Perfect Potato Buns: The Epic Quest

Potato BunsWhen I started working on the Salmon and Pork Belly Burger, I thought making a good potato bun would be a no-brainer. After half a dozen trials and several pounds of patties, I acknowledge the task was harder than it seemed.

Though I won’t name names, the commercial potato rolls I’ve looked at are a bit of joke, as they use about as much potato flour as yeast (understand: not a whole lot). Check the labels yourselves! The main ingredient is wheat flour, and food coloring does the rest. There aren’t any eggs either, so that oh-so-potatoey yellow color is 100% Yellow #5, or 6, or whatever.

Pictures of my first attempt would not speak highly of my baking skills. Whoever wrote the recipe at King Arthur Flour should try to eat their own dog food some day — the result tasted fine but was too heavy for a burger. Both Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking and Further Adventures in Search of Perfection offer pretty similar recipes for regular, potato-free buns, but they each take over 24 hours. I understand the importance of flavor development when you work with yeast, but will one really taste a difference once the bun is sandwiching a flavorful patty, some cheese, and condiments? Especially with a potato bun? I’m not so sure. (Note: I tried, of course.)

Well, take THAT, messieurs Nathan Myhrvold and Heston Blumenthal! My potato bun, though inspired by your recipes, can be ready to eat in under 3 hours, and it tastes pretty damn good.

And yet, I must say that there are actually several perfect potato bun recipes: it all depends on what you plan to put in your bun, and in what amount. Here are a few points of variability that you’ll have to tweak on your own:

  • Diameter and weight
    The diameter of the bun should be about the same as the patty. That’s easy enough. The weight question is more complex and certainly depends on the future contents of your burger. I’d say the ratio between the weight of everything you put between the two halves of your bun, and the weight of the bun itself, should be around 2.5:1.
  • Rising level and density
    Once the dough is in the ring molds, you can control the density of the bun by choosing how high you let it rise. Let it reach the top of the molds, and you’ll get the airiest bun you’ve ever seen, but it will most likely collapse and crumble when you bite into it. I recommend letting the dough rise to about 1.5″.
  • Potato content
    You may think that potato buns that really taste like potato are great. And they are. But! Potato tends to absorb other flavors, and what you put between the buns might end up tasting bland. Again, It all depends on what and how much of it you use.

You will find two recipes below. The first one, probably my favorite, tastes only moderately of potatoes, but is suitable for burgers when you don’t want to mute the flavors of your patties. The second one delivers more potato-ness, but be sure to pair it with some highly savory food. Come to think of it, it would be perfect for certain hot dogs, maybe something like a kielbasa or a currywurst.

Potato Buns“Standard” dough for potato buns
Yields about 4 buns of 3.5 oz each

5 oz peeled yukon gold potatoes
1.6 oz melted butter
0.2 oz active dry yeast
1.5 oz water
2.7 oz egg yolks (about 5 yolks)
5.8 oz bread flour, sifted
0.5 oz nonfat dry milk
0.4 oz sugar
1/2 tsp (0.12 oz) salt

  • Cut the potatoes into large chunks, and cook in unsalted boiling water until tender. Drain, rice, then measure 4 oz and discard the rest. Add the melted butter to the riced potatoes, and let cool to room temperature. This is very important to avoid killing the yeast.
  • Mix the dry yeast with the water, and let rest for 5 minutes.
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer fit with the paddle attachment, mix the potatoes, yeast mixture, and egg yolks on low speed.
  • In a separate bowl, mix the flour, dry milk, sugar, and salt. Add half to the potato mixture, incorporate at medium speed, then add the rest, and mix for another 4 minutes, scraping the paddle and bowl every once in a while.

“Extra-potatoey” dough for potato buns
Yields about 4 buns of 3.5 oz each

7 oz peeled yukon gold potatoes
1.6 oz melted butter
0.2 oz active dry yeast
2.7 oz egg yolks (about 5 yolks)
5.5 oz bread flour, sifted
0.5 oz nonfat dry milk
0.4 oz sugar
1/2 tsp (0.12 oz) salt

  • Cut the potatoes into large chunks, and cook in unsalted boiling water until tender. Drain, rice, then measure 6 oz and discard the rest. Add the butter to the riced potatoes, and let cool to room temperature. This is very important to avoid killing the yeast.
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer fit with the paddle attachment, mix the potatoes, yeast, and egg yolks on low speed. Let rest for 5 minutes.
  • In a separate bowl, mix the flour, dry milk, sugar, and salt. Add half to the potato mixture, incorporate at medium speed, then add the rest, and mix for another 4 minutes, scraping the paddle and bowl every once in a while.

Finishing the buns
Yields about 4 buns of 3.5 oz each

0.3 oz butter
dough for potato buns
1 oz sliced onion
0.25 oz olive oil
salt

  • Grease four 2″ tall ring molds with a generous amount of butter, and place them on a baking sheet lined with greased parchment paper. It’s important to make sure that the molds are completely covered with butter inside, otherwise the dough will likely stick to the molds, and your precious buns won’t be as pretty as they could be. Select the diameter of your ring molds according to the size of your patties — 4″ is pretty good; larger than most of that tiny supermarket crap.
  • Weigh four balls of dough of 3.5 oz, flatten each of them into a disc, and place into a ring mold. Discard the rest of the dough.
  • Cover the molds with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for about 1 1/2 hours, until the dough has risen to just under 1.5″ (3/4 of the mold height). Again, the optimal weight and rising level of your buns will depend on what you plan to do with them, and don’t forget the buns will rise some more when you bake them. My recommendations work quite well if you plan to make burgers with 5-6 oz patties.
  • In a saucepan over medium heat, sauté the onions in the olive oil until golden brown. Season with salt, and let cool.
  • Place a dish filled with water at the bottom of a 425 F oven. Remove the plastic wrap from the ring molds, top with the onions, and bake in the oven for about 15 minutes, until the top is a rich brown color (almost like the ones from the supermarket!).
  • Transfer the buns to a cooling rack, and let cool for at least 30 minutes. Unmold and use immediately, or store in plastic wrap for up to 2 days.
Potato Buns
See how the top of the bun collapsed in the center? It’s because the dough rose too much and stuck to the plastic wrap that was covering it. Incorrecto!