I am not ashamed to say that I enjoy Valentine’s Day. It is probably the only holiday that has people furiously writing think pieces on the consumerism of it all whilst others sip sparkling pink champagne and watch romantic comedies. There are those swept up in bunches of blushing pink tulips in brown paper, cards that suggest the sender does not take the day too seriously or those for whom the holiday is a sad reminder of things that have been or will not be. I’m a romantic at heart, and buried beneath stands of cards in degrees of reds and pinks, I really believe people find a way via paper to express their love, thankfulness and delight towards another. Like an older couple wandering down the street holding each other’s weather-worn, weary hands, the holiday just tugs on my heart eye emoji strings. I hope that come February 14, people across the globe will pause to thank the person who helps them be the best version of themselves.
First Valentine’s are a scary prospect. There is the fear that you can go over the top or understated and not match your other half’s plans. Thankfully last year, C and I managed to sync up perfectly with gifts so personal to us it made for the most magical day. I had made an edible horses heart from a red velvet cupcake, cream cheese frosting and a dark berry coulis in homage to our mutual love of Game of Thrones (you can see it here). While C had pulled out all the stops to cook for me which was a really wonderful, touching gift. When we first started dating, I taught him basic meals like meatballs, pasta sauces, burgers and his favourite, Tuscan fries with herby steak strips. To regift me his knowledge, he made me these burgers, soft brioche buns with strong cheddar, sharp cranberry and peppery rocket with some parsnip fries. It was so thoughtful, I wanted to return the favour this year by making my own brioche for the first time and recreating those burgers from our first February 14 together.
Bizarrely, brioche buns are hard to come by in Aberdeen, so making my own was almost a necessity, albeit one I had been putting off on account of my fear of enriched dough. Much like making doughnuts, the buttery mix of eggs and yeast is soft to the point of pourable, a decidedly difficult dough to master. I cheated a little and made it in my stand mixer to save my countertops and when I make it again, I would probably knock down the dough and re-knead in the mixer again, adding enough flour to a sticky, but mallable consistency. Adding water to the bottom of the oven as it cooks creates a cloud of steam which ensures the buns are soft and tearable once baked. Then it’s simply a case of griddling some beef burgers and going wild with toppings to create what I think is the ultimate Valentine’s gift. Pouring your heart into a tray of brioche, especially when it is this tricky to work with, to me seems like the perfect way to show you care. Plus everyone knows the way to anyone’s heart is through their stomach.
Brioche recipe barely adapted from BBC Good Food
- For the brioche buns
- 450g strong white flour (plus extra)
- 65g unsalted butter, softened
- 2 tbsp caster sugar
- 3 tbsp milk, warmed
- 250ml warm water
- 2 tsp dried yeast (not fast action yeast)
- 2 eggs, plus 1 for egg wash
- Pinch of sea salt
- Olive oil
- For the burgers
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 red onion, finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- 500g beef mince
- 1 sprig rosemary, leaves removed and finely chopped
- Salt and pepper
- Cranberry sauce
- Mature cheddar
- Rocket leaves, washed and patted dry
- To make the brioche buns, rub the flour and butter together in a stand mixer bowl or the largest bowl you have to resemble light breadcrumbs. Set aside and together whisk the caster sugar, warm milk, warm water and dried yeast together in a jug. Make sure both the milk and water are warmed and not hot as this will kill the yeast. Leave to stand for five minutes until frothy then pour into the bowl with the two eggs and the salt. With the dough hook attached, turn on the mixer. If you don't have a mixer you could use a handheld electric whisk using the same attachment or just your hands. This dough is very wet so it will be messy, which is why i went for the easiest opinion of the stand mixer. Knead by hand or turn on the mixer to medium high for ten to fifteen minutes, until the dough is soft and bouncy when pulled. Once ready to prove, oil a clean bowl and a piece of clingfilm and place the dough in the bowl. Cover with clingfilm and leave to double in size for one to three hours in a warm place.
- Once the dough has proved, remove the clingfilm and punch down the dough in one motion to knock out the air. Tip onto a well floured surface and keep kneading until it comes together into a workable dough. It may take a bit of extra flour at this stage and you can always do this in a bowl to save your worktops - it gets fairly messy. Once the dough is soft but malleable, line two baking trays with baking parchment and oil your hands with olive oil. Take chunks of dough and roll in your hands tucking the ends underneath into rounded balls then place on the trays. You should be able to make around 9 to 12 buns depending on how large you roll them. Once the dough has been used up, cover the trays in cling film and leave to double in size for around another hour in a warm place.
- Preheat the oven to 200oc/180oc fan and place a deep tray on the bottom rack of the oven. Uncover the buns and beat the remaining egg. Brush over the egg wash over each bun then place the trays in the oven. Quickly pour water in the tray in the bottom of the oven to create steam and shut the oven door - this will ensure the rolls stay soft. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes until golden then remove from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack. Rolls will keep in an airtight container for a further day, so freeze any leftovers in freezer bags.
- To make the cheeseburgers, heat the tablespoon of olive oil in a saucepan placed over a medium heat and add the onions, cooking for 10 minutes until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for one minute then remove from the heat to cool. Once cool, spoon the onion and garlic mix into a bowl and add the mince, rosemary and some salt and pepper. Mix together with your hands then roll into four equal balls, flattening slightly. Heat a griddle or frying pan over a medium heat, adding some cooking spray before placing the burgers in the pan. Cook for five minutes each side until charred on the outside and cooked through. If your oven is still warm from the brioche buns, layer the sliced cheese over each burger and place in the oven to melt it. Slice a brioche bun lengthways and place one burger on the bottom, topping with cranberry sauce, rocket and the top of the bun. Serve with some sweet potato or regular fries and a glass of red or a whisky cocktail.