Tuesday, March 29, 2011

not by halves

I wasn’t always homesick.

Long ago, before my life story became complicated, long before I ever came across the term “third culture kid,” let alone recognized myself in its description, my sense of home was certain. When I was ten years old, I could tell you where I was from in a single sentence. When I was ten years old, I was an Australian schoolchild at an all-girls’ school in Sydney.

My parents were Chinese, which gave me an extra adjective and a hyphen, Chinese-Australian, and complications in the form of math tutoring, piano lessons, and writing my own sick notes, but I had classmates who were similarly hyphenated, and classmates who were unhyphenated, and we all wore the same checked blue uniform dresses in summer, and the same navy blue tunics over lemon yellow blouses in winter. We did our best to avoid wearing our school hats (navy blue, hot and ugly) but never our school blazers (navy blue, boxy and ugly), because you could get into Serious Trouble if you were ever caught wearing your school jumper (navy blue, itchy and ugly) without your blazer. (None of us knew why this was the rule, but it was, and it came right after the rule about not being allowed to wear your sports uniform in public.)

We sat underneath the trees on the playground and ate packed lunches, swapping ham sandwiches for cheese-and-pickle, sharing bags of chips (chicken chips were good, but salt-and-vinegar chips were better), and sometimes bemoaning the rice balls or steamed buns our mothers saw fit to introduce into our lunchboxes, even if we secretly enjoyed them. We preferred the days when our parents were feeling either harried or indulgent, and we could buy lunch at the tuck shop.

A tuck shop, or a canteen, is the place that sells food at school in Australia. Typically staffed by parent volunteers, it offers homemade sandwiches (and possibly soups and salads if the volunteers are particularly enthusiastic) and a standard array of unhealthy but delicious lunchtime staples. The tuck shop is where we would buy potato pies with crispy browned tops, sausage rolls with deliciously salty fillings, and meat pies with tiny single-serve squeeze packets of tomato sauce.

The tuck shop is also where we went when we were in possession of unexpected wealth: ten cents discovered in the pocket of a rarely-worn jacket, a fifty-cent piece found on the train platform, five whole dollars from a generous relative. (Even now, an Australian five-dollar note still seems more valuable than its American analog.) Thirty cents meant six sticks of plain liquorice, or two sticks of carob-coated liquorice, or a tiny bag of eucalyptus drops. For seventy-five cents you could get a Paddle Pop, chocolate or rainbow. (I preferred rainbow.) And for eighty cents – extravagance of extravagances – you could have a finger bun.

A finger bun is a rich yeasted bun, elongated in shape, studded with sultanas and topped with pink icing. (Wikipedia claims that they may also be topped with white icing, but that’s an aberration I’ve never witnessed. The icing is supposed to taste pink.) Finger buns are pleasantly soft and agreeably sticky, and they are much beloved by schoolchildren, if not so much by adults.

My Year 5 teacher was one of those rare adults who understood the delights of the finger bun. Miss Wettone was everyone’s favorite teacher, and I felt privileged on the occasional mornings when she’d stop me on the way out to morning recess, hand me a few coins, and ask me to pick up a finger bun for her from the tuck shop. Miss Wettone would eat half a finger bun for morning tea, and save the other half for later, but she had a tendency, or so she said, of losing track of the remaining half before it ever made it to her afternoon tea. The disappearance of her finger bun halves became a running joke. Somewhere in the accordion file folder that contains all the detritus of my schooling years – reports, test scores, certificates, ribbons, diplomas – there’s a card from Miss Wettone wishing me luck in Year 6, with a comment about baffled archaeologists in the future digging up a trove of fossilized half-finger buns.

I was once an Australian schoolchild at an all-girls’ school. I knew where home was, and I could tell you where I was from in a single sentence. I don’t have that certainty any longer, but as the saying goes, you can’t go home again–even if you do know where home is.

Instead, what I can do is make rich yeast dough, and put it to proof. I can shape it into logs, and glaze and bake them until they’re richly brown and shiny on top. I can mix up sugar icing to a perfect sticky consistency, and tint it to taste properly pink. I can eat finger buns for morning tea, and amuse myself with the thought of future archeologists who will dig up absolutely nothing, because I don’t eat my finger buns by halves.

Finger Buns (with Pink Icing, of Course) 

This recipe can also be used to make iced scrolls - just shape the dough into spirals rather logs.

(Makes three buns. Best eaten fresh.)

Soak half a cup of raisins (approximately ninety grams, about three ounces) in hot water until softened. Drain; set aside. Leave one large egg and two tablespoons (sixty grams) of butter to come to room temperature.

In a mixing bowl, combine one-and-three-quarters of a cup of flour (two hundred and fifty grams, eight point eight ounces), a teaspoon of instant yeast (five grams), half a teaspoon salt (four grams), and two tablespoons sugar (thirty grams).

Add half a cup (one hundred and twenty mililitres) lightly warmed whole milk. Stick a hand in the mixture and stir until it forms clumps. Crack in the egg; knead until you have a sticky, lumpy dough.

Turn your dough out on a clean countertop. Ready a bench scraper. This dough isn't terribly wet, but it is very, very sticky, and every so often you'll need to stop kneading to gather together stray bits. Knead for ten minutes, or until the dough smooths out and starts to develop resistance.

Flatten out the dough, and place a tablespoon of softened butter on it. Fold it over, and knead so that the butter works its way into the dough. Repeat with the remaining tablespoon of butter.

Work the softened raisins into the dough. They will be reluctant to incorporate at first; keep going, and don't be afraid to push them in with a finger if they really refuse to stay put.

Grease your mixing bowl lightly with butter and place the dough back in it. Cover with plastic wrap; leave in a warm place until doubled in volume (about an hour or two.)

Grease an eight-by-eight inch (twenty by twenty centimeter) square cake tin.

Press down on the dough to deflate. Divide the dough into three pieces; shape each piece into a long, thin log just small enough to fit into the cake tin. Arrange the logs in the tin (there should be room in between.) Cover with wax paper; leave in a warm place until doubled in volume again (another hour or so.)

Preheat the oven to 375F. Crack and egg and beat until foamy; brush the buns with the beaten egg.

Bake for twenty-five to thirty minutes, or until the buns sound hollow when tapped with a finger. (If necessary, tent them with foil to keep them from browning too quickly.) Allow the buns to cool in the pan for five minutes or so, then turn out on a wire rack.

When the buns are merely warm, gently pull them apart.

To make the icing, start by putting a tablespoon of milk in a bowl, and stir in icing sugar, a heaped tablespoon at a time, until you have a thick, sticky mixture that falls off a spoon in a ribbon-like dribble. If it pours steadily, like pancake batter, it's too thin - add more sugar. If it's pasty, it's too thick - add milk, a drop at a time, until it thins out to the right consistency. When you have your icing at the right consistency, add a drop or two of vanilla extract, and use a toothpick to add just enough food coloring to tint the mixture pink.

Slide a sheet of wax paper underneath the wire rack. Spoon the icing over the buns; let the excess drip off completely before serving. For strict authenticity, sit out in the sunshine on a metal bench, and eat them out of waxed brown paper bags.

Monday, March 21, 2011

practical applications

Chemistry was not my forte in high school.

I liked some aspects of it well enough. I liked setting up Bunsen burners and test tubes and Erlenmeyer flasks. I had fun with experiments that produced smoke and sparks. I could turn out a decent lab report, and I could explain why nitrogen triiodide behaves the way it does, even if my teachers balked at letting me create it. So long as the assignments involved writing up observations, I could handle them just fine.

Unfortunately, theory was not my strong suit.  I couldn’t grasp the concept of a mole. My equations were a string of disasters because I never figured out the rules for significant figures. If the reading in our textbooks had any bearing on the problems that showed up on our final exams, the connection was beyond me. Thanks to the lab reports, I was never in any danger of failing, but I wasn't destined for advanced courses. In fact, I never took another science course after junior year of high school.

The practical application of chemistry is a different matter. A little knowledge of chemistry goes a long way in baking. Chemistry, after all, is a study of building blocks, and fiddling with a recipe is like playing Jenga - how many blocks can you remove without making the whole structure collapse?

Sugar, for example, provides not just sweetness but texture, which is why Splenda-based baking often comes out so disastrously. Eggs serve as either a scaffolding element or a binding agent, and they can be either essential or irrelevant. (You cannot make a soufflĂ© without eggs - well, maybe you can if you’re Ferran Adria, but not us mere mortals - but you can omit the egg from your typical wheat pancake recipe without any drama whatsoever.) Fat adds moisture and shortens gluten chains, keeping cakes soft and pastry tender. An understanding of this basic theory lets me tweak recipes for dietary restrictions the way I like to handle them - by omitting the problem ingredients wherever possible.

Which brings me to the question of gluten-free brownies.

I know brownies are sometimes characterized as failed chocolate cake, but I tend to think of them as flourless chocolate cake to which someone added flour by mistake. After all, you can bake a chocolate cake using just chocolate, butter, and eggs. The sticky texture of a brownie comes more from sugar than anything else. Flour, therefore, isn't essential to the structure of a brownie. Ergo, gluten isn't essential to the structure of a brownie either.

Replacing wheat flour with a gluten-free option produces brownies that are a little more fragile, but very tender. A high proportion of dark chocolate allows for depth of flavor, and also serves to balance out the quantity of sugar required for optimal texture. Finally, a generous amount of butter keeps them rich and soft.

I still don't understand what a mole is, but I think I'll get by. As far as practical applications go, my working knowledge of chemistry is serving me just fine.

Dark, Fudgy Brownies

I like my chocolate desserts on the dark and bitter side. For a sweeter brownie, swap out half the unsweetened chocolate for bittersweet, and toss in a quarter-cup of milk chocolate chips.

(Adapted from Dorie Greenspan's "Rick Katz's Brownies For Julia." Makes eight small brownies.)

Preheat oven to 350F. Ready a three-and-a-half by five inch loaf tin.

In a bowl set over simmering water, melt together half a stick (two ounces) unsalted butter and two ounces unsweetened chocolate. Stir in four tablespoons of white sugar, half a teaspoon salt, a half-teaspoon of vanilla, and teaspoon of brandy. (Optional extra: half a teaspoon espresso powder or microground instant coffee, which gives the brownies a deeper flavor.)

In another bowl, beat together one egg with two tablespoons of sugar until thick and smooth. Fold a few tablespoons of this egg mixture into the chocolate mixture. Beat the remaining egg mixture until light and foamy, then fold it into the chocolate mixture.

Gently fold in four tablespoons of buckwheat flour. Spoon the batter into the tin, and give it a shake to smooth out the top.

Bake for sixteen to nineteen minutes, or until the brownies look dry on top but are just barely set in the middle. Place the tin on a wire rack to cool. When cool, cut the brownies into squares. They’re soft and fragile, so they’re best served out of the tin.

Note: This recipe can be quadrupled to make an eight-by-eight inch pan of brownies. Up the baking time to twenty-five minutes or so (until the top looks dry), and when making the batter, add one third of the sugar to the chocolate mixture, beat one-third of the sugar with two eggs until smooth, and beat the remaining one-third of the sugar with two eggs until foamy.

Monday, March 14, 2011

due ciabatte

I didn't learn to speak Italian in a classroom.

I was definitely taught Italian in a classroom, sitting through intensive sessions filled with verb conjugations and vocab lists and pop quizzes aplenty. Grammatically, Italian doesn’t look all that different to French, and it shares a lot of cognates, so reading and writing came easily. Movies and music helped with listening comprehension, but when it came to speaking Italian, as opposed to merely stringing words together in an approximation of the instructor’s speech, I didn’t learn until I went abroad to Rome.

Italian is a language of cadences. Unlike French, in which you only pronounce about half the consonants in each written word, and the accents are notoriously, unabashedly irregular, Italian is phonetic, with stressed syllables falling in rhythmic patterns. The only way to learn that cadence is to listen and mimic, and I navigated the unfamiliar terrain in the same way that I navigate any unfamiliar city: I followed my stomach.

Each morning, I'd stop by the bar down the street from our program housing for coffee and a croissant: (un) cappuccino e un cornetto, learning to articulate the "r" without pushing it into a trill. A walk down the street and left at the intersection would bring me to the Trionfale Market: quattro fichi neri from Nunzia, the lady at the fruit stand, learning that "fichi" is pronounced "fi-gi." From Massimo, the butcher who cut paper-thin slices of prosciutto by hand and gave me bits of the skin (for flavoring bean soup) for free, un etto di prosciutto e qualche pezze di pelle, learning to form my mouth around all the doubled consonants. A little more knowledge with each visit to the market, consumed in every mouthful.

One windy autumn day after morning classes, I passed through the market with a shopping list on my mind. Fruit and cheese for lunch, zucchini and peppers to roast for sandwiches, and maybe a head of puntarelle to make salad dressed with anchovies, the way I'd seen it on so many restaurant menus in the city. I made it as far as buying a perfectly ripe pear and a thin wedge of Gorgonzola before remembering that I'd run out of bread and needed to make an extra stop at one of the baker's stalls.

I liked to buy my bread from a bakery in Trastevere (completely impractical in terms of geography, but utterly delicious), so I didn't have a favorite baker's stall at the market. Instead, I chose one that seemed to be doing a particularly brisk trade, joined the queue, and placed my order.

Due ciabatte, per favore.”

The sharp-eyed woman at the baker’s stall frowned at me. Held up one of the loaves in question, and cocked her head questioningly.

Si. Due ciabatte. Per favore.” I pronounced it as though it were French: “cha-batt,” two syllables with equal emphasis.

The woman shook her head. “Una ciabatta.” Three syllables, with a stress on the second syllable and a brief pause for the doubled t. "Due ciabatte." Three syllables again, and a crisp enunciation of the “e” on the end. Her stern expression rivaled that of my old-fashioned French teachers in its severity.

I knew what was expected of me. I took a quick breath and enunciated carefully: “Due ciabatte, per favore.” Uncertain, I ventured a smile.

She nodded - a very slight nod, but a nod all the same - before handing me my purchases in a paper sack and calling for the next person in line.

Feeling a little as though I'd just been through a particularly unexpected pop quiz, I hoofed it right back to my apartment for lunch. The vegetables would have to wait. I'd called the ciabatte by their name, and now they (along with the pear, and the Gorgonzola) were definitely calling mine.


A lean dough cooked at high heat, ciabatta is a close cousin of focaccia. The difference is that ciabatta is even wetter – eighty-five percent hydration or higher – and shaped into long, flat loaves, perfect for splitting horizontally and filling with sandwich fixings. I like this as a base for one of my favorite sandwiches ever: prosciutto and mozzarella with a mile-high stack of garlicky roasted zucchini, peppers, and eggplant, drizzled all over with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Bread is finicky, so I've given measurements in volume, imperial weights, and metric weights. For best results, go with the metric.

(A hand-mixed adaptation of Jason Molina’s Quick Cocodrillo Ciabatta Bread. Makes two long loaves, or three sandwich loaves.)

In a large mixing bowl, mix together one-and-three-quarter cups (eight point eight ounces, two hundred and fifty grams) all-purpose flour, one teaspoon (five grams) yeast, and half a teaspoon (four grams) salt. Pour in one cup (eight fluid ounces, two hundred and thirty-eight mililitres) water.

Stick a hand in the mixture and start stirring. At first, it’ll be like stirring pancake batter – no body whatsoever. Keep going. It will gradually develop into something that looks like dough.

Scrape the dough out onto a clean countertop. Get out a bench scraper – you’re going to need it.

The easiest way to begin kneading is to imitate an electric mixer: stick your hand in the middle of the mess and move it in circles. Once the dough develops more resistance, you can knead it by smearing it out on the countertop and gathering it back into a blob.

The dough is adequately kneaded when you can lift it off the countertop and it pulls away more or less cleanly. (If it moves like taffy and doesn’t want to come away, keep kneading.) When it reaches that point, oil it well with olive oil, and place it back in the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap. Leave in a warm place until it triples in volume. (Two to three hours.)

Liberally dust your countertop with flour. Take the dough from its bowl, and working as gently as possible, turn it out on the countertop. Cut it into two or three pieces, and shape the pieces into rectangles. Oil each piece, and dust liberally with flour. Leave to proof until light and puffy. (Fifty to sixty minutes.)

While your loaves are proofing, crank up your oven to 500F. Cover a baking tray with parchment paper and dust liberally with flour.

To transfer the loaves, carefully gather each loaf off the counter (use the bench scraper to help.) Don’t worry if they stick. Flip them onto the baking tray. They might look a little messy; again, don’t worry about it. Dust with more flour.

Bake for fifteen minutes or so, or until the loaves are a rich golden brown. Transfer to a cooling rack. Allow to cool before slicing.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

lamb meatballs, in triptych

i. subject

During my final semester of law school, towards the beginning of spring, I visit Lucille in New York. It is her turn to choose where we go out to eat, and we end up at Boqueria for tapas.

We begin with glasses of pale, minerally cava and a dish of mixed olives – tiny brown olives, shrivelled black olives, and my favorites, the big fat green olives. We eat jamon serrano and smoked blood sausage, and lamb skewers seasoned with lemon and garlic and salsa verde. Our forks make short work of a dish of squid a la plancha, a satisfyingly salty tangle of tender squid, fried radishes, and radicchio, and a platter of asparagus salad, sweetly charred spears and arugula leaves scattered with bits of bacon and flakes of aged mahon cheese, punctuated by two perfect halves of soft-boiled egg.

We dab salt cod fritters with lemon aioli, breaking through their crisp exteriors to reach interiors as smooth and creamy as pommes puree, and tear pieces of chewy, crusty bread to sop up the tomato sauce from a dish of lamb meatballs draped in soft fresh sheep’s milk cheese. Finally, we eat churros dipped in thick, bitter chocolate, licking cinnamon sugar from our fingers.

The salt cod fritters are spectacular, and the churros are just the way I like fried dough, but it is the meatballs I file away for future reference, warm and savory in their bright tomato sauce.

ii. gesso

The summer I study for the bar exam is also the summer I cater my first wedding. I plan during borrowed time, writing out recipes in the margins of my notes and scribbling ingredient lists on the backs of discarded practice essays. I compose emails discussing shopping and equipment and logistics as I listen with half an ear to lectures over streaming video. I think about the menu when the steady thrum of anxiety threatens to fill my head, reviewing and refining until I find some measure of calm.

White cake filled with mixed berries and lemon curd, frosted with mascarpone cream. Roasted mixed vegetables: red and yellow bell peppers, zucchini and eggplant. Wheatberry salad with goat’s cheese and dried cranberries. Greek salad, insalata caprese. Spiced couscous with orange zest and golden beets. Brook trout with herbed brown butter. Chicken phyllo triangles, sautĂ©ed Swiss chard. Lamb meatballs in tomato sauce bright with mint and basil, topped with creamy ricotta. A plan, a promise. A prayer.

iii. tempera

Fifteen pounds of ground lamb. Fifteen pounds of crushed tomatoes. Four heads of garlic, one-and-a-half dozen eggs. Eight pounds of onions, and a bundle of fresh rosemary, mint, and basil as thick as my wrist.  There's a rapid tattoo of blade against board as herbs are blitzed into chiffonade and onions become fine, translucent dice. Never have I been so grateful to have an assistant with the knife skills I lack.

Bowls of raw lamb and onion, spiced and salted. Meatballs resting on wax paper, sauce simmering on the stove. Meatballs browned in the pan, moistened with tomato and braised in the oven. The air grows thick with the scent of lamb fat and spice, spilling out of the kitchen into the summer night.

This work, complete. All that remains is the unveiling, the eating.

(Not my photo. I wasn't going anywhere near a camera that day.)

Savory Lamb Meatballs in Herbed Tomato Sauce

These work as either part of a spread, or as a main course. Serve with polenta or rice for a gluten-free dish, or crusty bread if not.

(Makes twelve to sixteen meatballs. May be frozen.)

This is a chopping-intensive recipe. Ready your chopping board and favorite knife, a small mixing bowl and a big mixing bowl.

Grab a small bunch of fresh mint and a small bunch of fresh basil. Pick off the leaves. Place the leaves on your cutting board, and blitz them into fine shreds. Put these in the small mixing bowl.

Mince four cloves of garlic. Heat a little olive oil in a shallow, heavy-bottomed pan with lid. Add the garlic. Cook until the garlic starts to smell fragrant, then add two tablespoons of the chopped basil and mint. Give everything a stir, then pour in a sixteen-ounce can of crushed tomatoes. Add water. Cook the mixture at a low simmer, stirring occasionally.

While the sauce simmers, make the meatballs. Start by prepping your workspace: cover a few baking sheets with wax paper, and a few plates with paper towels.

Grab the big mixing bowl and put a pound of ground lamb in it.

Take a small yellow onion and mince it very finely. Take your time; you’re going for something that’s almost onion mush. Place the minced onion in the bowl.

Take a sprig or two of fresh rosemary, strip off the leaves, and mince them, same as the onion. Measure out one tablespoon; add it to the onions.

Add half a teaspoon ground coriander, half a teaspoon ground cumin, and half a teaspoon salt. Crack in one egg.

Stick your hand into the bowl and start turning the mixture. Stop when your onions and meat are well-combined, and a handful holds together when you squeeze it.

Form the lamb mixture into golfball-size balls, setting them on the wax paper as you go.

Place a heavy-bottomed frying pan over medium heat. Brown the meatballs in the pan without adding oil – ground lamb, like sausage, will cook just fine in its own fat.

Drain the browned meatballs on paper towels, then slide them gently into the tomato sauce. Put the lid on the pan. Cook at a gentle simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally to make sure the sauce doesn’t burn on the bottom. (Add a little water if it seems to be getting too thick.)

When the cooking time is up, spoon the meatballs and sauce into a serving dish and sprinkle with extra chopped basil and mint. Serve with fresh ricotta for dolloping on top.

Note: This recipe multiplies well, and if you’re making it in big quantities, the meatballs can be cooked in covered pans in the oven at 350F for an hour.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

song of my little carboholic heart

I pay close attention to the bread in restaurants.

Is it good bread, worth eating for its own sake? Or is it just something to keep diners occupied before the food shows up? Does it come with interesting accompaniments? Does it go well with the food? Is it better than the food? The bread may not make or break a restaurant, but a restaurant with the right answers can easily earn a place in my little carboholic heart.

I've been to a restaurant in Boston's North End where the food was wildly hit-or-miss, but the foccacia was to die for. At Prune in New York's East Village, they had pappadams better than the ones I've eaten in Indian restaurants. I was won over by the crusty rolls with little crocks of pork rillettes and butter served at French restaurant of the hotel I interned in, and I didn’t waver in my enthusiasm - even after I was assigned to fill the crocks.

The restaurant bread that stands out most clearly in my memory, however, is that of The Lobby at The Regent in Sydney. While the food at The Lobby was decent enough, there must have been someone, either in management or in the kitchen, with a love of bread like mine.

Only a carboholic after my own heart could have dreamed up their enormous breadbaskets with lavish arrangements of assorted breads, embellished with sprays of grissini and flourishes of crisp homemade crackers. I could have made a meal out of one of those breadbaskets alone, and were it my last meal, I would have died happy.

The sheer variety would have been memorable enough, but the selections had their own distinguishing features. Nestled between neat slices of crusty white, whole wheat, and poppyseed were cornbread muffins (the first I ever tasted), delicate little caraway rolls, and, most unusually, brioche buns scented with dill.

Tender and fragrant, with a light, buttery crumb, the brioche was always the first item to disappear from the breadbasket. On the rare occasions when it didn’t vanish completely, we’d take the leftovers to go. Lightly warmed, they became a wonderful breakfast, a welcome change from our usual toast and margarine.

Now that the Regent has become the Four Seasons Sydney, and the The Lobby is no more, those breadbaskets are only the stuff of memory. The brioche, however, was too good to forget, and so I've combined rich buttery dough with finely chopped fresh dill to make my own.

The results make for a superb breakfast or brunch, whether served alongside smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, split and toasted as a base for eggs norvegienne, or simply presented warm and unadorned. They're every bit as wonderful as the ones I remember. It makes my little carboholic heart sing.

Dill Brioche

The Lobby remains the only restaurant I’ve been to where the breadbasket included brioche, and the only place I’ve ever seen brioche with dill. It’s a wonderful addition, though. Somehow, the aroma makes the buttery quality of a brioche even more intense. I think the original used dried dill rather than fresh, and if that's your preference, cut back on the quantity by a tablespoon.

I've provided measurements by volume, and weights in metric and imperial, but for best results, use the metric measurements.

(Owes some inspiration to this brioche recipe by Dorie Greenspan. Makes eight dinner-roll-size buns, which can be frozen.)

This dough needs to rest overnight, so begin the recipe at least a day before you want to eat the results. It's easiest to work with in a cold (or at least cool) room, so don't start the dough if you have the heating or the oven on.

First, a spot of prep: leave two large eggs and three-quarters of a stick of unsalted butter (one hundred and seventy grams, six ounces) out of the fridge to warm up. The butter needs to be soft, and the eggs shouldn't be cold. If you, like me, keep your flour in the freezer, let that lose its chill too. Clear off and wipe down a section of your countertop.

Finely chop a small bunch of fresh dill. Measure out three or four tablespoons (depending on how strongly you'd like your bread flavored); set aside in a bowl.

In a mixing bowl, combine one-and-three-quarters of a cup of flour (two hundred and fifty grams, eight point eight ounces), one teaspoon (five grams) instant active yeast, half a teaspoon (four grams) salt, and a quarter-cup (sixty mililitres) warm milk. Stick a hand in the bowl, and stir the mixture until it forms dry, shaggy clumps.

Crack in one egg, and work it into the mixture. It will be sticky and difficult to work with; that's normal. Crack in the second egg, and work it into the mixture. You should have a sticky, lumpy dough.

Sprinkle the dough with four teaspoons (twenty grams) of white sugar - as though it were flour - and work it in. When no loose sugar remains in the bowl, turn the dough out on your countertop. Knead for six to seven minutes, or until the dough is smooth and no longer lumpy.

Time to add butter. Grab the butter, and cut it into six equal pieces. Flatten the dough out slightly with your palm. Place one tablespoon of butter in the center of the dough, and fold the dough over so that the butter is trapped inside. Start kneading. The goal is to get the butter to work into the dough from the inside out. Once the butter has been fully absorbed, repeat the process with another tablespoon of butter.

Keep going until you run out of butter. The dough will become softer and silkier; when all the butter has been incorporated, it will have an oily sheen, but shouldn't be too greasy. Knead for another ten minutes or so, or until the dough develops resistance and doesn't stick to your palms when you pull them away. (If you gather the entire ball of dough and pull, and it comes off the counter cleanly, it's good to go. If it sticks, and pulls like taffy, keep kneading.)

When the dough has achieved the right consistency, sprinkle the fresh chopped dill over, and knead until it's evenly distributed.

Place the dough back in your mixing bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and leave in a warm place to rise for an hour.

After the dough has risen, press down upon it gently to deflate. Cover it over again with plastic wrap, and place it in the fridge to chill overnight. (Check back on it after the first hour - if it's started rising again, deflate it.)

The next morning, remove the dough from the fridge and press down upon on it gently to deflate. Butter a five-by-nine inch loaf tin. Divide the dough into eight equal pieces and shape them into small brioches to fit the tin, leaving a little space between each brioche.

Cover the tin with wax paper, and leave in a warm place to rise for fifty minutes, or until the dough is light and nearly doubled in volume.

Preheat the oven to 400F. Crack one egg and beat until frothy. Brush the beaten egg all over the tops of the brioches.

Place the tin in the oven. Bake for twenty minutes. If necessary, tent the brioches with tinfoil to keep them from browning too much on top. When baked, remove the tin from the oven. Let the brioches cool in the tin for ten minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack. Serve warm.