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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

John's Zephyr Buns

My Zephyr Buns “secret” was the result of a case of carelessness. I didn’t read the recipe instructions prior to starting the mixing. I slapped everything together and noticed immediately that the un-kneaded dough was WAY too wet. Went back to the book and finally read everything. Oh, drat … one of the 3 eggs was supposed to be ON the buns – not IN them! Rather than chunk the whole mess in the trash, I went ahead and kneaded it, baked it & served it to my favorite guinea pigs. That would be y’all .

WOW, everyone liked them!

After several batches, I figured out that there are some oddities of the recipe / soft dough that warrant passing along:

  • The recipe is more successful with “Better For Bread” flour; or, hard red winter wheat flour, if you can find it. This is a trade off. Cake flour would make the crumb even softer but the higher gluten “hard red” gives the soft dough enough structure to rise better. Regardless, plain old all purpose flour will work O.K. if that’s all you can get.
  • Be sure to use regular yeast – not one of the quickie versions now becoming popular. “Active” is fine. That doesn’t mean “quick”.
  • Ingredients (especially eggs) should be at room temperature before starting.
  • At first, the dough will be so sticky that you’ll think that you’ll never get it off your hands. Therefore, I usually start out using only one hand for kneading, keeping the other hand “clean” so that I can hold the bowl and reach for a little extra flour, etc., if I need it.
  • Initially, kneading might amount to squeezing the dough between your fingers (like playing with mud) for a while, until enough gluten forms for the mess to pull together into a ball that you can knead in the regular way. I usually don’t take the ball out of the mixing bowl while kneading. Just smack it around where it lies.
  • Do both the first rising in and especially the bun rise in a spot that is pleasantly warm, i.e., 75 to 95F (24-35C) and draft-free. This is structurally delicate dough. It can fall, like a cake. Watch out for cold counter tops, etc. My favorite method is to take the chill off of an oven by running it only until the metal walls and racks seem warm. Then shut it off and keep the door closed while waiting a few minutes for the oven temp to equalize out. Then put the dough into the your “rising oven” and close the door. There. Bet you didn’t know that you have one of those expensive dough conditioning “proofers”. Gas ovens are way better for this than electrics, if you’re lucky enough to have one.
  • Handle the risen buns VERY carefully. They’ll collapse if you slam them around.
  • With the buns out on the counter (obviously,) do a long pre-heat on your oven, before doing the baking. Even wait a few minutes after the first pre-heat cycle-off occurs (flame goes out or heating element goes off). Only then, put the buns in for baking.
  • Follow the baking time but watch the buns for beautiful dark tan browning. The time is only a guideline.
  • Immediately out of the oven, lightly brush the bun tops with butter. Don’t use soft “spreads” because they are very high in water content and may toughen the crust rather than soften it.
  • Serve warm. Eat them all. Leftovers, especially if refrigerator-cold, are icky, because of the high egg content. The crumb goes from heavenly soft when warm to “toothy” when chilled.

Funny thing: I once did the James Beard recipe, exactly as written, and the result is O.K. They are more middle-of-the-road. The crumb is not quite as much of a head-turner when warm; but, they aren’t quite as yucky as leftovers. I guess it is a trade off that you’ll have to evaluate on your own.

Serving Size: 18

1 package active dry yeast
1 tablespoons warm water -- (100-115 degrees)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour -- sifted
1/4 cup melted butter
1 teaspoon cool water

Soften the yeast in warm water and stir in the sugar and salt to dissolve. Proof the yeast and sugar before adding the salt.In a bowl, beat 2 of the eggs and blend in the flour. Use all 3 eggs. Then stir in the yeast mixture and melted butter. Cool the butter down below “hot” before stirring it in. Knead vigorously in the bowl with the hands, till the dough leaves the sides of the bowl and is elastic - 5minutes. Make into a ball, put in a buttered bowl, and cover with plasticwrap. Make sure the bowl is big enough that the risen dough won’t touch the plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm, draft-free place for 1 1/2 hours, or till doubled in bulk. Punch down and divide into 18 equal pieces. I pinch off “ping-pong ball” sized pieces. Roll the pieces into balls and arrange, well separated, on a buttered baking sheet. Let rise 30 minutes,or until doubled in size. Inside your new proofing cabinet. Bake in a preheated oven at 375F for 10 minutes, or until nicely browned. Brush with butter. Serve warm.
Cool on a rack.

Originally posted 1/12/08

1 comment:

  1. Update -- Attn Ex-Pats:

    Chalk this one up to old age, being pressed for time and cultural variations ...

    "Eggs" ain't always the same as "eggs." Because most of the moisture in this recipe is furnished by the 3 eggs it becomes important that they're the correct size or that an allowance is made (hence my remark above about keeping one hand out of the kneading bowl to "reach for a little extra flour, etc., if I need it."

    Since the basic recipe is from a USA book, one should assume that the "eggs" are "large". That is typically how things go up there. Here in Costa Rica most of the eggs are right at the "extra large" size in appearance -- some even larger.

    What's the big deal, you say? In a triple batch for this past Thanksgiving blowout, the difference amounted to almost 1/2c of extra liquid. Result: goo. I had to add so much extra flour that I became concerned about the butter and salt ratio. The consumers all crowed (eggs. crowed. get it?) about the finished buns but I could tell the difference. No Blue Ribbon for those babies.

    Technical Time: Medium egg = 3T (44ml); Large egg = 3.25T (48ml); Extra Large = 4T (59ml); Jumbo = too much [These numbers are from a gubmit publication and their conversions were not right *gasp*. In case the ml numbers they gave were correct volumes and the T's were approximations, they were 43, 46 & 56, respectively]

    For measuring freaks, you should have 4-7/8 liquid oz or just over 1/2c of eggs in this recipe.

    Your mileage may vary. Good Luck and ¡Buen Provecho!


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