In search of perfection – Heston Blumenthal’s burgers and baked Alaska

Around the time I was getting ready to make Heston Blumenthal’s Black Forest Gateau (BFG), D and I watched all the episodes from his In Search of Perfection TV series. After making the BFG, I decided next on my list to try was his baked Alaska (BA). Seeing contestants on Masterchef making it led to a Twitter conversation with Michèle AKA Iron Chef Shellie and we decided to give them a crack.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and the Masterchef contestants are making Heston’s ‘perfect’ burger, which led to more conversations and suddenly we’d upped the ante on our weekend of making a baked Alaska to also include the burgers. I had recently bought the ice-cream bowl and mincer attachments for my KitchenAid and was keen to give both of them a test run. What better way to christen them with Heston’s recipes?

Here is a link to the recipe for the burger if you’re interested. I can’t find one for the BA and it is pretty lengthy to type out so I’m not going to – this post is long enough! We gave ourselves a few weeks’ notice, which was handy so we could source everything we needed. Most stuff was readily available, but I did get the fructose and sodium citrate from the Melbourne Food Ingredient Depot. I now have an abundance of both if anyone needs them!

I figured the meat was pretty critical to the burger so ordered it from Warialda Beef as I’d heard good things about them, but had never tried them before. Unfortunately, when I got to the market to pick up my order, something had gone wrong and they didn’t have my short rib meat, only intercostal meat. The lovely man at their stall offered to come back from Lancefield with my meat, but I thought that was a bit excessive. After much discussion, I decided to take the intercostal meat rather than try to get the short rib from somewhere else. To their credit, they gave me the meat half price to apologise for the mistake. Later, when I was re-reading the recipe, I noticed that there is discussion as to why short rib is much better to use than intercostal. Oh well, it was all we had so we made do.

Day 1 rolled around and most of it was spent on the BA, making the raspberry sorbet, white chocolate tube, cake and the roasted banana and hazelnut praline parfait. The only thing we did for the burger was make the pre-ferment for the brioche buns, which needed 24 hours.

Most of the BA was straight forward and the recipe was easy to follow. The roasted banana parfait was the most time-consuming part as there were several elements to it, all needing several elements themselves…. Essentially, we needed the hazelnut praline, roasted caramel bananas, whipped cream and a meringue that all got mixed together. I had to make the caramel for the bananas twice as I didn’t follow the instructions properly the first time. The recipe said “melt the butter in a pan, and when the foam has died down and the butter smells nutty, add the unrefined sugar” – I didn’t wait for the bubbles to stop, so I didn’t get a nice caramel form. In fact, nothing formed as the mix just split. Second time around I followed the instructions perfectly, and it worked. Surprise surprise!

Michèle did a great job of preparing the raspberry mixture to make the sorbet and then we hit a snag.

Heston’s recipe calls for the use of dry ice to make the sorbet, but we decided just to use the ice-cream bowl attachment. However, I bought my ice-cream bowl on Amazon not realising it wouldn’t work with my Australian model KitchenAid. We spent a fair bit of time trying to figure the damn thing out; it just didn’t make sense as to why it wouldn’t fit. In the end, after scouring the internet, we realised that the parts were different and there was no way to get it to work. As we didn’t need a huge amount of sorbet, I decided to stir it every 30 mins until it was solid enough to pipe into the white chocolate tube we had previously made using a binding cover sheet and melted white chocolate. Reading the KitchenAid website later, I saw in their FAQs that there is in fact a different attachment part for the Australian models (more on that later).

The cake was made without too much fuss and that’s where we ended the day’s adventures. Much later that night I filled the white chocolate tube with the sorbet, and, once that was set, I finished the parfait. Into the parfait mould went half the parfait, followed by the white chocolate/raspberry sorbet tube and then the remaining parfait. The whole thing then went into the freezer over night.

One of the critical things for the burger was the salting of the meat, as it is the only thing holding the three meats together. The cookbook said it had to salt for six hours, so the last thing I did that night before I went to bed was cut up the chuck steak into cubes and have the salt and a spoon sitting on the bench ready for the next morning.

Day 2 saw an early, albeit brief start to the day. Michèle was coming over at noon, so I figured the meat needed to be ready to go at about 1 pm. I got up at 7 am (dedication I tell ya) to salt the meat, which was a pretty painless exercise as I was so prepared the night before. Then I went back to bed for some more zzzzzz’s.

The first thing we did after Michèle got here was to start on the brioche buns as they needed a few hours of proving time. They too were fairly painless as we followed the recipe to a T. The most challenging bits were a) finding an appropriately sized cylinder to make our foil moulds with, and b) rolling the dough into balls as it was a VERY sticky dough. Once they were ready to prove, I put them in the bathroom with the heater on hoping to come back two hours later and find they’d risen heaps.

While I was making the dough, Michèle was making the tomato concentrate. This required hollowing out the inside of 1.5kgs of tomatoes and pushing them through a sieve to get a tomato juice. We then put this on the stove on a low heat until it reduced down and reached a thick consistency. We then added some sea salt to taste. In the end, I think we ended up with about 200 ml of concentrate!

Then it was time to start on the meat. Neither of us had minced meat before so D suggested we use some of the extra meat to test out the grinder. The idea is to mince the brisket and intercostal together on the smaller grind, and then add in the chuck and grind it on a large grind, catching it as it comes through the grinder and laying out the strands to form a sausage like thing that you then roll up in glad wrap to chill. I’ll spare you all the frustrating details other than to say grinding meat is not easy. I discovered a newfound respect for butchers through this process! After using our test batch and having the grinder continually clog up as the intercostal meat is quite fatty, we decided to switch out half of the intercostal meat with extra brisket as it had virtually no fat. In the end, our meat ratio was approximately 315g chuck steak, 315g intercostal and 615g brisket. After what seemed like an eternity we finally got the meat into a sausage like formation and into the fridge. It felt like we had run a marathon getting to that point.

While the meat was chilling we went to grab the buns to bake them, but sadly they had hardly risen. I decided to employ a trick my grandma had shown me by sitting a bowl of boiling water under them. Within 15 mins they had risen dramatically and were ready to go into the oven. Halfway through the baking I took them out to brush on some egg wash and sprinkle them with sesame seeds. We think they turned out pretty well J

The final thing to do before we could cook the meat, assemble and eat was to make the cheese. Firstly, this involved infusing sherry with garlic, peppercorns and thyme. We them slowly added grated comte cheese to the sherry to melt it and cook it until it became stringy like a fondue. Once it had reached the right consistency, we poured it  onto a baking sheet to let it set. Our cheese slices were probably a bit thick, but the cheese was fantastic so we didn’t mind it was a bit excessive.

While Michèle was looking after the cheese, I cut up some tomato, pickles, lettuce and onion for the burgers. I blanched the onions for about a minute which was something Heston suggested and was a winner as the onions were still crisp, but didn’t have the harsh taste of raw onions.

FINALLY, time to cook the meat. I was a bit worried I’d make a mess of it trying to cut slices off the log, but the meat sliced really well. They were cooked for about 3-4 minutes, flipping every 30 seconds or so. The final product was pretty impressive, even if I do say so myself!

It was about 7 pm by the time we ate – so seven hours of cooking and preparation later and they were gone in about five minutes! We had previously decided to halve the recipe to only make four burgers, but it ended up being only the three of us, so we cooked up the other burger and shared it between us to make sure it really was perfect… and it was. NOM.

Then it was time for my favourite meal of the day – dessert. Heston’s recipe called for a Swiss meringue but by that point we couldn’t really be bothered and decided to make a normal meringue. We also decided not to make the raspberry coulis and just added some crushed raspberries when we served it.

So onto the cake base went the parfait, topped with meringue and then finished with a blowtorch. Michèle suggested we set it on ‘fire’, so we filled up a pot with some rum, lit it, and then poured it over the meringue. WOW!

As for how it tasted – that was pretty perfect too. D hates bananas with a passion but he ate it and even went back for leftover seconds the next night. The ultimate compliment.

All up, it took about 12 hours over two days to do both dishes. I’d guesstimate that we lost 3-4 hours on the ice-cream bowl and mincer issues. That said, it was very enjoyable and I’m looking forward to the next challenge 🙂

Read Michèle’s post about our weekend

A note about the KitchenAid ice-cream bowl attachment. As I said above, the version bought in America is not compatible with the Australian mixers, which have the silver cap on them – I believe it is something to do with safety standards here. The KitchenAid Australia website says you can purchase the two parts required to make it compatible here at a cost of $80-90! Kind of defeats the purpose of buying it from the US at a MUCH cheaper price. Further investigation discovered a Facebook discussion on this topic and KitchenAid USA have indicated that they will ship the required parts to you for free if you have access to a US address. It is then your responsibility to ship elsewhere. Glad I discovered that before spending an extra $80-90!

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12 thoughts on “In search of perfection – Heston Blumenthal’s burgers and baked Alaska

  1. Pingback: How to make Heston’s Perfect Baked Alaska recipe from In Search of Perfection : In Search Of Heston

  2. Pingback: How to make Heston’s Perfect Cheeseburger recipe from In Search of Perfection. : In Search Of Heston

  3. Pingback: A Simple Pleasure – Vanilla Bean Ice-cream | Mmmm, sugar. It's all about the sweet things in life.

  4. I am curious about the patty of the burger. I have been in search of a good patty. Were you satisfied with the result? I noticed you weren’t able to incorporate the short rib.. but all other steps appear well completed. Thoughts? Best piece of meat on a burger you’ve ever had?

    • Hi Benja

      We were able to incorporate the short rib, jsut not very well! We had difficulty with the mincing process in general. I am not sure if this was because of the mincer we were using, the fact that we may have had it on the wrong setting (apparently KitchenAid’s are meant to be used on number 4 for mincing, which I only found out after we did it), or the fact that it was the first time either of had used a mincer. I suspect it was a combination of all three!

      That said, the meat was spectacular and definitely worth the effort. If I was making burgers on a regular basis, would suggest making heaps and freezing the log for later use.

      In this case, I think the quality of the meat made a huge difference – I really did try to use the best quality beef I could find. I think you could still get a decent burger if all you did was the meat part and used a regular bun/cheese/tomato sauce. The meat was succulent and really did just fall away as you bit into it (as Heston suggested it would).

      Does that help?

      • Very Helpful. These are new ideas..dry-aged short rib, or salting chuck for 6 hours, or aligning the ‘grain’ in this way. My papa and I are always looking for new burger recipes. This is exciting.
        I thought about Heston today as I ate an ice cream cone. It got me hypothesizing on ice cream drip control.. licking towards the bottom may increase the rate of dripping because you are adding heat to the ice cream from your tongue… next time I will try not licking for drip control.. results to come!

  5. Oh my goodness. You are so prompt at replying. You really are very kind.
    I possibly would no want to purchase the book. I imagine the recipes require days of work and I simply do not have that amount of time to spend. If it is not too much trouble, I would love a copy of the recipe. Many thanks for your kindness, Angela

  6. Your story was amazing…what commitment! Congratulations on pulling everything off.
    Would you be able to tell me where I might find the recipe for the Bombe Alaska? I would love to try making this.

    I love your blog and can’t wait for further posts.
    Regards Angela (from Brisbane).

  7. You are truly awesome in the lengths you will go to meet culinary challenges, Lisa. Full respect to you (and ICS) for this new brilliance. My gob is smacked.

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