I Like Big Buns and I Can Not Lie {Whole Wheat Flax Sandwich Buns}

hamburger fries
Oh, my god, Becky. Look at that bun. It is so big!

For some reason, the title of this post has been stuck in my head for far too long.  In fact, I think I said it to a friend a month or so ago (you know, in my best Sir Mix-A-Lot impression) and she looked at me pityingly and said “you know it’s actually ‘I like big butts‘, right?”  And, yes, I do know that.  But for some reason every time I think of hamburger buns (my anaconda don’t want none), this song goes running through my head. 

I’m weird.

But, I’m also persistent, and that’s why I’m bringing these big buns to you today.  Because I’ve been working on them on and off for more than 2 years, and I think I’ve finally gotten them right.

inside bun

I’ve been trying for a soft, tender whole-wheat hamburger bun since I started grinding wheat and baking bread.  It’s been a challenge – they’re either too dry, too tough, too dense, too something.  These, though, are nice and light, with enough structure to stand up to a nice “thick and juicy” burger or a sloppy barbecue sandwich.

This recipe starts in the bread machine, and finishes on a baking sheet in the oven.

pile o' buns

Whole Wheat Flax Sandwich Buns

yields: 12 3.25 oz. buns

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup plus 1/2 Tablespoon milk
  • 1 egg
  • 4 1/2 Tablespoons butter
  • 3 3/4 Tablespoons Sucanat (or sugar)
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 4 1/3 cups freshly ground hard white wheat flour
  • 2/3 cup ground golden flax seed meal
  • 1 Tablespoon active dry yeast

buns1

  1. Place ingredients in the pan of your bread machine in the order listed.
  2. Turn on the dough cycle
  3. Once the dough has been mixed, kneaded and been through two rises, remove the pan from the bread machine and divide the dough into 12 equal portions.  It might be a little sticky – that’s okay.  Simply coat your hands with a little olive oil to make handling easier.
  4. Roll each portion into a ball and place on a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or sprayed with cooking spray.  Flatten them slightly when you place them on the sheet.
  5. Spray the tops with cooking spray and cover loosely with plastic wrap
  6. Place in a warm area to rise for another hour
  7. Once they’ve risen, preheat your oven to 375F
  8. Brush tops of buns with an egg wash (one whole egg mixed with 1 Tablespoon of water) and sprinkle with sesame seeds, rolled oats, poppy seeds or the topping of your choice (optional).
  9. Bake at 375F for 20 minutes or until tops are golden brown.
  10. Remove from oven and place on a rack to cool before slicing.
  11. Enjoy!

Baby got back.

Let Them Eat Brioche

This recipe may seem a little ill-timed, since tonight marks the end of the Carnival season and tomorrow is the beginning of Lent.  If you’re making any sort of Lenten resolutions, you probably won’t be baking this any time in the next forty days.  However, it was too good not to share, so I thought I’d go ahead and put it out there for you debaucherous souls who might want to give it a go.

Given that today is Mardi Gras, I wanted to treat the family to some traditional gumbo and a Gateau des Roi.  I didn’t grow up eating King Cake, or really observing Mardi Gras at all.  As such, I have no reference for what makes a good King Cake.  As an adult, I’ve seen a number of different (shortcut) variations, including cinnamon roll-based cakes and crescent roll based cakes.  While I knew that these recipes that used processed and pre-packaged ingredients were probably not the most traditional versions, they did give me a basic idea of what a King Cake entails – rich buttery dough, stuffed with a sweet filling and topped with a sugary glaze

With some digging, I discovered that traditional King Cake consists of rich brioche bread, filled with cinnamon, almond paste or cream cheese and glazed with simple icing sugar glaze.  They are often sprinkled with purple, green and yellow sanding sugar to reflect the colors of Mardi Gras.  I figured if I could find a good brioche recipe, the rest would be a piece of cake (ha-ha).

For the brioche recipe, I turned to a trusted and reliable source: Michael Ruhlman.  The tagline on Ruhlman’s website is “translating the Chef’s craft for every kitchen,” and he does a skillful job doing just that.  His recipes are well tested, and you can be assured that you will find success if you follow his instructions.  I knew that any brioche recipe I found on his site would be delightful.  When I saw that it called for five whole eggs and twelve ounces of butter (that’s three whole sticks), I figured it could not disappoint.

Since I followed his recipe almost to the letter, I’ll suggest that you click on over to his site if you want to make it.  I did substitute freshly ground hard white wheat flour for the bread flour that he suggests and I used honey granules in place of the sugar.  I also shortened the second rise, choosing to let the dough rise in a warm oven for one hour instead of in the refrigerator overnight.

To make the brioche into a King Cake, I made a cream cheese filling, combining eight ounces of cream cheese, 1/2 cup of honey granules, one large egg, three tablespoons of flour and the zest of one lemon.  I beat this all together until it was smooth.  After the dough had risen the first time (and doubled in volume – this took approximately three hours at room temperature), I punched it down and rolled it out into a long, thin rectangle.  I spread the filling evenly onto the rectangle and folded the dough over onto itself, pinching the edges to seal the filling inside.  I then formed it into a ring and placed it in a greased tube pan.  I covered it with plastic wrap, and let it rise in a warm oven (preheated to 150F, then turned off) for about an hour.

To bake it off, I preheated the oven to 350F, baked the cake for 20 minutes uncovered, then 25 minutes tented with parchment paper (to keep it from getting too brown).  Once it was fully baked, I removed it from the oven, turned it out onto a cooling rack and allowed it to cool completely.

For the glaze, I combined 2 cups of powdered sugar with a couple of tablespoons of heavy cream, stirring to combine.  I added a 1/2 a teaspoon of pure vanilla extract, then glazed the cake once it had cooled completely.

Even if you don’t make a king cake, I highly recommend this brioche recipe – it practically melts in your mouth it’s so buttery.  I can imagine using it for breakfast in french toast, or making a decadent croque-monsieur (or even more decadent croque-madame) with it.  In this instance, stuffed (albeit unevenly) with slightly sweet cream cheese and smothered with creamy vanilla glaze, it was the perfect way to top off our family Fat Tuesday celebration.

Now, what to do with the leftovers tomorrow?

Bread, My Fickle Mistress

I’ve been baking all of our family’s bread for the last year, and it has been one roller-coaster of a ride. Every two weeks or so, I bake four loaves of bread.  My husband and oldest son eat a sandwich for lunch every weekday. Sometimes we have toast for breakfast.  Sometimes I just like to eat a piece of bread with butter for a snack.  We like bread.

When I first started the process of grinding all of our wheat and baking all of our bread, I was pretty successful.  I used this recipe, and it proved to be a good one for about the first six months.  Then something happened.  I’m not really sure what it was, but my loaves went from being light and soft to dense and hard.  The gluten didn’t develop, they tasted a little too yeasty and they fell apart easily when you tried to slice them.

But, I soldiered on.  And the boys were troopers – they kept eating their daily sandwiches on this failed bread-like substance.  I tried a variety of things to help remedy the problem – more liquid, less liquid, a different combination of flours (more red wheat, less white wheat, more kamut, some soft white wheat), honey vs. molasses vs. maple syrup vs. sucanat, butter vs. coconut oil – you name it, I tried it.  Every so often, I’d get a good loaf or two, but the next time I tried to replicate what I’d done, it was back to dense bricks.

I could even tell in the mixer that it was going to be a failure.  Instead of long, rubbery strands of gluten, the dough would just come apart in short, stubby wads.  Windowpane test?  Forget it. I was beginning to think that maybe bread and I just weren’t meant to be.

Sigh.

Then the other day, I saw this post for Oatmeal Sandwich Bread over on Art & Lemons.  She described it as “soft” and “pillow-like,”  and I knew I needed to try it.

Her recipe was based on one from Kim Boyce’s Good to the Grain

Note to self: buy this book.  Soon.

Anyway, the recipe seemed simple enough, and it used a technique I hadn’t tried before – autolysis.  This is where you mix the dry ingredients and liquids together and let them rest for 30 minutes before adding the salt and kneading.  From what I gather, this allows the flour to better absorb the liquid, thereby allowing for more effective gluten development.

The first batch I baked came out perfectly.  Soft, pillow-like loaves with tons of flavor and a beautiful open crumb.

The second batch?  Yea – not so much.  Flat failures.

Bread, why do you hate me so?

But once again, I soldiered on.  I turned to ye olde interwebs to discover the source of my problem, and I think perhaps I’ve been overworking my dough.  It seems, based on a number of sources, that if you over-knead your bread or if you let it over-rise, the gluten strands can break.  Who knew?  I’ve been abusing my bread all this time. Here I was blaming the bread, when all along it was me.

This time, the third time really was the charm.  This bread is kind of spectacular.  I mean, if sandwich bread can be spectacular. I think I’m in love (again).

Whole Grain Sandwich Bread (adapted from this recipe at Art & Lemons)
prep time: 45 minutes
rise time: 2 hours
bake time: 30 minutes
yields: 2 1-lb. loaves

Ingredients

  • 2 cups warm water
  • 3 Tablespoons honey (could also use maple syrup or molasses)
  • 4 Tablespoons cultured butter, melted and cooled (could also use coconut oil)
  • 1 Tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 4 cups freshly ground hard white wheat, sifted
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 tablespoon unrefined sea salt
  1. Combine water, honey, butter and yeast in the bowl of your electric mixer and let sit for 5 minutes so yeast can bloom
  2. Add the flour and oats to the water mixture and stir to combine.  Let rest for 30 minutes.
  3. Add the salt and knead in the mixer, using the dough hook attachment, for 6 minutes.  Dough will be a little sticky and should slap the sides of the bowl as it mixes.  It should be very elastic (long, rubbery strands of gluten) after six minutes.
  4. Remove the bowl from the mixer, cover with a damp towel, and let rise in a warm place for one hour (I usually preheat my oven to 150F, then turn it off and set the bowl in the warmed oven).
  5. After an hour, the dough should have doubled in volume.  Scrape it out of the bowl onto a lightly floured surface.
  6. Grease two 1-lb. loaf pans
  7. Divide the dough in half and knead one half a few times, forming it into a loaf-shaped rectangle.  Repeat with the other half
  8. Place the dough in the loaf pans and cover loosely with plastic wrap
  9. Let rise in a warm place for one hour, or until doubled in bulk.
  10. Preheat the oven to 350F
  11. Carefully remove the plastic wrap and transfer the risen loaves to the oven (take care not to deflate them)
  12. Bake for 30 minutes, rotating them after the first 15 minutes to ensure even baking.
  13. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack.  Allow to cool for at least a couple of hours before slicing.
  14. Enjoy!

Holiday traditions: Panettone

For quite a few years, our family has had a tradition of making french toast on Christmas morning.  For the longest time we made it with Challa because of it’s rich eggy flavor and wonderful texture – perfect for soaking up all that custardy goodness.

One year, though, we discovered the wonders of french toast made with panettone, and we’ve never looked back (at least on Christmas morning).

For about five years, I worked for Williams-Sonoma, and believe you me, I took advantage of the discounts that their associates receive every chance I got.  Oh, how I miss that discount.

Anyway, every year at Christmas, they would sell these huge tins of panettone chock-full of dried fruit and these lovely candied chestnuts.  And every year I would hope and pray that there would be one left after they went on sale toward the end of the season (you see, they cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $25 each, which was more than I was willing to pay for a loaf of bread – I don’t care how good it was).  Luckily, most years I was able to score one, and I would proudly bring it home and make the best french toast you ever did taste.

It’s been quite a few years since I’ve worked at the old W-S, and I’ve managed to make do each year since with other brands of panettone, but the tradition has definitely continued.

A couple of years ago, my mother tried her hand at making panettone at home, and she was sorely disappointed with the results.  It turned out dry and cakey, without the lovely light, moist crumb that you expect from good panettone.  I’m not sure what recipe she used, so I can’t steer you clear of it, unfortunately.

This year, I decided to throw my own hat in the ring and make a go of it.  I searched the internet for recipes, wanting to find a really good authentic version.  Unfortunately, I found that most folks who claimed exceptional results were hesitant to share their secrets.  There was one constant thread, though, that ran through most of the success stories, and that was using a sponge starter, biga or sourdough starter.  Evidently, the most traditional versions are made this way in Italy, and the best results are achieved by doing so.

In my search, I came across this website, which gave a cute little history of the bread, detailing the story of a protective father, a smitten suitor and a resulting famous loaf of bread that has lived on in infamy for centuries.  Additionally, it gave a recipe.  It seemed straightforward enough and it used a sponge starter, which appears to be the key to all good panettone.

A couple of people who’d written up their panettone adventures mentioned using Peter Reinhart’s recipe from the Bread Baker’s Apprentice.  His starter uses buttermilk in place of water, which seemed like an intriguing idea to me.  I’ve recently begun replacing the water in my bread recipes with the whey I have leftover from various cheese-making experiments.  Since whey is similar to what buttermilk used to be before it became the modified food-starch and carageenen-laden cultured skim milk you find in the grocery store these days, I thought it might work here.

And I was right.

Panettone
prep time: 18-24 hours
bake time: 45 minutes
yields: 1 large loaf
Ingredients
1/2 Tablespoon dry  yeast
1/4 cup warm whey (110 – 115 degrees F)
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup apple cider
1 Tablespoon honey or agave nectar
5 tablespoons butter, room temperature
2 eggs
4 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup warm whey
   (110 – 115 degrees F)
1 tablespoon vanilla
4-4 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup chopped candied citrus peel
  1. Begin by combining yeast, 1/4 cup of warm whey and 1/2 cup of flour in a container.  Stir to combine thoroughly and let sit for at least 6 hours or overnight (mine sat for about 8 or 9 hours).
  2. Combine raisins, cranberries, apple cider and honey or agave nectar in a bowl and let soak while the starter is resting.
  3. After the 6-hour window has passed, drain the liquid from the fruit and press to remove as much moisture as possible.  Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, combine the softened buttter, eggs, egg yolks, sugar, 1/4 cup warm whey and vanilla.  Stir to thoroughly combine.
  5. Add the starter to the egg mixture and stir to combine
  6. Gradually add the flour, sifting one cup at the time into the bowl an stirring to combine before adding the next cup.
  7. Once last cup of flour has been added, you may have to mix by hand to incorporate.  
  8. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead vigorously until the dough forms a smooth ball – about 10 minutes.
  9. Butter a large bowl, place the dough in there and turn to coat both sides with butter.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.  Set in  a warm place to rise for at least 6 hours (mine rose overnight, and actually over-rose the bowl I put it in – oops!).
  10. To make the panettone mold, I used an 8-inch cake pan with 2 1/2-sides, and made a tall collar out of parchment paper – the whole thing was probably 10-inches tall by the time I got done with it.
  11. Butter/spray your panettone mold thoroughly
  12. Punch down the risen dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface.
  13. Shape the dough into a rectangle and sprinkle the raisins, cranberries and candied citrus over the surface.
  14. Fold the dough in thirds, covering the fruit, and knead it to fully and evenly distribute the fruit (this was a messy process, and required me to continually add more flour to keep the dough and fruit from sticking to my board.  In the end it yielded a fairly homogeneous mixture).
  15. Place the dough in your prepared pan and allow it to rise for at least another hour (I let mine go for a couple of hours, while I was running last-minute Christmas errands).
  16. Preheat your oven to 375F.
  17. Cut an X in the top of the dough and place the panettone in the oven to bake at 375F for 15minutes (the top element of my oven gets really hot, and tends to burn things if I’m not careful.  After the first 15 minutes, I had to cover the panettone with foil to keep it from burning to a crisp.  As you can tell by the pictures, it got pretty brown in that first 15 minutes).
  18. Lower the temperature to 350F and bake for another 30-35 minutes, or until a long skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  19. Allow to cool on a rack on the countertop for 30 minutes before removing it from the mold.

What resulted was a lovely, light, moist loaf of panettone.  It isn’t too sweet, and it has just enough fruit in it so that you can taste it, but it’s not overpowering.  I think it will make a wonderful french toast on Christmas morning.

If I don’t eat it all before then.

Try it and let me know what you think!

Enjoy, and Merry Christmas!