Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Big Sur Burger Buns


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!)

Hamburger buns (I)

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.

Grilled hamburger buns

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.

Lettuce and sliced tomato

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.

Hamburger buns (II)

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.

Hamburger close-up

Big Sur Burger Buns

Makes 6 large buns, 7-8 smallish ones


  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast (from 3 packets)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for the bowl
  • 3 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds


  1. Warm the milk in small saucepan over low heat until it's a yeast-friendly 105-115F (40-45C), then turn off the heat, pour the yeast over the milk, and stir to combine. Set it aside for a few minutes, or until it's foamy.
  2. Meanwhile, use some of your spare softened butter to butter a large bowl, and set it aside.
  3. In another large bowl, combine the yeast mixture with half of the flour, and stir to combine. (If you're using a stand mixer, do this with the dough hook on low speed.)
  4. Once the mixture is relatively uniform, mix in the softened butter, then the sugar, salt, egg, and remaining flour. Beat (or turn the mixer up to medium) for a couple of minutes, then turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead for a few minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. (Alternatively, turn the mixer up to high speed, and beat for another couple of minutes.)
  5. Place the dough in the greased bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Let it rise in a warm place until it has doubled in size, which should take 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  6. Turn the dough back out onto your floured surface, and divide it into 6-8 pieces, depending on how big you want your buns. Cover them with a kitchen towel while you take them one at a time and roll them into a neat little ball. Once you've rolled all of the pieces, let them rest under the towel for 10 minutes to relax the gluten.
  7. At the end of the 10 minutes, use a rolling pin to flatten the balls slightly into little rounds. They will expand during the second rising, so err on the small side. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, place the rounds of dough on the parchment. Either cover the dough with a large sheet of plastic wrap or place the entire pan inside a large plastic bag and tie it closed. An oven bag works for this, if you have one, or simply a (clean) trash bag.
  8. Place the pan back in a warm spot, and let the buns rise until they've once again doubled in size. This should only take 30-45 minutes, so keep an eye on them.
  9. While they're rising, preheat the oven to 375F/190C
  10. Remove the plastic wrap or bag from the pan. Brush the buns with water and sprinkle them with sesame seeds.
  11. Bake the buns until they are puffed and golden brown, about 20-25 minutes. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

* 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.


Delicious Dishings said...

I feel like I've been collecting recipes today. Bookmarking this one as well. It's my goal to bake a lot of breads this fall... and hamburger rolls have always been something I've wanted to try. Thanks for posting the recipe!

And p.s. I like meat too. I try not to eat so much of it... but it's just sooo good. I had veggie-laden orzo for lunch... that should balance things out!

Bee said...

You made those buns?!
My goodness, friend, you are about to turn pro.

I agree with you about meat, and yet a good burger is so delectable . . . and full of B vitamins and iron, of course.
(Do you have a rare blood type?)
Best to be moderate in all things veggie.

Anne said...

I love days like that, Megan! The only problem is that I tend to lose them again faster than I can make them. I found a program that syncs notes between my home and work computers, which helps, but I still feel like I have more recipes to make than time in which to make them--not to mention that there's only so much food I can (should) eat in a day!

Veggie orzo sounds good! I had pisto for lunch--mostly vegetables, with a few bits of chorizo sausage. It felt good to get a bunch of vegetables in me!

Bee - funny you should make that comment today. I am having one of those days (weeks, months, summers...) when I'm so frustrated with work that it's tempting not only to quit grad school, but to quit physics altogether and try to make a living with something involving food.

I don't have a rare blood type, or even a particularly useful blood type (I'm A+). There was a sign up saying that they were in more need of A and O, and they asked me if I'd be willing to do the double RBC donation, so I did. Fortunately I had scheduled my appointment for a Friday afternoon, so that I could take it easy all weekend!

Amy I. said...

I'm so impressed with your buns! I mean..um...haha!

I like meat too, but have also had the many implications of meat consumption on my mind lately and have been making a conscious effort to cut down. Thanks so much for your kind comment on my blog.., glad to hear you're going through a similar growth period :)

Unknown said...

Any suggestions / recipe for the hamburger patty itself?

Anne said...

Ha! Thanks, Amy. :)

Marcos - in the past, I've tried to make a great burger by mixing in all sorts of things: garlic, cheese, chipotles, a panade to keep it juicy, etc. But I recently became a convert to the KISS school of burger-making.

So. Find the best ground beef you can get. Not super lean. Gently form it into a patty that's thicker around the edges, with a depression in the middle. (This will help it cook up into a uniform thickness, rather than an oblong cross-section.) Salt and pepper it on the outside, then stick it on the grill. Disturb it as little as possible, except for when you flip it. Sound good?

Anonymous said...

Oh my.... I like like like your blog & your pic's!! Amazing!!

Regards from Agneta in Sweden

Anonymous said...

Printed this up tonight and will make it up tomorrow. Fun to find your blog! Great stuff!

Bee said...

My daughter gave up on the vegetarianism after a couple of months . . . thank goodness. If we have good weather on the weekend I might just try these!

p.s. I saw Julie and Julia today. Paris looked so divine. And you know what? I think that you could make a living out of food.