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The wonderful Kentucky food blog Gourmandistan introduced us to excellent homemade hamburger buns, as to so many other delicious, beautifully photographed foods. For their “Lard-Lashed Hamburger Buns,” the Gourmandistanis used, adapted, and credited a Peter Reinhart recipe from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. The original ingredients and proportions for these buns work beautifully and easily in a bread machine, using the “Dough” setting, which kneads the dough and keeps the chamber warm for rising, but does not bake. Just what we need to make perfect buns for our local, homemade cookout.

 Every bread machine differs a little in suggested order of loading and in settings. The recipe below rearranges the bun ingredients in an order that works for machines that load liquids first, then dry ingredients on top. Check your machine’s preferred order and modify as needed. You’re up to it!

 Note: you will use the machine only to mix and knead the dough, NOT to bake the buns.

 Yield: This recipe yields at least 16 regular-sized buns (about 4” in diameter), and more if you like smaller buns for smaller burgers. Unused buns freeze well for later use.

 Ingredients

 ·       1 ½ cups water, plus more if needed

·       1 egg

·       4 ¾ cups (21.5 ounces) unbleached bread flour

·       ¼ cup (1.3 ounces) powdered milk (widely available Organic Valley brand comes from well-raised cows)

·       3 Tablespoons Kentucky sorghum, maple syrup, or honey, or use sugar

·       1 ½ teaspoons salt

·       2 teaspoons instant yeast

·       3 Tablespoons butter, cut into 6-8 pieces

·       For topping: 1 egg whisked with a bit of water for topping (optional)

·       Coarse salt, sesame or poppy seeds for garnish (optional)

 Preparation

Load the ingredients in the appropriate order for your bread machine. Activate the “Dough” setting or set a timer to remind you to turn the machine off before the baking cycle begins.

 Allow the dough to double in size in the bread machine work chamber. This takes one to two hours.

 During the rise, prepare two large, heavy baking sheets by lining each with heavy duty foil; spray the foil with non-stick spray or grease it good fat.

 Once the dough doubles in size, punch it down and turn it out into the middle of one of the prepared baking sheets. Gently cut or divide the dough into 16 pieces for small buns, or 12 pieces for very large ones.

 Grease your hands well. Like the Gourmandistanis, you can use lard. Coconut oil, butter, or olive oil will work, too. With greased hands, roll each piece into a nice round ball. Set the pieces as far apart as possible on the two pans. With greased palms, press the springy dough until each round ball becomes fairly flat, about ½” thick at most.

 Allow the buns to rise for 30 minutes. After 15 minutes have elapsed, position a rack in the middle of your oven, and turn the oven to 400 degrees. Wait the remaining 15 minutes for your buns to finish their rise.

 To use the optional egg “wash,” which helps turn the buns golden in the oven, lightly beat the extra egg with a small splash of water and a tiny pinch of salt until it foams a little. Go gently now, to avoid deflating your raised buns. Use a soft brush or your fingers to apply the egg wash over the exposed surface of each bun. If you want toppings, sprinkle them on the buns now.

 Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, or until the buns are the proper color of gold—the color you prefer. Depending on your oven, you may need to rotate the pans. Cooking times will vary by oven, so keep a close eye on these buns. Reinhart suggests a digital thermometer inserted in a bun’s middle should register “just over 180” degrees Fahrenheit.

Remove from the oven to a cooling rack. Cool to room temperature before you use a serrated knife to slice them horizontally. Go gently.

 For extra magic, toast, griddle, or grill the buns. Our favorite: butter both cut sides of a halved bun. Cook cut side down on a medium-hot black skillet (or griddle) until pale gold with definite crunchy edges. Yes, please do add this layer of flavor, color and crunch to your wonderful burger. Just be careful, in the excitement of finishing the other parts of the meal, not to over-toast (aka “burn”) your precious handmade buns.

Note: To make the buns without a bread machine, barely melt the butter in a large bowl. Add the water (lukewarm is best), room temperature egg, and sweetener. Beat well with a whisk or rotary beater. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, yeast, salt, and milk powder well. Combine the liquid and dry ingredients. Stir 30 times. Turn out on floured surface. Let the dough rest while you wash, dry, and oil a large bowl. Knead the dough well, at least 10 minutes. Move to the greased bowl, cover with a damp cloth, set in a warm place to rise, and when it has doubled in size, rejoin the main recipe, above.

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