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Elevate your burger game on a homemade bun

Making a better burger warranted a spread in this week’s food section.

Amid tips for seasoning, garnishing, saucing and achieving the right fat ratio was the admonishment to toast a burger’s bun. I concur that a burger is improved exponentially on a toasted bun, and I’m always baffled when diners say they prefer their bun untoasted.

But when a fresh, homemade bun enters the picture, the debate wanes in importance. Particularly when it has a slightly chewy crust and hearty crumb for soaking up all a burger’s juices.

Bake a burger bun? Why not?

We’re all making pizza dough and tending sourdough starters in the days since coronavirus, if food writers nationwide are to be believed. I’m a bit surprised that this week’s story (see Wednesday's e-edition) from the Minneapolis Star Tribune didn’t include instructions for making one. If you really want to elevate your burger game, this should be the next step.

Consider this recipe originally from the Los Angeles Times, which touted baking burger buns a couple of summers back. In my blog archives, you’ll find the Times’ recipes for brioche buns and pretzel buns. This process takes about two hours, plus rising time.

Honey Whole Wheat Burger Buns

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk, divided

1 package (2 1/2 teaspoons) active dry yeast

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons honey, divided

1 egg

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened

2 cups bread flour, plus more for dusting

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

Old-fashioned oats, sunflower or other seeds, for garnish, if desired

In a small pan, heat 1 cup of the milk over medium heat just until warmed. Remove from heat and pour milk into a small bowl or measuring cup. Stir in the yeast and 1 teaspoon of honey, then set aside until milk is foamy and yeast is activated, for about 10 minutes.

Whisk the egg in bowl of a stand mixer using whisk attachment (or in a large bowl with a hand mixer) until light and fluffy, for about 1 minute. Stir in yeast mixture and 1/4 cup honey until fully incorporated.

If using a stand mixer, switch to paddle attachment. With mixer running, add the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, until incorporated.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours and salt. With mixer running, add flour mixture, a spoonful at a time, until fully incorporated.

Remove dough to a lightly floured surface and knead until it is soft and elastic, for 5 to 7 minutes. Place dough in a large, oiled bowl and lightly cover with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm place until doubled in size, for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. (Alternatively, refrigerate dough overnight, then take it out the next day and wait for it to come to room temperature.)

Meanwhile, make a wash: Beat together remaining honey with remaining 2 tablespoons of milk.

Heat oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly grease parchment.

When dough is doubled, punch it down and divide it into 6 pieces, each weighing about 5 ounces. Form each piece into a ball, pinching seams together at base of each. Flatten ball so it’s about 1 inch thick and place on prepared baking sheet, continue until you have 6 rounds evenly spaced on the sheet.

Lightly brush each round with prepared wash (for deeper coloring, brush rounds a second time after first wash has dried), and top with the oats, seeds or other garnishes, as desired. Set aside until rounds are puffed and almost doubled in size, for about 15 minutes.

Bake rounds until they are puffed and a rich golden color, for about 20 minutes, rotating halfway for even coloring. Cool completely on a rack before slicing and serving.

Makes 6 buns.

Tribune News Service photo