When life gives you free-range organic ground beef, you make pretzel hamburger buns. Well I do at least….
In my previous blog, years ago I wrote about my obsession with free schwag. I sort of ended the post (this was four years ago mind you) talking about how I really don’t have room anymore for all the random schwag that I used to get…and in fact I no longer seek it out.
That doesn’t mean, however that I don’t love free stuff still. Anyone who has gone to a conference with me or a department store cosmetic counter with me knows that I can get samples like no one else. My friends have marveled at how I can not only charm the shop clerk into giving me samples, but have gotten larger and more expensive samples than the average shopper. In fact, because I no longer get samples for myself (unless I really want to try the item) I usually love going shopping with friends to get them samples. I get the joy of scoring free stuff, without the clutter.
Case in point – I once scored a 50mL bottle of Alexander McQueen’s (RIP) signature perfume Kingdom for no reason other than I was friendly with the saleperson from a previous gig handing out cookies there. Despite being a woman’s perfume, I still wear it now and then (it mixes well with my body chemistry and actually smells more masculine than you would think).
That said, it was completely unexpected when I got a pound of free-range ground beef from Prather’s Ranch Meat Company last week at the Ferry Building in San Francisco.
I went there during my lunch break on a lark. I really didn’t know what I wanted to eat and I realized that I was tired of walking to Union Square (San Francisco’s shopping district) so I went the other direction toward the Ferry Building. I was hoping that the Farmer’s Market was going on, but I had forgotten that they only held it on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays (it was a Monday).
I wandered about the Ferry Building trying to decide what I should eat, and if I should pick something up for dinner. Then I stumbled on the Prather’s Ranch store and decided to ask the man if they had any suet for sale, or how long it would take to to get it.
Those who have read this blog before, know that I joined the Daring Baker’s Challenge and April’s challenge was to make a British Steamed Pudding – using a traditional British ingredient, suet.
So I figured, last minute of course (the challenge was due the next day), that I would ask them if they had any suet on hand. After all, Prather’s Ranch has gotten quite a buzz about their leaf lard that they sell (I haven’t had a chance to use any of it for my pie crust, but I will…oh yes I plan on it!) and are very proud of their lard (along with the organic free-range you meat you can pick up a t-shirt that says “Thank the Lard”). So I figure suet probably wasn’t totally out of the realm of possibilities for them.
I was out of luck, as it turns out it takes two weeks for them to get the suet. The reason is that they place their orders two weeks, and it takes that long to slaughter the cows and get the cuts they need. The beef is dry aged (as opposed to wet processed) and it takes them two weeks to process the meat.
That said, we got to talking about the the ranch, their practices and the livestock. I asked them if their organic beef was grass finished, and he said that they weren’t. Though the cows were fed a strict organic vegetarian feed, the cows were fed a combination of chopped forage along with some organic barley and organic rice.
He then explained to me that each package of ground beef was actually labeled so you knew which cow it came from and when the cow was slaughtered and processed. In fact, each package of ground beef was beef that came from one single cow, not multiple cows. That’s actually not common practice and so I was suitably impressed. The fact that they dry aged their beef 10 – 21 days before selling it was also worth taking note of (dry aging beef intensifies the flavor, but it also takes longer and because of shrinkage, means you get less meat to sell as well as being more labor intensive.)
He asked me if I had ever had their beef before, and I told him that I was pretty sure I was served it at restaurants but had never made it at home. That’s when he looked around furtively, asked me where I was going right after talking to him, and before I could even answer, slapped a pound of ground beef in my hand.
“Here. Try this. On me. Let me know what you think. I recommend making burgers – and seasoning with only salt and pepper just to really taste what the beef is like.”
So there you go. A free pound of beef. I texted AJ right away and told him “Looks like we’re having burgers tonight!”
And so I went home and told him everything above. I decided I wanted to make some hamburger buns for the burgers as well. Not just regular buns, but soft pretzel buns. Because beef this good probably shouldn’t be served on cheap loaf bread that we have in our freezer. Also because AJ and I love our soft pretzels. So why not serve burgers on pretzel buns?
The burgers, by the way, were delish – simple ground beef seasoned with salt and pepper. I’m totally going back and buying some more beef from them. Samples work, they just gained another customer!
Whilst baking, I listened to David Byrne and Fatboy Slim’s Here Lies Love, a concept album based on the life of Imelda Marcos. It’s way better than it sounds.
Note: I decided to send this post to Yeastspotting as well. Yay Yeast!
Soft Pretzel Buns
adapted from an Alton Brown recipe for Soft Pretzels.
1 1/2 cups warm water (110-115˚ F)
1 tablespoon barley malt syrup (see note)
2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 1/4 teaspoon (1 package) dry yeast
4 1/2 cups bread flour (see note)
4 tablespoon melted butter
10 cups of water
2/3 cup baking soda
1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1. Place the water into the bowl of a standing mixer and stir the barley malt syrup and salt until they both dissolve. Then sprinkle the yeast on top and let it stand for about 5 minutes, until the mixture starts to foam. If it doesn’t foam, it means your yeast isn’t viable, and you should start over with fresh water and yeast.
2. Add the bread flour and butter into the mixing bowl, and with a dough hook attached, start stirring the mixture slowly together with the mixer.
3. Once the dough is combined, increase the speed to medium and knead the dough for 5 minutes. Be sure to keep guard over the mixer as you do this, as it will start to creep across the counter.
4. Once the dough is smooth and kneaded, remove the dough from the bowl and grease the bowl with some flavorless cooking spray and put the dough back into the bowl, turning it so the oil covers the entire dough ball. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise until it doubles, about 50-55 minutes or so.
5. Preheat the oven to 450˚ and line two baking sheets with silpats or parchment paper (if you use the parchment paper, you may want to spray them with flavorless cooking oil beforehand).
6. Bring the 10 cups of water with the 2/3 cup baking soda dissolved in it to a boil in a stockpot or dutch oven.
7. Take the dough and divide it in half. Then divide each half into 5 equal parts. You should 10 lumps of dough. Take each lump and cupping your hand, roll them into balls.
8. Once the water is boiling, place five balls of dough into the water and boil the dough for 45 seconds. Then flip the dough upside down in the water and boil for another 45 seconds. Remove the ball of dough using a flat spatula with slots or holes in it (so it can drain a little). Place the five boiled dough balls onto one of the prepared baking sheets and repeat with the other five balls of dough.
9. Brush the dough balls with the egg yolk wash and sprinkle some sesame seeds onto the top.
10. Bake the buns until they are dark pretzel colored brown for 14-16 minutes, rotating and switching the pans halfway through. Cool on a rack for five or ten minutes before cutting them in half and using them with the free organic free-range ground beef you just got.
Note 1. You can use all purpose flour if you don’t have bread flour, but I think the consistency of the bread flour really adds to the buns. When you use all-purpose, because it has less gluten, the buns are a little more cake like.
Note 2. This dough is the exact same dough I use for making soft pretzels. If you want to make soft pretzels, divide the dough into 8 pieces, roll them out into a long rope, make a U shape and holding the ends, cross over and press the ends into the bottom of the U, making a pretzel shape. Just continue with the rest of the recipe and instead of using sesame seeds on top, sprinkle kosher or pretzel salt on top. (Oh and yes, that is a Hello Kitty Toaster you see in the back of my picture of pretzels. She was a gift from my friend Emmie – and she burns Hello Kitty onto the toast. It’s totally ridiculously cute.)
Note 3. 2/3 cups of baking soda seems like a lot, but it’s to simulate the traditional pretzel making of boiling the dough in lye. I personally find lye (even the food safe kind) a bit scary to work with – and it’s a bit hard to find, but the baking soda does a really good job of taking it’s place. It basically carmelizes the dough to give it that dark brown color and signature slightly bitter pretzel taste. You can skip the baking soda if you like, but then your pretzel buns would just be boiled bread buns. Not as much fun nor as tasty.
Note 4. You can buy barley malt syrup at Whole Foods, a health store, or online. However, if you can’t find it, you can substitute another sweetner like honey, molasses, brown sugar or plain white sugar. I just like using the barley malt syrup as that’s what traditional pretzels are made with.