Sunday, January 29, 2012

Buns in the Oven

Even though I like to cook on the weekends, it doesn't always mean I want to make something complicated. Sometimes I just want to do something fun, something I don't have time to do the other 5 days of the week.

Also, I was working on the end piece of my thesis and having a terrible case of writer's block. I needed a distraction.

My mom has raved about the King Arthur Flour hamburger recipe for a long time (she got to visit the flour... uh, floury? in Vermont last fall and she's converted me to their fantastic baking recipe collection), and when I was trying to figure out something to cook, homemade hamburgers had instant appeal. Since summer is a distant memory I'm not sure will ever come back at this point, I haven't been burnt out on burgers. More like a little sick of heavy casseroles and braises. I know, I know! In six months I'll be yearning for them again. But I am a fickle creature.

Anyway, these weren't going to be your basic come home from the office, start the grill and throw a few Bocas on the grates. I was going to make some SERIOUS hamburgerage. Home-baked buns, home-canned pickles, home-caramelized-onions and home-pressed patties... but I didn't go down to the coast and take part in the cheddaring process with Tillamook Cheese. My deep un-hardcore apologies there.

The recipe for buns is so easy, it's a little unsettling. You put all the dough ingredients (except for the melted butter brushed on during the baking process to create a perfect golden sheen) in your Kitchen Aid bowl, set the dough hook and let it go for a few minutes. Go check your Pinterest page or something. Then it's just a matter of time and patience. I let the initial mix rise for probably 3 hours (I went to test-drive a Rav 4 and have this amazing Pear Cosmo at Oswego Grill with my friend Lisa), but the recipe calls for 2. Either way, it takes some time. Afterward they're formed by hand into little buns and allowed to fluff up a bit for another hour. Before they went in the oven I topped them with King Arthur Flour's Everything Bread and Bagel Topping, which is a hodgepodge of sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and the very necessary dried onions. Essential? No. Awesome? Absolutely.

I caramelized the onion using a trick I read in Martha Stewart Food a while ago. Lots of butter, some vegetable oil, salt and pepper... and a pinch of sugar. It helps to draw out some of the natural sweetness of the onions and caramelize in the pan. As soon as the sliced onions hit the fat-laden pan, the smell brought me back to the Puyallup Fair. I haven't done the Puyallup in about a decade, but we used to go sometimes when I was in elementary school and they handed out free tickets to us (mostly in a cruel ploy to drive our parents into shelling out tons of money on ride tickets, cotton candy and other garbage non-associated with that initial getting through the door). There was a stand called Earthquake's that made simple, gigantic burgers made to induce stomach-grumblings from its delicious smell stretching all the way to Tacoma. Half-pound patties, American cheese, pickles, and a mountain of soft fried onions. I don't know if I ever got one of my very own; maybe I had some of Dad's or something. Even reminiscing on those few illicit bites probably adds a couple ounces to my frame.

The buns rose up just as I hoped they would (an outcome not always guaranteed in baking), and offered a crunch and buttery exterior coupled with a dense, chewy center. Perfect to soak up all the buttery, meaty juices from the burger patties and onions. Super goddamn good.

According to my Googling, Earthquake's brick and mortar location on South Hill in Puyallup has ceased to be. You have to get into that overpriced fair to get one, and I doubt they're handing out free tickets to the kiddlins anymore. Luckily you can recreate delicious dream burgers at home, even in the wintertime. And when you have a few extra hours on a Saturday to let yeast work its magic, you're in even better shape.

Beautiful Burger Buns (from King Arthur Flour)

  • 3/4 to 1 cup lukewarm water
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon instant yeast
  • *For best results (a smooth, slightly soft dough), use the smaller amount of water in summer (or in a humid environment), the greater amount in winter (or in a dry climate); and something in between the rest of the time.


  • 3 tablespoons melted butter

1) Mix and knead all of the dough ingredients — by hand, mixer, or bread machine — to make a soft, smooth dough.
2) Cover the dough, and let it rise for 1 to 2 hours, or until it's nearly doubled in bulk.
3) Gently deflate the dough, and divide it into 8 pieces. Shape each piece into a round ball; flatten to about 3" across. Place the buns on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, cover, and let rise for about an hour, until noticeably puffy.
4) Brush the buns with about half of the melted butter.
5) Bake the buns in a preheated 375°F oven for 15 to 18 minutes, until golden. Remove them from the oven, and brush with the remaining melted butter. This will give the buns a satiny, buttery crust.
6) Cool the buns on a rack.
Yield: 8 large buns.


  1. Those look fabulous. I'll have to bake some up again to maybe stock the freezer.

  2. I guess I'm making mini ones for Super Bowl sliders. Fun! :)