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Better buns make better burgers: Some ways to make your own

  • Pretzel buns are made with a blend of rye and bread flours. Kirk McKoy—TNS

  • Brioche buns are brushed with a thick coating of egg and milk wash. Kirk McKoy—TNS

  • A hamburger on a homemade brioche hamburger bun. (Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles Times/TNS) Kirk McKoy—TNS

  • Recipes for 3 different homemade hamburger buns: brioche, pretzel and whole wheat. (Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles Times/TNS) Kirk McKoy—TNS

  • The recipes for three kinds of homemade hamburger buns, brioche, pretzel and whole wheat, are easier to make than you might expect. Kirk McKoy—TNS

  • Whole wheat buns contain just enough honey to balance the flavors of the grains. Kirk McKoy—TNS

  • Homemade pretzel hamburger buns. (Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles Times/TNS) Kirk McKoy—TNS

  • Homemade brioche hamburger buns. (Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles Times/TNS) Kirk McKoy—TNS

  • Brioche buns are full of butter and eggs but are still light and fluffy. Kirk McKoy—TNS

  • Recipes for 3 different homemade hamburger buns: brioche, pretzel and whole wheat. (Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles Times/TNS) Kirk McKoy—TNS

  • Recipes for 3 different homemade hamburger buns: brioche, pretzel and whole wheat. (Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles Times/TNS) Kirk McKoy—TNS

  • Homemade whole wheat hamburger buns. (Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles Times/TNS) Kirk McKoy—TNS



Los Angeles Times
Friday, July 13, 2018

To any real fan, a hamburger is never just a burger. Rather, it’s a work of art, passionately thought out and painstakingly executed. A great burger is the very extension of the grill master’s identity, the perfect blend of meat for flavor and just enough fat to keep it juicy and rich, flavored with the right mix of spices. Top that beauty with colorful veggies, a slathering of homemade sauce and maybe — just maybe — your own homemade pickles, and most of us would call it a masterpiece.

But what about the bun?

All too sadly, most of us shop for the first buns we see in the market. We test for fluffiness (just like those old Charmin commercials), check for a bedazzling of sesame seeds and call it a day. But consider hamburger buns in the same way you would pizza crust — you don’t want them stealing the show, but they should be able to hold their own with the rest of the parade. If you’re going to all that trouble with the fillings, why not care about the bookends?

Here are three classic burger bun recipes for when you plan your cookouts this summer. They’re surprisingly easy to make — most of the time is spent waiting for the dough to rise — and you can’t beat the flavor.

Brioche buns are unpretentiously rich, full of butter and eggs, but still light and fluffy, and brushed with a thick coating of egg and milk wash for an extra-shiny golden sheen when they come out of the oven.

The honey whole wheat buns are a tad more healthful for the virtuous among us. With a nearly equal blend of whole wheat and bread flours, they’re light, almost airy, rather than dense, with just enough honey to balance the flavors of the whole grains.

But my favorite might be the pretzel buns: Made with a blend of rye and bread flours, the buns are dipped in an easily orchestrated lye dip to give them their characteristic flavor and coloring. (You could easily skip the wash and brush them with egg for coloring and sheen, topping the finished product with coarse sea salt.)

While you’re at it, don’t forget to add your favorite flavorings to the buns, personalizing any of the recipes to suit your tastes. Flavor the dough with fresh herbs, spices or cheese; top them with sesame, poppy, sunflower or other seeds, or maybe old-fashioned oats or nuts.

A freshly made batch of buns is just the right complement for the burgers you’ve been perfecting — and they also work well sandwiching brisket, pulled pork or any other glorious concoctions you plan on conquering this summer season.

BRIOCHE BUNS

About 1 hour, plus rising time. Makes 6 buns

¾ cup milk, divided

1 package (2½ teaspoons) active dry yeast

¼ cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar, divided

3 eggs, divided

10 tablespoons (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) butter, at room temperature

3½ cups bread flour, plus more for dusting

½ teaspoon salt

1. In a small pan, heat one-half cup plus 2 tablespoons of milk over medium heat, just until warmed. Remove from heat, and pour the milk into a small bowl or measuring cup. Stir in the yeast and 1 teaspoon of sugar, then set aside until the milk is foamy and the yeast is activated, about 10 minutes.

2. Whisk 2 eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer using the whisk attachment (or in a large bowl with a hand mixer) until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Stir in the yeast mixture and remaining ¼ cup of sugar until fully incorporated.

3. If using a stand mixer, switch to the paddle attachment. With the mixer running, add the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, until incorporated.

4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. With the mixer running, add the flour mixture, one spoonful at a time, until fully incorporated.

5. Remove the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead until it is soft and somewhat silky (it’s a rich dough and won’t be entirely smooth), 5 to 7 minutes. Place the dough in a large, oiled bowl and lightly cover with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm place until doubled in size,

1 to 1½ hours. (Alternatively, you can refrigerate the dough overnight, then take it out the next day and wait for it to come to room temperature.)

6. Meanwhile, make an egg wash: Beat together the remaining egg with the remaining 2 tablespoons of milk.

7. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly grease the parchment.

8. When the dough is doubled (it will be very smooth and elastic), punch it down and divide it into 6 pieces, each weighing about 5 ounces. Form each piece into a ball, pinching the seams together at the base of each one. Flatten the ball so it’s about 1 inch thick and place on the prepared baking sheet; continue until you have six rounds evenly spaced on the sheet.

9. Lightly brush each round with the prepared wash (for deeper coloring, brush the rounds a second time after the first wash has dried), and set aside until the rounds are puffed and almost doubled in size, about 15 minutes.

10. Bake the rounds until they are puffed and a rich golden color, about 20 minutes, rotating halfway for even coloring. Cool completely on a rack before slicing and serving.

Note: From Noelle Carter

HONEY WHOLE WHEAT BURGER BUNS

About 2 hour, plus rising time. Makes 6 buns

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk, divided

1 package (2½ teaspoons) active dry yeast

¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons honey, divided

1 egg

¼ cup (½ stick) butter, softened

2 cups bread flour, plus more for dusting

1½ cups whole wheat flour

½ teaspoon salt

Old-fashioned oats, sunflower or other seeds, for garnish, if desired

1. In a small pan, heat 1 cup milk over medium heat just until warmed. Remove from heat and pour the milk into a small bowl or measuring cup. Stir in the yeast and 1 teaspoon of honey, then set aside until the milk is foamy and the yeast is activated, about 10 minutes.

2. Whisk the egg in the bowl of a stand mixer using the whisk attachment (or in a large bowl with a hand mixer) until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Stir in the yeast mixture and ¼ cup honey until fully incorporated.

3. If using a stand mixer, switch to the paddle attachment. With the mixer running, add the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, until incorporated.

4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours and salt. With the mixer running, add the flour mixture, one spoonful at a time, until fully incorporated.

5. Remove the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead until it is soft and elastic, 5 to 7 minutes. Place the dough in a large, oiled bowl and lightly cover with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 to 1½ hours. (Alternatively, you can refrigerate the dough overnight, then take it out the next day and wait for it to come to room temperature.)

6. Meanwhile, make a wash: Beat together the remaining honey with the remaining 2 tablespoons of milk.

7. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly grease the parchment.

8. When the dough is doubled, punch it down and divide it into 6 pieces, each weighing about 5 ounces. Form each piece into a ball, pinching the seams together at the base of each one. Flatten the ball so it’s about 1 inch thick and place on the prepared baking sheet, continue until you have six rounds evenly spaced on the sheet.

9. Lightly brush each round with the prepared wash (for deeper coloring, brush the rounds a second time after the first wash has dried), and top with oats, seeds or other garnishes, as desired. Set aside until the rounds are puffed and almost doubled in size, about 15 minutes.

10. Bake the rounds until they are puffed and a rich golden color, about 20 minutes, rotating halfway for even coloring. Cool completely on a rack before slicing and serving.

Note: From Noelle Carter

PRETZEL BUNS

1 hour, 20 minutes plus rising time. Makes 8 buns

1 (¼-ounce) package active-dry yeast (2¼ teaspoons)

1¾ cups warm water

2 teaspoons light brown sugar

5 cups

bread flour, divided

½ cup rye flour

2 teaspoons salt

3 tablespoons butter, melted

Pretzel wash, such as lye (see note) or beaten whole egg

Coarse sea salt, for topping

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water. Stir in the sugar and one-half cup of the bread flour. Set aside until the yeast begins to bubble, about 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the remaining bread flour with the rye flour and salt.

3. Beat the melted butter into the large bowl with the yeast. Using the dough hook (if using a stand mixer) or a fork or wooden spoon (if mixing by hand), slowly mix in the remaining flour mixture, a spoonful at a time, until all of the flour is added and a firm, thick dough is formed.

4. Move the dough to a lightly floured board. Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic, 2 to 3 minutes.

5. Remove the dough to a large, oiled bowl. Cover and set aside in a warm place until the dough is almost doubled in size, 45 minutes to an hour.

6. Meanwhile, prepare the pretzel wash and heat the oven to 375 degrees.

7. Divide the risen dough into eight pieces, each weighing about 5 ounces. Form each piece into a ball, pinching the seams together at the base of each one. Flatten each ball so it’s about 1 inch thick.

8. Coat the pretzels with a wash. If using lye, dip the roll in the wash (wear rubber kitchen gloves and goggles) for 15 to 20 seconds, turning the roll over halfway to coat evenly. Remove the round to a greased nonreactive baking sheet and top as desired (if using an aluminum baking sheet, line the sheet with parchment before greasing). If using beaten egg, brush the egg over the buns.

9. Use a serrated knife or razor blade to make a crosswise slit into the top of each roll about one-half-inch deep. Sprinkle over the coarse sea salt. Set the rounds aside until puffed and risen, about 15 minutes.

10. Bake the pretzel rounds, one sheet at a time, in the center of the oven until puffed and a rich golden brown (color will vary depending on the wash), about 20 minutes. Rotate the sheet halfway through baking for even coloring.

11. Remove the baking sheet to a rack, and set aside until the pretzel buns have cooled completely before slicing and serving.

Note: From Noelle Carter

Food-grade lye is the classic wash for pretzels. It can be found at some cooking supply stores and online (do not use common lye; it is not food-safe). To make enough wash for one batch of buns, dissolve 1 ounce (about 2 tablespoons) food-grade lye in 1 quart of warm water (add the lye to the water, not the other way around) in a glass bowl. Wear gloves and goggles while using this wash; lye can burn if it comes into contact with your skin or eyes.

___

FIVE STYLES TO WASH

Bread recipes frequently call for some sort of “wash” or glaze before baking. Sometimes, a recipe may call for egg, sometimes milk, even butter. Different washes are used to achieve different results. So how do you choose the right one for your project?

EGG: Using beaten whole eggs will give color and sheen to a bread. Egg yolk provides rich color, browning easily in the oven; egg white provides a nice sheen.

MILK: Brushing with milk will lend color to the crust, as the sugars in the milk help to brown it.

WATER: Water is often sprayed or brushed onto bread before it is placed in a very hot oven _ and while it bakes _ to give the bread an extra-crisp crust. Water added to an egg wash thins the wash so it brushes more easily.

BUTTER: Butter gives the bread a softer crust and richer flavor.

SWEETENERS: Honey, maple syrup, agave and other liquid sweeteners will give bread a sweeter, softer crust.

— Noelle Carter