I have always known that Ireland had a special bond with Christmas. I mean apart from the obvious religious heritage, both our “Celtic countries” have, a strong history of emigration that makes the end of year a bit more special, I get it. But you couple all this with an unhealthy relationship with money and you get the perfect storm. Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed it very much in the early years; there was something very sweet about it actually, in North Dublin, a foreign guest in my “Blue eyed girl’s” family; simplicity and warmth. No big fuss makes good fond memories, the inevitable turkey and ham which I read about but never had before was very new to me. Taking a walk by Bull Island to the sound of the Brent Geese and a pint on Stephen’s Day in a Coolock village pub before heading back west, to Sligo or Galway…
Then the 90’s ended and all hell broke loose. I remember chatting about the subject to actor John Hurt I met one day in Dublin; he seemed to be sharing what was going to be the beginning of a long exasperation: “now Christmas is all bloody year around!” he vented in his own inimitable gravelly voice. As a teenager, I had made a presentation to our French class on the film of “Elephant Man” inspired by the true story of Joseph Merrick. I am drifting here, but this was a great moment.
The format, even if always the same, would grow heavier, relentless advertisement from September, a couple of mentions the last week of August, kind of saying “hey, I am just putting it out there”… Then as soon as Hallowe’en’s weekend is over, the flood gates of obscenities give way… Buy, buy, BUY!!! My once amused exasperation soon turned into full blown frustration before eventually reaching a pure and simple “festivalisophobia”; I will let you be the judge of what that is…
Sadly, the story doesn’t end there; once the big day is over, another form of harassment takes control of the very same waves. The guilt! You’ve been bad, you’ve over indulged! “You should follow our new diet” or “you might be suffering from a syndrome called…”. Whatever! Are you serious? As the Christian feast day of the Epiphany is about to be celebrated, with a traditional frangipane puff pastry pie sold in all the bakeries around France, I decided to make a Brioche, a full butter brioche. I am not a religious man but I respect the spiritual symbols it can sometimes offer. I think most people forgot about their meanings and that’s a shame really. After all, what is wrong with sharing, reuniting families and friends, being kind to each other… I do that all year long. So this Christmas, there was no presents under the tree, instead we gave money to two charities. And it never felt better.
So why the Brioche? Well, let’s hope that this New Year will bring you as much sweetness as it smelled coming out of the oven and may its opulent buns represent warmth and happiness for 2016. I wish you all a Happy New Year, be yourselves, Keep Well and Eat Happy!
For the recipe:
- 500g of organic white flour
- 200g of salted butter
- 100g of sugar
- 3 eggs
- 20g of fresh yeast
- the zest of 1 clementine
- A bit of milk if the dough is too dry
First, crumble the fresh yeast with a bit of warm water. In a large bowl, place the flour and make a well in the middle; in another bowl, beat the eggs and sugar together. Melt or rather soften the butter gently in a pan. Pour the eggs and sugar mix in the middle and start whisking, add the butter gently, keep whisking and then add the yeast. Use your hands now and start working the dough for a few minutes. If it is too dry, add a bit of milk, if too wet, a wee bit more flour.
Let the dough rest overnight. Cut the dough in 4 balls and roll them. I put them in a quiche dish with a bit of room as they will expend. Preheat the oven at 180c to 200c . Egg wash the dough balls and bake for 30 minutes. The only way to bake brioche!