Ham, Pickles, Mayo, and Cheese on a Homemade Wheat Bun

Homemade Hot Dog Bun
I just cringe when I have to buy store bought hoagies or hot dog buns. I frequently don’t have time in the summer to bake bread, but I regret it when I’m standing in front of all the unsavory options that most markets have for these purposes. So, this year I’ve been a little more proactive in creating a better alternative.

I’ve used this recipe several times for whole wheat bread, and I like the result, but sometimes I decide it’s a little too dry (maybe I overbake it a bit), and I experiment with other whole wheat bread options. (Though I have to say that this recipe makes perfect looking bread every time. It’s definitely not shabby when it comes to a whole wheat bread option.) But as a BUN, well, this recipe is perfect. I’ve made it up for hot dogs and hoagies and picnics and sack lunches. Works every time. It’s perfectly moist and stays fresh for two or three days. This recipe comes from Beth Hensperger’s Beth’s Basic Bread Book (probably my favorite basic bread-making book) and is titled “Perfect Whole Wheat Bread.” Note that it is not 100% whole wheat, but that is very typical of whole wheat bread.

My favorite meal ideas for this bread: ham, cheddar, mayo and pickles for the kids, Nathan’s hot dogs with the mustard and best pickles I can find, cherry jam with a slice of brie, and lettuce, or even just a pb&j.

Whole Wheat Hoagie Rolls or Hot Dog Buns

1 c. warm water (105 F to 115 F)
2 T. (2 packages) active dry yeast
Pinch of brown sugar
1 c. warm milk
1/3 c. light brown sugar
3 T. unsalted butter, melted
1 T. salt
1 egg
2 1/2 c. whole wheat flour, fine or medium grind
3 1/2 to 4 c. unbleached flour or high-gluten bread flour

In a small bowl, pour 1/2 c. of the warm water. Sprinkle the yeast and pinch of brown sugar over the surface of the water. Stir to dissolve and let stand at room temperature until foamy, about 10 minutes. [I always skip this step, but do it if you’re worried that your yeast isn’t good, just to make sure.]

In a large bowl using a whisk or in the bowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the remaining water, milk, 1/3 c. brown sugar, melted butter, salt, egg and the whole wheat flour. Beat hard until creamy, about 1 minute. Stir in the yeast mixture. [So, I just dump all these ingredients in and start mixing because I know my yeast works and I am used to the feel of the warm water–making sure that it isn’t hot enough to kill the yeast.] Add the unbleached flour, 1/2 c. at a time, until a soft, shaggy dough forms. Switch to a wooden spoon when necessary if making by hand.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until soft and springy, 1 to 3 minutes for a machine-mixed dough and 4 to 7 minutes for a hand-mixed dough, dusting with flour only 1 T. at a time, just enough as needed to prevent sticking. The dough will be smooth and very springy with a slightly rough surface and sticky quality, but not dry. Do not add too much flour or the baked loaf will be dry and crumbly.

Place the dough in a lightly greased deep container. Turn the dough once to coat the top and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature until double in bulk, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. [This usually only takes 45-60 minutes for me.] Do not allow to rise higher than double, or it may collapse and bake into a flat loaf.

Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with a piece of parchment paper. Deflate dough. Divide dough in half, and shape into two long rectangles. Then, cut each log into eight pieces. Flatten each piece of dough, then roll, starting on the short side, into an oval bun, pinching the seam closed and placing the seam-side down on the prepared sheet. Place buns 1″ apart if you want them to touch as they bake, 2″ apart if you don’t. [You can also make this recipe into loaves by preparing two loaf pans and shaping the dough accordingly.] Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until almost double in bulk, about 30 minutes. These loaves need only a three-quarter proof for the best baked volume.

Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 375 F. Place pans on center rack and bake about 18-20 minutes for buns or 35 to 40 minutes for loaves, or until golden brown. Remove immediately from pans to a cooling rack. These freeze well, if you have leftovers!

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