It’s always an unfortunate discovery, when sitting down for lunch or dinner, to see your whole plate is covered in different shades of brown. Even though so many delicious foods are brown; chocolate, caramelised onions, the holy deity that is pastry, a plate of varied tones of beige does not scream, ‘Eat me now!’ We drink in half our meal through our eyes (an incredible yet highly dangerous feat if done literally) which explains why we spend so long scrolling through pictures of someone’s dinner on Instagram and Pinterest.
That said, the same can’t be said for repetition of flavour. The flavour of butter, for instance, and it is remarkable how many dishes I can consume on the trot which have the same buttery flakey texture, the tender crumb and the rich creamy flavour of the golden yellow fat which makes anything taste good.
Dinner last week was a slap-dash affair involving a few pieces of limp cod fillet, a leek, some sorry-for-themselves new potatoes and, the final touch, a corn on the cob. Rather like a patchwork, it all came together, this time through the uniting force of butter. The new potatoes were chased into a greaseproof pocket and baked with garlic en papilotte until their skins could be pierced with a satisfying crack revealing soft and fluffy white centres. The corn on the cob, a random addition thanks to Calum, was seasoned and sprinkled with chilli flakes and a generous knob of butter before it was rolled into a foil sausage and baked. Once unwrapped the butter oozed into the cob’s crevasses and puddled into the folds of the foil for frequent dipping.
The leeks were a new challenge. Cooked until soft they are sweet and juicy, however, they are also watery and khaki green, rather like a sloppy spoonful of mushy peas. Instead, I played around, chopping it into quarters, blanching the chunks, then searing them in a hot frying pan with another tablespoon of butter, letting the sides turn crisp and gold. Upon eating them, the centers were still piquant and crunchy while the outer layers were caramelised with a buttery glaze.
Finally, the fish was dusted in flour, seasoned and fried skin side first in practically a handful of butter which quickly melted into a sizzling lake, thus the cod had a final opportunity to swim. We ate this meal of melted butter while watching ‘Alien’, only occasionally looking up from our frenzied munching therefore missing the opening scenes. Never underestimate the power of butter.
This week I decided to make brioche. The aim was to make a bread-and-butter-pudding cake, a miracle creation which I finally discovered a couple of months ago: basically bread-and-butter pudding made in a cake tin and eaten hot or cold. Either way it has my name on it particularly if it comes with layers of soft custardy brioche and melted chocolate chunks. However, the brioche proved to be perfectly acceptable on its own which is saying a lot from me who could eat bread-and-butter pudding for breakfast.
I could have bought the brioche which would have brought me one step closer to the bread-and-butter pudding result, but now I have sampled the rich flavour and the soft melt-in-the-mouth crumb of the homemade loaves I’m pleased (and slightly proud) that I spent so long incorporating the walnut-sized chunks of butter by hand. Brioche is very easy to make in a mixer with a dough hook; just flick the switch and the hook pulls and yanks the soft wet dough until elastic while you relax with a cup of tea. By hand it is a completely different experience. Your hands appear to have a second skin of gluey dough which refuses to shift, and the mixture itself is reminiscent of Flubber, secreting on to the work surface and refusing to budge. For 10 to 15 minutes it sits in a mixing bowl while you work at it, sweating and swearing, with a wooden spoon, pounding and scooping, allowing its tendrils to stretch. You then tip it onto the surface and continue the action as though wrestling with some monstrous alien, stretching to shoulder height before you incorporate the pack and a half of butter, one nodule at a time.
After a snug prove in the airing cupboard amidst the towels and pillow cases, it was plopped out of the bowl resembling a pocketed cushion. After a quick knead, the dough feeling light as candyfloss, back it went into an oiled bowl and into the fridge for three to four hours. I never said brioche was a quick project… Finally, it was split into two, shaped and left to prove in their tins. Into a hot oven they slid and baked until deep gold and spouting protruding arms like a cactus.
I am a loaf and a half down within a day as this cake-bread-hybrid feels somewhat healthier than a cake (disregarding the amount of butter it contains) yet more indulgent than a piece of toast. Smothered in strawberry jam and served with a cup of tea it is a perfect breakfast, elevenses, mid-afternoon snack and post-dinner dessert, and irresistible during photo-shoots…
Recipe from Leiths: How to Cook available online