Was it Richard Nixon who came out and said that honestly, he would rather have a great hamburger than almost anything he could think of? As our expatriated minds turn toward summer, our salivary glands are already anticipating American hamburgers. It is our national food and in our imaginations, it is perfection.
Allan and I can make a decent burger here in Tunis. There is a surprisingly efficient built-in barbecue in our backyard, and it creates a nice ambiance for outdoor parties. We spent yesterday tidying up the garden: getting rid of stuff that was parked there at some time over the winter, pruning, dividing, and moving plants to better locations, washing up the outdoor dining furniture. We are hosting a special party at our house in two weeks. It will be a combination celebration party after graduation and a goodbye party for some folks who are moving on. Firing up the charcoal barbecue will kick-off the summer season in good style.
We make our hamburger buns here. You can’t really buy anything that is a satisfactory substitute, but now that I’ve got it down, I think everyone should be making their own buns. They aren’t difficult, and man, do they elevate the burger. This is a recipe found at Smitten Kitchen, though you can see the attribution of where it originated. What you do is get a double batch started, using your Kitchen Aide, on a day when you are going to be in the kitchen, anyway. Every couple of hours, you do some little thing with them and then let them continue to proof. Finally, you bake them off, making your kitchen smell toasty and buttery. When cooled, you pop them into bags and freeze them. Then, when you’ve entirely forgotten you made them, you will be so delighted to find them again one night when you are craving an awesome burger.
Makes 8 4 to 5-inch burger buns
3 tablespoons warm milk
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs
3 cups bread flour
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Sesame seeds (optional)
1. In a measuring cup, combine one cup warm water, the milk, yeast and sugar. Let stand until foamy, about five minutes. Meanwhile, beat one egg.
2. In a large bowl, whisk flours with salt. Add butter and rub into flour between your fingers, making crumbs. Using a dough scraper, stir in yeast mixture and beaten egg until a dough forms. *Scrape dough onto clean, well-floured counter and knead, scooping dough up, slapping it on counter and turning it, until smooth and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes. The dough will be on the sticky side so it can be a bit messy, but keep in mind that the more flour you knead in, the tougher the buns will get. Try to leave them tackier than you would a round loaf. (*I did all of this with my Kitchen Aide. It is much easier than getting involved, by hand, with the sticky dough.)
3. Shape dough into a ball and return it to bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, one to two hours. (If your kitchen is warm, it will be closer to 1 hour.)
4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using dough scraper, divide dough into 8 equal parts. Gently shape each into a ball and arrange two to three inches apart on baking sheet. Dough will still be quite tacky. Work with a dough scraper and only enough flour to keep the dough from sticking. Your dough balls will be a little bit free-form. Cover loosely with a piece of plastic wrap lightly coated in nonstick spray and let buns rise in a warm place for one to two hours. Watch for deflation, which is a sign of over-proofing. Bake immediately if noticed.
5. Set a large shallow pan of water on oven floor. Preheat oven to 400 degrees with rack in center. Beat remaining egg with one tablespoon water and brush some on top of buns. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, if using. Bake, turning sheet halfway through baking, until tops are golden brown, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.