I love baking my own bread, but there are a couple of bread recipes that I wasn’t completely happy with. One was burger buns, and the other was crispy French rolls – I’d really like some homemade rolls to make banh mi at home. Once I took a look at the recipes I’ve been using, I realized why – they’re all versions of the same recipe. The recipe makes a decent, if a bit soft, pizza crust and good small loaves for soup. But, it’s not as soft as I’d like for burger and sandwich buns, and it doesn’t produce the crispy crust that’s characteristic of a good French roll.
In an effort to level up my bread making, I bought Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, read nearly every word, and started making the recipes. I was wowed by the pain à l’ancienne, impressed by the poor man’s brioche (a veganized version), and adored the Pullman loaf (again a veganized version). I made some lovely sandwich buns with it. I thought I was on my way.
Then I got completely sick of making white bread, especially after my blood sugar crashed two hours after eating French toast made with the Pullman loaf. I started yearning for the heartiness of the bread I made before, so I bought Whole Grain Breads by the same author. I made the whole wheat bread that was the cornerstone of the book, and while I loved the flavor, we both thought the texture was dry and heavy. Most of the bread I’ve been making the last few years has had about one third white flour and two thirds whole wheat. I decided to return to that ratio; however, it’s kind of a pain to calculate and measure for every recipe.
So here’s what I did: I bought a five pound bag of whole wheat flour and a two pound bag of white flour and mixed them together. Next, I opened both books and wrote down the whole wheat and the pullman bread recipes, with my vegan alterations, side by side in a spiral notebook. And then I mashed them up, DJ Schmolli style. I liked the new recipe so much I doubled the recipe the next time and made three variations, a loaf, hamburger buns, and hot dog buns. And I’m making more this week, trying hoagie buns this time.
Peter Reinhart does everything he can to coax as much flavor from flour as he can and nearly always requires that you refrigerate at least part of the dough overnight to deepen the flavor. With his whole wheat bread, he makes two mixtures. I kept this method. To make it easier, I started weighing the flour. However, I’ve continued to use volume measurements for the rest of the ingredients, given their tiny quantity. Flour can vary in density quite a bit depending on how it’s handled, but salt, yeast, and water don’t much, meaning that volumes are reasonably accurate.
The next yeasty frontier for me is a roll for banh mi. Then I’d like to tackle multigrain bread – I’m looking forward to making one that has oats, quinoa, and millet in it.
Fluffy Mostly Whole Wheat Hamburger Buns and Hotdog Buns
What I'm calling bread flour in this recipe is 2 parts King Arthur White Bread Flour and 5 parts King Arthur White Whole Wheat.
On day one
Combine the ingredients for the soaker and biga in separate bowls. Cover and refrigerate until the next day.
On day two
Remove the soaker and biga from the refrigerator for at least two hours before you plan to assemble the bread to warm up.
Flatten the soaker, then spread the biga on top. Cut into 10 to 12 pieces. Add the pieces to the bowl with a stand mixer with the remaining ingredients. Knead with dough hooks for 4 minutes. Allow the dough (and your mixer) to rest for 10 minutes. Then knead again until the dough comes together in a smooth ball, 3 to 4 minutes.
Drizzle a teaspoon or two of oil in a large bowl. Transfer the dough to the bowl and roll it around to coat it in the oil. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 1 to 1-1/2 hours.
Tip the dough out onto a work surface and divide into the desired number of pieces: 2 for loaves, 24 for burger buns, or 32 for hotdog buns. (This go-around I made 1 loaf, 6 burger buns, and 8 hot dog buns.)
For loaves, oil one or two 8-1/4 by 4-1/2 loaf pans. Shape the dough and place in the pans.
For buns, oil one or two jelly-roll pans. To shape the burger buns, roll each piece into a smooth ball, then flatten into a 4-inch disk. Set each bun 1 inch apart on the pan. To shape the hot dog buns, roll each piece into a rope 6 inches long, then flatten each rope to be 2 inches wide. Set each bun 1 inch apart on the pan.
Set the buns and loaves aside to rise for 45 minutes or more.
Bake buns at 375 F for 15 minutes. Bake the loaves at 350 F for 35-45 minutes.
If you're baking buns and a loaf, bake the buns first and turn down the temperature to 350 before you take them out of the oven. Leave the oven open while you remove the buns and pick up the loaf and that will cool down the oven enough.