A recipe for soft, pillowy milk buns just waiting for you to turn them into your hamburger and cheeseburger dreams, topped with patties and all the fixings.
It was my youngest daughter’s birthday. I’m sure she wanted sushi. For her, the sun rises in the morning with the sole purpose of acquiring raw fish and vegetables rolled in sticky rice and seaweed. An instant day brightener on the rainiest of afternoons is the promise of a trip to the sushi counter.
However, on account of our transient dinner guests who were set to arrive with gifts for the towheaded member of my entourage, the two of us set out to make burgers better instead.
We already had the grass-fed beef for patties, cheese of several varieties, a wide array of farmers market toppings and fresh-from-the-backyard items, and we were even sporting homemade condiments for the burger-loving birthday affair. The critical component that was missing, however, was the wrapper on which to rest all these layers, the outer casing that holds the entire cheeseburger experience together: The bun.
Growing up, I was never a fan of homemade hamburger buns. Specifically we’re going to focus on one word in that previous sentence: homemade. In my experience, homemade buns often have a bit of sweetness to them that I’m not interested in and a chewy texture that didn’t mimic that of the burger joints I sought out for my cheeseburger fix.
After years of misses, of seeking out expensive bakery buns or suffering with commercial cardboard, I finally revisited my burger bun impasse and went down a different road, trying my hand at milk buns instead of looking to modify brioche or to make the most of a dinner roll disaster.
I employed the birthday girl herself to do the mixing and the measuring, sitting back to watch as she held her younger brother’s hand when it was time to brush the tender dough, and later beamed as she told her guests that she made the buns for her birthday meal.
I’ve had this post in draft for a while now, and it seemed apropos to publish it since today is National Cheeseburger Day. The harvest moon comes out tonight, the pumpkin-kissed sphere rising in the eastern sky as a promise that winter is coming. You can kiss summer goodbye this weekend during the autumnal equinox on Sunday by turning the grill on and baking buns in the oven to warm the house.
The resulting bun has a creamy quality imparted into it from the milk, and the egg wash provides just the right amount of golden glaze and support on the outside, allowing you to overfill the inside with all manner of meats and melted cheeses. I’ve been a bit overzealous in my delight of them as of late, serving and eating a greater number of cheeseburgers this month than in the eleven that came before it, which clearly means I need to share my bits of advice on how to build a better burger next.
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (one package)
4 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
1 tablespoon honey
1 1/2 cups whole milk (at room temperature)
1 egg (at room temperature)
2 1/4 cups bread flour
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons olive oil
For the egg wash:
1 egg + 1 teaspoon water, beaten together
sesame seeds or poppy seeds, optional
Pour the warm water into a large bowl. Sprinkle the yeast over the top and allow to sit for five minutes. Add in the butter and the honey and whisk until combined, then add the milk and egg, whisking again to combine.
Using a fork, slowly combine the bread flour, all-purpose flour, and the salt until a soft dough forms. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead into a ball. Knead for 6-8 minutes, adding just enough flour to keep it from sticking to the surface, until the dough is soft and pliable and slightly tacky to the touch.
Add the olive oil to a large bowl, coating the sides. Place the dough in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a light towel and let rise in a warm place for 1 1/2 – 2 hours or until doubled in size.
Once the dough has risen, turn the dough again onto a floured surface. Pull together to form a ball, and then divide the dough into 12 equal pieces. Roll each piece of dough into a tight ball and place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet spread 4 inches apart, approximately 6 balls of dough per sheet. Cover the dough with lightly greased plastic wrap and allow to rise for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 410º F. Remove the plastic wrap from the baking sheets. Brush the tops of the dough with the egg wash, taking care to cover the entire surface. Sprinkle with sesame seeds or poppy seeds, if desired.
Bake for 15-18 minutes or until buns are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. Internal temperature of the buns should be 180º F.
Remove the buns from the oven. Allow to rest for at least 15 minutes before serving or slicing.
Makes 12 hamburger-sized buns.