You think you know brioche, but you have no idea. Unless you've had Runner & Stone's brioche, and then you have a very, very good idea.
Runner & Stone, a bakery and restaurant in Gowanus, Brooklyn, has rather quickly earned a spot on my weekend errand list. While Runner & Stone is a full-service restaurant, serving breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner, I'm not going to tell you anything about those meals. Chef Chris Pizzulli's food is absolutely lovely, but it's not the point today. The point today: the orange flower water brioche.
Head baker Peter Endriss' bread has done something to my brain. You see: I'm not really a bread person. I like it fine, but I generally consider bread as a vehicle -- for cheese, meat, crostini toppings, etc. Don't get crazy, I love toast at breakfast (when there's butter), I love crusty bread served with stew, challah holds a place of real culinary and emotional significance for me. But would I ever choose to just eat bread, be it the best baguette or pita or whatever, as a snack on its own? No. Or, at least, I wouldn't have, until I met Runner & Stone's brioche.
I was first introduced to Endriss' bread by way of his fantastic baguette. Crunchy, but not over-baked on the outside, tender, yeasty and satisfying on the inside, it's one of the first baguettes I've ever craved. Then, I moved on to the buckwheat baguette. On a brisk Saturday this month, my husband and I popped into Runner & Stone. The wonderful woman at the bar (which also operates as the bakery counter), who I have come to regard as one of the nicest people in Brooklyn, advised us that the buckwheat baguettes were still warm from the oven, which is a pretty irresistible invitation to try liking buckwheat again.
The door had hardly closed behind us before we each tore off hunks and bit in. Just like the regular baguette: crunchy, chewy, mildly sour in the best way -- but then the buckwheat lends an extra bit of heartiness in the background. Smiling, comparing thoughts on how delicious it was, my husband slipped the rest of the baguette back into its paper sleeve. And then the unthinkable happened: the bottom of the paper bag gave out, and our baguette tumbled onto the sidewalk. We stood, momentarily paralyzed, scanning each others' faces for confirmation. Were we going to do what I thought we were going to do? As if in confirmation, my husband bent down, picked up the downed baguette and said, "Five second rule."
Just to make this absolutely crystal clear, this baguette is so good, it fell on the sidewalk in New York City, one block away from North America's most polluted canal, and two grown adults weighed the opportunity cost of throwing it out to be too great. The buckwheat baguette is only my second-favorite bread from Runner & Stone.
Brioche is special because it's versatile. It is as at-home in bread pudding as it is in a BLT. Runner & Stone's brioche is, without question, the best brioche I have ever tasted. We've gotten used to a particular kind of brioche in America, the kind that is assertively sweet, lacquered into a shiny gem with a thick egg wash before baking. This is a different kind of brioche.
Laced with orange flower water, it has a floral aroma that makes your brain need to try another bite. It is fluffy, tender, totally devoid of crunch and resistance and gently floured on the outside. Unlike the hulking, dense challahs I have loved for my entire life, this brioche seems to take pride in the amount of air contained within it. A $5 boule of Runner & Stone's brioche will last through exactly one walk home, one smear of butter upon arrival there, two thick grilled cheeses and a final heel in a moment of low blood sugar. I have never dropped a Runner & Stone brioche on the sidewalk. If I did, I can tell you now, I would pick it up and eat it.
Dear Peter Endriss, I don't know how you did this, but thank you for making me a bread person.
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