Dinner Buns

Everyone loves dinner buns.

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For me, the best part of holiday dinners growing up was eating the probably horribly processed white buns that my parents would get from the store every time. Why eat real, home-made food that’s been lovingly hand crafted by doting parental units when you can just mow down hardcore on a twelve-pack of refined flour and white sugar awesomeness?

My God those buns were good.

As a professional baker and, regrettably, an adult, I no longer view that kind of bread as “good.” It is a representation of a lot of the things currently wrong in the contemporary bread spectrum; mainly, that it’s full of crappy ingredients and doesn’t ferment or rise properly. You don’t need to take the shortcut of adding in an obscene amount of sugar and not caring about proper fermentation in order to get great bread. Making bread is easy. Making basic ass white bread is doubly easy. Can’t you just like, turn that white bread dough into some kind of bun shape and then get fresh buns?

The answer is a very obvious yes. Professionals, and probably your mom (and most certainly your grandmother) would give you an “is this guy for fucking real” kind of of look upon asking them. If this wasn’t an obvious 20170402_185231yes to you, don’t despair. Most people born in the 90’s have grown up without really knowing all that much about true bread. What may have been common knowledge in ages past is now seen as some kind of mystical secret, a kind of ancient wisdom passed down from one baker to the next or whatever. This is an incorrect viewpoint. Bread is magical, yes, but not unobtainable.

If some guy in Egypt thousands of years ago can make a damn fine loaf of bread with his feet¹, you can do it in a modern setting with your hands and, hopefully, a clean and sanitized work station.

So yeah. If you don’t care about anything I might have to say with regards to dinner buns, scroll down to the bottom to skip the theory and get a shorthand recipe. You’ll be missing out on my colorful commentary and pictures of bread though, which, I would assume, is half the reason you’re here in the first place.

Do what makes you happy, (wo)man.

Things you will need:

  • Flour, milk (the fatter the better (or just use water)), salt, yeast, canola oil (or butter/margarine), and white sugar.
  • A medium to large-sized mixing bowl.
  • A digital scale (or cup measurements, teaspoons & tablespoons, if you’re a scrub)
  • A cookie sheet or a cake pan and some parchment paper.
  • Spray oil.
  • Plastic wrap.
  • Hands (or feet. Whatever.).

This dough differs from the basic ass white bread in that it has the addition of sugar and fat. Sugar, obviously, gives the dough a sweeter taste. It also provides extra food for the yeast to feast upon and will help make the crust an attractive brown color. Sugars caramelize when cooked, giving food that nice brown look. It’s no different here. The addition of fat creates a more tender inside for the finished product. Picture in your mind the difference in interior texture between a fancy french baguette or ciabatta bread, with its big sexy holes and airiness, to that of a moist, white cake. Same flour/water application, only differing in a few key ingredients, one of them being fat. This dough, like most bread doughs, lands somewhere in the middle between artisan bread and cake in terms of internal consistency.

As always, measurements will be provided primarily in grams but also in volume. Always go for the grams if you can. Get a scale. They are cheap. This recipe will get you 720 grams of dough, which is enough for twelve 60 gram buns.

Ingredients –

  • Bread Flour: 395 grams (735 ml (a little less than 3 cups))
  • Milk (or water): 237 grams (237 ml (a little less than 1 cup))
  • Salt: 8 grams (7 ml (about 1 and a half teaspoons))
  • Instant Yeast: 5 grams (8 ml (about 1 and a half teaspoons))
  • Canola Oil (or butter/margarine): 38 grams (41 ml (3 and a half tablespoons))
  • White Sugar: 38 grams (45 ml (3 tablespoons))

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You can freely swap between using milk or water in this recipe. Using milk will result in a softer, denser end product, which most people will expect out of a dinner bun. You can even use pseudo-milks like soy or almond, so long as you go for the unflavored ones. Similarly, you can swap butter or margarine out for the canola oil. In this kind of bread, the kind of fat you use won’t make a huge difference. Butter is obviously going to be the best, but you could use coconut oil or olive oil or EarthBalance vegan butter substitute without any real issues. Just make sure that if you do choose to use a solid fat that it’s at room temperature, otherwise you’re going to have a bad time.

Method –

 

 

20170402_181107Weight everything up in separate containers. Or, if you feel you’ve got the balls, weigh it all into one bowl. Just make sure you don’t let the yeast touch the salt until you start mixing. If the yeast gets wet and interacts with the salt, there’s a chance it will die and your bread will be trash. Add everything in a little pile into the mixing bowl in it’s own little pile. Then, get to mixing.

Mix the dough with a spatula or whatever until you can’t. Then, dump out the bowl and scrape the contents onto your clean and sanitized work surface. It will look like a shaggy pile of crap. Don’t worry. Using the magic of our hands (or feet), we will turn it into something arguably better. Knead until it is done.

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Kneading is, as always, an exercise in patience. It will take time to develop your kneading technique. Even a seasoned baking professional who happens to have an excessive amount of upper body strength would be unlikely to finish kneading a small dough such as this in under ten minutes. Just keep going until it’s smooth and uniform. If you have to ask yourself if it is done, it is not. Knead on.

The next step is to spray the dough with spray oil, wrap it in saran wrap, and wait until it has doubled in size. Depending on the ambient temperature in your kitchen, this may take anywhere from 40 minutes to 120 minutes. Keep an eye on it and use a thing for reference. In the pictures below, I use my dough scraper as a means to judge how much the dough has expanded by. This helps immensely.

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In my kitchen, 80 minutes was sufficient to double the size. The dough scraper at the top of the photographs works wonderfully as a measuring device. You can use anything, really, so long as it doesn’t also grow and morph while the dough does its thing.

20170402_204712The next step is to divide the dough into 60 gram pieces and roll it into bun shapes. Explaining this step via words alone is, admittedly, stupid. I could say something like “roll the bun” and you would interpret that very, very differently than I. Text is a limited medium. I recommended checking the following link for a visual demonstration on how to roll buns like a boss: click here.

20170402_213426Once your buns are rolled, it’s time to pan them up. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or spray a cake pan with non-stick spray. If you choose to use a cake pan with tall sides so that your buns all have flat sides, be aware that many cake pans don’t bake bread as nice as the parchment-on-a-cookie-sheet method. Depending on your specific brand of cake pan, it may not transfer heat desirably from the oven environment to your bread. The more open your bread is in the oven, the nicer it’s going to bake. Arrange your buns in a neat and orderly fashion on the parchment or in the pan. If you tray up your buns too far apart, they will not bake together and get that nice “dinner bunny” look and just kind of look like regular round buns. Tray up your buns so that the edges are touching one another. This will ensure that, as they proof and bake, they will bake together. Spray with oil, cover in saran wrap, and let rise until doubled, usually about one hour. Turn your oven on to 400 degrees.

As you can see, I used a cake pan AND did not tray up my buns close enough. I foolishly expected the dough to rise more than it did and realized the error of my ways as soon as I put all twelve buns into the cake pan. Rather than get a different pan, I just went for it. Perhaps not the best choice.

Moving on. It took 80 minutes for the dough to reach t20170402_232547he point of doubling. I scored each bun with a little cross because I think it looks cute. Use the sharpest knife you can to score the buns, and don’t use a serrated knife (unless it’s really, REALLY sharp). Serrated edges can drag while cutting, mucking up your dough and making it look less like artisan designed bread art and more like a three year old’s first attempt at play-dough. Once you are finished scoring, toss your pan in the oven and turn the temperature down to 350 degrees. Set a timer for 8 minutes; once it beeps, rotate the pan and set the timer for another 8 minutes. The buns should be done in 15 – 20 minutes, depending on your oven. Once nicely browned, take them out and put them on a cooling rack. Let them rest at least one hour before cutting into, or just put them onto a plate and then onto the dinner table so that you and your guests can eat fresh, hot dinner buns like a bunch of savages.20170403_043439

You will notice that my buns are not closely connected. They all have a nice, round shape, easily discernible from one another. Ideally, they would be closer together and be one, big  sheet that you have to manually separate individual buns from. Again, I did not pan them up evenly enough. I plan to make another batch in the next few days and update this post with the photographs to illustrate this point. I apologize for nothing. These buns were damn tasty regardless of proximity.

So, that’s buns. The same basic dough as everything else, spiked with a bit of sugar and fat, baked in cute little round shapes as opposed to a long loaf or what-have-you. Try it yourself. I recommend using whole-milk and butter for maximum flavor and texture. Using just water and canola oil works just fine, as is evidenced by the buns you see before you. Get a scale out and try making them for yourself, and check out the video for a better explanation of how to roll them out.

Good luck,

— The Breadest

Express Recipe (a.k.a. “Exprecipe” lol)

Ingredients –

  • Bread Flour: 395 grams (735 ml (a little less than 3 cups))
  • Milk (or water): 237 grams (237 ml (a little less than 1 cup))
  • Salt: 8 grams (7 ml (about 1 and a half teaspoons))
  • Instant Yeast: 5 grams (8 ml (about 1 and a half teaspoons))
  • Canola Oil (or butter/margarine): 38 grams (41 ml (3 and a half tablespoons))
  • White Sugar: 38 grams (45 ml (3 tablespoons))

Method – 

Weigh it.

Mix it.

Knead it.

Rest it.

Divide it.

Roll it.

Rest it.

Preheat it.

Score it.

Bake it.

Cool it.

Eat it.

UPDATE – April 5th, 2017

Well, I said I would re-do this recipe with the buns closer together to illustrate proper dinner bun technique, and here I am.

As a primer, I feel obligated to mention that these buns were so friggin’ good that 75% of them were consumed by two people in about three hours. No shits given, carbs are life.

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I started out with the exact same recipe as above, but instead of doing 60 gram buns, each bun was weighed out to 50 grams. I use a similar styled pan with raised edges and put 25 buns in a 5×5 pattern in it, lined with parchment paper.

 

The buns on the left have just been panned up, and the buns on the right have been proofing for about one hour. Notice how they are already getting all touchy-feely with one another. This is what I like. This is what you want to see. As the majority of size-expansion should happen in the oven, these guys are destined to get even closer.

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As always, score your bread. By making it look visually appealing, your friends and family will think you are a cool guy/girl. This is important.

The buns baked for about 18 minutes at 400 degrees and came out pretty dark on top. They look almost blackened in the pictures, but they were absolutely perfect in real life. Could not have been more brown without burning. I did use the addition of steam while baking these buns. Steam is an essential technique for expert bread baking, but it is a complex topic worthy of it’s own posting. This is a technique for another day. You can make buns that are mind-blowingly good without steam, I assure you.

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In these buns, I am vindicated. My previous ones were “alright,” but certainly not exemplary. This particular batch turned out real nice, and serves as a demonstration as to how two batches of the exact same bread can turn out radically different, based purely on how close your buns are touching. These buns are a wonderful throwback to the garbage buns my parents used to get. Similar in size and function, but exponentially better in terms of taste, aroma, and nutrition (sort of).

So there you have it. Hit me up if you have questions on how to get this done. It’s not hard. You can do it. You can have jaw-droppingly good buns to show off at your next social gathering. “Don’t be the person who brings the booze, drugs, or pizza: be the person who brings the fresh, home-made bread.”(-The Breadest) It’s a good way to make fast friends at parties.

I’ve done it, and I’m unimaginably popular in real life. Everyone knows it.

The Breadest

 


 

1: Ancient Egyptians kneaded bread with their feet because they were busy people who didn’t give a shit about food safety. Also, they found that the dough that got foot-kneaded (fneaded?) rose nicely and produced a better end product, largely due to all the delicious yeast all up in their toes being transferred into the dough and then fermenting. Look it up.

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