Challah Buns

I love to barbeque – there’s just something about cooking outside that really feels like summer. Especially when we’re grilling our own home-grown veggies and organic meats.

My boyfriend and I buy 1/4 of a free-range grass-fed cow every year from a local farm. We keep the cuts of meat in a freezer in the basement (other things in the freezer? Venison tenderloins/back straps, wild boar bacon, and wild turkey from this year’s hunting forays). This method assures that we know exactly where our meat is coming from, and we don’t have to run to the fancy butcher shop any time we want to fire up the grill.

There is one thing I can’t stand about barbeques, though: when I have to buy sub-par ingredients to dress a burger that is otherwise completely off-the-grid. Therefore, I have made it my mission this summer to learn how to make everything I need to eat my burgers without slathering them with high fructose corn syrup, preservatives, and government-subsidized corn/grain/soy products.

My burgers are out of this world, which I attribute mostly to the high quality of the meat. Our lettuce, tomatoes, and onions are all coming from our garden or the local farmer’s market. I don’t have a perfect recipe for ketchup, mustard, or mayo yet…but I’m working on ’em. My pickles still need a little bit of adjustment.

But I must say, my challah burger buns are spot-on. Moist, chewy, light, with the perfect balance of sweetness and egginess to stand up to anything you can think to serve them with.

I originally crafted this recipe to make large traditional-style braided loaves (for my favorite breakfast: challah french toast). There’s no difference in the recipe, though, so feel free to experiment with the size/shape of the loaves you make with this dough. It is a joy to work with; light and elastic, but sturdy enough to braid or knot. The posted recipe is enough to make one large loaf, or 12 burger-sized buns.

I like to mix my bread dough in our bread maker (dough setting), as it streamlines the mixing and first rise into one step, and makes clean up very easy (only one non-stick pan to wash). That said, this dough is easily mixed by hand or in a stand mixer. Bear in mind that it is a very sticky dough, and a minimum of flour should be used to pull the dough together. An autolyzation period after the initial mixing will help the dough to become elastic (and diminish its stickiness, making it easier to work with).

Challah Burger Buns

for the dough:
400g unbleached white bread flour
100g whole wheat bread flour
1 1/2 tsp dry (rapid) yeast
scant 1c lukewarm water
2 Tbsp sugar
2 large eggs
3 Tbsp melted (or very soft) butter
2 Tbsp olive or sunflower oil

for the egg wash:
1 egg yolk
1 Tbsp water
sesame seeds (optional – for sprinkling on top)

Combine the flour, yeast, salt, sugar, eggs, oil, and butter in a bowl (or the equivalent appliance receptacle), and mix until it holds together into a sticky dough. Once it is homogeneous, let the dough rest for 10-15 minutes. Then knead for 10 minutes until the dough is elastic, using as little flour as possible to keep it from sticking. Turn the dough into a greased bowl at least twice the size of the dough ball, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until doubled (approx. 1 1/2 hours).

In a bread machine, just let the dough setting run its course.

When the dough has doubled, turn it out onto a baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper. The dough will be quite sticky, but should be able to be peeled from the parchment easily.

For a large loaf, separate the dough into 3 or 4 pieces and braid them together. Center the loaf on the baking sheet. For buns, separate the dough into 12 equal pieces and shape them into small buns. I do this by pulling the surface of the ball tight in one area and wrapping the rest of the dough into the underside of that “skin”. Then I pinch together the dough and place the ball pinched-side down (like making a very small boule).

Once the loaf or buns are formed, they must rise to double again. I like to do this in the oven; if it’s heated to about 95 degrees the second rise takes less than an hour.

Brush the risen buns with a basic egg wash (whisk together 1 egg yolk and 1 Tbsp of cold water, and brush this mixture gently over the buns). If you like, you can sprinkle the buns with sesame seeds, poppy seeds, or any small seed/grain while the egg wash is still tacky.

Bake the buns for 20 minutes or until the tops are a deep golden brown and the buns do not give to gentle pressure. Allow the challah to cool on a rack a bit before serving.

These are excellent buns for a basic burger, but also make a killer small sandwich roll (BLTs and sloppy joes, especially!), and are great to serve with butter at any dinner or picnic. Toast them in the morning and they’ll make an excellent fried egg sandwich.

They can also be “upgraded” with whiskey-soaked golden raisins, walnuts, and cinnamon (or just about anything else) to be served as a breakfast or quick snack.
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