for barbecues and picnics

gluten-free hamburger buns

Last week, I had a lovely post planned for this space. Memories of barbecues from when I was a kid, and evocations of the taste of well-charred meat, and elaborate analogies to make you laugh.

But you know what? That farm-to-table dinner that Danny and I cooked on Friday took most of our minds’ space last week. We loved the sun-glowing day (we haven’t seen the sun much around here, so excuse the hyperbole). We loved the chance to cook together all afternoon, with friends, and even with a small person at pantry a few times. We loved meeting so many of you, making the connection with faces and stories, and humbled to hear how much you love reading here. Thank you. It was a glorious day.

Wow, though. I was exhausted the next day. As much as I loved the work being about slicing carrots, grilling slices of sourdough baguettes, and pureeing curried red lentils, instead of sitting in front of a computer, I am not used to being on my feet for nine straight hours. Danny didn’t blink. He does this every day. I’m in awe of him. Me? I needed to sit down on Sunday, and not in front of a computer.

And now, when I thought I had cleared a couple of hours to write this post, Lu has decided that 10 pm is wake-up-and-frolic time. I can hear her in her bedroom, running through the entire catalog of songs she has begun to sing this week. “Tinkle tinkle dar!” she shouts, then glides right into “Ashes, ashes, all down,” which slides into “Up down! turn aroun,” from the Wiggles. People, I don’t think we’re going to bed until midnight tonight. We’re in the middle of a growth spurt. There’s too much joy to sleep.

(I was right. Danny listened to her sing while I fixed our dinner, then I sat with her as she clapped and danced as he ate, and he reminded her it was time to sleep while I ate our mustard-roasted chicken, and we both settled her down to a stupor just about midnight. So this is Tuesday now, sleep-deprived but still smiling.)

So, I’m going to go fast, in a list form, and tell you about the week we ate out of Spike Mendelsohn’s The Good Stuff Cookbook: Burgers, fries, shakes, wedges, and more.

1. Do you remember Spike? If you watch Top Chef you do. He was the slightly cocky, slightly obnoxious, slightly loveable chef who tried to portray himself as Johnny on the street (with a tweed fedora) but actually had a whole raft of classical training and fine-dining experiences under his belt. I was sort of annoyed by him and sort of pulling for him that season. He seared frozen scallops, which turned to mush, and then he went home.

2. And then he opened this restaurant in Washington D.C. called Good Stuff Eatery. (Even when you lose on Top Chef, you get a lot of attention, particularly if you set out to make yourself a recognizable character.) From all accounts, it’s fabulous. Burgers, fries, salads, sides, and shakes, made with fresh ingredients and classic techniques and little chef twists that make each one outstanding. He’s gotten a lot of press for this place.

3. From that, this cookbook. (I have to tell you that The Good Stuff Cookbook: Burgers, fries, shakes, wedges, and more is published by Wiley, which is publishing our cookbook in September (!!). Also, our amazing book editor edited this book. This, and the free copy, really didn’t affect why we cooked out of this book, however. It just looked good, right in time for grilling season.) The cookbook is bright, full of vivid photographs, and stuffed with smiling people and crisp brown fries. It’s not pretentious. It’s not trying to be anything other than what it is. We liked it.

4. The book is credited to Spike Mendelsohn in big letters, and just underneath it, in small type: Micheline Mendelsohn. That’s his sister. How cool is it that this guy wrote his book with his sister? The book, and the ethos of Good Stuff, is clearly all about family. Danny and I love that, since it’s what’s important to us too. Good man.

(Also, no offense to Spike, but it’s clear that the smaller type person actually wrote this book. I’m married to a chef. Chefs cannot sit down long enough to write a book. Remind me sometimes to tell you about the hilarious way we had to write our cookbook. So, way to go, Micheline!)

5. Spike makes his mayonnaise with grapeseed oil. That makes it a greeny green. I haven’t decided if that makes it look like it belongs in the Munsters’ house or if it’s a soft pastel, like the first photos of spring taken by hip girls with Pentaxes. Either way, it was sure good.

6. The Good Stuff sauce, slathered on all the burgers at the place, uses this green mayonnaise with molasess and other secret ingredients. I just fricking loved it. I could put it on every sandwich and roast chicken and in eggs. Really addictive.

7. The toasted marshmallow milkshake. Oh, I was so excited about this one. Apparently, it’s the calling card of the Good Stuff Eatery. Everyone loves it, craves it. And to make it, you toast marshmallows under the broiler, so they take on that charred, almost blackened but raw in the middle experience that you get when you’re an impatient kid at a campfire. I was SO excited about this shake.

Bleh. It was way, way too sweet for me. Maybe it wouldn’t be for you. After all, it’s popular. I’ve lost much of my sweet tooth since I was pregnant with Lu. Ripe raspberries taste perfectly sweet to me, and anything else is too much. Still, Danny has a famous sweet tooth, and he couldn’t finish this shake either. So that was a disappointment.

8. The fries from the book, however, were great. Danny has been telling me for years about the towering piles of shoestring fries, hot and showered with salt, crisp and addictive, that he used to make at Cassis, here in Seattle, when he was the sous chef. However, Cassis closed and he has never made me those fries.

We made the fries out of of Spike’s book, the first fries we had ever made together. Oh yeah.

I miss fries. Did you know that if you have to eat gluten-free, you can’t eat French fries in most restaurants across the United States? Fries are most often fried in the same oil as onion rings and other gluten-containing goodies. Do you know how often most restaurants change their fry oil? Um, not often, according to Danny. So all that gluten hangs out there and contaminates the potatoes.

Much better to make them yourself at home. The Good Stuff Cookbook makes it easy for you.

baked sweet potato wedges

9. However, I think I enjoyed the baked sweet potato fries with thyme and honey even better than the French fries. These are keepers.

Spike's wedge salad with dried cranberries and fried goat cheese

10. I was grateful for the salads in The Good Stuff Cookbook. Not only because they are interesting combinations of flavors — and lots of them wedge salads with iceberg, which I’m starting to love — but also because I needed a respite from all the burgers and fries.

This was the wedge salad with fried goat cheese, dried cranberries, and slivered almonds. Fried goat cheese! I’m keeping that one too.

11. The truth is we tried to eat out of this cookbook all week long, the way we normally do with the cookbooks we feature here. We gave up after a few days, though. I just couldn’t eat one more burger.

There are vegetarian burgers and turkey burgers and tamarind-glazed pork burgers with red cabbage slaw and grilled pineapple. They all sounded fabulous. So it’s not as if we had to eat a big hunk of beef every day to cook out of this book. The sides alone would have sustained us. I wish that the watermelon at the store had been good so I could have made the grilled watermelon, yuzu, and feta salad. Soon, I will.

12. That’s the thing. This is a great book if you want to use it occasionally. With the Fourth of July coming up this weekend, we’re pulling it out again for the big party we’re attending on the island. Maybe I’ll bring the perfectly roasted wild mushrooms or the zucchini fritters or the farm-fresh potato salad. I may not want burgers two days in a row (and the day after we made the burger, fries, and the toasted marshmallow shake, I swore I wouldn’t be eating a burger of any kind for months), but I like this book.

13. The Good Stuff Cookbook is fresh, filled with good flavors, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. We really dig it. We think you will too. So we’re giving away a copy. Tell us a story about burgers or fries or your favorite side for a barbecue or what you consider good stuff (food done right without any pretension). We want to hear.

14. Frankly, the book was worth it for us because cooking out of it forced me to finally create a recipe for gluten-free hamburger buns I like.

And frankly, after you read the title of this post, that’s probably the only thing you wanted to see.

So here you go.

today's hamburger buns

Gluten-Free Hamburger Buns

I’ve been wanting to bake hamburger buns that make me happy for about 5 years. I don’t mean those starchy, super-flimsy grocery store buns. I mean the buns that are really great bread rolls, crusty on top and soft inside. If grocery-store buns are a Casio keyboard, then great rolls for hamburgers are the organ at Westminster Abbey.

Well, last week, I started singing Hallelujah. After all the baking work we have done these past two years, and what I have learned about bread baking in general, I created these. And then I did it again, and again, to make sure this wasn’t a fluke. It’s not a fluke. You could be eating these for the Fourth of July this weekend.

The recipe was inspired by the hamburger buns in the Gourmet cookbook, which many people told me was their favorite. I’ve also been playing with making sponge starters for bread recently. I like them with gluten-free baking, in particular, because sponges build more flavor and a better structure to breads. We can always use that with gluten-free. I learned this technique from the incredible book Baking by James Peterson. It’s my new baking bible. I’ll be sharing much more soon.

After fiddling and eating, I came up with the rolls of my dreams. Golden crusted and a little crisp, with a soft crumb and air holes. These are not too dense. (You couldn’t use them as hockey pucks.) They don’t taste funny. In fact, the many people whom I handed these to in the last few weeks could not tell they were gluten-free, at all.

And here’s a bonus. If you have a baguette pan, you can use this recipe to make crusty baguettes.

If you’re new to baking, this recipe might seem long and fussy. Believe me, it’s worth your time. You could be eating toasted hamburger buns this weekend. Or maybe even tonight.

Enjoy, everyone.

Update. Please read: A few of you were kind enough to write to me here and on email to say that the batch of hamburger bun dough you made was too wet. Perplexed, I shook my head and thought. I’ve made these at least five times before writing it. What could be wrong?

I just figured it out. When I originally typed this recipe (sleep-deprived, at the public library), I transcribed the wrong numbers from my recipe notebook. Instead of 70 grams of potato flour and almond flour, as I had originally written, it should be 140 of each. Big difference! I’m sorry to those of you whose doughs turned out wet from my mistake. (I have to stop typing up recipes when I’m so tired.) But thank you for writing and pointing out the error.

280 grams Aherns’ all-purpose gluten-free flour
140 grams almond flour
140 grams potato flour
100 grams soy milk (if you use cow’s milk, and your sponge is runny, use less next time)
165 to 260 grams water
1 tablespoon yeast
1 teaspoon guar gum
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 egg, well-beaten (optional)
1/4 cup sesame seeds (optional)

Combining the flours. Put the all-purpose flour, the almond flour, and the potato flour into a food processor. Mix them for a few moments until they have become one, coherent flour. Using the food processor aerates the flours in a way that seems to really help the bread. If you don’t have one, then use a stand mixer or a large bowl and whisk, then sift the flours into another bowl. This only takes a few moments, and it will really help the final buns.

Making the sponge. Measure out 210 grams of the combined flours into a large bowl. Warm the milk in a small saucepan until it is barely warm. After you have put on the milk, let your tap water run warm until it is 115 degrees. (This is the temperature when the water runs over your wrist warm, the same warmth as your flesh.) By the time you have added the water to the flour, the milk should be warm enough. If it’s hot at all, wait a few moments for it to cool down before you add it to the flours. Add the milk to the flours, then 165 grams of the water, and stir them all to combine. Stir the sponge well until it has the consistency of a thick porridge. If the sponge is too thick, add more warm water until you have the right consistency. (Each kitchen, depending on the heat and humidity, and elevation of where you are, will be slightly different.) Sprinkle the yeast over the mixture and let it sit for 3 minutes. Stir. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow it to sit in a warmish place until it has doubled or tripled in volume, about 1 to 2 hours.

(Here a note. If you let the sponge go more than two hours, — say, overnight, the way I did once — you’ll have even more flavor. However, the sponge turns more liquidy the longer it goes. Adjust your flours accordingly.)

Finishing the dough. Put the remaining flour and the sponge, along with the guar gum, melted butter and eggs, into the stand mixer. (If you don’t have one, you can do this by hand, with a lot of bicep work!) Mix until the dough is coherent, about 2 minutes. Cover the bowl of the stand mixer with plastic wrap or damp towel and let it sit for 20 minutes.

Add the salt to the dough, then knead the dough in the stand mixer until it comes together into a ball, about 7 minutes. (The salt might make the dough stick to the sides of the mixer, but it will come back into a ball again. If it doesn’t, then scrape the sides down with a rubber spatula. Remember that gluten-free bread doughs are always wetter than gluten doughs. It should be more like a thick cake batter, slightly sticky to the touch, than a finished gluten dough would be. See photo of it here.)

Once you have scraped the dough down into a one ball, shape it with damp hands into one coherent dough. (See photo of that here.) Put it in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover the dough with plastic wrap or a damp towel and allow it to sit in a warmish place in the kitchen until it has risen to twice its size, about 2 hours.

Baking the hamburger buns. About 1 1/2 hours after you have set the dough to rise, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. If you have a pizza stone (and boy, does it help with gluten-free baked goods), put it in the oven to come to temperature. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat. When the oven is fully hot, take the dough out of the bowl. It should feel good in your hands, like a traditional bread dough. (If it’s sticky, because you let the sponge grow for longer than 2 hours, simply wet your hands and work with the sticky dough.) If you want small buns (like sliders), cut the dough into 8 pieces. If you want larger hamburger buns, divide the dough into 5 pieces. Roll each piece of dough under your hands until it feels like a good ball of dough. Place it on the baking sheet and flatten it just a bit with the palm of your hand.

If you wish, brush the top of each dough ball with the beaten egg, then sprinkle with the sesame seeds.

Put a large sheet tray into the bottom rack of your oven. Fill it 1/2 way full with water. (I pour it from the tea kettle.) Slide the sheet tray with the dough on top of the pizza stone (or on a middle rack, if you don’t have a pizza stone). Spray the inside walls of the oven with water from a clean spray bottle. Close the oven door. Wait 30 seconds. Do it again. Bake the hamburger buns until they are golden brown, give a good hollow thump on the bottom, and have reached an internal temperature of 180 degrees (but no higher). This should take about 15 to 25 minutes, depending on the size of the buns you make and your own oven.

And voila! Hamburger buns.

Enjoy.