Bread #5: Brioche loaf
(If you so desire, click on the name and follow the link to make your own bread using this delicious recipe)
So I’m really behind on these blog posts but I promise I’ll work hard to catch up!
This time around I sought to bake a bread known for its luxurious nature. It’s a bread so rich and buttery that it takes its name from Brie, a French cheese as soft and creamy as the butter first used to make Brioche. As always mine is not as pretty as the one from which it derived (I decided to make a standard loaf without any fancy puffs, mostly because I failed at making them) but I convinced myself it was equally delicious.
It was especially good paired with Brie or Triple Crème Cheese and cranberry relish or spicy plum jam. Also, for more of a lunch fare, I highly recommend putting Cape Cod Chicken salad with walnuts and cranberries over a slice.
Brioche, though perfectly refined in both its shape and texture, actually once belonged to the peasant class, much like the English Muffin, before it became of symbol of aristocratic luxury. Since butter was something the dairy farming peasants produced, it was mostly they who incorporated it into their bread and consumed it. Of course, it didn’t take long for those of the noble class to realize butter’s amazing power of making everything it touches a million times better and claim it as their own. By the 16th century the archbishop had made butter illegal for consumption during Lent unless you could afford to lift the restriction by paying six deniers. As a result, butter became an indulgence only to be enjoyed by the well-to-do and, by proxy, so did Brioche. And while the rich were enjoying their delectable sweets and buttery breads, the poor were struggling to obtain bread that provided even the bare minimum in nutritional value. Often in times of famine they would attempt to stretch their meager supply by incorporating stale leftovers and sometimes even plant products such as tree barks. The situation became so dire that riots over the high price of bread and the opulence of the ruling class rose to critical mass and gained prominence in the French Revolution. In fact, one of the earliest most influential movements of the French Revolution involved bread riots where thousands of women from the marketplaces of Paris gathered together to protest the cost and under-availability of bread before they eventually stormed the palace of Versailles. Their movement became otherwise known as The October March, The October Days, or The Women’s March on Versailles.
Much of the agitation that cultivated into dismantling the throne, and then executing France’s last queen Marie Antoinette, is said to be attributed to the queen’s blatant disregard for the needs of the people in the form of response to the public’s demand for bread. “Let them eat cake,” she’s known for having said. Though in actuality there’s no evidence of these words belonging to her. The quote “Let them eat cake” was thought to be recorded in philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau’s biography “Confessions” and to have a role in egging on revolutionaries as he was well-known and well-read among them. Most likely though he was referring to the words of Maria Theresa rather than Marie Antoinette as the latter was only nine at the time. Also the quote is actually “qu’ils mangent de la brioche” or “let them eat Brioche”. Considering this, it’s fair to say Brioche played quite a large role in both stirring and giving strength to the Revolution. Gu’ils mangent de la brioche, indeed.
Taking this rich history into consideration, I present to you a rare thought to be long lost excerpt of a speech from one of the female French Revolutionary leaders who helped rally a great many of the women to March on Versailles under the direction of Stanislas-Marie Maillard. (for ethical reasons I must tell you this account is actually fiction but it’s fun to pretend)
Revolutionary Lament of “Qu’ils Mangent de la Brioche”
How long have we been forced to choke down saw dust and tree bark while the “noble” French eats their weight in butter and brioche? How long we fought to contain the swell of revolution in our throats and behind the gates of our gritted teeth? Do you know? I can hardly even remember a world when I wasn’t biting my tongue, feigning graciousness for these inedible insults to our humanity. These small piles of rot the rich leave behind for the peasants and poorhouses while they swim chin deep in their spoils, the butter and bread all but dripping down their backs. And who among us is surprised that Marie Antoinette proves to be the worse of them all? While we continue to starve in the streets she does well to stuff her pretty little face with pastries. High on her throne she refuses even to cast a glance down at the common people who struggle to feed their children let alone themselves. We might as well be paper dolls in an elaborate playhouse that was supposed to be her birthright. She has no regard to the challenges we face to even garner an ounce of grain to make our bread. No view of the dark clouds brewing famine and war. No compassion for the daily bouts of suffering we endure in this cesspool of a country. Why, I’d heard a rumor that the great Jean Jacques Russo recorded a French Princess saying something to the likes of “Let them eat Brioche!” when asked how to feed the starving people of France. How do you like that? She might as well have said “Let them eat cake” for what it’s worth. Will they lift the six deniers it takes to get the butter to bake it? Will they make available flour pure of wood and rot? Will they take their stronghold over the market down and allow us to the freedom to partake at will? Nay! I say they will never so long as Marie Antoinette still breathes through that porcelain neck into which she shoves down an endless supply of brioche and sweets. And so long as this princess refuses to see, smell, or feel the true state of her own country. It stands to reason that if she can’t open her eyes to us on her own we shall force our presence on them. We shall march on Versailles and give our response back to her flippant remarks, her heartless dismissal of our suffering. We shall impress upon that long unbending neck of hers the feeling of being cut off from the basis of all living. Now, who among you will stand with me and fight to the joyous end in which we will drink their wine and eat their brioche and celebrate the fall of the ill-fated monarchy? Say yay!