Monday, 28 April 2014

Recipe: The Manchester Foodies' Big Mac

They don't look that pretty, but they taste damn good

At work the other day, I found myself listening to the dulcet tones of Aaron Lewis, morosely intoning Staind's “smash” hit It's Been Awhile, and I thought: yes it has Aaron, yes it has.

Given that over two months have passed since my last blog post, it's been a while (correct spelling) is a constant refrain in my head. Don’t worry I'm not going to start busy-bragging. As writers of any creed will know, the desire to pen your thoughts inevitably waxes and wanes. It’s just been one of those waning periods.

But here I am. Writing once again. Wax on, as it were.

So, let’s get back to the task in hand.

Burgers. Most of us eat them. Most of like them. But not many of us go to much effort with them. Pre-ground meat from the supermarket or butcher, store-bought buns, the only creative spark reserved firmly for the toppings. For our American supperclub (read Food Geek’s kind review here) I wanted to go a bit further.

The Burger

As always my research started with Serious Eats, Modernist Cuisine and Heston. It would be fair to say that, like some sort of culinary plagiarist, most of my knowledge is culled from these guys. But testing out their processes often leads to new discoveries and slight variations.

Here’s what I learned about burgers:

- If you’re really serious about burger making then you should definitely be making your own mince. Franco Sotgiu was kind enough to donate us a mincer for the supperclub - you can find a good one for around £60 or ask your butcher to do it for you. If you’re not gonna make burgers very often, don’t buy one I guess. But they are useful for making sausages and pasta too.

- The type of cuts you use do matter. You need to find a good balance of fat-content and nicely textured meat. The most common ingredients seem to be chuck, sirloin and rib-eye, which are often augmented by richer, beefier additions: Kenji from Serious Eats uses a bit of oxtail, Modernist Cuisine uses hanger, Heston likes dry-aged shortrib. But no matter what anyone says, I don’t think a burger mince mix should contain expensive, dry-aged meat. Reserve that stuff for steaks and roasts. The cheapest option for a decent burger is to find a well-marbled piece of chuck and dry age it in the fridge for a couple of days. I settled on 50% chuck, 25% sirloin and 25% hanger, but I suggest looking at the Serious Eats guide to the burger blends as a start. We tend to get our meat from Farmer’s Choice, and can vouch for the quality of their steaks in particular. 

Freshly ground mince

- I have made the granulated-style burger a la Heston (laying the strands of mince parallel to each other, shaping into a log, then cutting into patties) but I’m not convinced the mouthfeel is that much better than in loosely hand-formed patties. Using a chefs ring or other type of mould will work fine for shaping, just remember not to work or compress the mix too much.

- Chilling your mincer parts as well as your meat makes the whole process much easier, especially when it comes to grinding the fat. Warm fat plus a warm mincer equals smeared greasy bits that will clog the machine. For the meat, fridge cold is fine but 20 mins in the freezer won’t do it any harm. Put the mincer parts in for as long as you want.

- When it comes to the cooking, Heston is a big advocate of regular flipping. If you have a loosely-formed patty, this can prove difficult. So you’re probably going to have to resort to a few minutes on each side tactics or a normal amount of flips. Sous-vide your burgers to 55 degrees c and pan sear if you’ve got the requisite equipment.

The Bun

New York Cult Recipes Bun

And what about the bun? There’s not time to go into the intricacies of making bread but here’s the upshot of all my googling and recipe testing:

- The three best burger bun recipes I’ve tried so far are Modernist Cuisine’s (which, like Heston’s uses a pre-ferment), the one from New York Cult Recipes, and America’s Test Kitchen’s Potato Burger Buns. The last two are by far the most manageable; Heston overcomplicates things in my view.

- Buns shouldn’t have too much flavour on their own, but like pizza dough should have enough about them to stand up to intense flavours. They need to have sufficient integrity to prevent them falling apart but not enough that they’re dense and chewy. Brioche ticks most of the boxes, and is wonderfully light, but it’s very difficult to work with. Something like a demi-brioche, which will be less rich in flavour, or the above recipes will work well.

- Shaping the buns is the hardest task. Rolling into balls and flattening gives good results but using a ring mould is the best option. Craft your own out of foil for budget-friendly cooking.

- We failed to apply sesame seeds (I know, it's not a real Big Mac without them). To ensure you don't get burnt sesame seeds, apply a little egg white wash to the buns once they've been baked, then sprinkle the seeds atop and grill until set (it won't take very long).

The Sauce

It should look something like this

The Big Mac sauce recipe is no secret: not that long ago, McDonald’s Canada released a load of YouTube videos, designed to answer FAQs. One of these questions was “What is in the sauce that is in the Big Mac”? Dan Coudreaut, McDonald’s Executive Chef, gave viewers and approximation of the restaurant’s sauce, but doesn’t give you the exact ingredients.

Based on the video and a bit of playing around I came up with this recipe:

- 50g Mayonnaise
- 25g Branston’s Sweet Relish
- 10g American (French’s) mustard
- ½ tsp of sweet paprika, onion powder, and garlic powder
- enough pickling liquid from a jar of gherkins to loosen the mixture and to taste

Add all ingredients, except pickling liquid, to a bowl set on scales. Add liquid until you achieve the desired consistency (slightly looser than the mayonnaise). 

Pickles, Cheese etc.

Giant homemade cheese slice 

After trying a couple of gherkins/dill pickles, we settled on the Beit Hashita brand. They were closest we found to the kind you'll find in an original Big Mac. For the garnishes, finely mince the onion and leave it in the fridge for a few hours or soak in iced water to diminish the pungency, and shred some iceberg lettuce. Keep it in iced-water if you're bothered about crispness; McDonald's wouldn't bother. 

It's not essential but you can make your own melting cheese slice with practically any cheese by using an emuslifying agent like sodium citrate. The Modernist Cuisine method has been reproduced on the Saveur website. We used mostly cheddar and a little emmental for ours, but the McDonald's site lists vegetarian cheddar as the only cheese in its cheese slices. The cheesy goo needs to be formed into one thin layer before being cut into slices

Well that's about it. If you have any questions leave a comment and if you want to see someone more anal than me try to replicate a Big Mac, try Kenji's post at Serious Eats.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Recipe: Bagels

My bosses live up in Prestwich. I can only assume they enjoy inflicting pain on others, as I regularly watch them eat, in envy, as they devour authentic, sturdy-looking bagels. They assure me I must partake in a bite should I ever venture north of the river. The River Irk, that is, of course.

For, living in Levenshulme as we do, great bagels are in short supply. Until the brilliant Trove get in on the act, it's either trusty old supermarket-shelf New York Bagel Co or make our own. So I decided to rise to the challenge, mainly with the aid of a Christmas present from my sister, Marc Grossman's New York Cult Recipes, and insight from a few twitter foodies (twoodies, anyone?).

Upon initial inspection, bagels look like they could be tricky to make. And, though baking bread has become quite fashionable of late (so much so that I can't count the number of people I've spoken to recently who keep their own sourdough starter), it's still rare to overhear a bagel-related discussion. Whatever apprehensions you might have, making a bagel is actually pretty damn similar to making bread, but with the added simmering stage to give them that classic chewy crust.

The following recipe is almost 100% Marc Grossman's with very small variations. Thanks to Eddie Shepherd for the bicarbonate of soda trick and to Ashley Clarke for an alternative to Grossman's shaping of the dough. Bicarb is great at accelerating Maillard reactions, which helps the dough to brown when baking; there's also great fun to be had spinning bagels on one's fingers to create a hole.

A couple of notes on ingredients: you can buy potato starch from Unicorn in Chorlton and online; malt syrup isn't the easiest thing to find but Unicorn again and Holland & Barrett are your best bets.


Dry Stuff
750g of strong (i.e. bread) flour
7.5g (1.5 tsp) dried yeast

Wet Stuff
375ml lukewarm water
15g (3 tsp) salt
30g (2 tbsp) malt syrup or sugar (not surprisingly, malt syrup gives a darker crumb and maltier flavour)
22.5g (1.5 tbsp) olive oil

For the poaching
3kg water
15g (3 tsp) potato starch
15g (3 tsp) malt syrup
5g (1 tsp) bicarbonate of soda


  • Mix the dry stuff with the wet stuff to form a dough. Make sure to dissolve the salt and the malt syrup in the lukewarm water so they distribute throughout the dough more evenly.
  • If using a stand mixer, knead with the dough hook on a  medium speed until you get a smooth elastic dough which pulls away from the sides of the bowl. If kneading by hand, flour or oil your work surface and work until you get the same effect.
  • Divide the resultant dough into 10 portions (weighing the whole thing, dividing by ten, then portioning out on a scale works well).
  • Shape the portions as per the following picture, rolling into a log and creating the hook:

  • Alternatively, make a ball of dough, poke a hole through the middle with a couple of fingers and spin it around carefully to get the same shape (as advised by one Mr. A. Clarke).
  • Now you're free to place the bagels on a sheet of baking paper or silicone mat and leave to rise for about 1 hour.

Bagels pre-rise

  • Roughly half an hour before you're ready to make the bagels, preheat your oven to 230 degrees celsius.
  • Blend the potato starch with about 250ml of the water and then mix with the remaining poaching ingredients and bring to a boil in a large saucepan. The bicarb might make the liquid foam wildly so keep an eye on it.
  • Lower the heat so the water is simmering and poach each bagel (I imagine cooking more than two at once will be impractical in most household pans) for around a minute on the first side and then flip over for 30 seconds on the other.

Poaching bagels

  • Remove bagels and place on your baking paper/silicone mat where you can top them with sesame seeds, poppy seeds or anything you like (sprinkles?).

Sesame bagels

  • Place the bagels in the oven and lower the temperature to 210 degrees.
  • Cook until done and dark brown about 20-25 minutes.
  • Let cool for a while otherwise the crust will be a little too chewy (as we impatiently learnt!)

The finished article

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Baltic Bakehouse, Liverpool

Bread, it's simple stuff, isn't it? Well, it sort of is. It also sort of isn't. Ever tried making it? I'll be honest, I haven't - fortunately for me, Jamie is a dab hand at making it (see here). We're also rather lucky: living round the corner from Trove it's easy to get hold of a good loaf. We'll still travel for a well proved roll though - hence our recent journey to Baltic Bakehouse in Liverpool.

I've been admiring them from afar for some time, on the ol' Twittersphere. Their cakes and bakes look completely delectable - so much so that when we found out they were still closed for the Christmas break on the Friday we planned to visit Liverpool, we delayed our visit until they were open again the next day!

We weren't to be disappointed - my only gripe being that bread is, of course, rather filling - and so we couldn't actually try as much as we would have liked to.

First up - a simply toasted mozzarella, tomato and pesto sandwich. Rich in its filling (no skimping on the cheese here, thankfully), the bread was thickly sliced, holding the lot together without seeping molten hot cheese lava onto my hands (like mine often do at home).

There was a reasonably sized selection of Chelsea buns, pear tarts, croissants, pain au chocolat - but this pretty little chocolate and walnut tart caught our eye. Rich without being overfacing (perhaps because we shared: January austerity was thinking of our waistlines), the pastry was Mary Poppins-esque (y'know, practically perfect in every way!).

There's no espresso machine here but they do serve up excellent HasBean cafetiere coffee - complete with timer, ensuring you're brewing it right. Served in camping mugs, my only complaint was that the enamel kept the heat so well, it was hard to drink for a while.

Everything we'd consumed thus far was so good, I couldn't resist leaving without trying one of their croissants. Much better than anything you'll get in a supermarket, Jamie (modest as ever) compared them to the ones he made for our brunch club supper club, a little while ago.

The menu is short but sweet: a changing daily selection of sandwiches, breakfast stuffs including bacon and sausage butties and granola. Oh, and toast of course - you can even DIY at the table. Located in the 'Baltic Triangle' it might seem a little out of the way, but it's en route to the Tate (and there's an intriguing looking antiques shop nearby) - a perfect stop off before an afternoon exhibition. We even spied another couple at both places who seemed to be making the same journey around Liverpool as us. Anyway, go eat bread. They sell loaves to take home with you too!

Baltic Bakehouse
46 Bridgewater street, Liverpool
L1 0AY

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Wholemeal loaf

I've recently been overcome with the desire to make my own bread.

This is due in no small part to Paul Hollywood's book 'How To Bake' and to the Channel 4's 'The Fabulous Baker Brothers'.

This isn't the first time, mind you. I think anyone who's serious about food and interested in living sustainably/cheaply will have attempted to make their own bread, with varying degrees of success.

I'll admit that my first few attempts gave me some good old 'brick' loafs, most likely the result of a lack of technique coupled with a lack of experience. The more practice you get, the more you get a feel for when a dough has been kneaded sufficiently and when it has proved enough, and more likely you will end up with something palatable.

There are also some invaluable tips which will speed you on your way to making brilliant bread:

- If using dried yeast, such as the Doves Farm Quick Yeast, you don't need to reconstitute it with warm water. Adding warm water decreases the proving time, which, although making the whole process quicker, detracts from the flavour of your final loaf and can cause the dough to over-prove. Use cold/tepid water and knead the dough enough to warm and then let rise until doubled in size.
 - Add a little oil or butter to your dough and it will retain a moister crumb. I'd go for rapeseed oil and unsalted butter in regular bread and olive oil for the richer ciabattas and focaccias. Also oiling your work surface instead of flouring it actually makes it easier to knead the dough.
- When you turn on your oven to preheat it, add a baking tray with a little water to create a steamy environment in your oven. It makes for a lighter crust.
- In general, the wetter the dough, the more moist your final loaf will be. So if the dough is dry don't be afraid to add a little more water. It will be harder to work with but persevere! I've had some very wet doughs that will come together with a good bout of kneading. By all means use a stand-mixer if the dough is unmanageably wet.

 The recipes here are Paul Hollywood's and I've added any observations as I see fit. The recipes call for slightly more dried yeast than other recipes I've seen - and the bread is markedly better for it. If you use the ratio 500g flour/ 10g salt/ 10g dried yeast/ 20-40g butter or oil/ and enough water to make a sloppy dough, I don't think you can go far wrong. I've added photos to help you gauge what your dough etc. should look like.

I've been using Dove's Farm flours and their dried active yeast. The amount of water you need to add to the dough will vary depending on the flour you're using.

A quick tip from Mary Berry for softening butter is to put it in body-temperature water (35-40 degrees). This will make it much easier to incorporate into the dough.

Wholemeal Loaf


400g strong wholemeal bread flour
100g strong white bread flour
10g salt
10g instant yeast
40g unsalted butter
Roughly 320ml tepid water

- Put the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl, adding the yeast and salt to separate sides
- Add the butter and most of the water and mix with one hand (keeping one hand dough-free will make the whole process less messy - you can grab a jug of water, oil, some more flour without coating them in sticky dough)
- Keep mixing until you form a rough dough, using the mixture to clean the insides of the bowl

- Tip the dough out onto an oiled work surface and knead for 5-10 minutes until the dough forms a smooth soft skin.

- Roll into a ball and place in a lightly oiled large bowl and cover with a tea towel. Leave to rise until doubled in size, or at least one hour.

-When the dough has risen, tip it out onto a lightly floured surface, then fold it in on itself and punch it to knock the air out. At this point you can roll the dough into a sausage shape (see below) or make it into any shape you desire, divide it to make rolls or place in a proving basket. I rolled mine then tied it into a knot.

- Place on a tray line with baking parchment or a silicone mat. Cover with a large clean plastic bag and allow to prove for about an hour or til the dough springs back quickly if you prod it with your finger.
- In the meantime, preheat your oven to 200 degrees and place a baking tray filled with a little water in it
- Bake the loaf for about 30 minutes, then check if it's cooked by tapping the base. It should sound hollow.

The loaf worked beautifully with mackerel pate made with smoked mackerel from the Lancaster Smokehouse.

I'll be back soon with posts on how to make brioche and some great crusty dinner rolls.