Confession time: I like meat. Despite my awareness of the ethical and environmental problems of producing it, despite my efforts to eat less of it (largely successful, photographic evidence to the contrary notwithstanding), and despite my budget's plaintive pleas for me to get my protein from dirt-cheap beans rather than organic, sustainably and humanely raised animals, I like meat. In particular, I like hamburgers. They're not good for me, and they're not good for the planet, but taste buds don't lie.
Mindful of those truths, I typically indulge my appetite for hamburgers only when I have the quasi-justifiable excuse of feeling anemic, which works out to every few months and/or when I've just given blood. Last weekend it was the latter. At my local blood bank one has the option of giving not one unit of whole blood (red blood cells + platelets + plasma), but a double unit of only red blood cells. It's a pretty cool process, but I won't go into it for fear of driving away readers who might be squeamish. (Focus on the pretty pictures, people. Food! Pretty pictures!)
Anyway, they were low on my blood type, so I did the double donation, the result of which was one exhausted and woozy blogger. Perfect time to be working with fire, right? Perhaps not, but in any case, burgers were on the menu. And where there are burgers grilling, there must be buns waiting.
There are plenty of hamburger buns to be had at the shops near me, ranging from eggy and fluffy brioche rolls to firmer, chewier ciabatta-like ones. Many of them are very good, but I haven't been satisfied with simply purchasing my hamburger buns. That's not to say that I wish to give up store-bought buns forever. After all, there are few things that take to being rushed more poorly than yeasted doughs, so when you're pressed for time, there's no shame in a good purchased bun. But I would at least like to demonstrate to myself that, given the time and the inclination, I can make a respectable hamburger bun.
As it turned out, producing a satisfactory bun was more difficult than I thought it would be. Originally it was a Gourmet recipe that piqued my interest, but after reading about Deb's disillusionment, I was less enthusiastic. I turned to a recipe that several readers mentioned in the comments of that post, one from King Arthur Flour, and was promptly disappointed. My buns looked nothing like the ones in the picture; they were flat and insipid-looking, and the taste did not improve my opinion of them. A little while later, I went back to that Gourmet recipe (but for hot dog buns, not hamburger buns), and I was as unimpressed as Deb was*.
Now, keep in mind that I've never claimed to be particularly adept at yeasted doughs, so some of these failings might be down to me and not the recipes. If you've been longing to try either of those recipes, please don't let me be the one to dissuade you--you might have better luck than I did. But whether due to yeast-ineptness or mediocre recipes, this was starting to get frustrating.
Then, just in time for my weekend burger plans--and just in time for Labor Day grilling, should any U.S. readers (or expats) have burgers on the mind--my mom reminded me about the hamburger bun recipe in our new favorite cookbook, The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook. Another confession: I have never actually eaten a hamburger at the Big Sur Bakery. All but one of my meals there have been for dinner, and the burger is only on the brunch and lunch menus. That said, 1) I have it on good authority that they are excellent, and 2) I have all the confidence in the world in Michelle's recipes. That was enough for me to try their hamburger bun recipe, so I refreshed my stock of yeast (the recipe calls for an eye-popping 1 1/2 tablespoons, or nearly 3 packets) and got to work.
First sign of success: this dough is a joy to work with. Okay, that doesn't necessarily presage a stellar finished product, but it does make me love this recipe that much more. Second sign: it rose beautifully. Not just the dough rising (which, let's be honest, probably had something to do with all that yeast), but the buns as they baked. They rose into a Goldilocks-approved not too flat, not too puffy bun with a lovely dome on top of a good-sized base. Sealing the deal were the baked buns' mild, pleasant flavor and soft-but-substantial crumb.
If "mild and pleasant" sounds like damning with faint praise, let me explain. This is not a fancy, flashy bun. That's not the Bakery's style. Simple, down to earth food is their style--simple, down to earth food done really, really well. True to that ethos, this bun is a good, hearty, solid foundation on which to build your burger--whether your burger be meat- or veg-style. But I think it's obvious which style mine is.
* As it turns out, the ingredient lists for Big Sur Bakery recipe and the Gourmet recipe are virtually identical (the Gourmet recipe is simply twice the Bakery recipe), except for one key difference: the Bakery recipe uses nearly twice as much yeast. I also assembled the ingredients in a slightly different way, which also might have made a difference. Whatever the reason, the difference in the finished product was striking.
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Tuesday, September 1, 2009