Summer Serendipity

Sometimes circumstances constellate to create something unexpected, unsought, and pretty wonderful. Seemingly random events collide and use their power for good. This happened to me recently. It involved two emails from unconnected sources and a magazine. The result was a one of a kind dinner, and the promise of many more to come.

It started about a month ago when my husband emailed me that we had the opportunity to buy 25 lbs of ground beef. Not just any ground beef, but grass-fed, antibiotic-free, straight from the Montana rancher (via his son) beef. Our friend Justin’s parents actually live in Western North Dakota, and the ranch is just over the state border into Montana. The ranch is on land homesteaded by Justin’s grandfather in 1909 and is made up of rolling grassy land. The land is divided into 80 pastures and the cattle are rotated through the pastures from spring until fall.

We’d had this beef once last summer at a backyard BBQ and we still remembered how good it was. I immediately began clearing space in the freezer. It is one thing to contemplate buying a lot of ground beef, and another to see 25 frozen 1-lb packages lined up in your freezer! That’s burgers, meatballs, sloppy joes, and chili for the remainder of the year. But, it’s summer now (or so the calendar says), and so it is mainly grilled burgers that are on our minds. 

Then came the second event: an email from King Arthur Flour Company. Like many companies, KAF sends out emails weekly, touting whatever special they are offering, but also with links to recipes and some tempting photos of gorgeous food. This time, the recipe link was to “Beautiful Burger Buns.” I had recently attempted hamburger buns from another recipe, and while they were pretty good, they were not great. Why do I want to make my own buns (aside from all the bad pun opportunities they present)? To eliminate unnecessary ingredients, sure, but mostly to be able to control the size and height of the buns. I have been known to build burgers that I cannot fit into my own mouth. 

I checked the weather forecast and there was no sun in sight – we were being promised a rainy, gray, chilly May week. I decided that burgers on the cast iron griddle are really almost as good as grilled burgers, put them on the menu, and scheduled some time to make the buns. 

The day before the burgers came up on the schedule, my June Bon Appetit magazine came in the mail. In that issue was an article for “Special Sauce” – allegedly the only thing a burger needs, aside from cheese, to be stellar. I just happened to have almost everything necessary for the sauce on hand; I didn’t consider the lack of celery salt a deal-breaker, though I had to substitute a diced pickle for the pickle relish (next time, I’ll be adding a little more pickle and a little more adobo sauce). 

The results of this perfect storm? Amazing. The buns were incredibly easy to make, taking about 3 hours, including rising time. The dough was easy to work with too, and while I will not try to tell you that a 5-year-old could do it on her own, I’ll say that my daughter was able to do most of the recipe with only reading and measuring help. The texture and flavor were exactly what I hoped they would be. The sauce was very good too, though I am not convinced it will replace BBQ sauce in my heart. And the burgers were tremendously tasty in the way that high quality, well-treated beef can be. 

We had already been having conversations about how to make the move back to organic meat, which has been more difficult to find in our new home town. The butcher carries only organic chicken, frozen whole. Our local co-op has frozen beef, pork, and chicken, but the cuts available constantly change and seldom match our needs. We have been talking about finding an online source to purchase from, and with each good meal we get closer to doing this.

Burger Buns Original Recipe

1 cup lukewarm water, or slightly less

2 Tbsp melted butter

1 egg

3-1/2 C flour 

¼ C sugar

1-1/4 tsp salt

1 Tbsp yeast

Additional melted butter for brushing buns*

Preheat oven to 375.

Mix the water, butter, and egg together. Add the flour, sugar, salt, and yeast and mix until it forms a smooth, soft dough. 

Cover dough and let rise until doubled (about 2 hours).

Turn dough out and divide into pieces for buns.** Place buns on pan lined with parchment paper. Let rise about one hour. Brush buns with butter, saving some for brushing after they bake. Bake buns 15-18 minutes, until golden. Remove from oven, brush with butter, and let cool.

*If you want seeded buns, brush the uncooked buns with an egg wash and sprinkle with seeds: sesame, flax, poppyseeds, sunflower seeds, etc. 

**For hamburger buns, I found it easiest to shape dough into a round and cut into eight wedges, then shape the wedges into buns. A wedge can be further divided in half for child-size buns, or sliders. I shaped dough into a rectangle when I used this recipe for hot dog buns, and divided the rectangle into equal slices.

Follow the link above to the King Arthur Flour Company web site for more recipe information and photos!

Merie Kirby grew up in California, moved to Minneapolis for grad school, and after getting her MFA stayed for fifteen more years. She now lives in Grand Forks, ND with her husband and daughter. Merie writes poetry and essays, as well as texts in collaboration with composers. She also writes about cooking, reading, parenting, and creating on her own blog, All Cheese Dinner. Her most recurrent dream is of making cookies with her mother. This is an excellent dream.