Breakfast Bun Variations: French

In my quest to simplify baguettes, i decided to see if I could give my breakfast buns a French twist that was more successful than my water wash.

I adapted Cooks’ Illustrated latest baguette baking technique (which, incidentally, has been the most successful at yielding the appropriate thin and crispy crust). I took my usual breakfast bun dough and added diastatic malt:

  • 250 g 00 flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon diastatic malt powder
  • 185 g water

I mixed everything together, let it sit for 30 minutes in after transferring to a lightly oiled bowl, then folded the dough over itself 8 times, rotating the bowl 1/8 of a turn between folds. I repeated the folds every 30 minutes for a total of four sets of eight, leaving the dough to rest covered with plastic wrap in between. The dough then rested in the refrigerator for a few days.

I took out the dough, split it into four pieces, the rolled each into a ball on a floured counter top. In then elongated each into a batard by rolling back and forth. Each piece went on to a cornmeal dusted silicone baking mat on a half sheet pan. I rested them for about 1.5-2 hours covered in oil-sprayed plastic wrap. I preheated the oven to 475° F and slashed the dough with a lame.

 I replaced the plastic wrap with a loose covering of aluminum foil, which j removed after the first 5 minutes of baking.

I continued cooking for a total of 20 minutes then took the rolls out to cool.

The results were surprisingly successful. There was the baguette-style thin and crispy crust with a light airy crumb. The airy texture meant the rolls were considerably larger than usual despite using the same amount of dough.

Breakfast Bun Variations: Water Wash

After trying a series of enriched doughs (with milk, then egg, as well as sugar), I went back to my original breakfast bun recipe, but this time changed my baking technique. Having recently made baguettes, I attempted a more crusty bun by brushing the dough balls with water prior to baking, and spraying water into the oven a few times during the first six minutes to create steam.

The buns came out great, with good color and flavor. The crust had a bit of resistance, but they were not truly crusty after 15 minutes at 375 °F (with convection). I wasn’t surprised: this temperature is probably not high enough and my relatively large oven probably requires more aggressive measures for introducing steam. Adding a bit of sugar or malt powder may also help.

Breakfast Bun Variations: Egg

The addition of powdered milk to my breakfast buns buns had gone so well, I was convinced that swapping the milk for egg would be similarly excellent. I kept the butter and sugar amounts the same at one tablespoon each, but added a whole egg. Because the egg is accompanied by a fair amount of water, I cut the water by 60 mL based on some online research.
This left the final formula for four buns as:

  • 250 g 00 flour
  • 120 mL water
  • 1/2 teaspoon yeast
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter

I miss the simpler ingredient list from the original version, but such is the price of progress. After a series of folds over the course of an hour, I let the dough rest in the fridge for 36 hours, then made the buns as usual, adding s simple egg wash.

The buns browned quickly and were near 210° F after 11 minutes in my 375 °F oven. Surprising, they were a bit disappointing. They were a bit dense and dull tasting compared to both the plain dough and the milk dough.

Possible culprits:

  • too much egg: the recipe is similar to my go to burger buns, but has a whole egg instead of half. The extra protein load may be overkill.
  • not enough sugar: the egg dough really benefits from sweetness, and the egg lacks the additional sugar that comes with the milk. Sugar would have also helped retain moisture.
  • overcooking: even though I stopped the cooking earlier than usual, this recipe seemed less tolerant of the time in the oven

Breakfast Bun Variations: Milk

My go-to breakfast buns have solved many of my breakfast dilemmas. Why not eat fresh bread if you can?

My go to recipe is:
* 250 g 00 flour
* 3/4 teaspoon salt
* 1/4 instant yeast
* 180 g water

I mix the dry ingredients together, add the water and stir to combine. I let the dough rest and overnight in a plastic wrap covered bowl. The dough is split in four; shaped into buns and rested for 1–2 hours before baking at 375° F for 15 minutes.

What could make me want to mess with perfection?

That nagging feeling that perhaps they could be something greater, that an untapped potential lay hidden beneath the…crust.

Ever since learning how to make banh bao, I been drawn to the idea of using milk to transform the dough into one that can produce a pillowy cake-like bread. If I were to apply the same approach to the buns, could make a softer roll that was less rustic than my usual buns?

I took baby steps for my first attempt. I added one tablespoon of powdered milk, one teaspoon of sugar, and a tablespoon of butter. I doubled the yeast since I wanted the dough to rise in the fridge instead of at room temperature because, well, leaving milk at room temperature seemed like a bad idea (and caused an odd taste with my previous attempt). Two days later, my milk buns were ready.

They were good, softer and smoother than the plain rolls. But they needed something more. So that’s what they got. More milk powder (doubled to two tablespoons) and more sugar (one tablespoon). These were good. Soft, without the mushiness of a fast food burger bun. The sugar added a golden caramelizarion to the crust, but it remained soft. A nice change when your jaw doesn’t want to work so hard for each bite.

Next up: eggs

Success by a thousand cuts

In many initial reviews, the Apple Watch was criticized for being an unfocused product, trying to do too many things without a clear purpose. It’s natural to ask “what is it for” and “do I really need this” when a new product category emerges. Having used the Watch for nearly a month, I’m struck by the similarity to the iPhone. I have found the Watch to be an invaluable addition, but it’s not any one particular function that elevates it to a core piece of technology in my life. It’s rather that it combines a host of useful functionality in a single piece of technology.

I stopped wearing a watch years ago. While it may have been more convenient to glance at my wrist than pull out my phone, it wasn’t better enough to warrant wearing something additional. A traditional watch might display the time and the date, which my Watch will do as well. I also get a timer display, the temperature, and my next appointment (and could choose different pieces of information to use as watch face “complications” if it suited me). Add to this the activity monitoring and workout tracking that integrates with HealthKit, providing superior tracking, heart rate monitoring, and other functionality when compared to competing fitness trackers like the FitBit. This combination would be worthwhile in and of itself, but quickly the watch starts seeming like those late night infomercials (“but wait, there’s more!”). Order now and the Watch also will offer you a more convenient way to use Apple Pay, easier access to important notifications, a convenient speakerphone, and a quick way to reply to important messages.

It’s the opposite of “death by a thousand cuts”. It’s combining functions that in and of themselves are minor conveniences and producing a product that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Watch This Space

My Apple Watch arrived 5 days ago, so I have only had a brief time with it. With such a new product category, it’s too early for me to provide any sort of substantive review, but here are a few first impressions:

Build quality: I have the stainless steel model with the Milanese loop. The fit and finish are fantastic, and it looks great. Men don’t have many ways to “accessorize”, and watches can either be a beneficial stylistic addition or a detractor. The Pebble struck me as clunky appearing and awkward, but the Apple Watch looks like a legitimate piece of jewelry. I wear the smaller 38mm model given my relatively modest wrists, and it does not look bulky or out of place.

The screen: It’s sharp and beautiful, though some of the smaller text can strain my aging eyes. I have not needed to adjust the font size, however. I cannot see the black border around the screen: the screen itself is so dark when off, that it seamlessly blends with the border, an excellent visual effect and an advantage of the OLED technology used.

Battery life: Everyone will have a different experience based on usage patterns, but I’m finding it more than adequate. I have not yet dipped below 50% by the end of the day, despite frequent checks.

Functionality: The main utility of the Apple Watch at this point is to display information that would normally go only to your phone. In that sense, it’s just like a traditional watch, but with a broader scope than just time. I may look at my watch to check the time, but now it also shows me the weather, my activity, my next appointment, or my current timer.

I initially used the “modular” watch face, but soon switch to “utility”, which I find less cluttered. It forces you to be more selective with “complications” (the little information additions to the watch face like temperature, moon phase, etc.), which is a good thing. I currently add the date, the temperature, a timer (which I use frequently), and my next appointment. All have proven useful, but the time still appropriately takes the bulk of the display.

I’m still learning how to take advantage of “glances”, the mini-apps you get by swiping up, but in many cases these seem more convenient and just as useful as many of the full-blown apps. The watch is best for quickly accessing information, not for lengthy interactions.

Easy access to notifications are one of the main advantages of having the watch, and it’s key that you carefully curate what gets pushed to your wrist. Fortunately, Apple’s watch app for the iPhone makes this fairly easy. For example, my watch displays a banner whenever I get an email, but my Watch only notifies me if the email is from someone I have tagged as a “VIP”.

The taptic engine is great, but I wish the notifications were a little more prominent. I have the “prominent haptic” feature turned on, which makes the tactile notification stronger for certain alerts, and this works well, but I sometimes miss alerts that don’t use this feature. This is something that could be tweaked with software updates in the future.

The biggest surprise so far has been how much better Apple Pay is on the watch compared to the phone. I thought it would be awkward paying with the watch, but in fact it’s more discrete and faster than using the iPhone. I want to pay for everything this way. I was initially skeptical about how much time Apple Pay would save compared to simply swiping a credit card, but particularly with the Watch, it’s striking how quick and easy it is.

Downsides? None of the third party apps have been particularly useful so far. I think it will take some time for everyone to figure out the best ways to use this new platform. Trying to replicate iPhone apps on a smaller screen is not really useful, particularly if extended interaction is required. The current WatchKit approach (which will be superseded by true native apps later this year) is also far too slow.

Getting Punchy with pizza

Many pizza places I’ve tried end up being somewhat uninspiring, but a good shop can be a gem. Because of the extremely high heat a commercial pizza oven can generate, there is the potential  to have a meal that’s impossible to perfectly replicate at home.

Most of the high quality places I’ve been to recently have been away from home, perhaps because Boston is not known for its pizza or perhaps because I just tend to eat out more when the home kitchen isn’t in reach. I have particularly liked  Pepe’s (coming to Boston in the future) and Modern  in New Haven, which serve up a distinctive local variety. Traveling in Minneapolis. however, there’s a few good Neapolitan spots. Neapolitan pizza, unlike the New York or even New Haven varieties, has a simple dough of flour, water, salt, and yeast (no sugar or oil) and is best eaten fresh with simple toppings. The best I’ve found around here is Punch, with several locations. In addition to a well made dough with just the right chewiness, the toppings are extremely high quality. Spend the extra to get the buffalo mozzarella and Mt. Vesuvio tomatoes.