That’s what my friend Hugues Pasquier told me when we shared a breakfast made with the brioche his family has been baking from the same recipe since 1936.
It was true: as my cousin ZoeBot and I savored each buttery golden bite, we felt the Pasquier family’s culinary heritage deep in our stripes.
If you’re an average American kid (or zebra), you may not have ever tried brioche. But in France, kids (and a few lucky zebras) have been eating brioche their whole lives.
Brioche (pronounced bree-oshe) is a French bakery specialty that looks and tastes like a magical cross between a bread and a cake.
Food historians say that’s it been a tradition since medieval times, with the recipe becoming richer with butter and eggs as the centuries passed.
Hugues told us that his grandfather Gabriel Pasquier was legendary for the brioche he crafted at his bakery in the tiny village of Les Cerqueux in France’s Loire River Valley.
Gabriel’s recipe was unique because he always used two very special ingredients.
One was the family’s own levain, which is a natural sourdough starter that makes brioche (and other baked goods) rise. A starter works pretty much the same way modern yeast does, but it’s an older and more traditional way to leaven baked goods.
In addition to helping brioche bake into a lofty golden cloud of buttery goodness, the levain adds a mellow tangy flavor that’s as soft and subtle as a whisper.
And since French family bakeries often make their own levain, it’s like a culinary signature, enriching fresh-baked creations with a special taste all its own.
The other ingredient Gabriel Pasquier always used?
Love—and lots of it!
People loved Gabriel’s brioche so much that five of his sons decided to expand the family bakery.
“My grandfather’s signature ingredients are still the most important ones we use every day: the very same levain and the very same love,” Hugues said.
Hugues moved to the United States with his wife and three young sons so that he could keep his family’s culinary legacy going strong.
What’s a legacy? Well, it’s a forever gift passed down from one generation to the next.
A culinary legacy can be a special recipe, ingredient or food tradition that families enjoy together—and teach their kids, grandkids and other young friends or family members about.
Like great food, a culinary legacy can be shared with anyone you like. And when you share it, they become a part of your family—and the gift you’ve shared becomes a part of them.
When we asked Hugues if this could be true for zebras as well as humans, he said it certainly could—and gave us some brioche so we could take his family’s signature tradition and make it our own.
As I sat in my kitchen with a couple of my zebra cousins, it occurred to me that starting and sharing a family food tradition is a lot like levain. Just as levain makes brioche rise, creating a family food tradition can make your imagination rise.
And that’s exactly what happened.
To find inspiration for a recipe that would reflect our family and the things we love, we looked through our favorite French cookbooks for local flavors.
When we had breakfast with Hugues, we were immediate fans of the brioche French toast. In France, that recipe is often called pain perdu (“lost bread”) because it’s a great way to transform not-so-fresh bread into something new and delicious.
Then my cousin ZoeBot remembered how much our family loves French onion soup and the way it always makes us feel so warm and cozy inside when we eat it.
We decided to combine the two ideas and create ZePerfect French Onion Soup Brioche Bread Pudding—with stripes, of course.
We cut brioche into cubes and gently toasted them in ZeOven to make them like the bread that crowns French onion soup.
As we prepped the other parts of our recipe, we remembered Gabriel’s secret ingredient—and made sure we did everything with lots of love.
Caramelizing onions takes a long time (especially when you have hooves). You have to do it very slowly, gently stirring the onions over low heat until they go from ordinary pale onionhood to soft strands of mellow amber sweetness.
We didn’t mind, though, because it gave us time to tell lots of old family stories and jokes while the onions cooked—and even MORE time while the pudding baked.
Later, as we sat at the kitchen table enjoying what we all agreed was ZeBest bread pudding ever, we realized that cooking and eating together are as nourishing as great food itself. And that even after our meal was over, the memories would be part of us forever.
And so ZeLegacy began.
To keep our new culinary tradition going strong, we’d like to share our recipe with you (below)—and invite you to make it your own as you share it with the people (and zebras) you love.
Want to share (or start) your own family food tradition?
RECIPE: ZeBot’s French Onion Soup Brioche Bread Pudding
This is a very friendly and comforting sort of dish, so please feel free to tweak it to make it truly your own. Two things are essential, though. If you are a kid or a zebra, you’ll need an adult to assist you with this recipe. And whichever ingredients you choose, please remember to add lots of love!
What you need
For ZeCaramelized Onions:
3-4 medium-sized yellow onions, thinly sliced (you can use a knife or food processor, depending on your hand/hoof skills)
3 tablespoons butter
For grown-ups: a splash of sherry
For kids/zebras: a pinch of brown sugar
For ZeBrioche Cubes:
1 loaf of brioche (about 9 oz.), cut into cubes (about 1 1/2” sq.)
For ZePudding Itself:
1 cup whole milk (low fat is fine, too—use what you have!)
1 cup broth (vegetable, chicken or beef)
A pinch of dried thyme or Herbes de Provence (a classic blend of herbs from Southern France)
2-3 cups grated Gruyere cheese (this is traditional for French Onion Soup—but you could use Swiss, cheddar or another firm cheese, if that’s what your family likes best)
What You Do
Preheat your oven to 350°F.
Mist a 9” x 13” baking dish with cooking spray (or brush it with melted butter)
Gently melt the butter in a large (12” or so) skillet or fry pan over medium-low heat, then add the sliced onions.
Now comes the patience/storytelling part: keep stirring the onions until they turn a rich golden-brown. If you REALLY need them to cook more quickly, you can turn up the heat a bit. Just remember to keep stirring so your onions won’t burn.
When the onions are nice and soft, grown-ups can add a splash of sherry and kids/zebras can add a pinch of brown sugar. Stir gently, then take the pan off the heat and let the onions mellow out while you make ZeBrioche cubes.
Spread out the brioche cubes on a baking sheet. Put the sheet in the oven and let the brioche gently toast for about 5 minutes. You just want it to dry out a bit and turn a light golden color. When it’s done the way you like it, take the brioche out of the oven to cool.
Crack the eggs into a medium-sized mixing bowl and mix them up with a whisk or a fork. Pour in the milk and mix it in, then do the same with the broth.
Now add the thyme or Herbes de Provence, stirring it into the frothy eggs and milk.
Put the brioche cubes into your casserole dish, then spoon the onions over the top.
Add most of the cheese, then mix it all up with a big spoon (or clean hands/hooves).
If you want stripes, make sure to pull a few caramelized onions to the top of the casserole.
Pour the egg mixture over all the yummy ingredients in the casserole, then sprinkle on the rest of the grated cheese.
Put the casserole into the oven and bake for about 30-35 minutes. You can tell when it’s done because the eggs will be puffy, the cheese will be perfectly melted and any brioche sticking out will be a beautiful toasty golden-brown.
Let your creation cool for a few minutes, then use a spatula to cut ZePerfect portions for you and your family and friends.
Eat happily ever after!