Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Brioche and Bo Kho

Lord knows why I seem to be predisposed towards baking in the crazy hours of the morning. Like 2am, or even 3am and counting. Granted, it's a holdover from my university days when I had classes in the mornings, worked in the afternoons and evenings, and did all my homework and studying at night.

That being said, it was worth every moment of staying up to try out this gem of a gluten-free brioche on Aran's beautiful, inspiring blog, Cannelle et Vanille.

While I was a very good cook prior to my gluten-intolerance and am even better now thanks to all I've learned since my diagnosis, unfortunately the same doesn't hold true for my baking skills. I was a great bread-baker in days past. However, gluten-free baking was an animal of completely different temperament - after several rather expensive failures (gluten-free baking ingredients can be rather costly here), I didn't dare try anything else for fear of yet another jinxed recipe.

Zoe's brioche though? Absolutely amazing. More than that, it's surprisingly easy to whip up; it's the rising times that takes the longest at 2 hours and 40 minutes respectively. It is also incredibly forgiving of baker stupidity, which gets a HUGE thumbs-up from me - I forgot to take my agave nectar out of the fridge, so had to use it cold (I didn't have honey, and agave nectar substitutes out nicely for that.) One of the things that's been drilled into my head is that gluten-free baking NEEDS to have all ingredients at room temperature or it might not turn out right. Furthermore? The recipe had -yeast- in it, and I wasn't sure if the dough would rise after I just dumped a batch of cold stuff in to mix. I just covered the plastic container I mixed the dough in, shut it in the oven to sit in the requisite warm place, and left it after crossing fingers, toes, and eyes that it'd turn out ok.

Two hours later, the dough had inflated like the giant Pillsbury Dough Boy in Ghost Busters even -with- the cold agave nectar, much to my astonishment. It shaped up nicely for baking with the help of wet hands. While the recipe called for greasing the pans, I noticed that Aran's pictures of her brioche included one where she'd lined her pan with a sheet of parchment paper so she could easily lift the loaf out to cool when it was done. I greased only the two short sides of the pan, and cut parchment paper to hang over the long sides. In went the dough to rest for the required 40 minutes and by the time I came back, it filled the entire pan.

I don't normally eggwash anything that calls for an eggwash, simply because I think it's a waste of one egg and I don't need my bread to look so pretty-pretty - but I decided to be good and follow the recipe anyway. So I beat up one egg, brushed it over the surface of the dough, forgot to sprinkle sugar over the top of it, and stuck it in the oven to bake.

Both brioches came out picture-perfect, and that's a -rare- thing when I bake. The smell in the kitchen was intoxicating enough I wanted to bottle it. Great taste, fantastic texture, especially after it firmed up when cool. When hot, it reminded me -exactly- of the texture of a crumpet and I -love- crumpets. Haven't had them in years, and especially not since my diagnosis. I might need to figure out a way to replicate crumpets with this particular mixture of flours now.

I had to wait till two days later to take photos of the brioche in the daytime, and the taste and texture were still fantastic.

A day before that, I'd also decided to make a huge supply of Wandering Chopstick's amazing bo kho (Vietnamese beef stew). Since I'd lugged back a huge bottle of genuine Phu Quoc fish sauce back from Hanoi, I figured I'd try it to see what the big deal was all about - I'd read rave reviews from Andrea Nguyen and Bobby Chinn about the fish sauce off the little island of Phu Quoc. One drop on a fingertip to taste was all it took to convince me they were absolutely right. The stuff has a phenomenally complex depth to it that defies description. It's barely fishy at all. It's marvellous. I'm hoarding that bottle, I am. It's liquid gold.

I couldn't find the annatto seeds for the recipe even though I hunted for a few hours around all the shops I could get to in the area. So I substituted paprika instead. But then I thought I had bay leaves and it turned out I left them behind in the Great Move of Doom so I had to leave 'em out to my disgust and hope it would taste just fine.

'Fine' is not the word I'd use to describe this stew. 'Wow' might be better indicative of my first taste when the prescribed four hours in the crockpot were up.

In short: Just make it. You will not regret the time spent (and it's not that much time, since it mostly involves putting all the necessary ingredients in the crockpot.) This bo kho is amazing. After four days in my fridge, it's even more amazing. In the words of the Bloke, 'Beef stew - good. When you feel like making more, I'll help get the ingredients.'

(I'd have taken a photo of the stew bubbling in the crockpot but my camera battery died, and besides, WC has even better photos on her site of this marvellous dish.)

For the brioche, I used agave nectar in place of honey as I didn't have the latter on hand. It works just fine, and keeps things vegan, if one's inclined that way.

For the stew, I still haven't found annatto seeds but a good dash of paprike will give the entire thing a pretty red colour as well. The absence of bay leaves didn't seem to detract much from the taste either, but I definitely want to try it with the next time to see what the difference is.


  1. Okay, I just HAD to stop reading for a minute and leave a comment before I get so engrossed, I forget... This is brilliant, dear. Not just your sharing of your cooking/baking attempts and successes for the gluten-intolerant but also for your writing, your narrative, your story... I know, I know, I sound like a bloody critic, but you must understand, I've not been in the habit of reading food blogs of late, at least none that aren't food reviews, and this, this is beautiful.

    Reminds me of me as a kid, the boy who loved to read, and I love a blog post that is well-written and detailed and substantial. Quality, yes, but the quantity matters too, and it's all the more appreciated when there is quality to go with it.

    And you, my friend, have shown your quality. It is of the highest calibre indeed. Brava!

  2. Kenny, coming from you that is high praise indeed. Thank you so much. You know your blog always inspires me to write, don't you? Every time I read one of your posts, it makes me want to write something, and that's wonderful.

    I'm so glad that it's helpful, and that you enjoyed reading it. :)