1 July 2013

Canada Day Burger Buns

Canada is the secret ingredient in a bun that meets the high standards of your home made burgers.  Barbecue season is short up here.  Make a bun worthy of it.

2 c. milk
2 tbsp birch syrup (or use 2 tbsp dark maple syrup)
550 g Red Fife wheat flour
2 tsp traditional yeast
250 g all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp sunflower oil
1 egg white, beaten
2 tbsp nigella seed (also known as black onion seed)

Heat the milk in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, stirring regularly, until it is hot enough that it's uncomfortable to keep your finger in the milk past counting to 8 (Fefe laughed at me when she read that, but it's the only way I know how to describe the correct temperature).  Pour hot milk into a big mixing bowl, stir in birch syrup.  Sprinkle yeast over milk mixture and let sit until proofed (surface is thick and foamy and bubbling).

Add 200 g of each the Red Fife and all-purpose flour.  Stir with a wooden spoon in one direction until the thin dough is smooth and you are beginning to see strands of gluten clinging to the side of the bowl (about 200 strokes).  Add the salt and oil and about a third of the remaining Red Fife flour, stir until well incorporated.  Add more Red Fife flour a handful or two at a time until the dough forms a ball that pulls away from the bowl.  

Turn out the dough onto a well-floured work surface.  Knead the dough until it feels full and smooth and is talking back.  How much additional flour you will need will depend to a large extent on the humidity.  If the surface of the dough is sticky, add more flour to the board, if it's not sticky don't worry if you haven't used all the flour in the ingredient list.

Wash out your bowl (or get a clean one) and oil it.  Put a bit of oil on your hands and rub it over the surface of the dough.  Put the dough in the oiled bowl, cover with a damp tea towel and put it in a warm place to rise.  Rise until doubled in bulk if you are in a hurry (about an hour or so), or rise as long as convenient for you (the Red Fife can take a long slow rise... you've got all sorts of time: go to the market, head to the lake for a swim*, wash your floors**...)

*if you are in Newfoundland, don't do this in early July, the ponds have not yet warmed up...
** this is what we did

Punch down the dough and knead a few turns to get the air out of the bread.  Shape into buns (flattened circles) and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  This requires a bit of guesswork; knowing the buns will rise to about twice the height and increase in width by about a third, so imagine the size of the burgers you will be making when you are forming your buns.  This batch will make 8-12 buns.

Let the buns rise until doubled in bulk (about an hour).  Heat oven to 375F.  Brush buns with egg white and sprinkle with nigella seeds.  Bake for 20-22 minutes until golden brown all over and sounding hollow when tapped.


Two very Canadian ingredients, Red Fife wheat flour and birch syrup, are key in these buns.  They are Canadian like a collection of Alice Munro stories: honest but surprising, simple but lusty.

Red Fife is a Canadian heritage variety of wheat which, lucky for us and thanks to the efforts of the Red Fife Presidium, has made enough of a resurgence to be readily available these days.  The flour is a pleasure to bake bread with, but Madeleine Greey is far more articulate about it than I am, so I am happy to leave it to her to sing the praises of Red Fife.  The Red Fife lends these buns a slightly nutty and earthy flavour.

Last fall, I picked up a bottle of Sweet Tree birch syrup in British Columbia and brought it back with me (this counts as local food, I'm sure of it: I was travelling whether or not the syrup did) and it turns out to make a really good bread sugar.  Birch syrup is almost impossible to describe; it's entirely different than the better-known maple syrup; it's sharper and has a more mineral taste (though dark maple syrup would be a good substitute, if you can't get birch syrup, to maintain the Canadian-ness of the bread).  It actually tastes rather similar to molasses, but not the same.  So here it comes, after standing in the kitchen, Fefe Noir and I both tasting birch syrup, then molasses, then birch syrup, then molasses, etc. for 10 minutes, this is the best I can do: birch syrup has more tang, it's not as soft a taste.  In addition to providing some sugar to get the yeast on the go, it adds colour to the bread and sharpens the earthy flavour of the Red Fife.

Making your own bread, by hand, is a very tactile-sensuous process, and thus an excellent way of getting up close and personal with your food.  Bread making is simple; it's made to sound very scary with all the proofing and kneading and rising, but it really is simple.  And though it's time consuming, much of that time is just waiting for the yeast to do it's magic.  So make your buns, fire up the grill, and blast out the Tragically Hip... it's Canada Day, after all.

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