Homemade Hamburger Buns

DSC_0051

Spring is coming! At least I think it is. It is still mighty chilly here in St. Louis. We have had a few teases of warm weather, but not as many as usual. The leaves on the trees are still no-shows, though the daffodils and crocuses are blooming. Grilling season is coming, which means I will start making hamburgers buns again. I didn’t actually stop over the winter, but we filled them with deli meat or tuna, which I guess makes them sandwich buns instead of hamburger buns.

Homemade buns leave mass-produced buns in the dust – this recipe makes slightly sweet, soft, yeasty buns with none of the too squishy texture store buns sometimes have. Never baked with yeast you say? You can do it. Repeat after me, “Yeast is not scary.” Say it again. Then pick up a strip of yeast packets at the store (and flour if you never bake) and start mixing. You can do it. And you won’t be sorry.

I have to admit, I baked bread for years before I ever thought to make my own hamburger buns. I made bread, cinnamon rolls, bagels, dinner rolls and pizza crust, but never hamburger buns. Now I almost always make our buns. They are that good. And not just for hamburgers, either. Homemade buns raise a humble turkey and cheese or tuna sandwich from ordinary to knock your socks off delicious.

The original recipe is from a fellow member of King Arthur Flour’s online baking forum, The Baking Circle. If you have time, check out the forum. It is a great place to get baking tips, ask questions and share recipes.The original poster’s screen name was Moomie and she came up with the recipe for her bread machine. I further adapted it for hand mixing or a stand mixer. And then I kept changing it. Thanks, Moomie, for the recipe and for free rein to tinker with it.

I have figured out a few tricks after mixing up many, many buns. First of all, make the buns really, really flat when you are shaping them. Otherwise you will end up with small, tall buns, which make sandwiches that require you to unhinge your jaw to bite. They rise after shaping, and they will rise a bit in the oven too, so make them flat. Did I mention flattening the buns?

It also doesn’t matter if the buns touch after rising. You want the sides soft. And commercial buns are usually connected at the sides anyway.

You can make the buns with white flour or whole wheat flour (or any other whole grain flour, for that matter). I make just about everything whole wheat, and the buns are no exception. The original recipe called for only all-purpose flour, but I have tinkered with the technique to make them whole wheat without sacrificing taste or texture.

The first whole grain secret is to use white whole wheat flour. Check my post on whole grain flour to get the full scoop. The second secret is to use milk instead of water. Milk makes a softer bun, no matter if you are making them whole grain or not. Finally, give the whole wheat flour time to absorb the moisture in the dough. This is as simple as mixing up the dough using part of the flour, and letting it sit, covered, for fifteen minutes. After the rest period the whole wheat flour will have absorbed some of the liquid, making it less likely that you will add too much flour during mixing or kneading. Especially with whole grain baking you need to be careful with the flour or you will end up with heavy, dry baked goods.

Because the dough is so soft, it will probably stick to your hands a bit as you start to knead. If you have a bench knife, dough scraper or even a regular rubber spatula, you can use it in one hand to help work the dough until it is slightly less sticky. If you have a stand mixer, use it to mix and knead the dough – it doesn’t care if dough sticks to it.

Now, repeat it again, “Yeast isn’t scary.” You can make your own buns, and they will be fabulous. Do your hamburgers and deli turkey a favor and try out some buns sometime soon. You won’t be sorry.

Download or print just the recipe.

Hamburger Buns
Adapted from Moomie’s Buns by The Cook’s Life
Makes 10 large buns

I usually use 2 cups of white whole wheat flour, though I sometimes use up to 3 cups. Be sure to give them the rest if you are using the whole wheat. This allows the flour time to absorb some of the moisture in the dough. It also helps you to avoid adding too much flour during kneading, which will make the buns heavy and dry.

If you have a stand mixer  (like a KitchenAid) use it to make these. You can use less flour if you knead the dough in the mixer since stickiness doesn’t matter as much. If you do use the mixer, let the dough rise right in the bowl, covered. If the dough is still sticky after rising, you can knead it briefly by hand before shaping the buns.

3 to 3½  cups all-purpose  flour (use 1-2 cups white whole wheat flour, if desired)
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 package yeast (2¼ teaspoons)
2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
1 egg
1 cup warm milk

Mix 2 cups flour (add all the white whole wheat flour now, if using), sugar, salt, yeast, oil and egg in a large bowl. Add warm milk and mix vigorously. If using whole wheat flour, let dough rest about 15 minutes, covered.

Add remaining flour until a very soft dough forms. Knead about 5 minutes, adding flour as needed (see headnote). Try to be sparing with the flour, but not so much that the dough sticks to everything. Add flour only until the dough doesn’t stick to your hands or kneading surface.

Let rise in a greased bowl, covered with plastic wrap, in a warm place for 1 hour. Lightly grease a large baking sheet, or line with parchment paper. Set aside.

If the dough is very sticky, knead it for a minute or two, adding about a tablespoon of flour. Divide dough into 10 pieces. Form each piece into a smooth ball. Place each ball on the baking sheet and FLATTEN with your floured hand. You really want them flat so that they are shaped like buns after they rise.

Cover loosely with waxed or parchment paper and let rise 30 minutes.

After 15 minutes of rising, preheat oven to 375 degrees. After 30 minutes of rising, bake 12-15 minutes, or until nicely browned on top and bottom.

Cool buns on a rack until room temperature before slicing and serving. Freeze if not using within a couple of days. They dry out rapidly, which is especially noticeable with hamburgers. Slice before freezing.

The Bread that Ate My Kitchen

I almost forgot that I promised a post on the bread that I made for my recent family reunion. I made Whole Wheat Oatmeal Bread, which is great for sandwiches or toast. It is full of whole grains without that “sticks and twigs” texture. This is the bread that rose so well that it popped the top off its rising container and almost overflowed onto the counter.

Don’t let this scare you off making it – just make sure you have a big enough container for rising. The original recipe makes four loaves of bread, which is a huge amount of dough. And I didn’t have a big enough container. I am posting a reduced recipe that will only make two loaves and will be much more manageable. Even if you have never made bread before, you can do this.

Unfortunately I forgot to take many pictures of the process. I will do a post sometime soon on bread making, with exhaustive pictures, to help you gain confidence if you are thinking of taking the leap into yeast baking.

Feel free to post in the comments if you have any questions at all about baking with yeast. I made my first yeast bread when I was in college, from an illustrated Time Life yeast baking book. I have learned a lot by trial and error, and I am happy to share my tips and hints. If you are in the St. Louis area, I do also offer cooking and baking classes. Contact me and we will talk!

Whole Wheat Oatmeal Bread
Adapted by the Cook’s Life
From “Country Baking” by Ken Haedrich
Makes 2 large loaves

The original recipe was called “Grainy Bread for the Whole Week” but I thought it needed a better name. And it made four huge loaves of bread, so I cut the recipe in half. Feel free to double the recipe if you are an experienced baker, but be aware it makes a lot of dough.

3 cups warm milk or water*
¾ cup rolled oats, old-fashioned or quick
1 package dry yeast (2 ¼ teaspoons)
¼ cup honey
5 ½ cups white whole wheat flour
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
¼ cup canola or vegetable oil
1 ½ to 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, approximately

*Milk will make a softer bread than water. I prefer using milk.

Pour the water or milk into a large mixing bowl or mixer bowl. Add the oats, yeast and honey. Stir in 4 cups of the white whole wheat flour. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes.

After the rest, add the salt, oil and the remaining 1½ cups white whole wheat flour. Mix well. Cover the dough and let rest for 10 minutes.

After the rest, add about 1 cup of the all-purpose flour. When dough gets hard to stir, turn out onto a floured surface to knead, or leave in the mixer and use the dough hook to knead. Knead the dough until it is fairly stiff, smooth and elastic. Add flour if the dough sticks to your hands or the sides of the bowl.

Place the dough in a large greased bowl or container that has enough room for the dough to double in size. Cover with plastic wrap or the lid and let rise in a warm place for 45-60 minutes, or until doubled.

Grease a baking sheet, or line with parchment, if you are making freeform loaves. Or grease two 9 by 5 inch loaf pans.

Turn risen dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead briefly, for about 30 seconds. Divide dough into 2 pieces and form each into an oblong, football-shaped ball. Place loaves on prepared baking sheet, leaving room between them, or in loaf pans. If using loaf pans, press dough firmly into corners. Cover loosely with parchment or waxed paper and allow to rise until doubled. This should take 20-30 minutes, or about half the time the dough took to double the first time.

About 15 minutes before the bread is risen, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Bake the loaves 30-45 minutes, or until they are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. Freeform loaves on a baking sheet will take slightly less time to bake than those in loaf pans.

Remove bread from the pans and let cool on wire racks. When completely cool, store leftovers in an airtight container or plastic bag. Freeze if not eating within a few days. Homemade bread dries out faster than commercial bread, but if you slice it before freezing, you can remove slices as you need them. They thaw in a few minutes, or you can toast them.

 Download the recipe here.