Pretzel Hamburger and Hot Dog Buns

pretzel hamburger buns recipe
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.

Manly hot dog buns? Manly hot dog buns? Hot dog buns that exude manliness? Hot dog buns that enhance your manliness? Hot dog buns that, uh, personify manliness?

pretzel hamburger buns recipe
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?)

pretzel hamburger buns recipe
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 hamburger buns recipe
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?

pretzel rolls recipe

See those wrinkles? No worries. They’re all gone after the buns are baked.

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.

pretzel hamburger buns recipe
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
Printable Version

For the dough:
6 fl. oz. lukewarm water, divided
10 g active dry yeast
4 fl. oz. lukewarm milk
80 g light or dark brown sugar
4 g salt
24 g butter, melted
480 g bread flour, plus more if needed

For the boiling liquid:
6 cups water
1/2 cup baking soda

For the toppings
Grated cheddar cheese
Celery seeds
Caraway seeds
Pretzel salt
Dried onion flakes
Sesame seeds

  • In a bowl of a stand mixer or a mixing bowl, mix together 4 fl. oz. of warm water with the yeast and just a tiny pinch of brown sugar; let the yeast bubble up. This should take 6-8 minutes.
  • Add the remaining water as well as everything else, except the flour, into the yeast bowl; mix with a machine equipped with a dough hook or by hand. Slowly add the flour and mix (medium-high)/knead (vigorously) until you get a smooth, non-sticky dough. Add more flour as needed, one tablespoon at a time. (You want to err on adding too little instead of too much flour.) This should take about 6-8 minutes with a stand mixer and 12-15 minutes if kneading by hand.
  • Form the dough into a large ball, cover with a towel, and let the dough rest for 15 minutes.
  • Cut the dough into 8 equal pieces (or smaller — see post above for options).
  • To make a hot dog bun, shape a piece of dough into a 5-inch log of approximately 1.5 inches in diameter with tapered ends. Arrange the dough logs onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving about 3 inches of space around each log.
  • To make a hamburger buns, shape a piece of dough into a ball, 3 inches in diameter, flatten it slightly with your palm. Arrange each dough ball onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving about 3 inches around each ball.
  • Cover the dough balls or logs with a towel; let them rise for 30 minutes.
  • Once the dough has risen, preheat the oven to 400° F.
  • Put the water in a pot and bring it to a gentle boil.
  • Add the baking soda to the water. You will see lots of bubbles; that’s okay.
  • Gently lift up each piece of dough, trying your best to keep the integrity of its shape. Slowly plunge each piece of dough into the simmering liquid, “pretty” side first.
  • Boil one or two pieces of dough at a time, 20 seconds per side. With a large slotted spoon, scoop the dough balls from the boiling liquid, shake off excess water, and gently place them on the same parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving about 3 inches of space between them.
  • With a sharp knife, or a dough slasher, make a cross on the top of each hamburger bun and 3-4 diagonal cuts on each hot dog bun. Each slash should be about 1/4 inch deep.
  • Sprinkle the top of the unbaked pretzel buns with your topping(s) of choice.
  • If you’re baking your pretzel rolls on a cookie sheet, simply transfer the rolls on the cookie sheet to the oven rack, set in the middle of the oven.
  • If you’re baking your pretzel rolls on a baking stone, sprinkle some cornmeal on the surface of the stone and arrange the rolls onto it, leaving about 3-4 inches between them. Place a pan of hot water on a rack set right underneath the baking stone.
  • Bake for 20-30 minutes, depending on your baking method, or until the pretzel buns develop dark caramel color on the outsides.
  • Remove the buns from the oven and let them cool on a cooking rack, loosely covered with a kitchen towel.
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