This recipe for gluten free buns is for everyone who has ever eaten a burger on a lettuce wrap and pretended it was “fine.” I love lettuce as much as the next person, but it’s not a hamburger bun.
The no bun burger should be a choice
Whether there’s a gluten free bun available or not, I usually go for a lettuce wrap. If that makes no sense to you considering how I’ve been complaining about the bun-less gluten free burger since 2011, allow me to explain.
If I’m eating a burger, whether it’s vegetarian or meat, I just don’t care for it with any sort of bread in every bite. I’ve been like that for as long as I can remember, long before I even knew what gluten was. But that is my choice.
My gluten free son likes a bun, and he should have one. There are more and more fast-casual hamburger restaurants that can accommodate gluten free eaters, which is great. But many of them can only offer you a lettuce wrap. I love lettuce wraps, but I prefer to choose among alternatives.
This gluten free bun recipe is very simple, accommodates other dietary restrictions more easily than my gluten free soft hamburger bun recipe from Gluten Free on a Shoestring Bakes Bread, and the dough can be made up to 3 days ahead of time. Plus, the baked rolls freeze really well.
How to make these gluten free buns
Similar to our recipe for gluten free Japanese milk bread, the dough for these buns is made mostly by dumping all of the ingredients (first dry, then wet) in a large bowl, and then mixing until fluffy. Other than having the right recipe, of course, and the right, quality gluten free ingredients, there are some keys to the success of this recipe. Let’s talk about them.
Start with a wet dough
If you want any yeasted dough to rise, you must have a proper wet to dry ingredient ratio. When the ratio of wet to dry ingredients is too low, the dry ingredients (most the flour) are overwhelming the wet ingredients (mostly the water), and the yeast will not rise. That’s just the way it works.
Yeast isn’t active at very, very high temperatures or very, very low temperatures, but it’s rare that temperature will prevent your dough from rising. Those toxic temperatures are very extreme. If your dough isn’t rising, it’s usually because your dough is too dry—or you didn’t wait long enough.
Shape with plenty of extra flour
In this sort of recipe, I prefer to start with a wet dough. It’s more difficult to shape and handle, but you can flour the dough generously during shaping without drying it out too much.
Just handle the dough with a light touch, and even a higher quantity of extra flour won’t incorporate into the center of the dough where it will stifle the yeast.
Be patient but don’t let it rise too much
If your dough hasn’t risen enough after shaping, your kitchen might be rather dry or a bit on the chilly side. Don’t worry—if you’ve measured your ingredients properly (including weighing the water so you didn’t undermeasure it) and you’ve covered the baking sheet properly, the dough will rise.
If the environment isn’t quite right, it will just slow the yeast’s activity. Be patient with the rise.
Since this recipe is made in the batter-style (like our beloved white sandwich bread), it doesn’t rise as smoothly as the recipes made with gluten free bread flour. When conventional bread rises, the gluten creates an invisible netting that traps the rise and keeps the top of the bread taut, like when you pull plastic wrap tightly over a bowl.
Without the gluten or even a super close replacement, in a recipe like this, the top of the dough will become pitted and cratered at the very end of a proper rise. When the craters begin to form, the dough has risen fully and it’s ready for the egg wash and a spin in a hot oven.
Ingredients and substitutions
Dairy-free: In place of nonfat dry milk or buttermilk powder, you can use powdered coconut milk by weight (about 40 grams). In place of butter, Earth Balance buttery sticks should work fine.
Egg-free: There is one egg white in the bread dough, which helps them rise. You can try replacing it with aquafaba (the brine from a can of chickpeas), but I’m afraid I haven’t heard about great results from using that in baking. The egg wash on top of the rolls can be replaced with melted butter or even some olive oil. It helps the rolls brown lightly in the oven, and take on a slightly shiny appearance.
Apple cider vinegar/cream of tartar: Both apple cider vinegar and cream of tartar help add lightness and lift to these rolls. If you’d like to try eliminating one or both, you can try lemon juice in their place but you’ll have to experiment with amounts.
Expandex: You absolutely do not have to use Expandex modified tapioca starch (which is not the same as regular tapioca starch) in place of some of the flour in this recipe. It does help to make the dough easier to handle, and the rolls chewier. They also tend to have a longer shelf life. For a more complete discussion of what Expandex can add to a gluten free bread recipe like this, please see our recipe for basic gluten free pizza dough.
Gluten Free Buns for Hamburgers and Sandwiches
3 1/4 cups (455 g) all purpose gluten free flour, plus more for sprinkling (I used Better Batter)*
1 1/2 teaspoons xanthan gum (omit if your brand already contains it)
1/2 cup (43 g) cultured buttermilk blend powder (or 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons (40 g) nonfat dry milk)
1 tablespoon (9 g) instant yeast (or 1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast)
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon (13 g) packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon (6 g) kosher salt
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons (28 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 egg white (25 g), at room temperature
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) warm water (about 95°F)*
Egg wash: 1 egg (any size) at room temperature, beaten with 1 tablespoon milk or water
Sesame seeds for sprinkling (optional)
*Optional variation: Instead of 3 1/4 cups (455 g) all purpose gluten free flour, use 3 cups (420 g) all purpose gluten free flour and add 1/4 cup (36 g) Expandex modified tapioca starch and increase the water by 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) to 13 ounces (1 1/2 cups + 2 tablespoons) water.
In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, place the flour, xanthan gum, (optional Expandex), milk powder, yeast, cream of tartar, baking soda, and sugar and whisk to combine well with a separate, handheld whisk. Add the salt, and whisk again. Add the cider vinegar, butter, egg white, and water, and mix on medium speed in your stand mixer until the dough begins to come together. Turn the mixer to high speed and beat until the dough is no longer a ball but has begun to appear whipped. Transfer the dough to an oiled container with a tight-fitting lid or a greased bowl, spray lightly with cooking oil spray, and cover tightly. Place in a warm, draft-free area to rise until it’s about 150% of its original volume (about an hour), or refrigerate the dough for up to 3 days.
When you’re ready to make the rolls, line rimmed baking sheets with unbleachdd parchment paper and preheat your oven to 400°F. If you’ve refrigerated the dough, work with it straight from the refrigerator. If you haven’t, place the tightly sealed dough in the refrigerator to chill for at least 15 minutes before working with it, as the dough is easiest to handle when it’s chilled.
Turn the dough out onto a flat, lightly floured surface, and sprinkle the top with additional flour. Work the dough, squeezing and kneading it, turning it over frequently, until it has begun to appear smoother. Using a bench scraper or large knife, divide the dough in two parts and set one half aside (cover to prevent its drying out). Working with the second half of dough, divide it again into 4 equal portions. Working with one piece of dough at a time, sprinkle it with more flour, form it into a ball by pinching the ends underneath, then rolling it with the side of your palm pressed against the surface and guiding it with your fingertips into a round. Sprinkle the dough with more flour and press it into a disk about 3/4-inch thick with your fingers and palm. Place the disk on one of the prepared baking sheets. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough, and then eventually the other half. You’ll have 8 disks of dough. Cover the baking sheets with oiled plastic wrap and place in a warm, draft-free location until each piece of shaped dough is at least 150% of its original volume (about an hour). After about 45 minutes, preheat your oven to 400°F. Don’t allow the dough to rise any longer once the tops of the dough begin to take on a pock-marked appearance.
Brush the tops and sides of the risen buns generously with the egg wash, and sprinkle with the optional sesame seeds. Place in the center of the preheated oven and bake until the rolls are puffed and the tops are very pale golden brown (about 18 minutes). The center of each roll should be about 190°F when tested with an instant-read thermometer. Remove the rolls from the oven and allow to cool on the baking sheet until no longer hot to the touch before slicing and serving. Any leftover rolls can be sliced, cooled completely, then wrapped tightly in a freezer-safe bag (remove as much air from the bag as possible). Freeze for up to 2 months. Defrost in a toaster set to light toasting.