Brioche Burger Buns

Home-Made Burger

When burgers hit the big time in London a few years ago, it became clear very quickly that the only bread for burger buns was brioche.  The restaurants all caught on very quickly and brioche was snuggling burgers all over town, but the shops and bakeries were a little slower off the mark.  As the humble burger graduated from late night shame-food to gourmet menu centrepiece, what inevitably followed was a tidal wave of home cooks seeking to create their own at home. Suddenly we were stocking up on mince, bacon, American cheese and gherkins and scouring food blogs for tips on creating the perfect burger.  As summer came around and friends with gardens fired up their barbecues, we had the perfect opportunity for showcasing our concoctions.  There was only one problem: the bread.

When it comes to stocking up for a BBQ, bread is often an afterthought. The meat, obviously, is of paramount importance, the booze also, but the bread is usually chucked in the trolley at the last minute and barely given any attention at all.  Consequently, the bread table at a BBQ would often consist of those dry, anaemic looking multi-pack supermarket baps or finger rolls.  The kind that disintegrate the minute you get any kind of moisture or sauce near them.  The kind that stick to the roof of your mouth.  The kind that have no flavour whatsoever.  When we upped our game with our homemade burgers, this no longer became an option, the bread had to live up to the other components.  The problem was, hardly anywhere sold ready-made brioche buns.  Early in the summer, we used to get ours from Kindred Bakery in Herne Hill.  After the burst water main put them out of action, we found a stall in Brockley Market that sells them, but both are fairly pricey.  In recent months, the supermarkets have woken up to this trend and  you can now buy brioche buns in Marks & Spencer and Tesco, although both look a bit shiny and processed.  It seems that you definitely get what you pay for.

The other option, of course, is baking your own.  Brioche is a bit of a faff but need not be too laborious.  You will need about 12 hours or so to complete the whole process, but the active time you spend is barely more than you would spend ordering and collecting the buns from a local bakery.  My buns are based on a savoury brioche recipe by Paul Hollywood.  I was lucky enough to take part in Paul’s Bread series and got to taste a savoury brioche couronne he made. It was filled with mozzarella, basil and parma ham and was one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten.  The bread dough is enriched with milk, eggs and butter and proved in the fridge overnight.  Once firm enough to work with, the dough is then shaped into balls and baked.  The end result is a light, malleable bun that holds together well.  You could add sugar if you prefer your brioche a little sweeter.  The recipe below makes about eight buns.

Brioche Burger Buns

Brioche Burger Buns

Brioche Burger Buns

  • 500g strong white bread flour
  • 10g salt
  • 10g instant yeast
  • 170ml warm full-fat milk
  • 4 eggs
  • 250g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 egg, beaten, for glazing
  • 1 tbsp sesame seeds

Put the flour, salt, yeast, milk and eggs into the bowl of a free-standing mixer and, using the paddle attachment, mix until the dough becomes smooth and shiny.  Continue to mix for another five minutes, adding the butter a teaspoon at a time until all of the butter incorporated into the dough.  It is important to add the butter gradually.

Tip the dough into an oiled plastic container with a lid.  The volume of the container should be a minimum of one litre so the dough has room to expand.  Leave to prove in the fridge overnight.

Line two baking sheets with greaseproof paper.  Remove the dough from the fridge and divide into eight equal portions.  To make the bun shape, flatten out the dough into a disc and bring the edges into the centre and pinch together.  Turn upside down and place on the baking tray.  Place four buns on each tray, ensuring that there is enough space between them to allow them to expand.  Cover the rays with clingfilm or a clean plastic bag and leave to rise in a warm place for 1-2 hours or until doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 190ºc / 375ºf / gas 5.  Brush the buns with a little beaten egg and sprinkle with the sesame seeds.  Bake in the oven for 20 minutes until risen and golden.  If you tap the bottom of the buns, they should sound hollow.  Leave to cool on a rack.


The Chocolate Behemoth and Some Cupcakes

The Chocolate Behemoth: a Four-Layer Chocolate Cake with Chocolate,ate Buttercream and Chocolate Ganache

The Chocolate Behemoth: a Four-Layer Chocolate Cake with Chocolate,ate Buttercream and Chocolate Ganache

The french have rather an interesting phrase that may just serve to sum up the way I’m feeling this morning.  Gueule de bois, the french term for a ‘hangover’, literally translates as ‘wooden mouth’.  Two pots of Earl Grey, a can of Diet Coke and a litre of water and I’m still not feeling normal. I think today is going to be a quiet day spent in the kitchen and on the couch – luckily I have very little do to.

Rewind 18 hours or so, and I was sitting at a large table in Donde in Honor Oak Park with friends, celebrating my friend Dan‘s birthday.  We drank wine and sangria and feasted on plates of manchego with quince, cured meats, olives, grilled seafood, chorizo stews and some stunning morcilla that was so good I actually considered walking over this morning and ordering some more to help me through my current booze-soaked malaise.  We then headed back to Dan’s house for birthday cake and more wine. Perhaps a little too much wine, hence my state today.

I have a tradition for making towering layer cakes for Dan’s birthday and yesterday was no exception.  The Chocolate Behemoth, as it has come to be known is a four-layer chocolate cake, sandwiched with a rich chocolate buttercream and covered in a dark chocolate ganache.  It is a migrane-inducing chocoholic’s dream containing over half a kilogram of chocolate.  The sponge itself, although rich, is not too sweet, which prevents the cake from becoming too sickly.  Surprise ingredients such as dates, chilli and coffee give a warmth and richness without relying on too much sugar, and the use of cocoa powder instead of melted chocolate also tones down the sweetness.  We drunkenly got through far more slices than is acceptable and I have a suspicion that the leftovers will be scarfed for breakfast today.

A Late Night Cross-Section of the Chocolate Behemoth

A Late Night Cross-Section of the Chocolate Behemoth

The Chocolate Behemoth

For the chocolate sponge:

  • 220g dates, stoned and roughly chopped
  • 200ml coffee, made with a shot of espresso and topped up with boiling water
  • 100ml full-fat milk
  • 125g plain flour
  • 60g cocoa powder
  • ¼ tsp chilli powder
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 150g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 115g caster sugar
  • 50g dark brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

For the chocolate buttercream:

  • 225g dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa solids, broken up
  • 750g icing sugar
  • 225g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 90ml full-fat milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • Small pinch salt

For the chocolate ganache:

  • 350g dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa solids, chopped finely
  • 285ml whipping cream
  • 30g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ¼ tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 175ºc / 350ºf / gas 4.  Grease and line a round 8-inch cake tin with greaseproof paper.

Heat the milk in a pan until it reaches boiling point, remove from the heat and stir in the coffee.  Put the dates in a large bowl and pour over the milk and coffee mixture.  Leave to soak for around 20 minutes.  Once soft, puree the mixture in a food processor until smooth.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, chilli powder, cinnamon, bicarbonate of soda and salt and set aside.

In the bowl of a free-standing mixer, beat together the butter, caster sugar and brown sugar on a medium speed until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until well incorporated.  If the mixture looks like it is beginning to curdle, add a tablespoon of the flour mixture and it should bring it back together.  Add the vanilla extract and beat well.

With the mixer on a low speed, add the dry ingredients a little at a time, beating until just incorporated.  Be careful not to overmix.  Gently fold in the date puree until combined.  Scrape into the prepared cake tin and bake in the oven for around 50-60 minutes until risen and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.  Allow to cool in the tin and later on a cooling rack.

To make the buttercream, melt the chocolate in a glass bowl set over boiling water.  As soon as all of the chocolate has melted, remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.  In the bowl of a free-standing mixer, beat together the icing sugar, butter, milk, vanilla and salt until combined.  Beat for a further couple of minutes until the mixture becomes fluffy.  With the mixer on low, gradually add the cooled chocolate.  Beat on a medium speed until a thick and even chocolate buttercream is formed.

Using a serrated knife, slice the cooled cake into four layers.  Reserve the bottom layer to use as the top layer of the cake – the flat bottom will ensure a flat top on the cake.  Scoop some of the buttercream on to a layer of the cake and spread evenly using a palette knife.  Set the next layer on top and repeat the process until you have added the top layer.  Crumb coat the sides of the cake using a thin layer of buttercream and refrigerate for at least two hours – the ganache will be easier to spread on a cold cake.

To make the ganache, put a saucepan of water on to boil and reduce to a simmer – this will be used for a double boiler later, so ensure it is the right size to set a glass bowl on.  Put the chopped chocolate into a glass bowl and set aside.  In a separate saucepan, heat the cream, butter and vanilla until it just reaches boiling point – do not let the mixture boil.  Put the bowl of chocolate over the pan of simmering water and immediately pour the cream mixture over the chocolate.  Whisk together, using a balloon whisk, until all of the chocolate has melted and the mixture is thick and shiny.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool for about 10 minutes.

Remove the chilled cake from the fridge and set on a cooling rack over a baking sheet.  Pour the ganache, in one go, over the top of the cake and allow to flow down the sides.  The ganache will grip the cold buttercream and cover the sides of the cake.  You can gently use a palette knife to smooth any rough edges or cover any sparse areas.  Return the cake to the fridge for at least half an hour to set the ganache.

Once the ganache is set, you can pipe decorations on to the cake using melted chocolate or add your own decorations.  Serve the cake at room temperature.

Adapted from a recipe by Serious Eats

This recipe produces a mountain of chocolate buttercream – far more than you would ever need to use for the cake even if you are quite generous with your icing, as I am.  You can either polish it off with a spoon before shame leads you to throw the entire lot in the bin, or you can use it for something else.  Below is a recipe for some chocolate chip cupcakes that would benefit very well from a swirl of leftover chocolate buttercream. You may have to go on the word of my colleagues as to their taste, as I cannot bear eating any more chocolate after last night!

Chocolate Chip Cupcakes

Chocolate Chip Cupcakes

Chocolate Chip Cupcakes

  • 150g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 150g soft light brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 115g self-raising flour
  • 35g cocoa powder
  • 100g chocolate chips
  • Chocolate buttercream (see above)

Preheat the oven to 175ºc / 350ºf / gas 4.  Line a 12-hole muffin tin with paper cases.  This recipe made nine cupcakes, but if you use smaller cases, you may get 12 from the mixture.

In the bowl of a free-standing mixer, combine the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one by one, beating until smooth.  If the mixture looks like it is beginning to curdle, add a tablespoon of the flour mixture and it should bring it back together.  Fold in the flour, cocoa and chocolate chips, beating until just incorporated. Do not overmix.

Divide the mixture between the cupcake cakes and bake for around 25 minutes until risen and a skewer inserted into the middle of the cakes comes out clean.  Leave to cool in the tin and later on a baking rack.

Finish with a swirl of chocolate buttercream.