I feel like I talk about our trip to France all the time, but it really was so influential on the way I see myself, on my desire to create gorgeous and amazing-tasting food, to extend my horizons, to see and understand other cultures... The list goes on and on. Sometimes I worry that I will forget all the funny, happy, and interesting memories that we made as a family while we were there. To keep the experiences fresh in my memory banks, I wanted to share two of my favorite moments from our seven weeks.
First, we lived on the 4th floor of a very narrow apartment building. We had a tiny studio apartment (to the tune of 226 square feet), and our window overlooked the large balcony of another apartment. The people who lived there had a little girl and a cat. Almost every night that we were there, at about 7:30 or 8:00PM, we would hear the little girl calling "AU-GOO-STA!" about 30 or 40 times. I can still hear her sweet little voice calling her cat home. I remember doing the same thing each night for one of our cats who liked to be outside.
One day we were coming back to our apartment building after a morning outing, and coming towards us on the street was a young woman holding a very long rustic wooden ladder. Both Adam and I thought this was a bit strange. When we saw that she was going to attempt to open the door to our building, we went and held the door open while she struggled to get the ladder down the hall and up the stairs. We were following her up the stairs when she began speaking in rapid French, Adam responded in a few words, and then she took the ladder into her apartment.
She lived on the 3rd floor, I think, so as we finished the ascent to our apartment on the fourth flour, Adam told me that she said she had the ladder for her cat. Both of us were a little puzzled by this, but a minute or two after we had gotten into our apartment, I heard some commotion coming from out the window.
I opened it, and saw this nice woman standing on the cinderblock wall that surrounded her balcony, with the ladder over the edge, onto the roof of the building below. Her cat had apparently jumped off the roof and couldn't get back up. She was standing there trying to coax a cat to climb the ladder. For a few moments, it looked futile, and Adam asked her if she needed some help. She responded saying that the cat had gotten stuck on the other side of the wall before (it was a long drop off the balcony, probably about 12 feet), and she was hoping he would climb the ladder. After about 5 minutes of coaxing and cajoling, the cat climbed the ladder. I am pretty sure the cat was Augusta.
Perhaps the thing I miss the most about our time there is the incredible and very inexpensive bread. Particularly the Praluline, from Pralus (a chocolatier, best known for his brioche praluline). My version might not be exactly like his, but it is pretty darn close and absolutely scrumptious! I think it would make a perfect gift, or a delightful holiday treat! You can bet my kitchen will be cranking some of them out during the holidays!
Brioche Praline (Praluline)
Makes two smallish loaves
adapted slightly from Williams-Sonoma Bread book
2 cup flour
2 tsps yeast
2 Tbs sugar
1/2 tsp salt
5 Tbs very warm milk
3 large room temperature eggs
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into smallish cubes
1/2 cup pink pralines, chopped
In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, combine 3/4 of the flour, yeast salt and sugar. Add the warm milk and mix until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs, turning the mixture on after each one. Slowly beat in the remaining flour. Switch to the dough hook (or knead by hand until the dough is soft and holds its shape. Cover loosely with oiled plastic wrap and let rise for an hour, or until it is doubled.
Scatter butter into the dough, and knead on medium speed (this is most easily done in a stand mixer). The dough should look like a batter. Scrap the dough into large bowl that has been oiled and cover it tightly with oiled foil, and refrigerate it overnight.
The next day, pull it out of the fridge and line a cookie sheet with a silicone mat. Roll your dough out onto a clean, lightly floured surface. Sprinkle about a quarter of the praline pieces over the dough, and gently push them in with your fingers. Cut your dough into two even pieces. Flatten one of your dough balls slightly with the palm of your hand into a circle, and sprinkle a few more of your praline pieces over the top of the dough circle. Carefully take the edges and fold them in to encase praline pieces inside your brioche.
Now sprinkle a few more praline pieces on your clean surface, take your dough ball and very carefully roll the outside of it in a few more of your praline pieces. Basically you want them somewhat evenly distributed inside and outside your dough. You can also take some of the bigger pieces and push them into the dough with your fingers.
Repeat with your second half of the dough.
Set your pralinified dough onto the cookie sheet and cover with oiled plastic. Let rise at room temperature until it has doubled in bulk (probably close to an hour).
When it is looking close, preheat your oven to 400°F. Bake in the oven for about 30 - 35 minutes. Check it at 15 minutes to make sure your pralines are not burning. That last 10 minutes, cover the brioche with a piece of foil to allow the inside to cook completely.
Pull the brioche out of the oven and allow to cool.
It is best the same day. Enjoy!!!