Um, so. Let’s talk about bodies. Get your mind out of the gutter! This discussion is purely practical.
Bodies are pretty great. They anchor us in time and space, and give us the stability to keep track of our experiences and thus make some kind of sense of how things work. Our minds, our bodies themselves, and both of these in relation to the world around us. Plus, bodies have other added benefits too. They let us experience beauty. The beauty of human contact, of course, and many other kinds of beauty too. Food, music, sport, art, nature, you name it.
The case for bodies being awesome is pretty good. But bodies have downsides too. They’re pretty vulnerable and not very durable. They get tired; they get sick; they get old. Eventually they crap out and die. In that sense, bodies are kind of a raw deal, aren’t they. But, being as we don’t have much choice in the matter as to whether we want a body or not, the question is, as ever, what to do?
Through history, humans have tested a whole range of approaches, from the Hedonists to the Ascetics. Over here in my little corner, I’m just trying to make the best of things. Trying to use this body to learn as much as I can and give as much as I can. I try (trryyy…eet’s not so eeeasy) not to go running after beauty, but just to truly appreciate what comes my way and use it as a reminder that beings are, indeed, capable of understanding and communicating with one another. I sometimes have doubts about this point, so it’s good to have confirmation. Feeling moved by what some one else has created serves for this.
And when my body has a hard time and gets tired and sick, I try to be patient and not get too grumpy about it. I would like to be able to say, “I try to take care of my body and give it what it needs to get better.” But I don’t think that’s particularly true. I generally relate to my body as being vulnerable and temporary, and rather than having sympathy for its weaknesses, I treat them like unfortunate side effects of the whole mortality thing and, um, mostly just ignore them.
But, after the last few months, I have to consider that the combination of pressure, lack of sleep, and a lot of time spent in the kitchen around interesting food leads to complications for a body that has difficulty digesting and assimilating…who really knows but it feels like anything at this point. I hate to get into health issues because I start to feel like the cranky old Jewish-Chinese lady that, with any luck, I will someday live to be, and also because it’s not my goal to complain. Well, maybe it is a little bit.
It’s hard to know what a body needs. It’s hard to know what to change that will actually help. It’s hard to know how much of this is sickness and how much of this is just having a body and not being nice enough to it. I’ve cut out a lot of things at one point or another, and one thing I know makes a difference is sugar. Hard to know whether it’s the magical, mythical substance itself or the excess that becomes suddenly unavailable when you take it off the table (pun intended). In any case, whether it’s sugar or just the wealth of instant gratification available in a busy kitchen, it’s time for a sabbatical.
I made this brioche for a friend from out of town. She came to help out at Dhagpo in July, and I promised I’d make her a cake if she’d come back for her birthday. The cake was a ploy; we’re hoping she’ll stay, but that’s another story. The story for today is this: This brioche is great. It’s visually elegant but otherwise homey. It’s dense and rich and filled with chemical, store-bought deliciousness. I call it cheater brioche because the removal of salt, the addition of extra yeast, and the adaptation to melted butter render it make-able in a quick morning, rather than the standard overnight agony of proper brioche. Basically, it’s a win. It’s also the last recipe I’ll be posting for the uncertain future because, well…bodies. Time to look after this one. I’m taking a break from the kitchen.
Nutella Swirl (Cheater) Brioche
3/4 cup (180 mL) warm milk
2 tablespoons (25 grams) brown sugar
2 teaspoons (8 g) active dry yeast
6 tablespoons (82 grams) unsalted butter, melted,
1 teaspoon (5 mL) vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups (440 grams) pastry flour (You can sub AP, but your brioche will be denser; if you have bread flour, I recommend that instead.)
I cup (250 mL) Nutella
In a large bowl, stir together the milk, sugar, yeast and four tablespoons (57 grams) of the butter. Let stand five minutes to activate the yeast. Add the flour and knead five to seven minutes until the dough becomes elastic. Form into a tidy ball.
Clean the bowl, brush the sides with butter, and place the dough ball inside. Brush the top of the dough with butter as well. Cover the bowl with a wet dishtowel and put in a warm place to rise. Allow to rise one hour or until roughly doubled.
Gently flatten the dough. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out to a 30″ x 8″ (75 cm x 20 cm) rectangle. (I put a hopefully helpful diagram below if translating text words into dough manipulation poses problems!) Spread the nutella evenly across the dough, leaving a one-inch (2 cm) border on one long side. Once the nutella is spread, gently roll the dough length-wise, to get one long rope. Twist the rope a few times, stretching gently as you go (I think I did about five twists). Tuck the open ends of the rope into bend at the other end to make a ring. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and brush with the remains of your melted butter (scrape the rising bowl if necessary) allow to rise 30 minutes. Fifteen minutes before the rise is finished, preheat the oven to 400˚ F (200˚ C).
Bake 35-40 minutes, or until deep golden brown and sturdy enough to lift. (The oven here is some mix of convection and regular which makes my baking times irregular for people with normal ovens…apologies. My advice: Look at your baked goods. Smell your baked goods. Touch your baked goods. This is how you know what they need.)
Happy baking, for all those who wish to do so!