Friday, August 13, 2010

California Summer-Bear Claws & Burger Buns

It’s been a looooong time since I was a recent high school graduate but I still remember the feeling that life is filled with possibilities and adventures still to come. I do remember the excitement of visiting California for the first time, many moons ago. Partly due to movies and TV and partly because the Free Speech movement, which was it's height at the University of California during my own college years, had made the news, I had an impression of California long before I arrived. My mom had also told us about her time living in San Francisco during World War II, so when it was time for my first vacation as an employed adult I chose to visit the San Francisco area.

We have been fortunate that The Captain, a recent high school graduate, has been here a few days and he knows just how it feels to have tossed his tassle-less cap in the air recently and has been sharing the excitement that comes with being an East Coast guy visiting California for the first time.

We started with a visit to Spengers, the old time fish market and restaurant that used to be on the Berkeley waterfront, although it’s a bit inland now since they did so much filling in of the bay decades and decades ago. We enjoyed some great seafood and lots of nautical memorabilia, too. The highlight was billed as an upside down apple pie. Not sure what that meant but it was delicious and came with cinnamon ice cream.

Since then we’ve been to a county fair where we took in the food, farm animals, 4H

and a horse race,
to the town of Sonoma where he checked out the old Spanish mission and its adobe bricks and ancient cactus plants, plus we had dinner with Natasha and Miss L. He’s also visited hardware stores, a roadhouse and a salvage yard with Sweetie.

Another day we went to Bodega bay for the beach and Bodega Head

views and fun,

including fun with Xam who looked like a puppy again running along the sand,
and another fish market at Valley Ford where we discovered pretty authentic North Carolina style barbecue. Leaving the coast we stopped at one of the iconic places

where The Birds by Hitchcock was filmed at the town of Bodega. Further fun included a walk in the redwoods

and a picnic overlooking a panoramic view of Austin Creek Recreation area, followed by a drive by the Russian River where we spotted dozens of folks enjoying rafting and kayaking in the late afternoon sunshine. Not all of this happened on the same day, so we’ve been getting in some just-sitting-around-reading-and-sketching-and-enjoying-hobbies time, too. The Baker’s Dog has been thrilled to have the Captain here. Lots of walks, play time and outings have kept Xam happy and a touch worn out.

One day we got into the kitchen in the morning and managed to make hamburger rolls, a braided loaf of bread and bear claws by the end of the day with sightseeing in between! The Captain did most of the work, although I found the recipes and sort of directed the action. My main job (which I assigned to myself so I wouldn’t ‘help’ too much) was kitchen wench washing all the stuff as he was finished with it and putting stuff away in the cupboards. I want one of those when I bake!

For the bear claws we went with a dough based on the dough in Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice for Sticky Buns, plus my own filling recipe. The last time I made bear claws I used walnuts but this time we went with toasted almonds, plus a little almond flour. Perhaps it was the Captain’s light touch or maybe the coolness of the day and long rise, but these were outstanding and far better than the walnut ones.

I still think that the instructions for putting them together is suspect. Next time I plan to only roll the dough 8 inches wide, to put filling in sections and seal the dough between sections, then cut the claws along the fold and not the cut edge as we did this time.

The pastries will probably be bigger that way but the filling will stay put.

For the buns and braid we went with a cooked cereal recipe and modified it. Quick rolled oats was the cereal of choice.

The flour mixture was about half unbleached white bread flour and half a secret, proprietary mixture of the Captain’s that contained barley and whole wheat flour and millet. Raw sunflower seeds topped the hamburger buns, held on with an egg white wash.

Recently I read somewhere that the secret to shaping hamburger buns is to press them down once you have shaped them into balls. Should have thought of that myself, but my last attempt yielded buns that were too tall and bready and not wide enough for a decent burger. This time we patted them down well and they were just the perfect size and height.

The braid is the same dough as the buns and has a whole egg wash. It made a great base for sandwiches for the picnic!

The Captain has been fun to have around, but he has also been a big help. He met Grandma L right after he had mowed her whole yard. While he was doing that Sweetie took a header when the mower he was using decided to head down a bank unexpectedly. All is well except for some scratches but it sure startled a woman driving by on the hill. The two guys also took the old tub to the dump and had fun poking around the recycled area. Wish I had been there but someone has to show up at work now and then. We still have some fun ahead of us...and a surprise guest...with a post next week to update you.

These breads are going to the weekly Yeastspotting over at Susan's blog Wild Yeast. Every week there is a collection of wonderful yeasted breads, rolls and other goodies. Check it out!

If it isn’t too hot to bake where you are and if you enjoy a sweet, tender pastry with a nice crunchy filling, give these bear claws a try. The Captain’s outstanding oatmeal and multigrain braid and buns recipe follows.

Almond Bear Claws
Days to Make: One (1) Active/Resting/Baking Time: 15 minutes to mix, 3 1/2 hours fermentation/shaping/proofing, 20 - 40 minutes to shape and bake
Recipe Quantity: sixteen (16) small rolls

Making the Dough

6 1/2 tablespoons (3.25 ounces) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
5 1/2 tablespoons (2.75 ounces) shortening or unsalted butter or margarine
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon grated zest of 1 lemon
3 1/2 cups (16 ounces) unbleached bread or all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast*
1 1/8 to 1 1/4 cups whole milk or buttermilk, at room temperature OR 3 tablespoons powdered milk (DMS) and 1 cup water (I used 1 1/8 cups evaporated milk)
*Instant yeast contains about 25% more living cells per spoonful than active dry yeast, regardless of the brand. Instant yeast is also called rapid-rise or fast-rising.

Step 1 - Making the Dough: Cream together the sugar, salt, and shortening or butter on medium-high speed in an electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a large metal spoon and mixing bowl and do it by hand).

(Note: if you are using powdered milk, cream the milk with the sugar, and add the water with the flour and yeast.)

Whip in the egg and lemon zest until smooth. Then add the flour, yeast, and milk. Mix on low speed (or stir by hand) until the dough forms a ball. Switch to the dough hook and increase the speed to medium, mixing for approximately 10 minutes (or knead by hand for 12 to 15 minutes), or until the dough is silky and supple, tacky but not sticky. You may have to add a little flour or water while mixing to achieve this texture. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

Step 2 - Fermentation: Ferment at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.

Almond Filling
1/3 cup unsalted butter
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup diced dried figs
1 cup lightly toasted almonds, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons almond flour (finely ground almonds/almond meal)
¼ teaspoon salt

Melt and simmer for about 2 minutes the butter and brown sugar. Stir in the figs and simmer for 2 minutes, stirring as needed to keep fruit from sticking. Remove from heat and stir in the almonds, almond flour and salt. Cool slightly before using.

Step 3 - Form the Buns: Lightly flour a board or flat surface or counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Divide dough in half. Return one half to the bowl and cover with oiled plastic wrap.

Roll out one half on a floured board into a 9-by-18-inch rectangle. You may have to add additional flour to the board and/or rolling pin as you work. Sprinkle half of the almond filling over the middle third of the dough. Fold outside third of dough toward center. Fold dough once more to make three layers. Pinch ends of dough to seal. Place sealed side down on greased (or silicon mat lined) baking sheets. Cut into eight pieces. Make four 1/4-inch cuts through the open side of each section and shape into bear claw by separating the four cut sections and curving slightly.

Repeat procedure with remaining dough and filling.

Let rise, uncovered, until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes or until golden.

If desired, combine egg yolk with water and brush the tops of bear claws then sprinkle with some sliced almonds before baking.
After baking cool on a rack. When cool drizzle on glaze.

White Glaze: In a Ziploc bag combine ½ cup confectioners’ sugar, the juice of ½ a lemon and enough warm milk (less than ¼ cup usually) to make a glaze that will drizzle out if you cut a small notch in one bottom corner of the Ziploc bag.
Now for the burger buns and bread braid:

The Captain’s Multi-grain Burger Buns and Braided Loaf

1 cup rolled oats, cooked and cooled
1 cup sourdough starter, or 3/4 cup warm water (110 degrees F) with 1 package of dry yeast sprinkled over, and allowed to proof for 5 minutes
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 cup milk at room temperature
About 1 ¼ pounds mixed flours. We used about 2 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour and the rest a mixture of barley, whole wheat flour and ¼ cup millet seeds, weighed to make1 pound 3 oz.

About another ounce of unbleached flour was used for hand kneading. (If using sourdough starter you may find you need extra flour depending on what percentage hydration your starter has.)

1 teaspoon salt

In the bowl of a stand mixer combine the cooked and cooled grain cereal mixture, the sourdough starter or proofed yeast, the egg, butter and milk with a wooden spoon. Set aside.

In a large bowl whisk together the flours, millet and salt. Place a dough hook on the stand mixer. With the machine running on low, gradually add the flour mixture (plus the additional flour, if needed) until the dough comes together, climbs the dough hook, and cleans the sides of the bowl. Continue to run the mixer on slow to let the dough knead for another 5- 10 minutes, or until dough is smooth and silky.

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead another minute to completely combine the ingredients. Gather dough into a ball and place in an oiled large bowl or other container large enough for the dough to rise in. Turn the dough over to oil the whole ball. Cover with a tea towel or oiled plastic wrap and let rise in a draft free warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

To make hamburger buns and a braided loaf divide dough into two pieces.

Shape one piece into a braid by dividing the dough into thirds, shaping each third into a rope, laying the ropes side by side on a parchment or silicon mat lined baking sheet and braiding the ropes, tucking under the ends. Braid loosely since the bread needs to rise before baking (and some in the oven, too!). Cover with a tea towel or plastic wrap and let rise in a draft free warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1- 1 1/2 hours. While dough is rising, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Brush top with an egg wash (1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons water). Place baking pan into preheated oven and bake braid until golden brown. Bread is done when it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom and is golden brown.

Take second half out of bowl and divide it into 6 pieces. The Captain weighed the pieces so that they were pretty close in weight to each other.

Take each piece and pull pieces from all around toward the bottom, creating a ball. Place with the bottom down, then gently push down from the top to flatten the ball by about half. This will also make the bun a bit wider. Cover with oiled plastic wrap and a tea towel and let rise a draft free warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1- 1 1/2 hours.
While dough is rising, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. (We baked the buns first and then baked the braid while we were having dinner, but if your oven allows two large baking sheets to be used at one time you can bake both together. Often it helps in such cases to switch pans top to bottom and back to front about half way through the baking.)

Bake the risen buns about 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Let cool on a wire rack once baked and before slicing either buns or braid. Makes 6 burger buns and a big braided loaf.


  1. Yum yum those bear claws look delicious. Love the almondy filling. The cinnamon ice cream with the apple pie you ate earlier sounds wonderfuly too.

  2. Let's see now how much can I remember, you've put in so much ....
    ... kitchen wench, yes me to, I want one!
    I'll go first for those multigrain rolls and then the bear claws!!
    Been so long since I was in San Fran, such a grand place.

  3. So many beautiful / yummy things! Thanks for the pictures of "home!"

  4. Katie, these were some of the best bear claws I've ever had...must be the Captain's light touch with the rolling pin. Wish I had the recipe for that apple pie and cinnamon ice cream, too.

    Tanna, Come to San Fran and visit and we will find someone to be a kitchen wench for us and we can bake any number of wonderful things!

    David, So glad you enjoyed the photos of your old stomping grounds. When you are home again it would be fun to get together ...your photos would probably be much better, too.

  5. Next time we're there, we'll make a point of it!

  6. Everything looks so delicious and what a treat it must have been to have help and good company in the kitchen!!

  7. The burger buns look really delicious

  8. Oooo, bear claws. One of my worst temptations. Looks like I may have to face them again! ☺