Unlike certain other sidekicks, Michelle is not usually a big fan of hamburgers. While the humble burger is usually held forth as an American icon, for Michelle it holds multiple potential failure points. The bun could be too toasted, too wet, too gummy or too stale. At a restaurant, it could arrive “dressed” with limp, lukewarm (possibly worm-carrying) lettuce, or perhaps a pale and/or tasteless tomato slice. The meat could be greasy, gamey, dry, or simply dull. Additionally, Michelle disdains the idea of adding cheese—something that, like quitting cigarettes, may have helped doom yet another Louisville-based business. Needless to say, hamburgers haven’t appeared on Gourmandistan’s tables too often. Then Steve started making things more unhealthy, and Michelle became more interested in burgers.
It started with the buns. This past Tuesday Steve decided to branch out from Bernard Clayton and see what could be found in The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. He felt called by “Variation I” of Peter Reinhart’s “White Breads: Three Multipurpose Variations.” Steve played along nicely for the first part, even weighing ingredients instead of measuring and trying to pass the “windowpane test.” But he rebelled at the “mist the dough lightly with spray oil” part of the process. Ill-fated atomizers way back when literally left us with a bad taste in our mouths along with hopelessly gommed-up gadgets, and we’re not about to buy some highly suspect supermarket product. Instead, Steve greased his dough balls with lard at each stage of proofing and shaping. The result, he felt, were buns with a dark, slightly tough crust that felt wonderful in the hand and tasted even better in the mouth.
The buns’ first night had them holding lamb burgers, made from some surplus grind we had sitting around after a recent experiment (hopefully soon to be reported) with yet another dim sum. The lamb burgers were fine, but Michelle loved the lard-lashed buns so much she demanded another round the following night. Little did she realize the lard was just the first fat Steve would deploy to make the perfect burger.
On Wednesday Michelle came home bearing ground sirloin and bison, the two best-looking meats she could find at the nearby Whole Foods-ish market that sadly isn’t Whole Foods. Thinking the meat looked a bit lean for his taste, Steve decided to kick a bit of duck fat into the meat mix along with some salt and pepper.
Michelle split the day-old buns and loaded in yet more lipids by spreading them with butter, toasting, then smearing one buttery side with mayonnaise before inserting Steve’s “juicy” (OK, fat-laden) burgers. We topped the burgers with some onions caramelized in olive oil. (Is that another fat? Why yes it is!) And we had a yummy, juicy, surprisingly un-greasy hamburger that was possibly the best we’ve ever tasted.
Remember to save your fat, folks. It will, unlike Wimpy, most likely reward you in the future.
LARD-LASHED HAMBURGER BUNS
(adapted from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice) (makes 12-14 buns)21.5 oz. (4-3/4 c.) unbleached bread flour .38 oz. (1-1/2 t.) salt 1.33 oz. (1/4 c.) powdered milk 1.66 oz. (3-1/4 TB) sugar .22 oz. (2 t.) instant yeast 1.65 oz. (1 large) egg, slightly beaten 1.66 oz. (3-1/4 TB) room-temperature butter Between 13 and 14 oz. (1-1/2 to 1-3/4 cups) tepid water A bit of lard (or other fat) 1 egg whisked with 1 t. water Sesame seeds
Mix the flour, salt, powdered milk, sugar and yeast together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the egg, butter and about 1-1/2 cups of water. Mix with paddle attachment, adding additional water if necessary, until the dough becomes soft and supple.
Replace paddle attachment with dough hook. Using a bit more flour if necessary, knead the dough for several minutes until it becomes smooth and slightly elastic.
Grease a large bowl with lard, then cover your hands with the stuff and smear it over the dough ball. Place the greased ball in the greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 1-1/2 to 2 hours, or until doubled in bulk.
Remove the dough from the bowl and separate into 3-ounce pieces, rolling them into round balls with lard-greased hands. Place the balls on baking sheets lined with parchment paper, and press down lightly to form squat, slightly flattened shapes. Let the dough rest for 1 to 1-1/2 hours, or until nearly doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 400°. Brush the buns with the egg/water froth, then sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake for about 15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.