One of the things I enjoy doing in my kitchen the most is making bread. I do it several times a week. Bread baking was what got me started as a professional baker, and later as a cooking instructor. I enjoy it a lot more than pastry work or pretty much any other kind of cooking. Partially I like it because of the mathematics of it. Good bread baking is like following a formula, and it always amazes me that even a slight variation in fluid levels in a dough can result in a totally different type of bread. (The difference between bagel dough and ciabatta, which are about as different in texture as two breads can be, is only a few percentage points more liquid.). I like playing with different kinds of flour, and I have even developed a fondness for grinding my own flour from locally sourced wheat (not that I do this often). But for all of my bread-baking joy and expertise, I have always had a hard time with what seems to most to be the simplest thing imaginable – a soft crumbed bread with a very soft crust.
I tend to go in for the big hearty breads with sharp crusts and dense crumb, so the softer side of things has never really even interested me. Unfortunately, my better half loves soft breads (or what I have always thought of as “boring, lifeless, characterless filler-bread”). For years I have gotten requests for what is essentially homemade Wonder Bread. I have, until now, declined in the politest way possible and tried to convince my beloved of the joys of heartier artisan breads. For the most part I have been successful in this bait-and-switch, but every now and then there are times when only a really soft and yielding bread will do.
Even for me, when we have homemade hamburgers or good sausages served hotdog-style only a soft and yielding bun will do. This has for years meant that when we served these “special” foods, a trip down the bread aisle of the grocery store was always in order. I would usually end my meal feeling slightly guilty over the chemical additives and preservatives I had fed my family and friends in the form of industrial white bread buns.
But no more! I have finally developed a simple, straightforward recipe for ridiculously soft and supple burger buns that still have character, texture, and taste. And with you, my loyal readers, I share it now. Give this a try, even if you aren’t a bread baker by nature. It takes about 2 hours from start to finish (if you have a warm kitchen – mine is usually on the cool side so it takes more like 2 ½ hours). I promise that after you make these a few times and explore some variations to make them uniquely yours, you’ll never buy the cellophane-wrapped buns again. Plus, it costs about $.70 cents instead of $3, and is always guaranteed fresh.
Simple Soft Hamburger Buns
415 g bread flour
285 g water
1 ½ tsp Kosher salt
1 tbsp sugar or honey
2 tsp active dry or instant yeast
2 tbsp olive oil
- Warm the water to 110 degrees F.
- Combine dry ingredients and stir gently to incorporate.
- If kneading by hand, add liquid ingredients to dry and combine with a wooden spoon until a soft and sticky dough is formed, then turn out on to a lightly floured work surface. If kneading with a stand mixer, knead with a dough hook until all ingredients are well combined.
- Knead for 8-10 minutes, working to incorporate as little extra flour as possible if working by hand. Remember, this is a soft and sticky dough, so if you have a metal or plastic dough scraper, this is a good time to use it.
- When dough is smooth, elastic, and significantly less sticky than when you started, do the Gluten Window test described below.
- On a lightly floured surface, form your bread dough into a basic ball. Let your dough ball rest, covered with a clean cotton towel, for 5 minutes.
- While your dough ball is resting, prepare a baking sheet by lightly buttering it or spraying with non-stick cooking spray (look for a spray brand without silicone, please).
- With a sharp blade (I use my bench knife, also called a scraper or bench blade), divide the dough ball into 8 equal pieces (you can weigh them if you want or just eyeball it if you aren’t so worried about precision), and form each into smaller version of the dough ball you started with.
- Starting with the first ball (which has rested as you have formed the others, which will in turn have rested while you perform this next step on those which have preceded them), flatten into a disk approximately 4 inches in diameter. Place on the prepared baking sheet, approximately 1 inch from its neighbors. Repeat with remaining 7 buns.
- Optional Step – If you want buns with seeds, which I usually prefer, before you put the flattened buns on the pan, wet your hand in a dish of cool water and wipe on the top of the flattened bun. Then gently invert into a conveniently placed saucer full of seeds, turn seed side up, and put on the prepared pan.
- Cover again with your clean cotton towel and let rise in a warm and draft-free place until nearly doubled in size, approximately 1 ½ hours. In the last minutes of rising, preheat your oven to 400 degrees F (375 degrees if using convection).
- Bake for approximately 15 minutes, or until internal temperature reads 195 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer.
- When completely cooled, slice with a sharp serrated knife, and use for your favorite burgers.
Gluten Window Test
This technique of checking your dough’s readiness is called the Gluten Window or Windowpane test, depending on what baker you talk to. It is a common test and I use it with all of my bread doughs other than focaccia.
Pinch off a small piece of dough about the size of a walnut, and using your thumb and first two fingers of both hands stretch it gently like you are making a miniature pizza crust. If you can stretch the dough so that a thin membrane of dough in the middle of the piece can let light pass through without tearing, you are done kneading. If the dough tears easily, you aren’t done kneading. If the dough resists stretching, either your dough is too dry or you are in danger of over-kneading. Cover and let dough rest for 10 minutes and try again.
- Classic White Bread (Hamburger Buns) (wherefloursbloom.wordpress.com)
- Try this! (Hamburger Buns) (thebrewer5.wordpress.com)