Friday, 21 December 2012

From Alsace to Yorkshire by Lionel Strub - A Review and a recipe for Brioche

Another review. Get me.

This is another book which is more than just a recipe book.

Before we get to the food, it tells the story of the hard work and dedication of the author, Lionel Strub that took him from his childhood in Alsace, North Eastern France, to his restaurant, Mirabelle in Harrogate, North Yorkshire.

It was clearly not an easy childhood, which saw him spending time in foster care, or with various friends and relations until the age of 8. He is very open about the lack of support he received at school, and it's not surprising that he left at the age of 15 to begin an apprenticeship in a restaurant.

It's easy to think that the life of a chef might be a gilded one, but this is clearly not the case for Lionel, and certainly the early years at 'Le Gran Cerf' in a town not far from Strasbourg sound fairly grim, but what is clear is that grim or not, this is where life started for him.

We learn then about his apprenticeship, his time spent on National Service cooking for soldiers, his move to England in 1986 and more hardwork in a London brasserie before heading North, first to Leeds, and then to Harrogate and his own restaurant, via a deli in Wetherby. It's an impressive story and well worth a read for any one who thinks the chef's life might be an easy one.

Now I haven't eaten at Mirabelle, but if the food in this book is anything to go by, I will be angling for a table the next time I'm up north at my parents'. Strub indicates that most of his recipes come from his Grandma, and as you would expect, there's a real French slant to his dishes. However, that doesn't meant that they are unachievable by any means. In fact, what I like about this book is that many of the recipes are surprisingly straightforward, with short but careful ingredients lists.

The recipes are wide ranging. There's an initial section devoted to Alsacienne recipes, which includes a delicious sounding warm salad of smoked bacon and chicory (salad Vosgienne), a savoury ham cake and a divine and incredibly easy sounding Gateaux aux myrtilles (translated as Bilberry sponge cake -  6 ingredients mixed together and baked - simples). He goes on to cover jams, chutneys and, breads, then starters, mains and desserts, and there's a straightforward grading system indicating the level of difficulty involved for some of the recipes. Pate en croute a l'Anglaise for example (posh pie and peas) is essentially a pie filled with duck confit, foie gras and truffle, served with mushy peas, and rated a Level 4 for the pie. He has plenty of fish and game recipes which I like, and some heavenly puddings, including some very reassuring words about choux pastry, not yet attempted by me, I should add, and a Toblerone cheesecake which is on my must make list for the New Year. Watch this space.

Each section has a little introduction with some general hints and tips, and some story or words of wisdom. Despite being a book by someone running a high end restaurant, these additions make the book much more homely than it might be. For example, in talking about setting point, rather than taking a high brow approach, he explains how "the saucers method" (the one where you put 2 saucers in the freezer, then put a dollop of jam on the cold plate and see if it crinkles when you push it) - the one preferred by his mother - is the best one by far. The fact that the saucer method makes me panic, and I have long since resorted to the jam thermometre method is by the by - I like that he chooses the method that works for him, even though it is the most low tech.

On occasion, it can seem as if there is not enough information - and this is borne out by the fact that there do appear to be some ommissions - for example, although the duck pie recipe is in the book, the recipe refers to the mushy pea recipe on an undeclared page, and no amounf of rifling revealed itself to me. The grading system for recipe difficulty isn't applied to every recipe - which may or may not be an ommission. There are also quite a few obvious typos, but I guess I have a proof copy, and hopefully, these issues will be ironed out for the final print runs.

The book is presented fairly plainly - white pages, black writing, nothing fancy - but I quite like that and there are plenty of photos to keep me drooling and happy, even if I can't find the recipe for mushy peas.

Brioche - makes 1 loaf

"Rich buttery, yet it's light. Brilliant for breakfast, the best bread in France"
In the bread section, there's a brioche recipe. I've been meaning to try brioche for some time now, and have been angling for a proper mould to make it in. The mould has not been forthcoming so far, but I decided that it was meant to be, and I have permission to share the recipe with you. Bear in mind that when I started out, in my return to baking fitness enthusiasm last night which saw me marzipan the Christmas Cake and also make a banana and blueberry loaf cake (about which more another time), it was quite late. so I changed the method a little, but I've just indicated that in brackets:

350g unbleached white bread flour (I use Dove's Farm)
tsp salt (I assumed 1 tsp)
25g fresh yeast (I didn't have fresh so used 10g dried)
60ml warm milk
3 large eggs
175g unsalted butter (this needs to be at room temp, or warmer if you have a cold room)
25g caster sugar

1 egg yolk
1 tsp milk

1. Seive the flour into a large bowl, melt the yeast in the warm milk, then pour into the flour, add the eggs and mix to a soft dough
2. Beat the dough for 3 to 5 minutes (I used a dough hook on the Kenwood), cream the butter and sugar together
3, Gradually add the butter to the dough in small amount
4,. Beat until smooth and elastic and leave to prove for an hour
5. Lightly knock back the dough and place in the fridge for an hour (at this point, I decided to leave mine overnight in the fridge, then this morning bought it back to room temperature before continuing)
6. Shape the brioche in a loaf tin or brioche mould if you have
7. Glaze the brioche with the egg yolk and milk mixture cover and leave for at least and hour or double the size
8. Preheat the oven to 230C/Gas 8 put the brioche in the oven then turn the temp to 190C/gas 5 and bake for 25-30 minutes
9. Turn out on to a rack and leave to cool

Rich, buttery, light? All of the above. And very good with home made strawberry jam.
I was provided a copy of the book "From Alsace to Yorkshire" for the purposes of providing the review. I was not paid and I was not required to provide a positive review. The opinions are my own!


  1. I tried to make Brioche in our breadmaker once...but forgot to put the beater bar in the bottom. So after 4 hours (or however long it was) I basically had some damp paste, topped with some hot flour, topped with a cooked egg (still intact). Yours looks much better!!

    1. :-) there's still some left! come round. Your Christmas CAke looks good though - mine is still sitting in its marzipan wondering what it's going to look like once it's iced...

  2. That looks like a great brioche loaf!


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