Story and Recipe: Homemade Potato Buns
A couple of months ago my wife asked me what I’d like for my birthday dinner. I thought for a moment and said that it had been years since we’ve enjoyed real Maine lobster. Rather than spend a lot of money dining out why not have them flown in live to our home? I said I’d research sources, do the ordering, and cook the lobsters myself. Now, what does this have to do with homemade potato buns?
The lobsters were sweet and utterly memorable and we had enough leftover meat to make lobster rolls the next day. But where would I find the soft, yet substantial, yeast buns to hold the filling? The answer: Make them myself.
Potato Bread Tips
I’ve been a fan of potato breads all my life. Cooked potato adds moistness and tenderness to all sorts of breads. The potato starches swell up tremendously and retain their moisture, so yeast doughs bake up especially soft, yet durable. You can’t squish a potato bun into nothing like so many store-bought breads.
You can use these buns for hot dogs or any kind of filling that pleases you. These buns contain a small amount of barley malt syrup which adds a mild sweetness to dough. It is sold in jars in specialty markets and health food stores and, once opened, keeps for years in the refrigerator. If you can’t find it or don’t bake bread very often, just substitute honey.
- Stand mixer (optional)
- Large cookie sheet / baking pan
- Silicone baking pan liner or parchment paper
- 1 medium Idaho or Yukon Gold Potato about 8 ozs
- 1 tablespoon Barley malt syrup or honey
- 1 package Active dry or rapid-rise yeast 2 ¼ teaspoons
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour 15 ozs
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1 large egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water
- Peel the potato, cut it into chunks, and put them in a medium saucepan with 2 cups of water.
- Cook, uncovered, over medium- to medium-high heat, until the potato is very tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, about 25 minutes.
- Turn the potatoes and liquid into a strainer set over a bowl.
- Measure the liquid and set it aside.
- Either mash the potatoes until smooth in a medium bowl or pass them through a ricer.
- Measure ½ cup packed mashed/riced potatoes.
- Tip: You can add butter and seasonings to any leftovers and enjoy as a snack.
- Add enough warm tap water to the saved potato water to measure 1 cup.
- Put the water into the bowl of a stand mixer and stir in the barley malt syrup. It’s very sticky.
- Sprinkle on the yeast and add the potatoes, melted butter, and flour.
- Stir with a wooden spoon to make a shaggy mass.
- Attach the dough hook and knead of medium-low speed 5 minutes.
- Cover the dough and let it rest 20 minutes.
- Add the salt and knead on medium speed until the dough cleans the sides of the bowl and becomes stretchy. Dough should be slightly sticky. If too dry, knead in small amounts of water.
- Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured surface; knead briefly and shape into a ball. Final dough should be smooth and supple.
- Hand Mixing Option: If you lack a stand mixer, just mix everything together (including the salt) with a wooden spoon in a large bowl and knead the dough on a lightly floured surface until it is smooth, elastic, and just barely sticky to the touch. The dough is now ready to rise.
- Wash and dry the mixing bowl and coat it lightly with cooking spray or vegetable oil.
- Add the dough, cover tightly, and let rise at room temperature until dough has doubled in size, about 1 hour. But that depends on your room temperature.
- Remove the dough to a lightly floured surface and divide it into 10 equal pieces, each weighing 3 ounces. Here’s where a scale is really handy.
- Shape each piece into a ball, space the balls a couple of inches apart, cover with a kitchen towel, and let them rest 15 minutes to relax the gluten.
- Line a large cookie sheet (14 x 17 inches) or baking sheet (17 x 11 inches) with silicone baking pan liner or cooking parchment.
- To shape the buns, flatten each ball of dough into a rough rectangle about 7 inches long.
- Fold the dough in thirds, like a business letter.
- Turn the dough 90 degrees and make a crease down the length of the dough with a chopstick or pencil.
- Fold both halves of the dough together and press firmly to seal the seam.
- Roll each bun under your palms to about a 5-inch length and set seam side down onto the prepared sheet. Arrange buns well apart to allow space for rising.
- Cover the buns with a kitchen towel and let them rise until doubled in size at room temperature, about 45 minutes.
- While the buns rise, adjust an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- When the buns are ready to bake, brush them with the egg glaze.
- Bake about 15 to 20 minutes, until buns are golden brown.
- Cool completely on a wire rack. The buns are terrific as soon as they’ve cooled off.
- Leftover buns may be wrapped tightly and frozen for up to 1 month.
- To refresh, thaw them in their wrapping. Then unwrap and put them on a baking sheet; pop into a preheated 325 degree oven for 10 minutes. Cool and serve.