris note I just found out they closed down – Boulanger Thierry Dubois decided to take a year off for a ‘Tour du monde’). Everytime we bought bread there, we were grateful for the excellent quality. When we left Paris, one of the first things I said every morning was: ‘Oh how I miss my boulanger!’ So there we were, discreetly searching for a great baguette. We tried, talked, discussed, searched. After a few months of tasting and comparing (lots of good bread), we discovered ‘Le fournil de J & J’, located in Soulac-sur-Mer (24, Rue Trouche 33780, Soulac-sur-mer). This husband and wife bakery (Jeremy & Jessica) is certainly a bit of a stretch distance wise, but in exchange we get the quality we are looking for. Don’t be fooled by the simple décor. This place is all about excellent bread. It’s as good as any bread I’ve ever had, right up there with the very best, the kind of bread you would expect from a great establishment where the boulanger wears the French flag around his neck. That this bread is made by such a young artisan makes it even more special and bodes well for the future of French gastronomy.

Jeremy only uses flour from Charente-Maritime.

What is a perfect baguette? Golden thin crisp crust, light and airy inside. The bubbles of air keep all the flavours in. Jeremy is the ‘artisan‘ boulanger, a master of his trade. He started when he was fourteen years old and has been perfecting his art ever since. What is the secret to a good baguette, I asked? It’s the ‘action de la levure, la fermentation (the action of the yeast, the fermentation). But what is even more important is the time he lets his bread rise. From 24 to 72 hours. Quality is all about patience. Unfortunately, not everyone has the time, nor the staff, for such dedication. Additionally, Jeremy has a few tricks up his sleeve that make his bread unique. C’est le secret professionel, something he won’t share with anyone.

Fresh baker’s yeast (left), Jessica and boulanger Pierre.

The less yeast , the better the quality. The more water, the thinner the crust, the airier the crumb, therefore the bread tastes better. Jeremy leaves his baguette ‘tradition’ (their bestseller) to rise 48 hours in a cold room of 3 degrees Celsius. He uses ‘mitronette’ mill flour from the Charente-Maritime region. In high season, queues start forming at 7:30 am, clients buying the baguette classique, the ficelle, the céréales, the bio among many others.

I have learnt a great deal from Jeremy’s techniques and will take these very important tips:

● Only use fresh yeast (your baker can sell you some),
● Don’t be shy to let the dough rise for a long time (Jeremy lets his baguette rise 48 hours in a cold room 3 degrees), or at least 3 hours at home at room temperature
● Less yeast = better tasting bread
● While baking the bread at 240°C, use a cast iron skillet filled with 1 large glass of water placed under the baking tray. Traditional baguettes are baked in ovens that produce steam, which delays crust formation so the loaves can fully rise.

Cycling around the charming village of Soulac-sur-mer.

My favourite sandwich: saucissons secs, pickles and butter with baguette bread.

We came back home by lunchtime. I made my favourite sandwich. Baguette, saucissons secs, butter and crunchy pickles. Simplicity at its best.

Le fournil de J & J


Since I moved to the country, I’ve developed a passion for baking bread. I loved baking cakes in the past, but bread was never my forte. In Paris, I lived in the 7th arrondissement surrounded by ‘maîtres boulangers‘ (baking masters) – all I had to do was run down and follow the scented bread trail. Baking is extremely rewarding, and if ever there was a smell to describe love and family, then freshly baked bread would be it.

I once read a story on Marie-Antoinette and how she introduced an Austrian light tube cake to her friends in Versailles – she was homesick and longed to have her favourite childhood food. This cake was called Kouglof, filled with raisins and crowned with almonds. It became one of the most fashionable cakes in the court of Versailles – everybody could have a little piece of their queen’s history.

I find it very glamorous to bake these old-fashioned cakes – not only for their past and present beauty, but also for the magic of transforming water, flour and yeast into heavenly crusted works of art. Bread baking can hold fears for some people, but once you have understood the purpose of yeast, the basic element of baking, then it will all start to make sense.

Ingredients: (Serves 8)

1st part:

20 g active yeast

70 ml water

100 g plain flour

For the main dough:

450 g plain flour

250 ml lukewarm milk

2 eggs

80 g caster sugar

1 tsp salt

130 g butter

100 g de dried dark raisins

40 ml rhum or kirsch

For the lining of the kouglof mold:

25 g butter

80 g blanched flaked almonds

Soak the raisins in the rum or kirsch. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine 70 g lukewarm water and yeast and leave to dissolve and froth for 5 minutes. Add the 100 g flour and mix well – knead for 5 minutes, make it to a shape of a ball. Cover the ball with the remaining 450 g of flour, cover for 20 minutes in a warm place. I always place dough (to be risen) in an unheated oven, and I place a small bowl of boiling water – like this the oven will be humid and warm, a perfect environment for rising dough. After 20 minutes, add the eggs, lukewarm milk, sugar, salt and butter.

Start kneading (pulling and pushing) the dough for 15 minutes of more – consider this as a form of exercise for the arms! The dough should become elastic. Add the soaked raising add the rest of the rum or kirsch in the dough.

Spread butter generously around sides and bottom and into crevices of the kouglof mold. Arrange almonds in bottom of mold. Gently shape dough into roll about 10 or 12 inches long and arrange in a circle in mold. Cover and let rise in a warm spot until dough doubles and is level with rim of mold for about 1 hour.

Pre-heat oven to 180 ° degrees/ 350 F. Place mold on center rack and bake for 50 minutes, or until a knife inserted comes out clean. When ready, take out of oven and place let it cool for 5 minutes. Then un-mold on a plate.

Delicious scones

250 g all-purpose flour
3 g cream of tartar
2 g baking soda
2g salt
50 g butter (softened)
25 g white sugar
120 ml milk
20 ml milk (for glazing)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C). Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Sift the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt into a bowl.
Rub in the butter until the mixture is crumbly. Stir in the sugar and milk to mix to a soft dough.
On a slightly floured surface, knead and roll out to ball-sized portions (a bit bigger than golf balls, but if you like your scones bigger than a tennis ball size). Place on the prepared baking sheet. Brush with milk to glaze.
Bake at 425 degrees F (220 degrees C) for 10-15 max (depending on size of balls) minutes then cool on a wire rack. Serve with butter, clotted cream and jam. My kids prefer nutella!