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
- 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.