I have learned there’s nothing mysterious about baking with yeast. Nevertheless it’s a magical ingredient responsible for delicious buns, loaves, and rolls. That’s my take-away from this Year of Baking Bread which began in February 2019 with America’s Test Kitchen’s recipe for multigrain bread. I continued my education, digressing into focaccia, pizza dough, Jamaican hard dough bread, and Chinese steamed rolls called bao. But out of sheer spite, I often returned to the multigrain recipe, and that is where I learned to learn from the dough, and to engage in a sadistic bread kneading technique called slap-and-fold. I’m still not a proficient by any means; pizza dough is probably the last frontier. Recipes with yeast could be so frustrating, many of them infuriatingly incomplete for assuming a level of expertise that I didn’t possess. Few of them offered the clarity and the advice I needed as a beginning baker. So much depended on trial and error. So I decided to rewrite this recipe for neophytes like me; it is the culmination of a year’s worth of sweat over the mixing bowl.
Beautiful Burger Buns (recipe adapted and rewritten from King Arthur Flour)
Yield: 8 buns
Time: 2 hours 12 minutes
3 1/2 cups/13 3/4 oz all-purpose flour
1/4 cup/1 3/4 oz sugar
1 tablespoon instant yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoons/1 oz unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup/8oz water
1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for brushing the buns
1 tablespoon white sesame seeds for sprinkling, optional
In a large bowl, using your hands or a large wooden spoon, mix together flour, water and yeast. Add salt and combine. Add lightly beaten egg and stir. Cut in the butter. Pour about 1/2 cup of the water into the flour mixture and squeeze the dough with your hands in a scissors motion all over. This distributes the water throughout. Gradually add the rest of the water, a tablespoon at a time, working it into the dough, until the dough becomes a wet, shaggy mess. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and let the dough rest 10-20 minutes. Resting allows the dough to hydrate, to absorb the water. After resting, the dough will appear lumpy, tacky to the touch, and will have absorbed the water.
Smear a teaspoon of oil on the work surface, about 12 inches in diameter. Rub oil on your hands and on a plastic dough scraper. Knead the dough in the bowl a few times then scrape it out onto the oiled work surface. Continue kneading the dough, using the dough scraper to scrape up any dough stuck to the surface. Knead until the dough becomes smooth and elastic. Do the windowpane test. Cut off a walnut size piece of dough and stretch it. It shouldn’t break. It will be thin and translucent when held up to the light. This means the dough is well-kneaded. Smooth the dough and round it between your hands into a ball.
Lightly oil a large bowl and put the dough ball in it. Cover the bowl with a sheet of plastic wrap. Let it rise in a warm draft-free place (e.g. the microwave oven, off, of course) for 1 hour until doubled in size.
Line a baking tray with parchment or a silicone baking mat. Set aside. Heat oven to 190˚C/375˚F
Lightly oil the work surface. Weigh the risen dough and portion it out into 8 pieces of equal weight. Taking each piece, fold the edges towards the center, turning the dough until it becomes a ball. Pinch the seam closed. Put it on the work surface seam side down and cup your hands around it as you turn and shape it into a taut ball. Put it on the prepared baking tray. Repeat. Put the dough balls on the tray 2 inches apart. Cover tray with a kitchen towel and let rise 30-40 minutes until the buns are about 4 inches in diameter.
Brush the tops with the egg wash and lightly sprinkle with sesame seeds, if using. Bake buns 12-15 minutes or until deep golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire cooling rack. Split buns in half for burgers or sandwiches. Store extra buns wrapped airtight in plastic wrap and aluminum foil in a zipper lock bag. May be kept at room temperature 2 days, refrigerated 5 days, or frozen for up to 1 month. Defrost buns in refrigerator overnight. Warm gently in a low oven to refresh.