Saturday, December 10, 2011

Nice and Naughty: Butterless Brioche and Plastered Plums

...or will it be naughty and nice? Your call!
For the brioche recipe, look no further than Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson. If you don't own it and your local library can't get it for you, you could go browse the book on the website, look inside and search for brioche. If you are lucky enough (I was the first time I tried), it will let you browse pages 151-152 where you'll find the olive oil brioche recipe. Alternatively if you speak Spanish or don't mind using Google Translate, you can check out Madrid Tiene Miega, the blog where I got the idea of making this dessert bread to accompany the wickedest, meanest, craziest plums I have ever had the pleasure of serving.
Tartine's olive oil brioche has a delicate and complex taste. I was a bit hesitant to use our regular extra-virgin olive oil as I thought it might be a bit too fruity but Chad says to use a strong-flavored oil, so I went for it and found that it played a wonderfully supportive role to the poolish and the levain. You don't actually taste it (at least I couldn't) but you definitely taste more than slowly fermented grain. A truly intriguing combination. The original recipe calls for orange-blossom water, which may not be easy to find if you don't have access to a Mid-Eastern market. If that's the case, steeping a few crushed cardamom pods or whole saffron threads in the warm milk for a few minutes is a good substitute. Both go well with the taste of the brioche provided you err on the side of caution with the amount of spice and you make sure to strain the milk before using it in the dough. Skipping the extra flavor is also an option.
I had no luck finding orange-blossom water, so I used green cardamom pods (3 g total which I crushed in a mortar with a pestle). I halved the original amounts given in the book for all the ingredients (which I now regret as it would have been just as easy to make the whole batch and freeze half), especially as the dough is a pain to work with. It is super wet and looks like pancake batter for the longest time. I must tell you as well that I ended up adding about 120 g of flour to make it finally come together. I also switched the mixer to high speed - instead of medium - for the final couple of minutes. That may explain why I got a tighter crumb than I had been shooting for.
Halved, the recipe yielded one big brioche and about 20 small ones (scaled at 50 g raw). In half-a-dozen of those (the ones which were to accompany another dessert), I hid two or three of the exquisite chocolate-covered cherries my friend Kim, a talented baker if I ever saw one, had sent me from Wisconsin (thank you, Kimmy!). I love the tangy taste of cherries both with cardamom and with saffron although I don't know how well it would fare with orange-blossom water. The crumb looks a bit dry on the picture below and it was: since I had forgotten to take a crumb shot, I had to photograph the last surviving brioche. It was 5 days old...
I just gave you nice. Ready for naughty? Read on!
Back in France when I was growing up, dried plums were these dark oblong unidentified objects which were so hard that you had to soak and simmer them before you could eat them. Once cooked, they tasted watery and you had to watch out for the pit or you'd crack your teeth. I never liked them then but they were supposedly good for us, so in the winter they appeared regularly as a dessert on our dinner table. Some years later, we had fleshier ones which we pitted, stuffed with almond paste and rolled in crystallized sugar. They were a special Christmas treat and definitely a step up!
But now, oh now, I have stumbled upon a completely different beast, one that will probably remain forever my ultimate winter after-dinner treat: dried plums slow-soaked in vodka... It definitely takes a while for them to bloom into their magnificent taste and texture, so even though it might be tempting to make them for the holidays this year, if I were you, I would just make them now and then wait until the end of January to enjoy them. They will be an excellent antidote to the winter doldrums and, provided you are not tailgating it and having to drive home but watching the game on your couch with nowhere else to go, you might even make them the star of your Super Bowl party if there are no teenagers around (although as long as you tell them it's prunes, they probably won't go near the stuff anyway).
The fruit sold in some parts of the country as California prunes and in others as California dried plums (isn't it interesting that some states are more prune-tolerant than others?) has almost nothing in common with what I knew as a child. It is fleshy to the point of quasi-roundness and it has been pitted. It is quite tasty on its own if you actually like dried plums, which I do.
Now every summer, back when I lived in France as a grown-up, I used to make "framboises à l'eau-de-vie" (raspberries in brandy, literally acqua vitae) with a special spirit they sell over there just for macerating fruit. Since raspberries were delicious and plentiful this summer in the Pacific Northwest, I decided to preserve some in brandy for the winter. I couldn't find a suitable brandy at the local liquor store however, so I used vodka (100-proof). It does pack a wallop. A less potent version would do just as well, I suspect.
The vodka-marinated raspberries retained their plump shape and even some of their color and they looked pretty but the taste wasn't what I was looking for. Of course the reason could be that I really don't like vodka, never did and probably never will and they tasted like vodka flavored with children's cough syrup (probably because I misguidedly decided to flavor the vodka with a few hyssop leaves). In any case, not a success...
I was contemplating the berries and wondering what to do with the leftover vodka (I had bought a large bottle) when I had a sudden flash of inspiration. Since I always keep dried plums in the house, why not try and see if they would work? After the raspberry fiasco, I had little hope. Still, ever the optimist, I took a small jar (one which had contained jam or jelly in another life) and packed it tight with the fruit, then filled it with vodka (not the raspberry-infused vodka but fresh vodka) to the brim, screwed the lid back, put it away and forgot about it for six weeks.
When we opened the jar, the vodka was gone! It had mostly been soaked up by the fruit and whatever was left had turned into a syrupy boozy liqueur which tasted fantastic. I have since made two big jars of the plums, one which I am keeping at low temperature (in the garage actually) and the other one at room temp, just to see if it makes a difference (I'll let you know if you are interested but I won't find out for another four weeks). I have also added some vodka to the new jars at the two-week mark as I found the plums had been at the sauce again and the top ones were no longer covered. But one thing you need to know is that each time you add vodka you are thinning out the liquor which means you will have to wait longer until you can fully savor the plums. In other words you have to choose between having more or having sooner. As I said, it's your call...
The Butterless Brioche and Plastered Plums will be going to Susan for Yeastspotting, her weekly roundup of breads and other baked goodies.


  1. Hi MC,
    Such a pretty brioche, and the 'plastered plums' sound delicious, infused with additional flavor from the raspberry and hyssop.
    I have tasted those chocolate-covered cherries; isn't Kimmy the sweetest? Adding them to your brioche is a lovely idea!
    I wonder what that 'special spirit' is, produced in France, for macerating fruit? (I would have loved to have had something like that this summer during sour cherry season; wanting to make a homemade cherry eau-de-vie, I used vodka. It tastes nice, after soaking these past few months, but might have been better with brandy?).
    I bet the flavor in those plums will keep getting better and better. Thanks so much for this creative idea; what a lovely presentation of your brioche, and festive fruit!
    :^) from breadsong

  2. Hi MC,

    Thank you for great writes up again and I will try Tartine's olive oil brioche around Christmas. I do have the same worried as you pointed out –“ using regular extra-virgin olive oil” but right now I can go ahead to use the oil for making a batch of dough soon. You can find both orange and rose blossom water at whole foods or you can make them at home (I used to make them at home all the times when I was in west coast – we have citrus tree at our back yard):

    I love your plums idea (I can eat them just like that) and I think dried fruits do better in alcohol compare to fresh fruits. I want to try sake version next year. I feel very honor to be mentioned in your post but I’m still very far behind from a talented baker – lots to learn in the future. Thanks.


  3. Great looking brioche, very tantalizing looking drunken plums and gorgeous pics of all. You are so inspiring MC, what great ideas for the holiday season! I love prunes and this is definitely a keeper idea. Thank you for the wonderful post! Merry Christmas!

  4. @breadsong, thank you so much for your kind words. Actually I didn't use the raspberry-hyssop infused vodka to soak the plums, just the vodka which was left in the bottle after I made the berries. I have edited the post to reflect that. But maybe I should try it on just a handful of plums...?
    In France they sell something called "alcool pour fruits". It is 40 degrees white aqua vitae which has no specific taste so that it can be imbued with the fruit or spice you choose.
    @Kim, thank you! I will try to make orange water. What a great idea! You were so lucky to have a citrus tree in your backyard. It's my dream and not to likely to happen now that we live in the NW.
    @Teresa, thank you so much. Merry Christmas to you and yours!



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