It’s All About the Bun

Barbeque beef brisket

We brought home a brisket for dinner on Sunday afternoon, and I immediately started thinking about braises. But after paging through my braising bible and browsing one uninspiring recipe after another online, I ended up changing tactics and going with a dry-rubbed, slow-roasted barbeque brisket recipe instead. It turned out to be the perfect solution because I had everything I needed on hand, and even got to try out my new chipotle powder and alder-smoked sea salt. Note to self: That chile powder is hot stuff; it was nearly too spicy for us even though I cut back from a tablespoon to 2 teaspoons, so if I make this again, I’ll just use one teaspoon.

Barbeque beef brisket

I also made the suggested barbeque sauce to go with the meat, but had to improvise a little because I don’t keep chili sauce on hand. What I did have was some sweet ginger chili sauce from Ginger People that I bought as a dip for potstickers. It was way too spicy for the potstickers, at least for my sensitive tongue, but a quarter-cup of it was just enough to give the barbeque sauce a kick and a slightly exotic sweetness.

Homemade hamburger buns

I was most proud of the buns, though. We of course had no hamburger buns, so when I popped the foil-wrapped brisket in the oven, I had to scramble to come up with a suitable barbeque-beef vehicle in the space of three hours. Turning right to my trusty Bread Baker’s Apprentice, I plunked my finger down on the first white bread recipe that didn’t require overnight fermentation and started throwing ingredients in the mixer. With a little help from some heating pads, I was able to coax the dough through both of its rises just in time to pop a dozen egg-washed rolls in the oven when the brisket was done (along with two par-microwaved baking potatoes). The rolls came out beautifully: perfectly sized and shaped, shiny and golden brown, with a soft texture that was still hearty enough to hold up against the moist beef. I will totally make these again, and will probably sneak some of my favorite white whole wheat flour in the next batch for the heck of it. There’s also a buttermilk variant in the book, so there could also be some fresh cinnamon swirl bread in our future.

Classic White Bread Burger Buns

Makes 12 burger or hot dog buns (or 2 1-lb loaves or 18 dinner rolls)

4 3/4 C unbleached bread flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 C powdered milk
3 1/4 T sugar
2 tsp instant yeast
1 large egg, slightly beaten, at room temp
3 1/4 T butter, melted or at room temp
1 1/2 C plus 1 T (up to 1 3/4 C) water, at room temp
1 egg, whisked with 1 tsp water until frothy (for optional egg wash)
Sesame or poppy seeds (for optional garnish)

Mix together flour, salt, powdered milk, sugar and yeast in the bowl of a 4-qt stand mixer. Pour in the egg, butter and 1 1/2 C plus 1 T water, and mix on low speed with the paddle attachment until all the flour is absorbed and the dough forms a ball. If the dough seems very stiff and dry, trickle in more water until the dough is supple.

Mix on medium speed with the dough hook, adding more flour if necessary, to create a soft, supple dough that is tacky but not sticky. Continue mixing for 6-8 minutes, during which the dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick slightly to the bottom. When ready, the dough will pass the windowpane test and register about 80F. Oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to it, turning to coat in the oil; cover the bowl with plastic wrap and proof in a warm room for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until the dough doubles in size.

Remove the dough from the bowl and divide evenly into 12 3-oz pieces (or 18 2-oz pieces for rolls, or in two for loaves). Shape into tight boules for burger buns or pistolets for hot dog buns. Transfer to parchment-lined sheet pans, mist with spray oil and cover with plastic wrap or a towel; proof for an additional 60-90 minutes, until nearly doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 400F (or 350F for loaves). Brush buns with egg wash and sprinkle with garnish, if desired. Bake for approximately 15 minutes (or 35-45 minutes for loaves), rotating halfway through for even heating if necessary. The tops should be golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes on a rack before serving.

Source: The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, by Peter Reinhart (p. 266-267)

Update 8/17/10: I made the second variation of these rolls last night, which uses 4 1/4 C bread flour, and 1 1/2 C buttermilk in place of the water and powdered milk. I use a buttermilk substitute of equal parts milk and plain yogurt. I also adapted the method to be more like my house sourdough, combining all ingredients except salt for a 30-min autolyse, followed by the addition of the salt and a 4-min knead in the mixer, and a 2-hour rest with folds at 40 and 80, before shaping. The rolls felt and tasted just like the original, very soft but sturdy, so I plan to continue using this variant.

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