This all happened before I left for Pennsylvania, before I was reminded of the as it was. Of the constant state of charm and chaos that exists when you visit a family home. The kind that you can recognize the tired floorboards, the kind that are imprinted with your dad’s shape on the couch. All the good memories flood back and haunt you like a contorted zoetrope, and you’re never really sure if you’re dreaming or awake.
I made these rolls with no intention of making these rolls, with no intention of being up until one in the morning, making sure I had turned the oven light off. Intention wasn’t the cause, but the end goal of having these with ham and jelly kept me going. The soft pillows were enveloped in a hard crunch and I could taste them before I could smell them. I knew they were special and simple and delicious. I knew I wanted them to be impressive, I knew it before I ever intended on making them.
I have always felt that the grey morning light is terrifying. One of the first poems I wrote, read out loud in the back of my parents’ ’98 Nissan Pathfinder, was about how I wanted to die when that grey light extended to my southward-facing bedroom window. That was in Pennsylvania, when the whole month of December is one grey streak on virgin snow. Out here in California, it can taunt you for two hours and be gone by the time you pull into work. It’s different here, but still frightening.
I’ve never been one for armor, but you can’t hide from the ambient greyness. Instead, you have to confront it. Distract yourself from it. Make it feel invited in a way that it can’t smell the sick in you. I distract myself from it, too. I serve myself a beautiful breakfast when I realize how much I hate this kind of season, this kind of light. The mild distortion of ephemera that only comes between the hours of five and seven in the morning. And that can all be abated for a moment or two. At the calm of the table, with the coffee pot scorching on the burner. The small hiss of everyday life while the man you once loved and will love again sleeps in the next room, never aware that you only made the breakfast so you didn’t think about your own mortality. How you, too, could be gone by the time you pull into work. And after that you would do the dishes, and after that you would take a shower, and after that you would get a towel and sit on the bathroom floor trying to stay warm. The ritual of these brioche buns meant I was distracted, meant I didn’t have to, for one moment, think about how suffocating mornings can be, when all you have is yourself.
Morning Brioche Buns
Ingredients: (this is for six buns, but I had doubled the recipe to share at work, as seen in photos below)
- 8 TB milk, slightly warmed on stovetop or in microwave
- 1/2 sachet of active dry yeast
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in pieces, room temperature
- 1/2 tablespoon granulated sugar or honey
- 2 eggs, lightly whisked (1 tablespoon of eggs for washing), room temperature
- 1/3 teaspoon salt
- 2 1/3 cup flour
- 2 teaspoons flaky sea salt (such as La Jolla Salt Co.)
- In a bowl, activate the yeast in the warmed milk until beginning to bloom and bubbles appear
- Cream butter and sugar (or honey) until light and fluffy with mixer
- Add eggs and continue to blend gently until combined
- In a separate bowl, sift together flour and salt for lighter, airier dry ingredients
- Gradually add these to the wet mixture, stirring with a wooden spoon until crumbly
- Pour in yeast mixture and stir until all ingredients are wet
- Oil or flour hands gently and turn onto a lightly-floured board. Knead by hand until gluten and yeast begin to activate. The dough will become springy and malleable in about 5-7 minutes
- Put in an oiled bowl and cover with a tea towel for about two hours, or until doubled in size
- Put back onto floured board and cut into six equal buns. Roll and shape into rounds, place on parchment-lined baking sheet for another hour and a half to inflate again and become puffy. During this proofing period, preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- When the oven is preheated and rolls are puffy, you can either keep them on the baking sheets or place them in a skillet or other oven-proof bakeware for a visually-stunning breakfast. Either way, they taste great.
- Gently brush all balls of dough with reserved tablespoon of egg and lightly salt with flaked seasalt.
- Bake for 20 minutes or until golden
- Allow to cool and serve as immediate as possible. Put in airtight container for morning.
- Note: I found that, with all brioche, these dry out really quickly. To reconstitute them a little, place in a microwave with a damp paper towel for about 10-15 seconds. The steam should help to soften them up a bit.
- Serve with jam, butter, or some honey-baked ham I’m sure we all have received in a Pepperidge Farms box from a relative or two this time of year.
And one more thing…
I want to give a special shout out to La Jolla Salt Co. for their great deal on this denim apron I purchased in support of small businesses in my area. I was lucky enough to have a little bit of their salt for this recipe and I can say it gave it the perfect amount of balance and crunch the brioche needed. Baking gets pretty messy and I’ve finally graduated from using old flannel shirts to a full-blown profesh apron now!