If Memorial Day is the unofficial start to grilling season, then Father’s Day is the celebratory kickoff. This is the time when we get our last live-fire exercises in before the 4th of July, when the summer season really gets underway. And, if you’re like me, you might just be thinking about burgers this weekend.
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 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 compliment 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.
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.
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.
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.
If using a stand mixer, switch to the paddle attachment. With the mixer running, add the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, until incorporated.
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.
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 1 1/2 hours. (Alternatively, you can refrigerate the dough overnight, then take it out the next day and wait for it to come to room temperature.)
Meanwhile, make a wash: Beat together the remaining honey with the remaining 2 tablespoons of milk.
Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly grease the parchment.
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.
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.
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.
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