After our self-imposed vegetarian stint last month, I'm finding that I don't actually even want to eat meat all that often. In fact, while we have recently ordered meat dishes in restaurants, we haven't prepared it at home in... I don't know how long. I actually can't think of the last time we- oh wait, we made that chicken braised in milk like a month ago. Man, that was good. But I digress!
So last week when the craving for burgers hit me like a sack of iron deficiency, I knew it was time to break the meat drought (er, apologies for that somewhat icky metaphor). Conveniently, my friend Evan, a fellow home-cooking enthusiast* wanted to get together to cook and eat and generally make merry that Saturday night. I wasted no time in informing him we would be having burgers. In retrospect, perhaps it would have been more polite to ask what he wanted, but he seemed enthusiastic and told me he would pick up some ground beef and fixings.
Here's where it gets food bloggy: I offered to bring home-made buns. I know, I know, the bread's not really the point of a burger, but a couple of weeks ago Adam had enjoyed a burger at Lord Hobo in Cambridge, which they served on black pepper challah buns. Actually, 6 of the 8 people in our party ordered the burger (I did not) and when they were brought to the table the floral notes of black pepper were almost overhwelming, and I was instantly filled with orderers remorse. I wanted a black pepper bun!
You guys, this is the black pepper bun I wanted. They smelled like the buns in my mind, and were flavorful without being overtly peppery. And the burgers were exactly what I had been craving, juicy and meaty, all snug and cozy in their bready pillows. If you want to take your family's burger night or your neighbor's backyard cook-out up to the next level, you should really give these bad boys a try.
*Let's see if we can eradicate "foodie" once and for all, eh? I offer this up as a more accurate if slightly more cumbersome substitute.
Black Pepper Brioche Burger Buns
I used 3 teaspoons of black pepper, but I dare say you could use more. Or hey, go crazy, grind up one of those mixes of three colors of peppercorns and take the floral notes as far as you can! This is adapted from the Comme Ça burger buns recipe from the New York Times this past summer.
3 tablespoons whole milk, at room temperature
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
3-4 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs
2 cups bread flour
1 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
sesame seeds (optional)
Combine 1 cup warm water, the milk, yeast and sugar in a small bowl. Stir then let stand until foamy
In another small bowl, beat one egg.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, then rub the butter in with your fingers until the mixture looks like crumbs or meal. Stir in yeast mixture and beaten egg; you will probably need a dough scraper.
Scrape the dough out onto the counter (don't flour it, just be prepared to use your dough scraper a lot). Instead of traditional kneading, you'll want to pick the dough up and slap it down, using some of the fold and push motion you'd normally use but trying to do it in the air. Do this weird pick up and slap knead thing for 8-10 minutes until it's smooth and elastic. It may be a little tacky. (The reason you don't flour the counter is that the more flour you work into the dough the tougher the buns will be. Sometimes sturdy bread is awesome, but we're going for soft and pillowy here.)
Shape the dough into a ball and return it to the (cleaned, lightly oiled) bowl. Cover and let rise until doubled in bulk, 1-2 hours.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat. Divide the dough into 8 equal parts (eyeball a half, then cut each half in half, and then again). Gently roll each piece into a ball and lay them out 2-3 inches apart on a baking sheet. Cover with a clean towel or the plastic wrap you used to cover the bowl, and let rise again for another hour or two.
Fifteen to twenty minutes before you want to bake, (say, after the buns have been resting for an hour or so), put a large shallow pan of water on the oven floor (or bottom rack). Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. After 15-20 minutes, beat the remaining egg with one tablespoon of water and brush the egg wash over the tops of the buns, then sprinkle with sesame seeds, if using. Bake for 15 minutes, turning the sheet halfway through, or until the tops are golden brown and toasty. Remove buns to cooling rack to cool completely before slicing and stuffing with burgery deliciousness.