These buns slice like cake. So rich. So buttery. So delicious. They can handle thick juicy burgers or grilled whole chicken breasts and all the condiments without falling apart on you so easily. This is the recipe that deserves a place in your bread repertoire. After all, you’re not looking at any old sandwich buns; these buns are made out of Nancy Silverton‘s brioche dough – the same dough with which she created the famous brioche tart, also known as the brioche tart that made Julia Child cry.
I still remember it like yesterday. It was towards the end of an episode of Baking with Julia on PBS featuring Nancy Silverton and her tart made with brioche dough, baked together with crème fraîche-based custard, topped with the so-called “secret sauce” (wine-infused caramel-based sabayon), and warm compote of dried fruits. Julia took a bite out of that brilliant ensemble and got so choked up with tears of joy (and gratitude?) that she could barely speak.
I was much younger back then and, though interested enough to watch cooking shows, not very much involved with anything culinary. (Let’s just say that if someone had told me back then I would someday get crazy enough to write a food blog, I would have burst out laughing.) But I knew enough about who Julia was, and to see her respond in such a manner to a tart really impressed on my heart something I haven’t been able to label, something that has propelled me towards the kitchen — something not so different from the way I felt when I saw Babette’s Feast for the first time.
Having said all that, the reason I wanted to make these brioche buns is actually much less romantic and much more practical. I just got my cash-strapped self a refurbished KitchenAid professional stand mixer for 40% less than what it retails for. (Yes, I have lived thus far without one.) Great deal, I know, but the catch might be in the warranty which is good for only a year. I needed to find out soon if this thing works well or not. When I saw the instructions for Nancy Silverton’s brioche dough in Baking with Julia book, I knew this recipe would be a perfect strength test for my newly-refurbished machine.
The instructions are written with the assumption that you own a heavy-duty mixer. Kneading manually is not an option due to the softness and stickiness of the dough. The dough is so sticky that it wraps itself around the dough hook while slapping the sides of the mixing bowl loudly as it turns. A copious amount of butter is also supposed to be added to the wet dough which does not seem like something that can be done manually. In fact, only after hours of chilling will this dough be firm enough to handle by hand. Without a stand mixer, these instructions would be completely useless.
If you don’t have a heavy-duty mixer, you can also use my old stand-by brioche recipe which can be done manually. (Be sure to substitute 2 teaspoons of dry yeast for the fresh yeast.) In fact, the instructions even state that in the course of kneading this dough, even a heavy-duty mixer will heat up considerably. This seemed hardcore enough for a test recipe.
As it turns out, my mixer did a very good job handling the sticky dough. The brioche buns are delicious, toasted or untoasted. And if you’re one of those people who prefer your hamburger or sandwich buns richer and more buttery, you will definitely like these. I know I will be making these brioche buns for as long as my stand mixer shall live.
Brioche Hamburger Buns
Adapted from Nancy Silverton’s brioche dough in Baking with Julia
Makes 12 large buns or 24 smaller buns for mini burgers
In the bowl of the stand mixer, mix together one beaten large egg, 2 1/4 teaspoons of active dry yeast, 1 cup of all-purpose flour, and 1/3 cup of warm milk. Sprinkle another cup of all-purpose flour on top of the sponge mixture. Let it rest, uncovered, for 30-40 minutes. When the sponge is ready, you will see that the flour coating has cracked.
Add 1 cup of all-purpose flour, 1/3 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and 4 beaten large eggs to the sponge. Set the bowl into the mixer. With the dough hook, mix on low for 2 minutes until the dough starts to come together. Add another 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour and mix on medium for 15 minutes, stopping to scrape down the bowl as needed.
During this time, the dough will be very sticky. If it appears too wet and soft, you can add more flour to it, up to 3-4 tablespoons. If the dough wraps itself around the dough hook and slaps the sides of the bowl quite loudly, you’re doing it right.
After 15 minutes have elapsed, the dough should look like a napping caterpillar. Continue to mix on medium speed while gradually adding 1 1/2 sticks of butter to the dough, 1-2 tablespoons at a time. Allow about 1 minute or so between each addition. The smooth dough may look like it is on a verge of falling apart, but pretend you’re not concerned and continue to mix. Everything will be okay once all the butter is fully incorporated. You will again see a soft smooth dough that clings to the dough hook and slaps the sides of the bowl passionately. Let it mix a couple of more minutes.
Transfer the dough from the mixing bowl to a greased bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place for 2 hours.
After the first rising, deflate the dough gently. Replace the plastic wrap and chill the dough 6 hours or overnight. After the chill, the dough is ready to be shaped.
With lightly-floured hands, shape the dough into 12 balls. (You want to work quickly as the dough is the easiest to handle when it’s still cold.) Place the balls on two large parchment-lined baking sheets, allowing 1 inch space between the balls. Flatten them with your palm until they become 1/4-inch thick discs that are about 4-4.5 inches in diameter. Cover the dough discs with kitchen towels and let them rise once again for 45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Glaze the dough balls with one beaten whole egg. You can sprinkle some poppy or sesame seeds on the glazed buns, if desired. To keep the seeds in place, reglaze the buns with the egg wash after the seeds have been sprinkled.
Bake the buns for 20-25 minutes until golden brown, rotating the sheets once to ensure even browning. When the buns are done, they should feel hollow when tapped. Transfer the finished buns to a cooling rack and let them cool under kitchen towels. Use right away or freeze for later. These buns freeze beautifully.