A Perfect Ex-Pat Cheeseburger

Every so often, like most Americans living abroad, I get an intense craving for a real cheeseburger. But the so-called hamburger buns that you can buy here aren’t right, there’s no dill pickle relish, and even the beef, tasty though it is, is way too lean to make a really juicy burger. Ex-pat friends one and all, I have solved these problems for you. Break out the grill, because with these recipes a fabulous burger is in your future.

Let’s start with the beef. American beef for burgers is typically about 16% fat, whereas in France beef looks like barely 3%.  So go to your butcher and ask to have beef fat ground in with your meat. I asked for bourguinon, which has at least a little fat, ground with 15% by weight pure beef fat, et voila, a burger that tastes exactly right and has the juicy texture we expect. The butcher looked slightly horrified, but he gave me the fat for free, because otherwise they just throw it away.

Next we tackle the pickle relish. On the spur of the moment I created a very respectable version and it took all of two minutes to put together. I dumped half of a medium-sized jar of Maille cornichons, together with the little pickled onions that come in the jar, into the food processor. I added about two tablespoons of fresh dill, a teaspoon of sugar, and a little splash of the cornichon juice from the jar, whizzed it a few times, and was amazed to find out how authentic it tasted.

And last, but definitely not least, come the buns. I have developed two recipes for hamburger buns using French ingredients: one with what  I think of as the exact sweet taste and fluffy texture of a great American bun, and one that’s a little less sweet and a little sturdier, which I think of as the French version, a bun that satisfies American tastes without shocking any French taste buds at the table. Here you see the buns rising in the garden on a hot day, where they puffed their way into beauty in a trice.

Our friend Marie came to dinner, bringing her two adorable sons Nicolas and Alexandre, and these lovely fishy dishes for apéritif.

After this great start, we set the table with coleslaw, potato salad, green bean salad, dill relish, slices of sweet onion and tomato, lettuce leaves, and of course, catsup. Then ensued a hugely dramatic grilling production involving a mound of very dry cherry twigs that send flames shooting skyward and kept me dancing around the grill trying not to go up in flames myself while tossing sliced Cheddar through the conflagration in the general direction of the sputtering burgers, after which Nicolas pronounced reverently “this is the first time I’ve ever had a real American meal. It’s very, very good.” And it was.

Perfect Ex-Pat Hamburger Buns

Since you’re only going to be making this if you’re in France, I’ll give you the recipe in French, which is how I wrote it originally. Apologies in advance for any French errors. And I’m giving you the version francisé, because I assume you’ll want to serve this to French friends. If you want a translation, or the ultra-American version which also includes type 45 flour for softness and additional sugar, just leave a note in the Comments section and I’ll be glad to oblige.

750 gms farine, type 55
15 gms sel
90 gms sucre en poudre
45 gms beurre doux, ramolli
30 gms levure fraîche du boulanger
36 centilitres lait entier
1 1/2 oeufs, légèrement battus
1 jaune d’oeuf, délayé dans 3 cuilleres à soupe de l’eau
2 cuilleres à soupe de graines de sesame

Légèrement  chauffez le lait et émiettez la levure dedans. Laissez rester et dissoudre cet appareil pendant 5 minutes.

Dans un saladier, mélangez avec les doigts: la farine, le beurre, le sucre, et le sel. Battez les oeufs à la fourchette dans un bol.

Verser le lait et les oeufs dans le saladier et malaxez bien jusqu’a ce que la pâte soit formée. Sur le plan de travail, petrissez bien la pâte, sans rajouter de farine supplementaire. La pâte sera un peu molle et collante. Laissez lever, filmé, dans un saladier préalablement beurré pendant 45 minutes.

Divisez la pâte en douze portions. Boulez-les, mettez du papier de cuisson sur le plaque à four, et placez les boules là-dessus, bien séparées. Filmez le tout et laissez-le encore lever pendant 30 minutes.

Préchauffez le four à 190°. Badigeonnez les petits pains avec le jaune d’oeuf délayée dans l’eau, et saupoudrez-les avec les graines de sésame. Enfournez-les pendant 20 minutes, pas plus, pour qu’ils restent tendre.

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8 Comments on “A Perfect Ex-Pat Cheeseburger”

  1. Heidi Husnak Says:

    What a great way to introduce a real American hamburger to your friends. Can you describe those appetizers – they look like treats.

  2. Gigi Petery Says:

    What a fantastic looking burger! The bun looks perfect! And the oozing cheese – swoon! There is something about a cheeseburger that just gets into your soul. There are some great “high-end” burgers here in Portland, but my favorite will always remain an In-n-Out cheeseburger, animal style. I’m making my annual trip to SoCal next month and I will satisfy my urge!

  3. Eden Says:

    It looks beautiful but no mayo? in my family that’s sacrilege :>
    I love that you are introducing real burgers to france.

  4. Abra Bennett Says:

    The appetizers were a salmon terrine, cucumber cups filled with a crab mixture, and shrimp dipped in guacamole and wrapped in smoked salmon. Eclectic and delicious.

    I’ve never had an In-n-Out burger. And nope, no mayo, mostly because French mayo is a lot more mustardy that American mayo and the taste would be a bit off kilter, not to mention the fact that I was too lazy to make my own.

  5. Rebecca Says:

    I have gone vegan and mostly raw recently and did not miss meat or dairy one bit until just now. The burger in the photo appears to be so juicy, meaty and delicious- I would chance a bite.

  6. Jan Says:

    Great job, Abra. The burger looks fabulous…worthy of Burger of the Month for sure 😉 I’m another who really wants mayo (even if it was mustardy) on my burger, but what I love is your “dill pickle” relish method. What a great idea…I might have to give it a try myself instead of using the jarred stuff next time. Although here, it’s easy to just slice up a big kosher dill from the ever-present jar in the fridge.

  7. southern doc Says:

    Looks great. What cut does bourguinon come from?

  8. Abra Bennett Says:

    You know, it’s hard to tell, all the cuts being so different here. It’s equivalent to what we’d call stew beef, but where it comes from, alas I have no clue.


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