I’ve been baking bread and inventing bread recipes since I was about 9 years old; it’s one of my favorite kitchen chores, although I rarely have time for it. COVID-19, however, is making me a lot more conscious of wasting less and making more, instead of just heading for the nearest restaurant.
Today, I wanted to grill some burgers but discovered that last week’s store-bought hamburger buns were moldy. So I pulled out my old bread recipes, did some “figgerin,'” and cobbled this one together. It makes really excellent, sturdy buns that hold up where those store-bought travesties collapse into goo. Make them round, and you have hamburgers, long for hot dog, or square for really great sandwiches.
Unless I’m making a single loaf, I weigh my dough as I portion it into pieces; this ensures that the finished buns will be about equal in size and take the same cooking time.
This recipe makes around 2.75 pounds (about 1.3 kg) of dough, depending on the ingredients you choose and the humidity. You’ll want to weigh your own dough, divide that by the number of rolls you need, and then make each piece that weight.
For 20 rolls, then, I divided 1.3k by 20, and each roll needed to be about 65 grams. That produces rolls about the size of a large slider, around 3 inches in diameter.
An American-style, backyard grill burger is generally bigger than that, probably 4.5-5 inches in diameter, and would need around 100 grams of dough. That means you’ll get a dozen or so full-sized hamburger rolls.
For the herbal butter
- 3/4 cup finely chopped onionstuff. It can be any combination of sweet/red onions, garlic, shallots, chives, onion tops…whatever you happen to have
- 3-5 tablespoons good-quality butter, melted
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed celery seed
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1/4 cup minced fresh or dried parsley
- 5 grinds pepper
- 1.5 teaspoons dried dill
- 1 teaspoon dried, crushed rosemary (optional)
- 1/4 teaspoon dried, crushed thyme (optional)
- 1 teaspoon caraway seeds (optional, if you add rye flour)
For the buns
- 6 cups unsifted flour. This time I just used all-purpose, but I get a nuttier taste with a 50-50 mix of whole wheat and all-purpose flour. You could also use about a 0.5 to 1 cup of rye flour (add some caraway seeds to the herbal butter if you do)–the buns will be heavier and probably rise less, but the flavor is wonderful for making reubens.
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1.5 teaspoons salt
- 2-3 tablespoons active dry yeast
- 2 cups hot tap water
- About a half-cup coarse cornmeal
- Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a pan, and dump in the chopped onionstuff and the sugar. Saute until things are soft, turning golden and right at the beginning of caramelization.
- Drop in the rest of the butter ingredients, and stir until everything’s toasted. Remove 2 tablespoons of the mixture in a little dish–this goes on top of the buns.
- Dump 2 cups of the flour mixture, sugar, salt, and yeast into your mixing bowl (use the regular beater) and thoroughly mix.
- Turn off the mixer and drop in the rest of the herbal butter. Mix for at least 3 minutes–the flour mixture will start looking a little crumbly.
- Gradually pour in the hot water to make a thick batter.
- Mix for another three minutes or so on low, and gradually add another cup of the flour mixture, The dough should start to come together and look extremely sticky and gooey.
- Switch to the dough hook of your mixer, and continue to gradually add 2 more cups of the flour mixture. The dough will start looking more like a dough.
- When the dough begins to form a ball, turn up the speed on the mixer. Gradually add enough of the remaining flour to allow the dough to form a smooth ball. It will look as though it’s happening, and then the dough will drop and stick to the bowl again as the flour is absorbed. Just be patient, and keep adding small dollops of the flour mixture until the dough has stopped sticking to the bowl.
BTW, if you don’t have a dough hook on your mixer, or you have a lot of frustrations and anxiety (who doesn’t, these days?) you can do step 8 by hand. Just turn the dough out of the bowl onto a floured worksurface, and knead as you would any bread dough, until silky but still soft and a bit sticky.
- Grease your hands a bit, then turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for a few turns. The dough should be soft and fairly sticky.
- Grease a large bowl and pick up the dough. Form it into a ball (or as much of a ball as you can),
- Drop what should be the top of the ball you’ve formed, top-first into the greased bowl.
- Turn it over, so that the greased part is now on top. Cover and put in a warm place for one hour or until doubled in size.
Tip: The longer bread takes to get up to doubled in size in the first proof, the more flavor it develops . If you need the buns in a hurry, you can cut the rising time in half by turning the oven to about 200F while you mix up the ingredients. Then turn it off put a bowl of boiling water on the bottom rack, set the dough bowl on the top rack. Do the same for the final proofing. You’ll have less flavor, but save about an hour.
Conversely, if you want really flavorful buns, put the dough in the refrigerator and let rise slowly over 8-12 hours.
Forming and baking
- Determine how big you want your rolls and how many you’ll make (see the top of this post). Also determine how many rolls you need just for today. Once formed, this dough freezes exceptionally well, so you’ll have rolls within an hour or so whenever you need them.
- Get out your scales and a couple of baking sheets, covered in aluminum foil, greased, and sprinkled with cornmeal.
- Turn out the risen dough onto the scales and weigh it. Now divide that number by the number of rolls you need (see the explanation at the top of this post) to obtain the weight of each piece of dough.
- Divide the dough into the number of pieces you need, the weigh each and adjust until they’re all about the right weight.
- Place each dough lump between both hands, apply pressure, and gently roll the dough into a ball until smooth. Now begin to flatten and stretch the ball with your fingers.
- Set the dough ball down on the cornmeal’d surface and continue pressing it out evenly until you have a round shape about a quarter-inch thick.
- Place the rolls you plan to bake and eat right away onto a baking sheet.
- Spoon a little of the reserved herb butter mixture on top of each flattened piece of dough, gently spreading it to the edges of each dough ball. If you’re not sure you’ll have enough, or it looks dry, pop it into the microwave with the remaining butter.
- Put the cookie sheet(s) into the oven, close the door, and heat to 375 degrees.
- Set the timer for 20 minutes. When it goes off, check the rolls in the oven. They should be golden brown and springy to the touch.
Freezing the dough
There are only two of us in the house, so 20 hamburger buns would mold or go stale long before we ate them up. I freeze the dough instead; I form all the rolls, set them on the cornmeal-covered tray and top them with the herbal butter, just as I would if were baking them, but I only bake as much as we need.
I set the rest of the buns, in their tray, in the freezer until they’re hard. Then I dump them all into a ziplock freezer bag, label it, and put them back in the freezer for another day.
To use, I just pull out as many rolls as I need a couple hours in advance. I set them on a greased tray in a warm place for about 90 minutes, then bake.