Matthew, one of my readers, wrote with a request — an odd one — for hot dog buns that are, “just as strong as your brioche burger buns but not as rich or sweet and a little more manly.”
I’m usually not one who shies away from asking questions, but there are times when the fear of possible answers is far greater than the need for an explanation. I thought about what he could have meant, and I feared the worst.
Luckily, before my imagination took me to too many places I didn’t want to go, Matthew sent another note clarifying his position. “By that I meant something that would go well with, you know, bratwursts, sausages, beer …,” he said. I let out a big sigh of relief. My mind finally returned to the place where it belongs — a happy green meadow dotted with daisies where the sun always shines and everything is PG. (Having said that, don’t girls consume bratwursts, sausages, and beer, too?)
As much as I wanted to insist those brioche hamburger buns, which I shared with you last year, are as good as sandwich buns get, I could understand where Matthew was coming from. After all, if you remember, the brioche buns which many of you have tried and loved so much, are made from the dough designed to be the base of a sweet cream tart — the one by Nancy Silverton that made Julia Child cry on television. So even though I don’t feel the making/serving/eating of brioche is akin to wearing a pink polka dot tutu, I could imagine just what kind of buns Matthew was asking for.
In fact, when he mentioned bratwurst and beer, the first and only thing that came to mind was pretzel (bretzel). Pretzel hamburger buns or pretzel hot dog buns aren’t exactly new, but they could stand to be enjoyed more widely. These buns have all the great qualities of soft-yet-chewy pretzels that we all love — of course since they’re made from the same dough — and are strong enough to accommodate big, juicy sausages and burger patties with all the condiments.
Pretzel rolls aren’t supposed to be super-soft. They’re supposed to have some chewiness to them. If you like your hamburger and hot dog buns soft, you want to stick with your regular buns or the kind of pretzel hamburger buns sold at some chain grocery stores that are regular buns in pretzel clothing, if you know what I mean.
So what kind of texture can we expect from these buns?
They’re not at all tough or rubbery, but they’re not soft, light, or airy either. If we put cheap, fluffy, wimpy store-brand hamburger/hot dog buns on one end of the spectrum and crusty, chewy rolls (the kind that shreds the roof of your mouth) on the other, I’d say these pretzel hamburger and hot dog buns are right in the middle. You press the former down with your hand hard, and they’re immediately flattened under your palm; you do the same with the latter and you will feel that they fight back as much as they can before collapsing.
Think yeast donuts versus bagels.
Regardless, doesn’t perfectly-grilled bratwurst contentedly nestling in the warm embrace of a pretzel bun in one hand and an ice cold bubbly drink in the other sound like a very, very good thing? Yet, when was the last time you saw hot dogs, brats, or burgers served on these delicious buns at a neighborhood cookout?
I have a no-fail, foolproof pretzel recipe that is a result of a mashup of multiple recipes. I’ve refined it over the past 2-3 years, playing with different amounts of sugar, milk, and flour combinations until I came to feel that I’ve got a really, really good recipe. I wouldn’t change anything about it any more at this point.
However, with the main structure declared perfect, there’s room for customization:
1. If you like your pretzel buns crusty, bake them on a baking stone placed in the middle of the oven with a pan of hot water on another rack right underneath. The combination of baking on a hot stone and hot steam in the oven helps create the shiny, crusty exteriors. I don’t like my pretzel rolls super crusty, so I bake them on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
2. You can top your pretzel hamburger or hot dog buns with anything you want. Think bagel toppings: poppy seeds, dried onion flakes, grated cheese, etc. My top favorites are celery seeds and caraway seeds. Also, of course, you can use pretzel salt. Don’t go crazy with the salt topping, though, as there’s already some salt in the dough and the meat you serve with these buns may contain additional salt.
3. Like good bagels, good-looking pretzel rolls sport the shiny brown color that is a result of being boiled in alkaline solution of water and either food-grade lye or good old baking soda. The brownness you achieve with lye has a more “professional look” to it, but the buns which you’re looking at in this post were boiled in plain water with added baking soda and they turned out not too shabby. And you know that pretzel-y taste that you detect the moment you put a piece of hard pretzel on your tongue (no, not the salt)? You get that with either lye or baking soda. So choose what works best for you.
4. This recipe for pretzel hamburger and hot dog buns can also be used to make smaller, rounder pretzel rolls. It, of course, can be used to make soft pretzels. The total weight of the finished dough is approximately one kilogram or 2.2 pounds. If you want to make smaller pretzel rolls (great for sliders!), divide the dough into 18-20 pieces. For 6-inch hot dog buns or 4-inch hamburger buns, divide the dough into 8 pieces.
5. Lastly, you can also use this very same dough and this very same method to make soft pretzels. Instead of shaping each dough piece into a ball, form it into a rope and tie it into a pretzel knot.
Pretzel Hamburger Bun and Pretzel Hot Dog Bun Recipe
Makes 8 six-inch hot dog buns
OR 8 four-inch hamburger buns
For the boiling liquid:
6 cups water
1/2 cup baking soda
For the toppings:
Grated cheddar cheese
Dried onion flakes