Sometimes going to great lengths to create the ultimate version of a common food gets nothing but eye rolls from the people who see me cooking (Kat mainly). And then they try the food.
Hamburgers are the perfect example. Other than the annoying incompatibility of packaged quantities (ten frozen patties and only eight buns in a bag–what is one to do?) hamburgers are very easy to make passably with very little effort. This state-of-affairs is ripe for exploitation by the committed cook. Few people have a taste memory for what lamb tagine tastes like so when a well-executed one is served they, I think, are more impressed by the exoticness of the recipe rather than by the trouble that went into cooking it well. But just about every North American can sense by comparison when they are served a really great burger.For me the first step (well, at least since I started writing this blog) in my quest to produce an excellent burger was detailed in the post Burgers With Legs. I have read quite a few great posts on Serious Eats‘ A Hamburger Today and particularly enjoyed Kenji Alt’s 12 Burgers in 8 Hours, a Burger Bender. Kenji’s top pick during his road trip from Boston to New York was New York’s Shake Shack that has received an amazing amount of online respect. In this post on chowhound Mark Hokoda reveals that the highly-praised Shake Shack bun is a Martin’s Potato Roll. These are apparently baked in Pennsylvannia and widely available in grocery stores in the northeastern United States–not to mention New York’s new Citifield. As far as I can tell grocery stores in Canada do not carry this superior product so the second step in my search for the ultimate burger will be trying to duplicate them at home.
Through google (naturally) I came across a recipe called Grandma Rose’s Potato Rolls which seemed like an excellent place to start. They are enriched with potatoes, eggs, sugar, melted butter, and milk. Though this sounds like it tends more towards a brioche than a typical hamburger bun that may be a good thing. I have read descriptions of Martin’s Potato Rolls that used the words “eggy” and “buttery” and the pictures I’ve seen (like the ones in the Serious Eats post about Citifield) show them having a yellowish colour that indicates the presence of eggs and butter. So Grandma Rose’s recipe was a go.
Obviously for a hamburger bun you don’t want the traditional three-leaved clover look that dinner rolls have so I omitted that step from my adaptation. I also cut the ingredient quantities in half and divided the dough in four to make four buns. In fact I should definitely have divided into six (if not eight) since at a quarter of the recipe each bun has a cooked weight of six ounces (which is what I think a good patty should weigh–at most) and overwhelms the meat.
In terms of yeast, Grandma Rose was obviously using active dry instead of instant yeast. If you’re using the latter (I recommend that you do) don’t worry about letting the yeast bloom and scale back the amount of yeast to two teaspoons for the approximately three cups of flour.
It is important to add the mashed potatoes to the rest of the wet ingredients and whisk them thoroughly so they integrate evenly into the dough. Their presence will make the dough feel like it’s not coming together when you start kneading. Try to persevere without adding more liquid but if at the three or four minute mark it still resembles pie dough and not bread dough add warm water one teaspoon at a time.
Another key for a really excellent hamburger bun is that as many of its edges as possible are straight so that the patty sticks out a bit and so they have the recognisably soft texture that is different from the crustier kaiser roll. This can be achieved by positioning the dough balls in a 9X9 brownie pan so that their edges just barely touch before proofing. Once they rise a bit on the counter and more in the oven they will join together enough to keep the edges soft but will still be separable.
Hamburger Rolls with Legs
Adapted from Grandma Rose’s Potato Rolls
- 3 cups all-purpose flour (especially if you are using at least a high quality US flour or an average quality Canadian. Otherwise use bread flour.)
- 2 tsp instant yeast
- 2 TBs warm water (if you’re making the potatoes just before making this recipe use that water, otherwise tap is fine)
- 2 TBs plus 2 tsp (1/6 cup) white sugar
- 5 g (just more than 1 tsp) kosher salt
- 1/2 cup warm milk
- 1/2 cup mashed potatoes (if the potatoes are being made just for this recipe use 1 medium sized potato and don’t add cream or butter just mash or rice it, if using leftover mashed potatoes don’t sweat it)
- 1 egg
- 2 TBs plus 2 tsp (1/6 cup) melted unsalted butter
- Mix the salt and instant yeast into the flour in a large bowl.
- Crack the egg into a medium bowl, beat well. Add the warm water, sugar, warm milk, melted butter, and mashed potatoes. Whisk until the potatoes are thoroughly integrated.
- Mix the wet ingredients into the flour and stir, with a wooden or metal spoon, until the dough forms a shaggy mass. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for ten minutes. If after four the dough has not come together like a typical bread dough add a bit more warm water one teaspoon at a time.
- Lightly oil a large bowl (this is an instance where cooking spray is really the best option) roll the dough ball around the bowl to coat it in oil and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Place the bowl in a warm location and let the dough rise until it has doubled in volume. Turn the dough onto a counter and gently stretch into a roughly rectangular shape. Pull one of the short edges two-thirds of the way across towards the other short side, and pull the second short edge to meet the newly-formed fold. Turn ninety degrees and repeat the business letter fold. Return the dough to the bowl, re-cover the bowl, and let rise for another thirty minutes.
- After thirty minutes divide the dough into six equal balls (using a digital scale may seem over-the-top in this case but it makes things easier) flatten each ball slightly and place them in a 9-inch by 9-inch brownie pan so that their edges barely touch, cover the pan with a kitchen towel and allow the rolls to proof while the oven pre-heats to 375 degrees F.
- Bake the rolls for 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown on top and sound hollow when the bottom is tapped. Turn out and allow to cool before pulling them apart, slicing in half and toasting.