Two summers ago, I spent a few months in Geneva, Switzerland. Geneva is a town full of foreigners. Every big fancy name you can think of in the field of international affairs–World Bank, United Nations, Red Cross, UNICEF, etc– is either headquartered or has a large office there. Since all of those organizations generally hire people from all over the world, the place is lousy with transplants. The world suddenly feels very tiny when you can sit in an auditorium full of people and find about 125 nationalities among you. It’s also awfully humbling to find so many average people who can speak five languages competently, or who know what the Rome Statute does (which I didn’t know until I went to,ahem, law school). I don’t know if it’s that America is tremendously self-obsessed, or if it’s because all those petite European countries are squished together, or a combination of the two, but once I’d spent even a modicum of time out of the country, I felt as though a giant red, white, and blue snuggie was lifted, allowing me to see the rest of the world clearly for the first time.
The other wonderful thing about being in Switzerland for the summer was the mobility. That country has five borders! What abundance! Geneva is on the end of Switzerland that pokes its little head into France, yet is also only a few hours from northern Italy. Not having even a lick of German, and having my hands full with all the places in France I wanted to see, I avoided the eastern side of Switzerland and its teutonic neighbors. The transporting things I ate in France and Italy can wait for another day. What I’m longing for at the moment is the feeling of wandering a brand new city, all by myself, where not a soul knows me. Don’t mistake me–I love my people, up and down and all day long. But I also love traveling alone. I’ve never felt so free or exhilarated as the day I spent in Paris, dwelling on Manet’sOlympia at the Musee d’Orsay as long as I liked, sitting on a bench in the Jardin de Luxembourg and eating a macaron, getting tremendously lost in the Cinquieme looking for my hotel. I get tingly just thinking about how wonderful that was.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that summer lately, and on living in Europe. I’ve found myself thinking in French, or talking with a friend about what it’s like to work for the International Criminal Court, or missing the ability to wander freely to Torino or Lyon on a Saturday morning. Law school is ending, and the nasty bits of the end of the year are barreling toward me with a fearsome pace, so I’m sure the wanderlust is due in part to wanting to be anywhere but here at just this moment. I think I’m also a bit more susceptible to spring fever than most. Come the first day of April, I get antsy and impatient and starry-eyed and rebellious, and hopping on the next available flight to Charles de Gaulle with a hastily-packed bag seems like just the cure.
Instead, I found expression for my foreign yearnings by baking a loaf of brioche.
I’d made brioche once before, long ago, with absolutely no success. As a matter of fact, I had to make it twice this time, too. I don’t know much about yeast, to tell you the truth. Little living creatures in an envelope on the shelf? C’est strange. The second time around, however, things rose, and rose again, and four hours later, I had a seductively-scented, golden loaf on my counter. And no, that’s not a typo; this dough proofs twice for a total of three hours, and there’s a fair bit of handling that goes on in between if you’re not blessed with a stand mixer. This is the sort of recipe you take on when you’d like a bit of a challenge; when you’ve got a free afternoon, and want to throw yourself into a recipe that requires some precision. And then parade your loaf around town, slathered with honey or preserves or even more butter, proud of what you’ve crafted with your very own hands.
Since I did nothing, not a thing, to make this recipe my own, I’m going to send you to its source: Tartine Gourmande, and her mother’s recipe for brioche. I will share this word of wisdom: you will want to add flour after you’ve added both eggs. You will think, “Oh my, I’ve already futzed it up; it’s so sticky.” I implore you: don’t add flour. Knead, and knead, and knead, until it isn’t very sticky at all, and you can remove your hands from the boule with minimal trouble. I promise, that moment will come. Also, don’t do what I did to kill my yeast, and leave your dough to rise in a much-too-warm oven. On my second go-through, I heated my oven up a wee bit while I was making the dough, and then turned it off well before I was through kneading, so it was only a bit warm when it was time for proofing.
Bon chance, mes petits.