May 10, 2020

I like stuffed buns and I cannot lie

Not interested in what I have to say? I'll try not to take it personally.

Just gimme the recipe

You may have heard that chefs and bakers have issues with control. We’ve all seen those epic moments on TV where something goes wrong and the chef loses his/her shit and throws a dish at the wall. If it’s not perfect, then it’s garbage! How did we get here? How did something that was simply meant to nourish ourselves become an art form? What is it about food that instills this desire for perfection?

I’ll admit, I have a long history of being a bit of a control freak. And yes, I’ve had my fair share of diva moments in the kitchen where I lose my temper and throw things. I’m not proud of it and I feel pretty foolish immediately afterwards. If I were to put on a psychologist hat for a moment, I think it boils down to this. In times of chaos, I either get a hair cut or I cook. These are the two things in my life that I feel I have some control over. So naturally, if a recipe doesn’t turn out, I turn into the Incredible Hulk.

With the state of the world in chaos, you can imagine that I’ve been in the kitchen a lot lately. I’ve had more than a few snot filled moments resulting from trying to control the outcomes of this pandemic. And what I’ve come to realized is that I can’t control how others react to these situations. I can’t change the fact that my husband just used his sleeve to touch a dirty doorknob and then wiped his nose with it. But I can control my reactions to it and do something useful with those resulting emotions. And I can choose to go to the kitchen and make something delicious.

I saw this pop up on Twitter recently:

I’m going to disagree with Kevin here. When I’m baking, I am truly alone with my thoughts. There’s just something about being in the kitchen, working with simple ingredients, the feel of fresh dough in my hands. Temper tantrums aside, these are the moments that I really learn about myself.

This brings me to confession/realization #2. I’m obsessed with buns. And not just any buns. STUFFED buns. Now, I realize how that might sound to some of you, but I promise you, these stuffed buns are not rated X. These stuffed buns are rated G for 100% wholesome Goodness and are suitable for people of all ages.

In almost every culture, you can find some form of deliciousness wrapped in dough. There are Chinese dumplings, Nepalese momos, Cornish pasties, Indian samosas, Polish pierogies, Italian calzones… just to name a few.

Stuffed dough is a chef’s dream because the combinations are endless. When you really think about it, dough is just a vehicle for getting something tasty in your mouth. In most cases, it’s not eaten on its own – usually there are cold cuts, or cheese, or butter or jam involved. So why not include those things before the dough even sees the stovetop or oven?

My first experiences with stuffed dough were my grandmother’s cabbage buns. These buns are the most delicious, fluffy rolls filled with a combination of ground beef, cabbage and seasonings. On the outside, you would assume they were hamburger buns. But bite into one and surprise! A sandwich in disguise.

The premise of stuffed buns is simple – you can take any basic bread dough recipe and fill it with something, anything your heart desires. It takes a little bit of effort up front to fill and roll them all, but then you can stash a bunch in your freezer and take them out for snacks, or picnics or a midnight snack if you so desire.

If you’ve never made hand rolled buns before, get ready for some serious kitchen therapy. During a brief stint as a baker at a local Chicago brewpub, I would make over 400 hamburger buns on a Saturday. My boss, the head pastry chef, not surprisingly also had issues with control. Apparently, her first week on the job, a reviewer came in and complained that her hamburger buns were not round enough. So from time to time, while I was rolling buns, she would walk over and point out the ones that weren’t a perfect circle. And the cycle continues…

To roll out a perfectly round bun, form your hand like the letter ‘C’ around the dough and roll in a small circular motion until you feel the dough get smooth and taut. If you want to get fancy with it, you can try to do two at a time.

To fill the buns, flatten the dough into a rough circle about three inches wide and place a heaping tablespoon of filling in the center. You’re going to want to overfill these babies, but resist the urge! Overfilling can lead to leaks when baking, which then leads to diva temper tantrums. To seal in the filling, stretch and pull two opposite ends of the dough over the filling and pinch together. Repeat with the other two ends. Finally, stretch each corner of dough to the center of the bun until all of the filling is sealed in. Flip over and repeat the rolling process from above.

I can’t guarantee you won’t have any Incredible Hulk moments while making these, but just remember – this is supposed to be fun, ok? You’re not baking for Bon Appétit. No one is judging the roundness of your buns (it’s not a swim suit competition!). Let’s all just take a deep breath and enjoy these moments of simplicity in our kitchens. It’s a reprieve from the chaos that we all need.

Gimme the recipe