Ask ten people what they like on their hamburger and you're likely to get ten different answers.
But let us pause for a moment and ponder what makes a hamburger truly great ...
... what we can all agree on is that the most fundamental building block for a great hamburger is a perfectly cooked patty sandwiched in between a fluffy, soft, yet sturdy bun.
In this video I demonstrate a new brioche bun recipe that will truly take your hamburger game to the next level. But first a little back story ...
... The Story of Wartface
There's this guy named Wartface.
He's been a long time member of the AmazingRibs.com community (the best BBQ website I know of), and he stumbled onto StellaCulinary.com when searching for information on bread baking.
Wartface quickly and rabidly consumed all my bread content, including the five audio podcasts and all of our bread baking videos.
But he wasn't satisfied; being a BBQ fanatic, Wartface wanted my help developing the ultimate hamburger brioche bun. Something soft and chewy, but still sturdy enough to stand up to Meathead's famous Steakhouse Steakburger.
So I made Wartface a deal; I'll give you a baker's percentage formula as a starting point for a hamburger brioche bun recipe. You make the buns, and then tell me what you do and don't like about them, and then I'll show you how to adjust recipe accordingly, using the baker's percentage. I figured if anything, this would be a good, practical example of how various ratios of ingredients would effect the texture and flavor of bread.
Honestly, I expected Wartface to bake a couple recipes, lose steam, and then I'd pick up the brioche bun project once my schedule freed up a bit. But Wartface became obsessed, baking recipe after recipe, hundreds of buns in all, coming back after each bake, taking my suggested tweaks, and then turning out another batch immediately.
After going back-and-forth a few times, Wartface sent an excited e-mail telling me that the latest formula had just produced the best hamburger brioche buns he's ever tasted.
A bit skeptical that we'd hit the mark that quickly, I baked numerous batches of the exact same formula in the Stella Kitchen, looking for flaws or possible improvements. We made hamburger after hamburger, and even served them to our entire restaurant staff as family meal on a couple of occasions. I finally had to concede that yes, these were indeed the best hamburger brioche buns I've ever tasted.
Now please keep in mind that I loathe using the word "best" as an adjective for food. It immediately shuts down the mind for forward progression, limiting future development.
But quite frankly, if I were to stop and describe what qualities make up my ideal hamburger bun -- chewy yet soft, airy but sturdy, complex in flavor yet subtle enough to not outshine the burger itself -- this bun fits the bill perfectly.
So a special thanks to Wartface for his obsessive determination in formulating this brioche bun recipe.
Mixing and Kneading by Hand
Here is a video demonstrating how this dough can be mixed and kneaded by hand. Oddly enough, it's just as quick as using a mechanical mixer, and turns out an amazing dough.
The Scalable Recipe
As noted, this recipe was originally formulated to accommodate a large, 8 ounce hamburger patty. However, it works just as well for sliders and normal-sized burgers.
Linked below are three recipes. The first is the original recipe with detailed instructions. The second and third are the exact same formulation but for 4 inch "normal sized" and 3 inch "slider buns" respectively.
This will allow you to simply select the size bun you want to make, pop in the number of buns you want in the yield calculator, and have the ingredient measurements auto adjust.
Hamburger Brioche Buns | The Original Recipe - Yields 4.5" hamburger brioche buns, perfect for a large, 8 oz hamburger patty. This recipe also contains detailed instructions.
4" Hamburger Brioche Buns - Same formula as above but scaled to yield 4" hamburger buns, perfect for 2-4 oz patties.
Slider Brioche Buns - Same formula as The Original Recipe but scaled to yield 3" brioche buns, perfect mini hamburgers also known as "sliders."
Tin Foil Baking Rings
In the hamburger brioche bun video at the top of this page, I demonstrate using tinfoil rings to help the hamburger buns hold their shape during proofing and baking. These foil "collars" or rings are convenient, inexpensive, and can easily be customized for any size or shape you want your hamburger bun to be.
However, there are a couple downfalls to this approach.
While the foil collars are reusable, you will only get so many uses out of them before they become gunked up and the dough starts to stick (even if you hand wash after each use). They can also be a bit time consuming to make, especially in large quantities. If you plan on making burger buns casually, then these foil collars will absolutely do the trick.
But if you want to bake these buns on a large production scale, you may want to invest in some tart rings or a brioche bun pan.
SCS 18| The Four Pillars of Bread - An introduction to bread baking.
Related Forum Threads
I've been challenged to produce the ultimate Hamburger Bun ... - The original forum thread that started this project.
A new hamburger bun challenge - Wartface is never satisfied, and takes on a new challenge that has yet to be resolved. ;-)
But Wait ... We're Not Through Yet!
This exact same recipe makes makes awesome doughnuts as well.
After the overnight rest in the fridge, simply roll the dough to an even 1/4" thickness and form into doughnuts.
This was a project we were playing with at our last culinary boot camp. As you can see by the doughnuts in the picture above, we were experimenting with different ways to form the doughnuts.
My favorite method is simply using a set of ring molds as dough cutters. Use a 3.5" cutter to size the doughnut, and a .5-.75" ring to cut out the doughnut hole.
You can also portion the dough into balls (50-70 grams), flatten, and then poke a hole in the center. Gently stretch the hole outward to form a doughnut shape.
These "stretched" doughnuts won't come out as pretty as the ones cut with ring molds, but you'll have less waste this way, with no leftover doughnut holes or edge scrap to worry about. Plus the organic shape gives them a rustic, "hand made by grandma" look that I find somewhat endearing.
After forming the doughnuts, allow to proof at room temperature for 1-2 hours, or better yet, overnight in the refrigerator.
The overnight proof is preferable because the doughnuts will be easier to pick up and drop into hot oil without them loosing their shape. The doughnuts in the photo above however were simply proofed at room temperature before frying.
Once proofed, fry in 375°F/190°C oil for about 3-4 minutes, flipping half way through (wooden chopsticks work great for this), until both sides of the doughnut are a light golden brown and the internal temperature is between 195-200°F/90.5-93.3°C.
Drain on a cooling rack and cover with your favorite icing or glaze. In the doughnuts pictured above, we did a simple glaze by thinning powdered sugar with a touch of water and lemon juice.
This recipe yields a very light, airy doughnut.
If you're looking for the best brioche bun recipe ever, you've found it. I don't mean to put you off by hyperbole, but this really is an excellent, versatile bun recipe that will absolutely take your hamburger game to the next level.
This bun recipe was originally developed to fit a large, 8 oz hamburger patty. Please see the notes section at the bottom of this post for links to scalable recipes that will give you the proper yield for standard and small (slider) hamburger buns.
A special thanks to Stella Culinary community member Wartface, who helped develop and test this bun recipe. Please watch the video recipe for important notes on technique and process.
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If you're a serious bread baker and want to take your game to the next level, this is the podcast for you. In this episode, we discuss how to create complex tasting breads by utilizing a sourdough starters and preferments.
Create a Sourdough Starter
Stella's Bread Video Index - Scroll to the bottom of the page for a list of baking tools you may need.
The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart
Crust and Crumb by Peter Reinhart
Bread Builders by Daniel Wing & Alan Scott - An amazing book about the science behind natural (sourdough) starters and breads.
Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson
Don't forget to take pictures of your homework and post them in our comment section below to earn extra Stella Stars. Also, questions on what we covered in this episode? Ask them here.
This article is part 2 of 2. Read part one here: What Is A Preferment?
Various Types of Preferments
Preferments can go by many different names including chef, levain, sponge, madre bianca, mother, biga and poolish. But in my opinion, there are three major approaches to preferments that will encompass all others, much like classic French sauces are mostly derivatives from the Five French Mother Sauces. To help you better understand the three major approaches to preferments, I give you the “Three Mother Preferments” (somewhere out there, a French Baker just face palmed himself, and my life is now complete). These three “mother preferments” are poolish, biga and pâte fermentée.
Sometimes referred to as a sponge or barm (although a barm is more technically a natural levain or sourdough starter), tradition has it that the term “Poolish” comes from Polish baker’s in Vienna who developed the technique of prefermentation, later adopted by French bakers. And although I’m always eager to annoy French baker’s and chefs, there really is no solid, historical evidence of where the term “poolish” originated.
What we can agree on however is the poolish style preferment is the most common approach used by enthusiasts and professional bakers alike, mainly because it’s high hydration allows the yeast to propagate at a constant pace, and it’s incredibly easy to apply a preferment to any bread recipe since it contains a 1:1 ratio of flour and water (which makes final bread dough calculations intuitive, especially when converting various bread recipes that don’t utilize a preferment).
Based on the baker’s percentage, a poolish starter will have 100% hydration and .2% yeast (always based on the flour’s weight).
This means the basic formulation for a poolish preferment is:
500g Flour - 100%
500g Water - 100%
1g Yeast* - 0.2% (either active or instant dry)
*Because cake yeast (commonly only found in professional bakeries) is less dense with yeast microbes than active or instant dry, you can up the percentage to 1% to get the same results.
Now I do realize this seems like a lot of preferment for the home baker, and it is, but using these numbers you can at least visualize the ratios through the baker’s percentage. If you want to make a smaller poolish preferment and don’t have a gram scale accurate to the 10th of a gram, then a simple, one finger pinch of yeast will do. For example, if I was making a preferment for one or two loaves of bread, it would probably look something like this:
Once mixed, a poolish style preferment will be ready to use in about 12-18 hours, assuming an ambient room temperature of 68-72°F/20-22°C and your yeast usage doesn’t exceed .2% based on the flour’s weight. Remember, the more yeast used and the hotter your room temperature, the sooner your preferment will be ready (which isn’t necessarily desirable since the whole purpose of a preferment is to slow down the fermentation process). For every 17°F/9°C your room temperature raises or drops, the yeast activity will be doubled or cut in half, taking the yeast half the time or twice the time respectively to achieve the same amount of fermentation.
For more information on incorporating a poolish style preferment into your bread doughs, please see “The Basics of Using a Preferment” at the end of this article.
This style of preferment was developed by Italian bakers, and in Italy, a Biga refers to any style of preferment that contains flour, water and yeast, no matter the percentages. However, it’s more common for a Biga to have less hydration than a poolish. For the sake of understanding various approaches to preferments, Biga’s are low hydration (stiffer) and take longer to finish fermentation as compared to a poolish containing the same percentage of yeast. This is because yeast’s movement is impeded by lower hydrations, taking them longer to propagate and consume all the starches contained within the bread dough.
This is why Biga Preferments will usually, but not always, contain more yeast based upon the flour’s rate (about 1%) than a wetter style of preferment like a poolish. At the one percent use rate, a biga preferment left at a standard room temperature will be ready to use in about 14-18 hours. The basic formulation for a biga starter is:
500g Flour - 100%
300g Water - 60%
5g Yeast - 1%
While this is a common formulation for a biga starter, the yeast percentage and hydration rate can vary depending on the baker and the final application of the preferment. However, in the spirit of separate approaches, low hydration starters will take longer to ferment than a poolish, which is why the yeast percent is raised to 1% for the former instead of .2% for the latter.
Anecdotally speaking, this stiffer dough can stand up to longer fermentation times, especially if the yeast percent is lowered, creating more complex flavors via acetic and latic acid production, the same acids responsible for sourdough’s complex flavor and aroma.
Once a biga preferment is airy and full of life (and expanded by about double it’s original volume), it can then be incorporated into the final dough formulation by cutting into small pieces, mixed with the rest of the recipe’s liquid, and then incorporated into the remaining ingredients. This will ensure an even dispersion of yeast contained in the preferment, resulting in better bulk fermentation and proofing.
Pâte Fermentée (Chef, Old Dough)
The “old dough” or pâte fermentée style of preferment is extremely convenient if you’re baking the same bread recipe on a regular basis. This approach was championed by famed French baker Raymond Cavell who credited this method with adding complexity of flavor and increased oven spring to his world famous baguettes.
The basic concept is simple; up to 1/3 of bread dough is reserved after the bulk fermentation to levin the next batch of bread. So in the case of a classic baguette, the first time the recipe is made, flour, water, yeast, and salt will be mixed together and allowed to bulk ferment.
After the bulk fermentation is complete, the dough is punched down, one third is reserved to levin the next batch of bread, while the rest of the dough is scaled, formed, proofed, and baked.
This old dough can be stored for about 8-12 hours at room temperature or retarded in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. It can also be frozen for up to 6 months, removing from the freezer and allowing to thaw fully (about 12-16 hours at room temperature, (24-36 hours in the fridge depending on the dough's volume) before using it to levin a batch of bread.
The Basics of Using a Preferment
Now that you understand what a preferment is, why they’re beneficial to bread baking, and the three major approaches, let’s talk about how to actually apply this knowledge to any bread recipe.
In general, 1/4 to 1/2 of a bread recipe’s total flour will be used to create a preferment. The amount of liquid depends entirely on what approach you’re using from above (low hydration biga, high hydration poolish, or pâte fermentée).
The amount of pre-ferment used will depend on how long you want the bulk fermentation process to take, after it's incorporated into the the rest of the ingredients. In general, when half of the dough's flour comes from a preferment, you can count on a 2-4 hour bulk fermentation and a 1-2 hour proof.
Let's use our basic baguette recipe to put this into perspective:
800g Flour - 100%
520g Water (Warm) - 65%
7g Yeast (Active Dry) - .8% Yeast
16g Salt - 2% Salt
The original recipe uses the direct method, meaning the ingredients are mixed together, allowed to bulk ferment, shaped, proofed and baked (scalable recipe - video recipe).
To add extra complexity of flavor, we’ll remove half of the recipe’s flour and create a poolish style preferment, transforming our recipe into something like this:
Mix ingredients together, place in a container large enough to allow the preferment to at least double in size, and allow to ferment at room temperature (68-72°F/20-22°C) for 12-16 hours (or retard in fridge for up to 3 days).
The next day, mix the preferment with the remaining ingredients:
Follow the baguette recipe as normal. Remember, your bulk fermentation and proofing stages might take a little longer than normal, about 3 and 2 hours respectively, but your patience will be rewarded with a superior baguette. Obviously the fermentation can be delayed further by using less preferment, retarding the bread during bulk fermentation or proofing, or all of the above. Again, the longer the fermentation and proofing process, the more complex the bread will be, until the yeast consume all the available food, causing them to die.
To convert the above baguette recipe for use with a biga style starter:
240g Water - (400 X .6 = 240g or 60% Hydration)
4g Yeast - (400 X .01 = 4g or 1%)
Mix ingredients together until they form a shaggy dough. Leave at room temperature and allow to ferment for 14-18 hours (or retard in fridge for up to 3 days).
The next day, mix with:
Once ingredients are kneaded together, follow the baguette recipe as normal, with the expectation of your bulk ferment and proofing stages taking a little longer.
To use the pâte fermentée method, you can simply reserve 1/3 of the baguette dough recipe, but this will also decrease the overalll yield. If you want to have the same yield every time (4 baguettes), then scale each ingredient by 1.5. For example, our above baguette recipe adds up to 1336g total dough weight. Here's how the math looks
800g X 1.5 = 1200g Flour
520g X 1.5 = 780g Water
16g X 1.5 = 24g Salt
7g X 1.5 = 10.5 Yeast
1336g X 1.5 = 2004g Total Dough Weight
2004 X .3 = 668 (this is the amount pate fermente you must remove and save for the next batch).
668 X 2 - 1336
So as you can see from the above example, scaling any bread recipe by 1.5 will allow you to remove 30% of the dough to be used as a preferment in your next batch, while resulting in the same total yield from bake to bake. Even though 1/3 is technically 33%, scaling a recipe by 1.5 and then removing .3 is easy to remember, keeps your numbers round, and the extra 3% is negligible.
The portion of the dough removed can be stored at room temperature if you plan on baking the same bread in the next 12-18 hours, in the fridge up to 3 days, or the freezer for up to 6 months.
The final baguette recipe would be:
668g Pâte Fermentée (Old Dough)
Yeast - Optional, depending on how fast you want the bread to rise, or how avtive your old dough looks. If it's a little past it's prime or you want a faster, more dependable rise, add 7g of yeast.
You might also be interested in the following:
Videos - Visit Our Bread Baking Video Index
Preferments leverage one simple fact; longer and slower bulk fermentation and proofing stages make for better bread. This is accomplished by taking a portion of a bread recipe’s flour and liquid, “spiking” with a very small amount of yeast, and allowing this mixture to ferment at room temperature over the course of 12-18 hours, and sometimes as long as a few days if retarded under refrigeration.
Using a preferment would fall under the classification of the “in-direct method,” because there’s an intermediate step between the mixing of ingredients and bulk fermentation. Just like we discussed in Episode 20, “The Classifications of Bread,” the in-direct method slows down fermentation by the utilizing preferments or retarding doughs during the bulk fermentation process, resulting in a more complex, flavorful bread.
This is opposed to most modern bread recipes formulated for many cooks who tend to prize convenience over flavor. Most recipes use large amounts of yeast which allow you to bulk ferment the bread dough in two hours and proof in less than one. And while these recipes will still produce fresh baked bread that will fill your house with beautiful aromas and have a quality that easily rivals the soulless, pre-sliced, baked-batters found at your local supermarket, it will be no where near the quality which can be achieved through delayed fermentation.
“But Jacob, it takes so long to bake bread using a pre-ferment!”
No, not really. In fact, the actual time you spend mixing the dough doesn’t change. The only thing that changes is the passive time required to do a pre-ferment, meaning having the foresight to mix a portion of the flour and water a day or two in advanced before baking bread.
What the argument really comes down to is planning ahead. In fact, I’ve gotten many negative YouTube comments on my bread baking videos, all which say pretty much the same thing: “This takes too much time, it’s too involved, that’s what supermarkets are for, etc.”
If that’s your mind set, than I’d venture to guess you’re in the majority, simply based on the complete saturation of “quick, easy, simple, 30 minutes or less,” recipe books and TV shows. And please don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing wrong with quick and easy recipes, but the approach isn’t universal to all forms of the culinary arts.
There is no quick and easy approach to charcuterie, the fermentation of grapes into world class wine, and the baking of great bread. But then the people who pursue these subjects aren’t worried about quick and easy, because our reward comes to us during the process, with the finished product being the tangible expression of the journey, which true cooks cherish above the destination.
If you’re not willing to plan ahead, then preferments and baking great bread aren’t for. But if you’re willing to be patient and draw the process out over the course of a couple of days, the use of a preferment or “natural levain” (i.e. sourdough starter), will instantly elevate the quality of your breads.
Why Use a Preferment?
Because fermentation is extended, the yeast and natural enzymes present in flour have time to take action on the starches and proteins in the dough, releasing a larger amount of food supply for the yeast to ingest and turn into energy. This has a couple of distinct benefits:
It tastes better. The general rule of thumb is the longer the bread is allowed to ferment, the more complex and delicious the finished flavors will be. This does have a law of diminishing returns however; any preferment older than 3 days that hasn’t been refreshed with fresh flour and water is likely to have a weak and dying yeast population which can give your bread off flavors and poor rising ability.
Preferments add extensibility to bread doughs, making them easier to form, and resulting in a superior oven spring. In fact, preferments have been shown to increase the oven spring of baguettes by as much as 10%, which results in an airier, lighter crumb.
- Delayed fermentation will also slightly drop to the pH of bread, extending it’s shelf live without the necessity of “dough conditioners” or preservatives.
Are you convinced you need a preferment in you're baking arsenal? Then get started by reading our guide "The Three Mother Preferments and How To Use Them." We also cover this topic extensively in The Stella Culinary School Podcast Episode 21| Sourdough Starters and Preferments.
You might also be interested in the following:
Videos - Visit Our Bread Baking Video Index
This video takes our Basic Sourdough Bread Recipe and adds parsley and pancetta. It's great served lightly grilled with a little olive oil, topped with piece of sliced tomato and basil or for grilled cheese.
For a scalable recipe with instructions, click here.