Do you live near Lake Placid, NY or Bangor, ME?
If so, you might be aware that you can still enjoy the final two outposts of what used to be a coast-to-coast phenomenon: Howard Johnson’s, a little soda fountain that started in Massachusetts and became an American icon.
A $250 million American icon. Back in the day when that kind of money was unimaginable – even to movie stars and baseball players.
For the sake of our younger readers, I promise I won’t travel too far down Memory Lane here. But for you Boomers – though you probably remember the 28 ice cream flavors, did you ever really know what they were?
Grape nut? Apple? Frozen pudding?
You know what I find really interesting about this list? The near-absence of chocolate. These days, you’d be hard-pressed to find an ice cream menu not dominated by chocolate, from plain ol’ chocolate to Moose Tracks to Phish Food.
But then? A mere three offerings even touching on chocolate.
“No thanks, I don’t care for chocolate; I’ll have a fruit salad cone, please.”
Well, times have changed. And so has marketing. Check out this Howard Johnson’s ad from the early ’60s, when the chain was in the heart of its heyday:
While a lot of us remember HoJo’s for the ice cream, there was clearly a lot more to recommend it.
Like the ever-tempting “grilled in butter frankfort in a toasted roll.”
Or the “Tendersweet® fried clams.”
Distinctive New England-style hotdog buns, with their “white” sidewalls, were born when Howard Johnson’s chef asked Maine bakery J.J. Nissen to create a split-top bun that would beautifully display (and safely cradle) the restaurant chain’s famous fried clams.
The lasting legacy of their collaboration – still happily marketed by J.J. Nissen today – is a bun that’s perfect for buttering and toasting on the grill.
And when you’re in New England, that’s the kind of bun you’ll find at every diner, ice cream stand, and seaside snack bar: tender brown crust top and bottom, its soft, white sides begging to be brushed with butter prior to slapping on the grill.
“Golden grilled hotdog roll,” indeed!
It’s easy enough to buy New England-style hotdog rolls right here in New England, of course. But what if you’ve moved away? Ditched Vermont for Virginia, or Massachusetts for Montana? How can you satisfy your home-sweet-home bun cravings?
The answer is simple.
Make your own.
And split-top New England hotdog buns.
Yes, you do need a special pan. But imagine the possibilities: this buttered and toasted roll, soft to the bite yet sturdy enough to hold a heap o’ filling, marries happily with everything from traditional grilled ’dogs and fried clams to that coastal New England specialty, lobster salad. To say nothing of tuna, egg, or ham salad.
Or bananas, whipped cream, and fudge sauce.
But more about that later. For now, let’s make some Buttery Hotdog Buns.
Place the following in a mixing bowl:
2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 cup lukewarm water
3 cups (12 3/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons soft unsalted butter
1/4 cup Baker’s Special Dry Milk or nonfat dry milk
1/4 cup potato flour, or 1/2 cup instant mashed potato flakes
Let the dough rise, covered, until nearly doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
I like to use an 8-cup measure for raising dough; it lets me track exactly how much it’s risen. No more trying to eyeball “doubled in bulk.”
Lightly grease a New England-style hotdog bun pan.
Don’t worry; if you don’t have the pan, you can use this dough to make traditional side-split buns; find the directions in the “tips” section of the recipe.
Gently deflate the dough, and stretch it until it’s about 15″ long and 6″ wide.
You know, in retrospect, I should have worked a bit harder smoothing the dough’s surface before patting it into the pan. Those ridges will translate into lumpy buns. Thankfully, the top becomes the bottom and the bumps won’t show much, but still… lazy me!
Cover the pan (a large shower cap works well here), and let the dough rise for 45 to 60 minutes, until it comes to within 1/2″ of the top of the pan.
Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F.
Grease a baking sheet, and place it on top of the risen buns.
Put the covered buns into the oven, weighing the baking sheet down with something heavy and oven-safe; a cast-iron skillet works well.
Bake the buns for 18 minutes, remove the weighted baking sheet, and bake for several minutes longer, if necessary, to brown the buns.
Notice how the bread has risen beyond the lip of the pan? I used a 4-pound skillet, but that yeast is strong stuff. Next time I’ll be sure to use a heavier pan – or a couple of bricks!
Remove the pan from the oven, and cool the buns in the pan for 5 minutes.
Then turn them out onto a rack, rounded side up, to cool completely.
While the recipe doesn’t call for it, I like to brush the buns with melted butter before slicing them up. When it comes to the butter in buttery buns, I say in for a penny, in for a pound!
Cut the slab of bread into individual buns; just follow the indentations.
Slice each bun down the middle vertically, without cutting through the bottom.
Do I feel a cookout coming on?
Not quite; I haven’t yet unwrapped my grill from its winter covering. But a griddle is just as effective.
I don’t eat a whole lot of hot dogs, but when I do, I like to eat top-quality ’dogs with great flavor from an excellent company: Applegate.
Spread the sides of the buns with melted butter, and toast them on the griddle until they’re golden brown. Go ahead and cook the hotdogs at the same time.
And for the whole grilled bun experience, pick up some fried clams. My local “summer shack,” Seafood Sam’s, was having a fried clam lunch special: $9.99 for a REALLY generous heap of clam strips, plus fries and coleslaw. I jumped on it. Brought home some takeout, and filled 2 1/2 toasted buns with the clams.
HOWEVER – since I’m allergic to shellfish (more’s the pity), I couldn’t sample them. I enjoyed my Applegate hotdog instead.
“Grilled in butter frankfort in a toasted roll.” And a “CLAMboree.” How’s that, HoJo?
Is it worth the time to make your own hotdog buns?
YES. From my husband, a dyed-in-the-wool store-bought bun fan: “Hey, what happened, these buns are REALLY good!”
And that from a guy not known for handing out random compliments about my culinary skills.
Ready to bake your own buns? Check out our recipe for Buttery Hotdog Buns. And let us know what you think, OK?
And now, for something completely different: hotdog bun pan dessert!
I figure, there’s no sense having a pan that’s only good for one thing. What else can this hotdog bun pan do?
Well… how about cake?
I measure the hotdog bun pan – 5 cups of cake batter would be perfect.
I make the batter for my favorite fudge cake, and measure it – holy mackerel, 5 cups exactly!
Pour it into the greased pan. Put it in a preheated 350°F oven.
Bake for 33 minutes. Cool; slice into “buns.”
Add a sliced banana, whipped cream, sprinkles, and a cherry on top (of course).
Hot diggity DESSERT!