My love for bread baking goes way back to my college days where I was living on my own, with no money to speak of, and basically eating most meals from scratch. I had an apartment off campus back then and without a college meal plan like my friends had, I dutifully cooked and baked from the arsenal of recipes given to me by my Mom when she sent me off on my own. A few of my friends who also lived off campus were living off of ramen noodles and boxes of mac and cheese, so they often tried inviting themselves over to my place for a home-cooked meal. And while my financial conditions have improved over the years with a solid career (almost 20 years at Outpost) here I am once again baking bread and eating everything from scratch.
After I graduated from college and began working at Outpost it was a rare occasion to find me actually baking bread again. Maybe it was all of those years where I had to do it, because it was cheaper than buying the store-bought variety. It wasn’t until a few years ago, specifically December 24, 2007, I kick-started my current hobby of bread baking with a Christmas stollen to take to my family gathering that evening. Along with the creativity that comes with baking something new, I decided to journal my new hobby so I could keep track of the things I loved about baking, and the success and failures that come with baking something for the first time. So far I’ve recorded my stollen adventures, oatmeal knots (rolls), low-fat popovers, hearth bread, English muffin bread, and the sourdough bread I made from a starter I began from scratch back in October 2008 (which I still have going today).
Somewhere during my year of inconvenience I knew I would reach the point where I would need to make hamburger buns. It’s summer after all and what says summer better than a backyard cookout of some burgers and dogs on the grill. And you can’t just eat them on bread you know, it has to be on buns. For some reason the thought of baking buns from scratch scared me a little. How in the world was I going to create the lovely pillows of wheat and sponginess that I was easily able to buy from a bakery or at the co-op, without any prior bun-baking experience? Well the time had come in week twelve of this food adventure mainly because of the guilt, since it seemed like I’d be cheating to have someone else in my family bring the buns to the picnic.
I found a recipe to try in the giant Gourmet Cookbook in my pantry – a great resource for many tasty dishes (and the stollen recipe I found three years ago). The book said that “once I taste these hamburger buns, I may never buy buns again.” (Yea, don’t count on it.) Okay, so the flavor of the buns was really fantastic, especially when toasted. I happened to choose one of the hottest weekends of the summer to have our cookout, which meant one of the hottest days of the summer baking hamburger buns.
The dough seemed to come together pretty well, although when I started I heated the milk up too hot (beyond 115°) so I waited and waited for it to cool down to the right temperature. The texture looked right to me, even though I must say I was concerned a bit about the dough pulling away in strands when I took the dough hook out of the mixer. Later, I read that it may be a response of the gluten – which may also give a clue to why they “fell” when I put them in the oven, rather than rise up correctly.
It was hot, if I didn’t already mention that a few times, and I also let the dough rise longer than the recipe indicated. Oh, and did I mention that while taking the dough upstairs to my dark hot hallway (which I like to call the “summer proofer”) I dropped one tray on its side and the dough shaped like hot dog buns went sliding to the floor. Luckily, I guess, I had cleaned the house that morning so I didn’t have to worry if they were covered in cat hair.
My family was wonderful – knowing I had made the buns from scratch they all willingly tried them (I did run to the store and buy one package of regular buns just in case – which are now in my freezer). I guess they turned out okay, for being kinda flat. And like I said, the flavor was really great. I’m going to try the recipe again, on a cooler day in the future. I have great hope for this one.
Part two of this posting is the burgers. Actually it’s the vegetarian adzuki bean burgers that Lisa made a few days later. We’ve been eating the leftover burger buns for about one week, as they now reside in the freezer. Lisa will be my guest blogger in another post I’ll get up this week. For now, stay cool and be thankful for the variety of baked bread offered up by your favorite store or bakery, on these hot summer days.