Grill, Baby, Grill
Here’s to summer. To putting meat and meat-analogs on metal grates over fire until they have dark, charred lines and taste like smoke and sunburn. To cold lager beer and fresh berries and the smell of tomato vines. To small talk with neighbors over fences and sprinklers and not-small talk with friends over meals cooked and eaten outside. Get it while you can.
You can use just about any bread recipe for buns—just shape the dough into balls or logs and bake them for slightly less time than you would a whole loaf. But in case you’re looking for some additional tips or inspiration, here’s how I like to do it:
Buttery, Half-Whole Wheat, Twisty, and Topped with Shallots
I use a recipe pretty similar to the one I use for challah or dinner rolls, meaning it has a fairly high fat content and some egg in the dough, both of which make the rolls soft and rich (although not quite as buttery and decadent as brioche). I use about 1/2 whole wheat and 1/2 white flour so they have some wholesomeness and chew but still come out light and fluffy. I use milk or whey instead of water if I have either on hand—again for more softness and richness.
For shaping, I divide the dough into balls the size of lemons and then divide each portion in half, roll those pieces into thin ropes and twist them together. For patties, I make the twist into a circle with one end tucked into the center on the bottom and one tucked into the center on the top. This is not just for aesthetics—it prevents the rolls from being overly thick in the middle. Because there are few things more disappointing in the burgers & brats realm than getting a bite that’s so bready you don’t taste the meat (or whatever else your patty/tube is composed of).
I brush them with an egg wash before baking so they get just a little glossy and brown and to help the toppings stick. My very favorite topping is crispy fried shallots, but sesame seeds or poppy seeds are pretty good, too.
Honestly, I prefer most burgers and sausages without a bun. A black bean burger topped with guacamole and tomato slices and a sunny side-up egg is probably one of my favorite meals, but I’d rather eat it with a knife and fork than sandwiched between two pieces of bread, no matter how good the bread is. However, if I had any room left in my belly after that, I might eat one of these for dessert—sliced in half, toasted lightly on the grill, brushed with some butter or mayonnaise or whatever else you got out for the corn on the cob and a sprinkle of salt. And they’re also a great vehicle for saucy braised meats like pulled pork or sloppy joes and summery sandwich fillings like egg salad or grilled veggies and cheese with pesto.
Recipe: Sourdough-risen Buns (makes about 20 buns)
- 2 cups refreshed sourdough starter (1:1 flour: water)*
- 1 cup milk, whey, or water
- 1/4 cup neutral-flavored oil or melted butter
- 1 egg + 1 egg yolk in dough; 1 egg for brushing
- 1/2 cup sugar (or other sweetener)
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 5-6 cups flour (any combination of white, whole wheat, or multigrain; if using a low-gluten flour like rye add 2 T. vital wheat gluten per cup)
- optional: sesame seeds, poppy seeds, fried shallots (or onions or garlic), grated hard cheeses, chopped sundried tomatoes, etc.
*If you want to substitute packaged yeast for the sourdough starter, increase the liquid to 2 1/2 cups and increase flour to 6 1/2-7 cups. Heat the liquid to 110-120F and whisk in 2 packages (4 1/2 teaspoons) active dry yeast and 2 Tablespoons of the sugar. Let sit 10-15 minutes before combining with the remaining ingredients.
1. In a large bowl, whisk together the starter, liquid, oil or butter, and egg.
2. Add the sugar, salt, and half of the flour and stir until the mixture begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl and form a dough. Gradually add as much of the remaining flour as needed until the dough becomes too stiff to stir.
3. Dust a clean surface with flour and scrape the dough onto it. Begin to knead, adding flour as necessary to prevent the dough from sticking to you. You want to add just enough flour to make the dough workable. If desired, cover the dough with the mixing bowl set upside down and let it rest for 15 minutes to let the flour absorb more of the moisture—that should make it less sticky and easier to knead.
4. Knead for 10-15 minutes, or until you feel like stopping. You don’t the kind of gluten networks that will form a baker’s windowpane for this kind of bread, but kneading it that long or longer wouldn’t hurt anything. The less you knead, the more uneven the crumb will be (you might see a variety of large and small air bubbles in the rolls); the more you knead, the more even it will be.
5. Coat the mixing bowl lightly with oil, place the dough inside and turn so the whole surface is oiled. Cover and let rise 4+ hours or until doubled in size (1-2 hours for active dry or instant yeast). If you want a more pronounced sourdough flavor, let it rise for 8+ hours and/or after rising, put it in a zip-top bag and let it sit in the refrigerator for 24-72 hours before shaping and baking.
6. Punch the risen dough down in the middle and let rest 15 minutes. For regular-sized buns, pinch off balls about the size of a medium lemon or divide into 20 equal pieces (should be about 3.2 oz/90 g each). For smaller, slider-sized buns, pinch off balls about the size of a golf ball or divide into 36 pieces (around 1.75 oz/50 g).
For regular burger buns: shape each piece into a smooth ball,flatten until about 3/4 inches thick.
For hot-dog buns: rolls into a rope about 3/4 inch thick and 8” long. Slash once down the center or 2-3 times diagonally before baking, if desired
For twisty buns: divide each portion into 2 or 3 equal pieces, shape each piece into a rope about 8” long and twist or braid them and pinch the ends together. For kaiser rolls, make the twist into a circle and pinch the ends underneath.
Let rise again until doubled or almost the desired finished size, 2+ hours (30 min-1 hr if using active dry or instant yeast)
7. Preheat the oven to 375F 30 minutes before baking. Whisk an egg with about 1 Tablespoon of water or milk and brush the tops of the buns. Just before baking, brush with the egg wash again and sprinkle with toppings.
8. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until tops are beginning to brown and the internal temperature is between 190-200F.