honey whole wheat hamburger buns

I think I’ve achieved a perfect whole wheat hamburger bun. I’m not bragging, because I certainly didn’t get there by myself. I mean, I did bake it myself, but I had the benefit of a good recipe as well as methods from bakers who have spent many hours of their lifetime figuring out what works. In that sense, it was a successful collaboration, with a little experimentation on my part. And my third attempt was the charm. 

So I’ll give credit where it’s due, but I sure had fun tweaking the details to get what I wanted. I relished the process, like a scientist pursuing different theories. Sometimes you just have to keep trying something new each day, and even an attempt that doesn’t quite hit the target can be a new rabbit hole to explore later. Mistakes can be unexpected sources of inspiration, as long as you don’t give up.

This recipe will be a little familiar, and that’s because I based it on the same recipe I used for the whole wheat, oat and flax seed bread a few posts back. I love the flavors and texture in that bread, so I thought it would work well as a starting point. I consulted Bernard Clayton’s New Complete Book of Breads for suggestions on proofing and cooking times, and Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor to study how starters and soakers benefit a whole grain bread recipe. I read through a couple of internet recipes for final dough shaping ideas, and wrote down variations in ingredients as I experimented. To simplify things, I used half-recipe amounts each time, and made chicken and bison burgers for our dinners to test each batch. Taste-testing is a definite perk of the process.

With a little help from experienced bakers willing to pass their knowledge on to home cooks like me, and the passion for discovery on my part, it wasn’t hard to reach my goal-a buttery soft whole grain hamburger bun.

Honey Whole Wheat Hamburger Buns

(adapted from recipe for multi-grain bread on The Knead for Bread website)

The evening before:

1 1/2 cups of white whole wheat flour
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
3/4 cup warm water

1 1/2 cups of white whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup buttermilk

The next day:

1 1/2 cups of white whole wheat flour
1/4 cup golden flax seed, ground
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons instant yeast
3 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup butter, melted
4 teaspoons white whole wheat kernels, ground medium-fine (an electric coffee-grinder works well for this)

Starting the night before you bake the bread, prepare the starter and the soaker. Mix the starter ingredients together in a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap. In another bowl, mix soaker ingredients together. Cover with plastic wrap. Leave out overnight, for a total of 12 to 16 hours.

The next day, combine the starter, soaker, honey and melted butter together in a bowl. Stir or use your hands to combine the mixture. Next add the ground flax seed, salt, and instant yeast and work in thoroughly. Let mixture sit uncovered for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, take remaining 1-1/2 cups of whole wheat flour and sprinkle half of it on a flat working surface. Scoop the dough mixture onto the floured surface, and sprinkle the other half of the flour on top. Knead the dough well, gradually working in the flour until dough is smooth and elastic, at least 10 minutes by hand, or 6 minutes in a mixer on medium speed with a dough hook. Dough should ultimately be very tacky, but should not stick to your hands. To test if the gluten has developed properly, I use a technique I learned from Peter Reinhart called the “windowpane test.” Take a little piece of the dough and gently stretch it until it can hold a very thin, translucent layer without the dough breaking. If the dough doesn’t hold together, knead a couple minutes more and check again. Once the dough is sufficiently kneaded, rub a little butter in a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl, and turn to coat with butter. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm area 45 minutes, until doubled in bulk.

After dough has doubled in bulk, scoop onto a flat working surface. To end up with eight equally sized pieces of dough, I start by dividing the dough in half, and weighing each half on a small digital kitchen scale to make sure each is approximately equal in weight. Then I halve those pieces, weighing and making sure they are equal, and repeat that process until I have eight approximately equal weight pieces of dough. Roll each piece of dough into a small round ball.

Cut a large piece of parchment paper and lay it on a pizza peel. Place dough balls, evenly spaced, on the parchment paper. Using your hand, press each ball down gently until it is 4 inches in diameter and about 3/4 of an inch thick. After pressing each piece of dough, sprinkle half a teaspoon of the cracked wheat over the top and gently press into the flattened dough. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 40 minutes. In the meantime, place pizza stone on a rack in the center position in the oven. Place a cast iron lid or shallow cast iron pan filled with oven-safe stones on a rack below set on the second lowest position in the oven. Preheat oven to 350ºF.

After 40 minutes, slide the risen rolls, with the parchment paper, onto the pizza stone in the oven. Pour 1-2 cups hot water over the stones in the cast iron lid or shallow pan to create steam. (To keep from scalding myself with the steam, I use a metal watering can with a long spout to pour the water over the stones). Close the door immediately.

Bake for 10 minutes, then using the parchment paper, rotate the loaves 180º. Close oven door and continue baking another 10 minutes, until buns are medium golden brown. Bottom of bun should sound slightly hollow when tapped. Remove and place on wire rack and let cool completely. Slice hamburger buns in half when ready to use.

Makes 8 large hamburger buns.

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