Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.
Is the Thought of "Homemade" a Horror Story for You?
You say you've never baked bread?
Don't worry; I will guide you step-by-step. What's that? You tried before, and your bread was flat and leaden? If you follow my guide, you will be rewarded with hamburger buns, of which you can be proud (and they will taste amazing!).
So, let's get started.
Many hamburger bun recipes include an egg; this produces a rich dough that, although flavorful, is a bit more difficult to shape. I prefer to give you an easy-peasy recipe that will produce a yeasty dough that is a snap to shape.
- 1 1/4 cups whole milk, warmed gently in the microwave (no more than 110°F)
- 1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast (not instant)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 tablespoons softened butter
- 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- olive oil for brushing on the shaped ready-to-bake buns
Step 1: Mix and Knead
1. Place warm milk, yeast, and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Stir to combine and set aside until it begins to bubble and foam, about 10 minutes.
2 Stir in the remaining ingredients except for the olive oil. If using a stand mixer, beat with dough attachment until a cohesive dough is formed. If working by hand, stir with a sturdy spoon until a loose, shaggy dough is formed. Turn out onto a well-floured surface and begin to knead the dough.
3. Work the dough until it is smooth and elastic. Total kneading time will be about 8-10 minutes.
Step 2: Proof the Dough
1. When you have finished kneading, place the dough in a large, lightly greased mixing bowl. Turn the dough over in the bowl so that the entire ball of dough is greased. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set it in a warm place, away from drafts.
2. Let the dough sit in this cozy, safe place until doubled in size, about 1 hour. One way to test if the dough has risen enough is to lightly and quickly press two fingertips into the dough about 1/2 inch. If the indentation remains, the dough is ready for the next step.
3. Punch down the dough by pushing your fist into the center of the dough. Pull the edges of the dough to the center, and then place the dough on a lightly floured surface. It will be smooth, and bubbles will be visible under the surface.
Step 3: Shape and Prepare for the Oven
1. Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a round ball. Place the buns on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, cover, and let rise for about an hour until noticeably puffy.
2. While the dough is rising, preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.
3. Brush the buns with olive oil.
Step 4: Bake and Test for Doneness
1. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until golden. Not sure the rolls have baked long enough? Turn one over and tap the bottom with your index finger. If it sounds "hollow," your bread is done. You can also use an instant-read thermometer. The internal temperature of the bread should be 190 degrees F.
2. Immediately after you take your hamburger buns from the oven, remove them from the baking sheet and place them on a wire rack to cool. If they remain on the baking sheet, the bottoms will steam and become soggy. Setting the finished buns on an elevated cooling rack allows for air circulation and ensures that the crust will remain "crusty."
There are some foods that are amazing in their complexity—the layering of flavors and textures, the unique blends of herbs and spices. I'm thinking of French cassoulet, rich Italian bolognese, or perhaps a Latin American mole sauce. All of them are bold and elaborate, employ a lengthy list of ingredients, and require long hours of cooking. Each of them, when made correctly, is outstanding, memorable, and heavenly.
And then there is homemade bread . . . so exquisite in its pure simplicity. It's just water, flour, yeast, and salt.
How They Work Together
Flour is the foundation for good bread, and a key component of that foundation is a protein (otherwise known as gluten). Despite what you might think, gluten is not a poisonous substance. It is a nutrient, a basic part of many of our foods. When viewed under a microscope, protein looks like a spider web; it is that “web” that traps carbon dioxide bubbles. The other important part of flour is starch. When heated, starch becomes firm and supports the protein webs.
Water, when mixed with the flour, starts a chain reaction. Water reacts with starch molecules and creates gluten bonds (webs) that hold everything together. Water also carries the sugars to the yeast, helping it to bloom and form the gases that make bread dough rise.
Salt adds flavor, and it also chemically alters the gluten to make it stronger. Salt also slightly inhibits the work of the yeast; it slows it down so that bread doesn’t rise too quickly. Why is this important? If the dough rises before the gluten strands have become tight and strong, the bread will collapse. (Think of how much sturdier a balloon is than a bubble).
And yeast. Here’s the really cool part—did you know that yeast is a living thing? Enzymes in the yeast, when mixed with water, break down the starch molecules, converting them to simple sugars. And why? Yeast eats sugar. Sugar goes in, is digested by the yeast microbe, and then carbon dioxide is formed. It’s that gas, trapped in the webs, that makes your dough rise.
© 2019 Linda Lum