This week was also about needing to start a focused running program, now more than ever.
You see, in The Bread Baker's Apprentice Peter Reinhart presents three versions of brioche, a tender enriched bread replete with, you guessed it, butter. He gives us "rich man's brioche," which incorporates an entire pound (that's four sticks) of butter into the dough. Then there's "middle-class brioche," with two sticks. Then, naturally, "poor man's brioche," with a mere one and one-half sticks of butter. Now, I am not really one to require extra butter. It would not be any sort of tragedy if I went down a few sizes. But I had never made brioche before and I am staunchly of the opinion that if you're going to do something, do something. And so it was that I lifted four sticks of butter out of the refrigerator and left them to assume room temperature on the kitchen counter. I would be going rich man's.
So on Husband's recommendation I plan to follow the beginner's running program in The Runner's Handbook, as it -- unlike several "couch to 5K" programs that have appeared in "Runner's World" magazine that assume you can already run for 20 minutes -- is truly designed for beginning runners. Meaning, runners that currently do not run. At all. Except when being chased. And maybe sometimes not even then.
I made my brioche over the course of two days. The first day I mixed the dough -- which includes yeast, the aforementioned butter as well as five eggs -- and spread it onto a parchment-lined baking sheet for its overnight rest in the refrigerator. When I took it out the next day to shape the loaves, what I found was a "bread dough" that looked an awful lot like a "big cold slab of buttercream." There is no way on earth this is going to rise, I thought to myself. How is it possible that a big stick of butter can rise? I mean, really. But I soldiered on. I shaped the dough into 14 petites brioches à tête and placed them into my cute teeny brioche molds, which really are too precious for words. I also shaped a loaf to fit my larger brioche mold, as well as a sandwich loaf. I left everything at room temperature, loosely covered in plastic wrap, to rise, keeping my fingers crossed that somehow the valiant yeast would still be able to do its business ensconced in a mass of butter.
The Runner's Handbook outlines a specific schedule designed to build up the beginning runner's stamina and endurance to the point of running comfortably for 20 minutes before moving onto the next program. I realize this goal of running for 20 minutes is somewhat laughable, considering that Husband ran a whole lot longer than 20 minutes when he finished the Cleveland Marathon a few weeks ago. But Husband will be the first to tell you that you have to start somewhere, and as long as you're moving, you're well on your way.
You know what? Always trust Peter Reinhart. The brioche rose magnificently, and baked to a golden, buttery shade of yellow. As I popped them out of their molds I felt like I was in a bakery, like a for-real, quality bakery. This challenge came along at the perfect time for me; I had vowed to make all our bread from scratch anyway, and working my way through Reinhart's book could not provide a better education in the art and science of bread-baking. Each week I am stunned by what comes out of the oven -- chalk it up to Peter's superb instruction and richly informative narrative.
It starts out simply enough: run a minute, walk a minute. Then the next day, run two minutes, walk a minute. And so on. Keep your heart rate up for 30 minutes. Perspire, but don't push yourself so hard that you can't maintain a light conversation with your running buddy. Most important of all: run five days a week. Make it part of your day. When it's put like that, who wouldn't want to start a running program?
Mom took several of the petites brioches à tête home with her and ended up serving a few of them, cut into chunks, over scoops of vanilla ice cream with fresh strawberries and blueberries. I ate a few of them plain -- they are so buttery they don't need any topping (though I wouldn't turn up my nose at a spoonful of blackberry jam). The next day I filled a few with turkey, homegrown arugula and a little bit of mayo for a perfect lunch. I used the larger molded loaf to make French toast for Sunday breakfast, dunking the brioche slices into a cinnamony batter and serving it with pure maple syrup and a few links of turkey sausage. I carefully wrapped and re-wrapped the brioche sandwich loaf and froze it. It shall live to see another buttery day.
So as I said, I have been meaning to start this running program for several weeks now. In fact, it was May 18 (the day after the Cleveland Marathon, newly inspired by Husband's feat) that I vowed to myself that I would do it this time. It is now June 7, and I have baked a pound of butter into a few loaves of brioche. If I didn't have a good excuse before (and oh, how I did), I really do now.
The Bread Baker's Apprentice challenge asks that we do not share specific recipes. If, however, you have not yet started your running program and wish to bake one last rich treat (or if you are a runner and can maybe afford some extra calories from brioche), go ahead and turn your copy to page 123. Start bringing your butter to room temperature, and enjoy.