Heston Blumenthal takes on an American classic, the Perfect cheeseburger recipe for his second In Search of Perfection series.
I know a lot of us feel very strongly about burgers, and we all have our specific preferences and philosophies. This is why burgers between even the gourmet chains vary so much. Your Byron, your Patty & Bun, Five Guys and so on (Just kidding, we all know Five Guys is garbage).
So, even though opinions and preferences differ wildly for the sake of this experiment, like all the Perfection recipes we make, we’ll be sticking to the exact method as described in Heston Blumenthal’s In Search of Perfection book. Besides, Heston was making this burger back in 2007, so he didn’t have the vast range of gourmet burgers as a reference point. We’ll talk about that later.
We’ll be pairing Heston’s Perfect Cheeseburger recipe with another American classic from the In Search of Perfection series: Heston’s Perfect Baked Alaska recipe.
Recipes: Heston’s Perfect Cheeseburger recipe from In Search of Perfection
Special Equipment: Mincer, food mixer
Special Ingredients: Sodium Citrate, beef short rib
Time: 2 days
Serves: 4 – 16 (we halved the recipe and could have easily fed 8)
Here’s a video of Heston showing you how to make his Perfect Cheeseburger recipe on the In search of Perfection TV show:
And here’s what we’re aiming for, Heston’s Perfect burger recipe as it appears in the book.
We had hoped to have an easy making Heston’s Perfect Burger recipe after seeing this:
That’s the dish as presented on Masterchef Australia in 2012. The contestants were challenged to make the dish in about 3½ hours, with triple cooked chips included as a mandatory side dish.
We figured if those guys could recreate the recipe in such a short time under the pressure of TV cameras we could easily finish it over the course of a leisurely day in the privacy of our own kitchen.
We presume this is possible, just as long as you aren’t making the horrendously complex Baked Alaska recipe at the same time. Looking back at this report the process seems so easy; it’s hard to believe we didn’t get to eat until gone 1am.
Step 1: Bun Pre-Ferment
This is a step we recognise from Heston’s In Search of Perfection Pizza recipe. Creating a batch of dough that’s given 24 hours to develop adds a greater depth of bread-y flavour to your buns. Like the Perfection Pizza recipe it also adds an extra full day to making Heston’s Perfect Burger recipe.
Making it is fairly simple, though. As long as you have some kind of food mixer. We don’t have exactly one of those, but we do have an oversized Magimix with a dough blade that we hope will do the job.
Whizz water, flour and a tiny bit of yeast together. Then cover and leave on the side overnight to prove / proof / however you spell it.
Step 2: Cheese Slices
These keep in the fridge very well, you might as well get them out of the way early so you can concentrate on the rest of the recipe.
We’ve discussed sodium citrate before, when we tested Heston’s Macaroni Cheese recipe against the incredible silky smooth sodium citrate version from Modernist Cuisine. This time instead of chicken stock or plain water Heston is adding sherry infused with garlic, thyme and clove. Maybe some peppercorns too. It was a while back, I forget.
Finely grated cheese melts quicker, you need to weigh both cheese and sherry quite accurately to get the right smooth texture. Avoid using too high a heat, you want the sherry simmering rather than at a rolling boil.
As with the rest of this recipe, we’re halving the quantities Heston asks for. Tip the silky smooth cheese sauce into a parchment-lined baking tray.
If possible have a second, smaller tray next to your first to avoid the mistake we made – we poured it all into one tray and ended up with thick, clumsy-looking, oafish cheese slices.
Step 3: Preparing the Chuck
It’s probably better to do this on the day you’re planning to eat than the night before. Your chuck steak will take a good 6 hours to salt before you can grind it though, so factor that in when you come to make your own burger patties.
Chop into small cubes and sprinkle with a measured quantity of salt, then cover and refrigerate.
Step 4: Bun dough
Heston warns that this is a very difficult dough to work with, and I’m absolutely crap at baking, so we must have been lucky with this step. There’s no other explanation for these buns turning out so amazingly well.
You start of by mixing your dry ingredients, mainly very strong Canadian bread flour, and adding a staggering 5 egg yolks (ten if you’re making the full recipe).
This results in quite a loose mixture, which luckily meant our cheapo Argos hand mixer didn’t burn out kneading it, unlike with the dough for Heston’s Perfection Pizza recipe.
Eventually you’ll add beurre noisette (Heston’s recipes call for this quite frequently, so we made a big batch earlier), Trex and some grapeseed oil. Along with the preferment and a bit more mixing you’ll end up with a very sloppy and unsettlingly yellow dough.
This’ll need two hours rest in the fridge, after which it’ll still be murder to work with. We put ours in the freezer for a bit, hoping it’d solidify a bit and be easier to divide into portions. This actually worked!
The resting time gives you a good opportunity to faff around with Heston’s soul-sapping Baked Alaska recipe, or you can be more productive and start grinding the meat.
Step 5: Grinding the Meat
Like with many other aspects of the gourmet burger scene, the cuts of meat used are of vital importance. Again, that’ll vary from place to place, and of course we all have our favourites. Heston’s choice for the perfect hamburger patty is about 50% shortrib, 25% chuck and 25% brisket.
When I look back at these photos and wonder why making this recipe took so long it’s usually because I forget what a plodding nightmare it is using our cast iron mincer. (I could justify the expense because we used it for the bolognese and the bangers and mash, as well as this recipe).
Grinding was extra difficult because, following advice from Modernist Cuisine that’d avoid bacterial growth and prevent melting fat smearing up the works, I’d put our mincer in the freezer overnight – it was jammed solid.
Note: to beat these tough cuts into humble, Theon Greyjoy-like submission you’ll want to mince them on the smallest sized grinding plate. Don’t do what I did and just use the big one, because you’ll have to start over again and it’s already a chore as it is.
So, put on the radio, your favourite album, perhaps a longer audiobook, and set to work on the laborious business of hand grinding your meat.
Then do it all over again.
If you want to serve your burgers anything other than well done then we’d say get this mince back into a very cold fridge as quickly as possible, ideally working in batches.
Step 6: Proving the burger bun dough
Hey, remember when we made that cold dough into nice neat portions.
To shape this dough into actual burger buns we’ll need some metal rings to bake them in. Naturally you won’t own any of these, but don’t worry, Heston is going to show us how to make them.
It’s easy, if a touch time-consuming. You just fold aluminium foil into strips, then bend the strips round into a circle. We wanted super-sturdy rings, so ours are the full width of the roll of foil. These four modest rings represent several metres of the stuff.
I didn’t trust myself, sellotape or Heston Blumenthal so we’re holding our rings together using these miniature bulldog clips. Hopefully these’ll do a better job than they did holding the loose rear mudflap on my old car, so we won’t find any of Heston’s custom burger rings littering the northbound carriage of the A19.
Place your dough portions in the centre of each ring and let them rise in a warm place for 2 hours. People have all kinds of fancy baking cabinets to do this in. We just switch our oven on for a bit then use the grill compartment above it.
Step 7: Making the Burgers
Well, burger “log”. This is the tricky part of Heston’s Perfect Hamburger recipe.
Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver have a vast range of burger recipes, where the patty contains all manner of ingredients from breadcrumbs and whole eggs to blue cheese and paprika. Heston Blumenthal is more of a purist, so his burgers are just beef mince, held together with salt and hope.
The salt serves a purpose, it’ll break down the proteins of the burger and then bind them together. I’m not qualified to explain how this works, we should all petition the fun and knowledgeable Alex over at Gastrophysics to do a video on the science behind it.
Having suffered through two rounds of mincing you’ll have to deal with a third, this time on the large-size grinding plate (to give the finished burger a texture that’s as coarse and meaty as Dan Bilzerian).
The unique approach in Heston’s ultimate burger , and one that -to our knowledge- no other gourmet burger operation in the world seems keen to replicate, is to lay out all the mince in a straight line, so it’s all facing in one direction. The salt (already added to the chuck steak earlier) will bind all the assorted proteins together so that these individual strands don’t fall apart.
The result in theory should be a well-seasoned pure meat burger with an open texture. The result in practice is a massive pain in the arse as you stop and start, trying to line up all the strands of meat.
I made a rough job of it. The next step is to roll the log. Obviously you already knew that the mince had to go onto a double layer of clingfilm, which is why I didn’t mention this earlier. Roll, tie and twist until the log is nice and tight.
At this point I stabbed the thing full of holes to squeeze out any air pockets and tightened it some more, with a third layer of clingfilm to keep it fresh in the fridge until cooking time.
Step 8: Umami Tomato Concentrate
Technically you can do this step as early as the day before but, since we’re using the same tomatoes for the garnish, we’re doing this towards the end.
Heston recipes have a reputation for being ridiculously wasteful, and you’re about to see why. Heston is an umami fan, and tomatoes are wildly rich in the stuff. The actual bit of the tomato with the most umami is that watery gunge around the seeds. Heston wants you to extract it and reduce it into an umami-boosting concentrate to use as an extra condiment. Which means pushing that watery gunge through a sieve to remove the seeds then reducing it on the hob for about ten to fifteen minutes until its thick like ketchup.
When we say wasteful we mean it, the scooped-out innards of around six tomatoes yielded us about a single tablespoon of the stuff.
There was more, but you have to sieve the stuff, decant it into a little dish ready for serving and then use a teaspoon to apply it to the buns. We reckon half our “yield” was left smeared across all the various utensils we used.
You’ll need a slice or two of the remaining tomatoes to dress the burgers with. The other, oh… say, five full tomatoes have no further use. As far as Heston is concerned you can just bin them.
Step 9: Baking the Burger Buns
As if Heston’s perfect hamburger buns didn’t already use a daft amount of egg. Go on, crack a couple more. You want one whole one, a yolk and a bit of water. Oh and some toasted sesame seeds. You did remember to toast the sesame seeds, right?
The oven needs to be prepared too. Heston slings a jug of water onto the heating element to create a moist baking environment that’ll stop the buns developing a thick crust. Our oven has given me enough burns already, so to avoid scalding my hands and face I’ve just placed a roasting tray filled with boiling kettle water into the bottom.
Pat the risen dough down a little bit, you don’t want them too big or your jaw won’t fit around them. Bake for about 7 or 8 minutes, then apply the egg wash and sprinkle on the sesame seeds for the second half of the cooking time. Ours came out a minute early as they looked pretty much done.
Step 10: Condiments
There’s such a vast array of stuff going onto Heston’s Perfect Cheeseburger that assembling it all is a step in itself.
The onions require a bit of attention. Not only must they be sliced but you’ll also want to get a pan on, boil some water and blanch them for 30 seconds then blot them dry in kitchen paper. Why? Well, first and foremost because Heston wants to make your life that bit more difficult as you get towards 1am and the end of making this recipe, but also because blanching will take away the harsh, raw edge of those onion slices.
Then just… slice gherkins and remove the cheese slices from the fridge and cut them into portions if required and get our your ketchup and your mustard and your mayonnaise and also finely shred an iceberg lettuce and also slice those tomatoes you scooped out earlier if you still have them and then get out the butter and put it into a pan and heat it until it stops bubbling to make a beurre noisette which you then need to strain ready to apply to the burgers and the buns and then line everything up and then you should be ready to cook the burgers. Phew.
On side note, we find it odd that Heston recommends using iced water to crisp up the lettuce used in his Perfection Steak and Salad recipe, but doesn’t suggest this trick to maximise the texture of the lettuce in his Perfection Hamburger recipe.
Step 11: Cooking and Assembly
Be sure to cut nice thick burger patties from the log you made earlier. A sharp knife is vital in getting through the clingfilm. We ought to have slightly frozen the log, like they do with tartar, to ensure a cleaner cut.
Remember when we made Heston’s Perfect Steak recipe? His tip there was to flip the steak every 30 seconds in a viciously hot pan to ensure even cooking and a thick Maillard-ey crust. Oh,
Heston’s Perfect Cheeseburger recipe uses the same method. Drizzle beurre noisette on them while they rest. More beurre noisette goes onto Heston’s sliced burger buns, which then get toasted and given a slice of cheese each. Melt the cheese onto the buns and then start building your Heston Blumenthal Perfection Cheeseburgers.
Heston’s burger construction goes, from bottom to top: toasted burger bun, melted cheese slice, ketchup, American mustard, mayonnaise and tomato-umami concentrate, sliced gherkins, a slice or two of the tomato from earlier, the burger patty drizzled with beurre noisette, blanched onions, shredded iceberg lettuce. On top there’s the other half of the toasted burger bun which has a second melted cheese slice and more ketchup, mustard and mayo on it.
Congratulations, you’ve just made Heston’s Perfect Cheeseburger recipe from In Search of Perfection. Hope you remembered to make some triple cooked French fries to go with it!
Like we said earlier Heston’s Perfect Cheeseburger recipe was developed at a time well before the current gourmet burger epidemic. Our personal favourites are Honest Burgers, Glasgow’s Burger Meats Bun and the filthy excess of Almost Famous. There’s a vast range of choices to cater for everybody’s individual tastes.
We say all this because the current climate and swathe of high-standard establishments makes it a bit tougher to judge Heston’s In Search of Perfection Perfect Cheeseburger recipe objectively. But since one of the core values of this blog is not letting our absolute incompetence stand in our way, here goes…
It’s bloody good, but we weren’t keen on the OTT cheese slice.
Here’s a longer review: The brioche burger bun was the best thing about this recipe. Heston has tailored his burger bun recipe to be exactly what a luxurious but potentially messy burger needs. Yes, there’s a rich and decadent flavour from all the yolks and butter, but the tight crumb structure helps hold the bun together until the last bite, while still being able to soak up the juices from the burger patty.
We don’t watch that Strictly Bakeoff TV show, but I know that baking is a very precise and demanding art requiring talent and skill. Despite a massive lack of all these things our buns turned out near-enough perfectly.
I can only put this down to extreme luck on our part. It can only be a complete accident that the mixing, resting, proofing temperature and final baking all went as well as they did. And while the dough is difficult work with if you leave it at room temperature, a trip through the freezer and well-floured hands make it a lot more manageable.
By the way, I can tell you that –just like all freshly-baked goods- these are best consumed on the day they’re made. At least that’s my verdict after eating the last burger for breakfast a day-and-a-half later.
The patty was excellent too, though we don’t think it was quite worth all the effort. Using three types of flavoursome cut means bags of beefy flavour. Think shin casserole flavour with fillet steak tenderness.
The heavily salted texture was a bit more divisive. Both Modernist Cuisine and Hawksmoor advise against salting burger patties for too long to prevent a “sausage-like” texture from developing. That’s what these burgers had. It’s a handsome looking burger patty, all round and proud, but the salt had glued all those proteins quite firmly together.
What you’re promised are open strands of meat falling away loosely, like snipped spaghetti ends. What you get is more like a solid, homogenous mass. But a tasty one.
We did not like the cheese slice at all. This might be because our tastebuds aren’t dialled in to the sherry or the Comte. Heston’s cheese slice has an overpowering flavour that dominates everything else in the burger. The fact that he insists upon two of these cheese slices doubles this problem.
Clearly the overwhelming cheese slice is a signature move for the Fat Duck chef, because it’s the same story with the Heston “ultimate” cheeseburger recipe devised for Waitrose. With that recipe, in lieu of much to do with shop-bought buns and a burger patty from a factory, Heston concocts a cheese slice with marmite, yeast and other assorted ingredients. That’;s a lot of big flavours, to the effect that the cheese slice is all you can taste when you finally eat the burger.
Heston’s In Search of Perfection Hamburger perfect cheese slice recipe isn’t quite so dominant, but it’s certainly more attention-grabbing than it ought to be. A good cheese slice should be a smooth and creamy affair that compliments and mingles with the other flavours and textures. This stands out far too much.
The other flavours and textures all represent Heston Blumenthal’s personal preference in cheeseburger recipes, but they do provide a great range of contrasting textures and flavours. Unlike the other kids at school we’d never take the pickles out of our McDonalds burgers, though we’d have preferred the onions un-blanched because we do like a bit of that the raw bite. The finely shredded lettuce ought to have gone beneath the burger to hold it in place. And why in God’s name does Heston think it’s acceptable to melt the cheese slice onto the bun, masking the crispy toasted surface, rather than directly onto the burger!?
We couldn’t detect that tomato-umami concentrate, which makes a mockery of all the good work and the seven tomatoes that go into it. Maybe the flavour is masked by that brutal cheese slice and the other condiments.
On that subject, there’s simply no substitute for Heinz-brand ketchup and full-fat mayonnaise. Purist Brits may scoff, but French’s American mustard is a sublime and wonderful thing too. (We do find it strange that specific brands aren’t mandated, given how broadly their particular flavours can vary).
Our other criticism would be that the quantities in this recipe are way off. The recipe in the book claims to serve eight. We halved the dough ingredients to make four buns (and serve three very greedy people).
There was actually enough leftover dough that we could easily have yielded eight buns rather than four. This isn’t a problem because we froze the leftover dough, which means we’ll get to enjoy these exceptional buns again at our next barbecue. Same story with the burgers too, despite us cutting mercilessly thick patties.
It’s not exactly our perfect burger, and after more than 7 years it’s not as revolutionary as it once was, but Heston’s Perfect Cheeseburger from In Search of Perfection is still an exceptional dish. Just go easy on the cheese slices.
While it’s too complicated to repeat in full there’s a few things we’d take away from this recipe
- The burger buns are thoroughly excellent, we’d keep those the way they are
- Make a cheese slice of mozzarella, gruyere and plain water. Or just use a processed one. We’re not snobs
- Use a Hawksmoor style mix of mince and bone marrow for flavour and ease
- Just the one cheese slice, melted directly onto the burger
- Lettuce and onions go under the patty to stop them falling everywhere
- Ditch the umami-tomato concentrate
- Use any of you chosen personal favourite toppings. We like slowly caramelised onions, streaky bacon and grilled pineapple. So what!
Iron Chef Shellie – A blogger after our own hearts! (Or glutton for punishment). Shellie takes on the challenge of both Heston’s Perfect Cheeseburger recipe and Perfection Baked Alaska together. At 7 ours they did this faster than we did, and they liked the cheese slice much more too. Excellent reading.
JohanJohansen.dk – We really like this write-up dedicated to something very close to Heston’s Brioche Burger Bun recipe. It discusses and highlights all the qualities that make this the ideal burger bun. Very worth reading if you plan on baking the buns.
Manchester Foodies – Jamie and Anna run a successful supper club and have some highly-readable thoughts on post-Heston cheeseburger recipes. They’ve made the perfection burger, and beyond. An excellent advanced level reference.
Have you tried making this recipe, or how would you go about creating your perfect cheeseburger recipe. We know how strongly people feel about burgers so we’re looking forward to lots of aggressive and opinionated statements in the comments section. Don’t disappoint us!