There’s something very sad about going to supermarkets whose shelves are groaning under the weight of multiple choices for almost every single possible thing you can buy, and thinking: “Is this all they have?”
Chad and I planned on having burgers last night, and when I went to the supermarket at 5pm, I was amazed that every single package of hamburger buns listed a boatload of ingredients that I didn’t want in my hamburger buns — including high-fructose corn syrup. True, there were buns in the bulk bakery section, but those had no ingredient lists and given my defeat in the bread aisle, I figured that my chances of approving of the ingredients wouldn’t be high.
It’s not that I’m fanatical about ultra-righteous ingredients. I just want to eat as decently as I can, and I draw the line at certain things. So, I came home and prepared hamburger buns myself, using the Variation 1 for White Bread in Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. You can make loaves, rolls, or hamburger or hot dog buns with the dough.
Incidentally, I can see why the market’s buns were so laden with ingredients. The recipe in the book called for bread flour, salt, powdered milk, sugar, instant dry yeast, egg, butter, and water. If you don’t use real egg, butter, or sugar in your industrial buns, you have to do some fancy footwork to approximate their effects with whatever presumably cheaper, long-lasting things you want to use. Heck, I was surprised that the recipe in the book called for powdered milk, but in the intro, he says you could use almost any kind of milk instead.
I used AP flour instead of bread flour b/c I wanted to encourage the lightness that the lower percentage of protein would give; plus, I don’t want to have to buy and store bread flour. I also used slightly less butter and sugar than he recommended, b/c I don’t need the extra fat or calories, and knew I wouldn’t miss them. For them to proof, I put them in the warmest place in my apartment, which was near Chad’s computers. I also placed them near each other for their final proof so that they would kiss, and would have soft spots on the sides; that’s my favorite part of hamburger buns. As you can see in the pic above, they browned a little unevenly b/c of this, but it didn’t make a difference when we ate them. I also doubted how soft the crust would be before I baked them, so I scored them (with a none-too-sharp knife, as it happened) just to ensure at least a streak of softness; it turned out to be unnecessary. I also sprinkled them with a little salt before they went into the oven, so that a whisper of salt would grace our upper lip as we bit into them.
We were able to eat around 9pm, and I don’t want to be immodest, but the buns were pretty fantastic. They shared many of the textural qualities of store-bought buns, but the flavor was so fresh and clean; I realized that they lacked that peculiar aftertaste of regular buns. It totally changed the home burger experience. I abide by the rule that buns should be as soft as the meat, and these fit perfectly into that ideal. They had a nice spongy crumb…
So, a hamburger bun is categorized as an enriched bread (as opposed to lean), b/c of the added dairy and sugar, which have a tenderizing effect. It makes them softer and lighter — squishier– with a soft caramelized crust. I much prefer to buy breads made from lean doughs (such as baguettes) from bakeries b/c they have special ovens that will give it the proper hard crust, but enriched breads (such as brioche and challah) are quite nice to bake at home. They don’t require much of a crust, and are baked at a much lower temperature. The dough is more forgiving to work with, too, because of all the fat, which coats the gluten.
Breads made without preservatives do tend to dry out quickly, so whenever I make or buy such bread, I cut them into 1-2 sized portions and freeze them as soon as I’m done eating them for the day. I wrap them first in plastic wrap, and then in aluminum foil. When I want one asap, I unwrap them completely, rest it on the alum foil, put them in the oven, and set it to about 375F. By the time the temperature is ready, the bread usually is, too. If I plan ahead better, I just put them on the counter — still wrapped so that condensation doesn’t form on the bread itself — until it’s thawed; and it doesn’t take all that long.