From the kitchen of Susan Butler, West University Place, Texas
I am an avid home baker. Friends know how much I enjoy testing and perfecting recipes, and how much I cherish any family heirloom recipe.
A few years ago, I chose homemade hamburger buns as my next project. I wanted the tops to be soft, not of the glossy, yellow, egg-washed variety. I wanted a good, yeasty flavor and a light texture, but something still firm enough to hold a good hamburger.
After testing several recipes and finding some that I liked, I made a connection to an heirloom recipe I had been using for years.
Many years ago, a friend gave me his mother’s recipe for yeast rolls that she made for decades for the school cafeteria. I found it to be wonderfully easy and loved the idea of how many children probably felt the happiness in being served those rolls at school.
I realized the science in that roll recipe was similar to one of the bun recipes I tried. I put them together and tweaked the result until it perfectly fit my desires.
For this recipe, you’ll need about four hours from start to finish, but much of that time is simply waiting in between steps. In total, you’ll need about 20 minutes of active prep work.
Here are a few tips that I learned from making so many mistakes in the process:
Be careful to not use too much flour. I thought I knew how to measure, but once I started using a kitchen scale, I was surprised to realize how heavy-handed I was! Now I weigh my flour for bread recipes.
I use a stand mixer, but you can also simply knead the dough by hand.
While waiting for the dough to rise, I judge by how the dough looks, not by the clock. Many factors can change how dough rises on any given day.
I pour about a cup of water into a pie pan and put it on the bottom rack of the oven to make steam as the buns bake.
Of most importance is to watch the buns closely once you put them in the oven. Baking times on recipes are only estimates, and every oven bakes differently.
Makes 8 buns
- 1 (4-ounce) package active dry yeast
- 1 cup warm water, 105 to 110 degrees F
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 large egg plus 1 egg white
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled, plus extra for brushing buns
- 3 1/2 cups (16 ounces) all-purpose unbleached flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon milk
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
- Sesame seeds or other toppings
Add the yeast to the warm water and mix well with a fork. Let stand until foamy, 5–10 minutes.
Meanwhile, add the sugar, whole egg, and butter to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until well combined. Add the yeast and water and mix until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a stiff spatula.
Add 1 cup of the flour and mix on medium speed until well combined, about 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add the rest of the flour and the salt, and continue mixing until well combined.
Switch from the paddle attachment to the dough hook. Knead the dough on medium speed until it starts pulling away cleanly from the sides of the bowl and looks smooth, 5–10 minutes. It will be sticky; you don’t want a stiff dough.
Remove the dough hook, cover the bowl with a tea towel, and let the dough rise in a warm place until it has doubled in size, 1–1 1/2 hours.
Reattach the dough hook and knead the dough on medium speed for another 2 minutes. Meanwhile, line a 13-inch x 18-inch jelly roll pan with parchment paper or a Silpat.
With the help of a stiff spatula, transfer the dough from the bowl onto a lightly floured surface. With floured hands, shape the dough into a big loaf. Use a bench scraper to divide the loaf into eight equal pieces; I weigh them to be exact, but you can estimate.
Cup a piece of dough in the palm of one hand. Use the other hand to lightly press it into a disc, then pull the edges toward the center and pinch them together, forming a round ball. Flatten the ball to 1/2 inch thick and place on the prepared pan, tucking the pinched part underneath. Repeat with the remaining pieces.
Brush the tops very lightly with melted butter. Gently lay a piece of plastic wrap over the buns; you want the plastic to just sit on top. Let rest for another 45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F with a rack in the middle.
In a small bowl, mix together the egg white, milk, and oil until very well blended. Gently brush the mixture onto the tops of the buns, then sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Bake for 15–18 minutes. In the first 10 minutes, watch for any uneven browning and rotate the pan as needed; I usually rotate after 5 minutes. At the 10-minute mark, or once the tops are browned to your liking, gently cover with a sheet of aluminum foil and continue to bake for the final 5 minutes.
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