At The Snapery Bakery, we decided that, although brioche is delicious, it’s not exactly ideal for burgers, which is what it’s most demanded for. Brioche is too sweet and rich to be slathered with sugary sauces, a fatty patty and a slab of melty cheese. So, of course, we had to develop a bun ideal for burger use.
I have increased the butter and sugar a touch here, making it suitable for both buns and loaves. Feel free to experiment with sugar and butter. If you’re adding more fat, the dough is likely to take longer to prove, as fat acts as an inhibitor of yeast – you could add a gram or two more yeast to counteract this.
stand mixer with a dough hook
2 baking sheets for buns, or 2 x 900g (2lb) loaf tins for loaves
For the leaven
75g (2 1/2 oz) strong white flour
75g (2 1/2 z) warm water (26–30°C/79–86°F)
15g (1/2 oz) sourdough starter (see below)
For the dough
65g (2 1/4 oz) whole milk
3 medium eggs
400g (14oz) strong white flour
9g ( 1/3 oz) instant dried yeast
80g (3oz) caster (superfine) sugar
9g (1/3 oz) sea salt
180g (6 1/4 oz) butter, softened
For the egg wash
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Start by making the leaven by following Stage 1: Prepare the Leaven (See Below).
The next day, to make the dough, mix the leaven with the milk and eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the flour, yeast, sugar and salt (keeping the salt and yeast on opposite sides of the bowl, so the salt doesn’t de-activate the yeast).
Mix on a slow speed until the ingredients are combined, then mix on a fast speed for a further 3–6 minutes, or until the dough starts to come away from the bowl. Let the dough rest in the bowl for 5 minutes.
With the mixer on its slowest speed, gradually add the butter, a spoonful at a time, and keep mixing until it is completely incorporated.
Roll the dough into a large ball and place it in a large bowl. Cover with a damp tea towel and leave to rest at room temperature for 45 minutes.
Remove the tea towel and, instead, cover the bowl with plastic wrap/cling film. Put the dough in the freezer for 1 1/2 –2 hours, then transfer to the fridge and chill overnight. This will stop it over-proving.
The next day, line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Flour the top of the dough and encourage it out of the bowl onto a work surface. Roll out with a rolling pin to 1–1 1/2 cm (1/2 – 3/4 in), using minimal flour.
For burger buns
Use a metal scraper (or a regular knife) to divide the dough into 70g (2 1/2 oz) squares. Take one of the squares and fold the four corners into the middle. Place seam-side down on your work surface, then cup your hand over the top, making sure your palm is touching the dough.
Using a circular anticlockwise motion, roll it into a tight ball without tearing, then place on the lined baking trays. Repeat with the rest of the dough, leaving a generous 8cm (3in) space between buns. Prove in a draught-free place at about 26°C (79°F) for 3–4 hours until the buns have just over doubled in size. One problem you may encounter is a skin forming on the buns before they have fully proved. If this happens, try using your oven as a proving chamber: with the oven off, place your trayed-up buns on the shelves, then put a bowl of hot, but not boiling, water underneath – this will create enough moisture to prevent a skin forming. Remove the buns when they are almost doubled in size and set aside.
Grease 2 x 900g (2lb) loaf tins with butter. Either add 8–9 x 70g (2 1/2 oz) balls of dough, or 2 x 250g (9oz) balls of dough. Prove for 3 1/2 – 5 hours, or until trebled in size (using the oven as your proving chamber, as described above).
When you’re ready to bake, place a roasting tin at the bottom of the oven, then preheat to 180°C (350°F). If your buns or loaves look ready before the oven is up to temperature, you can transfer them to the fridge. (In fact, this can be quite a useful thing to do even if you’re not waiting for the oven to heat up. When you chill your proved brioche, it firms up slightly, making it easier to egg wash.)
Egg wash your buns or loaves, load them into the oven and carefully pour just-boiled water into the roasting tin to generate steam – this will help the brioche to rise. Bake buns for 16–20 minutes until dark golden. Loaves will need 25–30 minutes – if they’re looking golden after 20 minutes, turn the oven down to 160°C (320°F) and continue baking until well risen and dark golden on top. Remove from the oven and turn out on a wire rack. Then make French toast or a decadent burger.
Making a sourdough starter
To begin with it is quite a lengthy procedure (6 or 7 days), but once you have a stable starter, you can make bread every day. The key to success is patience and belief. Don’t give up. If it takes 3 days to show signs of fermentation, that’s OK.
To make a sourdough starter that can successfully leaven dough, you need to promote the growth of natural yeast. Natural yeast is abundant all around us, and is especially abundant in flour.
Our starter at The Snapery was initially mixed with Ukrainian hop flowers that had been rolled in a rye paste and dried. My good friend Olia Hercules brought these back from the Ukraine. The purpose of adding these was to kick-start fermentation. Many people believe that adding raisins or fruit peel can also speed up the process and add character.
After years of baking, I now know that the only catalyst you need is time. And flour and water are all you need to encourage the growth of natural yeast and lactic bacteria.
In a jar, mix 100g (3 1/2 oz) warm water with 50g (1 3/4 oz) quality strong white flour and 50g (1 3/4 oz) wholemeal flour. Cover with a wet tea towel and leave in a warm place for 48 hours.
After 48 hours, look for signs of fermentation. There should be a few bubbles on the surface. It might not have any smell at this point, but if it smells vaguely alcoholic then you’re on to a winner. It will probably look quite grey, but will be fresh underneath. If there is no sign of any activation, do not worry. Put the jar in a slightly warmer place and leave for a further 24 hours and then continue from ‘day 3’.
If you have the beginning of fermentation, great news! You’re only a few days away from some exceptional bread. Discard half of the starter and add another 100g (3 1/2 oz) warm water with 50g (1 3/4 oz) white flour and 50g (1 3/4 oz) wholemeal flour. Cover and leave in a warm place for another 24 hours.
Repeat the process in ‘day 3’. At this point, there should be more obvious signs of fermentation: small bubbles, visual growth in size and a slight tang on the nose.
Repeat the discarding and replenishing as in ‘day 3’.
You should have something that’s almost ready to use in a bread recipe. The colour should be similar to the colour it was when you mixed it. There should be a lot of bubbles, quite an alcoholic smell and it should have grown to almost twice the size. Repeat the discarding and feeding in ‘day 3’ one more time. After this, it should be ready to use in your bread recipe.
Looking After Your Starter:
The most important thing to remember when maintaining a starter is routine and temperature. This is not an inert object, this is not something you can store in a cupboard and forget about until next you need it. This is a living thing, and like all living things it needs to be treated as such. It needs regular feeding to survive, it needs warmth when required, and if it’s feeling lazy, it needs encouragement to give it some get up and go.
Ideally, you feed your starter every day. Maybe twice a day during the summer. Every starter has a slightly different routine and you’ll get to know what suits yours over time. It’s hard to give specific advice as everyone’s house has a different ambient temperature. Just look, smell and taste, and learn what is best. Try to mix the starter so it is 22°C (72ºF) and feed at regular intervals.
If you decide that every day is too much commitment, you can choose to store your starter in the fridge for up to a week before feeding. Before you want to make bread I would recommend feeding for 2 days at room temp before adding to a dough to get it back on track as it’s likely to be sluggish after sleeping for so long.
To feed the soughdough starter
Measure out 1 tablespoon of your sourdough starter and discard the rest. To the tablespoon of starter, add equal parts water and flour. Use 40g (1 ½ z) water and 20g (¾ oz) strong white flour and 20g (¾oz) wholemeal flour.
The longer you leave the starter to ferment, the more acidic it will become. We use ours after 3–4 hours. Using it at this stage will produce a mildly sour loaf. It’s really down to taste. If you like it more sour, 5 or 6 hours (and using slightly colder water) would work better.
After you have used your starter to make the leaven for your dough, you will have roughly 1 tablespoon left. If you used the starter at an acidic stage (6–10 hours), you can feed it again immediately to keep it going for future loaves. If it was used at a mild stage, cover the starter and leave for a couple of hours before feeding.
As mentioned above, if kept in the fridge, the starter can keep for a week and then be revived at room temperature (feed before using), but I’d be cautious about leaving it for longer than that. Regular feeding is the key to a healthy starter.
Stage 1 Prepare the leaven
Either make a starter from scratch one week before you intend to bake, or use a mature starter if you have a healthy one bubbling away.
In a small pot with a lid – a jam jar is perfect – mix the starter, flours and warm water. Leave in a warm place for 3–4 hours until there are lots of little bubbles and it smells mildly fermented. If you like your bread on the sour side, leave for a further 1–2 hours.
You can also make a leaven the day before you want to make your dough. In that case, once the leaven ingredients are combined, leave at room temperature for 1–2 hours until signs of fermentation appear (tiny bubbles and a slight increase in size), then refrigerate overnight.
Recipes excerpted with permission from Bread and Butter by Richard Snapes, Grant Harrington and Eve Hemingway, published by Quadrille October 2018.
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