Shaved Asparagus, Tomato and Pancetta Pizza


Shiny, dark, yeasty, chewy buns of beauty, speckled with sea salt, and promising more enjoyment than any bread should really be allowed to promise.Baked-pretzel-bun  
At dinner last night my mom-in-law, Mar, enthusiastically exclaimed, "these are the best damn buns I've ever had!!".  Now that's good guest feedback.  And let me tell you, when it comes to all things bread, Mar is a fussy aficionado.  Thanks Mar!

I lost my ability to judge the true goodness of pretzel buns a long time ago.  I'm not much of a bread person actually, but man oh man, there is something that grabs me and holds on tight when it comes to pretzel buns. 

My hat in hand, my head respectfully bowed, to the brilliance of whoever first thought to put the unmistakable soft pretzely goodness into a bun.  Genius!   Thanks too Stresscake food blog where I came across pretty much the winning combination for my keeper of a pretzel bun recipe.

Little-pretzel-bunsThese yeasty dark beauties, while being  hedonistically chewy also boast a pleasingly soft interior, but not too soft.  As little bear would say, "they're just right."

Sometimes I make them appetizer size to go with a variety of cheeses and Italian salumi. Last night I made them hand-size for barbecued chicken burgers. After baking and cooling, I cut them in half, smeared them with a bit of butter and toasted them in a hot non-stick pan for a few moments, then set them aside, covered with a t-towel until we were ready to roll. 

We grilled up some chicken breasts with ample brushings of a mixture of Frank's Red Hot and a little olive oil, then everyone built their own chicken burger starting with the toasty pretzel bun, stacking up various combinations of honey mustard, mayo, lettuce, tomato, pickles and cheese.  Yum-O!

"The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight.....
[Breadmaking is] one of those almost hypnotic businesses,
like a dance from some ancient ceremony. 
It leaves you filled with one of the world's sweetest smells....
there is no chiropractic treatment, no Yoga exercise, no hour of meditation in a music-throbbing chapel, that will leave you emptier of bad thoughts than this homely ceremony of making bread."
~ M.F. K. Fisher, from The Art of Eating

Next time, pretzel bun cheeseburgers.  Oh baby!

PRETZEL BUNS (adapted from an Alton Brown recipe)
Makes 16-18 small rolls or 8 rolls big enough for burgers

If you use a bread machine, dump the dough ingredients in the order listed and hit the 'dough' cycle, then pick up at the shaping step and proceed with the recipe.

For the dough:
1 1/2 cups warm water (110F or comfortably warm to the touch)
1 tablespoon active dry yeast (1 package)
2 teaspoons sugar
4 1/3 cups flour
2 teaspoons sea or Kosher salt
4 tablespoons butter, melted

For the poaching and glazing:
1/3 cup baking soda
large pot of water
1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon of water
Pretzel or sea salt (I used Hawaiian sea salt)

For the dough:  Combine the water, yeast and sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer and let rest for 5-7 minutes until foamy. Add flour, salt and melted butter and mix with a dough hook about 8 minutes. The dough should be silky, not sticky, to the touch.  (ah, my beautiful silky dough)  Butter or oil a bowl, transfer dough to bowl, cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place for 1 to 1 1/2 hours until doubled in bulk.

Punch down and turn onto lightly floured surface.  Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat mats.

Shaping:  If making smaller buns cut dough into 16-18 pieces.  If making burger buns, cut dough into 8 pieces.  To shape, take a piece of dough and start forming a nice round, smooth ball by pulling the sides to the centre and pinching to seal.  Space evenly on prepared baking sheets, pinched seam side down, leaving at least 1-inch between each roll.

If making burger buns, flatten the formed dough balls with the palm of your hand.  Now flatten again.  Press hard and get those pretzel buns into a burger bun shape.

Second rise: Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place about 45 minutes or until doubled in bulk.

Preheat oven to 425F.

Poaching:  In a large pot, bring at least 2 quarts of water to a gentle boil.  Add baking soda and lower heat to just keep a very gentle boil or simmer.  Carefully slip 2 large or 4 to 5 small buns into the poaching liquid, seam side down.  Poach for 30 seconds then carefully turn each bun over in the liquid and poach for another 30 seconds.  Carefully remove buns with a spider or large slotted spoon to the same prepared baking sheets, seam side down.  Repeat with the remaining buns, leaving at least 1-inch between buns for baking.

Glaze: With a pastry brush, glaze each bun completely with beaten egg mixture.  Sprinkle with pretzel or sea salt.  With a sharp, straight edged knife, cut a slash or 'x' in the top of each bun.

Bake: Bake the buns for 12-20 minutes.  Cool completely, but before they cool grab one, rip it open, slather it with cold butter and cheese or golden syrup and munch, munch, munch.  After all you must do a quality control check before serving.  These buns are best eaten the same day.  Pressure's on!