The unseasonably nice weather we’ve been experiencing got to us and we decided to get a jump on the outdoor cooking season last weekend and invited some friends over for a barbecue. I recently made my own bacon for the first time and was blown away by the elevated flavor, texture and overall quality when compared to what I’m used to buying at the store. I wanted to share that experience with our guests and while bacon wasn’t on the menu, burgers were. Standard hamburgers are the epitome of processed fare. Both the patties and the buns have become pale excuses for food. I knew I could do better.
I wasn’t worried about grinding my own beef; I’ve been doing that for about 10 years. My old supervisor had a cattle ranch and educated me on how ground beef was made. From then on, I’ve ground my own. But the buns – those were going to be my challenge this time. I’ve been baking bread since grade school – my mother loves baking and taught me how. While I’m confident in making breads, I’m not ready to make my own bread recipe yet. So I started googling and found several recipes for homemade burger buns, but the one that sounded the best was from Foodie With Family. The recipe is amazing. It’s not always the case that when you attempt a new bread recipe that it turns out correctly the first time. However, these babies turned out better than I hoped. The texture was soft and pillowy yet substantial enough to stand up to a good-sized patty. And while definitely tasting like something made by hand, there was not an overpowering yeastiness that some breads have. Typically I’m a fan of a yeasty flavor in bread but I wanted the buns to frame the patty, not mask it or overpower it.
My only dissatisfaction was that they were a bit too small for the size hamburger I like to make. I wanted them about the same diameter as the store-bought ones. So I increased the size by half and tried again. Perfect! I don’t think that there was much room for improvement on her recipe, so the only real changes I made were the size of the buns and the order of mixing the ingredients – mix dry, then mix wet, then mix together as opposed to mix all at once.
The recipe calls for vital wheat gluten, which you may not have on hand. Check for it in the bulk section of your grocery store. At ours, it was less than half the price of the packaged stuff.
I’ll describe how I made the patties in a second post to keep this one from getting too lengthy.
Homemade Hamburger Buns
6 cups bread flour
1/4 cup plus 1-1/2 teaspoons vital wheat gluten flour
3 teaspoons instant yeast (sold also as rapid rise, quick rise, or bread maker yeast)
1/4 cup plus 1-1/2 teaspoons sugar
4-1/2 tablespoons unflavored instant mashed potatoes
1 tablespoon kosher salt
9 tablespoons butter, softened
1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons lukewarm milk
2 large eggs, beaten
Mix together the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Cut the butter into small chunks that are roughly a teaspoon and add to the dry ingredients. Reserve 1/4 of the beaten eggs in a separate bowl for glazing the top of the buns. Mix together the milk and remaining eggs in a small bowl, then add to the flour mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon until everything is mostly incorporated, 1-2 minutes.
Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 3-4 minutes. Let the dough rest for about 5 minutes while you wash out and grease the mixing bowl. Resume kneading for 8-10 minutes until the dough is pretty smooth and elastic – don’t worry if it’s not perfectly smooth, this will go away when shaping the buns. Don’t knead in any more flour than you have to. At first, it will be pretty sticky until the butter distributes through the dough. You want to definitely feel and hear the dough lightly stick to the counter and your hands as you knead, but you don’t want it to leave anything behind. After kneading, put the dough in the bowl, turning it to coat all sides lightly with the oil, cover and let sit in a warm place to rise for 1-1/2 hours, or till roughly doubled in size.
Punch down the dough and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Gather into a shape easy for you to divide into 12 pieces and do so. Form the individual pieces of dough into a rough ball and place in the circle formed between you thumb and finger with the smoothest side away from your palm. Gather the bottom and poke inside once or twice as shown in the picture to stretch and smooth the top.
Flatten gently into a disk by squeezing between your fingers and the heel of your hand repeatedly as shown below turning the dough slightly after each squeeze. When the dough is about 3 inches across, place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, six to a sheet, evenly spaced. Cover and let rise for about a half hour in a warm place. Preheat oven to 375.
Brush the tops of the buns with the reserved beaten egg. Try to get all the way down to the parchment. Sprinkle from about 8 inches above with the sesame seeds. Bake for about 16-18 minutes until the tops are a rich, golden brown, turning halfway through. If your oven is big enough, bake both sheets at once. If not, don’t worry about the extra rising time for the second batch. They’ll be fine.
Once they’re done, let them cool before slicing. Let them cool completely before storing them in a zipper bag or other airtight container and try to use within a few days which shouldn’t be too hard. I wound up liking them enough to make toast out of the leftovers for breakfast.