Buttery Hotdog Buns: a HoJo's throwback

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.

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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.”

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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.

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“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.

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Make your own.

After all, isn’t that what we’re all about here at King Arthur Flour? Bake your own Faux-Reos, and Berger Cookies, and Jordan Marsh Blueberry Muffins.

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.

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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

Combine all of the ingredients, mixing then kneading to make a smooth dough.
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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.”

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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.

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Gently deflate the dough, and stretch it until it’s about 15″ long and 6″ wide.

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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.

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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!

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Remove the pan from the oven, and cool the buns in the pan for 5 minutes.

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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.

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Slice each bun down the middle vertically, without cutting through the bottom.

Do I feel a cookout coming on?

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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.

hotdog10And 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.

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“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?

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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!

 

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. Eric Harris

    I made these buns for the first time today. Everything went per the recipe except the yeast rising was sooooo slow. My buns never did reach the top of the special pan I bought for this bake off. Next time I will activate the yeast in the sugar and luke warm water before adding it to the flour.

    Reply
  2. Rachael Best

    Great story! I remember HoJo’s yummy ice cream sodas. No one makes them like they do. Boy, this brings back memories!

    Reply
  3. Laura Flynn

    My husband and I spent our first winter in Sarasota, Florida, where I could not find New England style hot dog buns. So, I bought the pan from KAF and made them myself—they were awesome! So awesome that now that I am back in Falmouth, Cape Cod for the summer, I bought another pan and today I am going to make another batch of hot dog buns and will fill them with tuna salad. Thanks so much for the trip down memory lane re HoJos. As a child my family went there for the hotdogs, clam strips, and my favorite flavor ice cream, pistachio. (Never found a pistachio as good anywhere else!) Then, as a teenager in the early 60s our local HoJos was a hangout every weekend. Good times, good memories. Thanks PJ. P.S. Also loved Jordan Marsh’s blueberry muffins and have been baking them from a recipe long ago in the Boston Globe called “Marshy Muffins.”

    Reply
  4. Susan Brooks

    I use a box of gluten free bread and pizza mix to make hot dog rolls. I used the pizza recipe. The amount of dough would only make 8 rolls so I put aluminum foil in the two end wells. They where a little heavy next time I’ll try the bread recipe. Please develop a gluten free mix for hot dog rolls for this pan.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Thanks for sharing your request with us, Susan. We hope you will give the “bread” version of the mix a try, as we think you’ll have much better results. Best of luck and happy baking! Mollie@KAF

  5. Kate Lee

    Great recipe and blog post! When I make these buns, they turn out great but when it’s time to put the bun it, the bread always splits into 2 pieces lengthwise along the cut instead of holding the dog. I’ve tried making thinner cuts and deeper cuts, using smaller/thinner dogs. What am I doing wrong?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Kate, I think I may have talked to you on the phone about this, but this is a common issue with this type of bun. Once the buns are completely cool, keep them well covered so they don’t dry out. It may be helpful to cut them right before you wrap them in plastic wrap, so you’re cutting them when they’re still quite moist, and keeping them that way. Barb@KAF

  6. Monica

    Being a “Boomer” myself, I loved this trip down memory lane. HoJo’s was a favorite place to take our older son when he was small, and he always ordered the “frankfort” on the buttery bun. I always had pistachio ice cream with chocolate sauce for dessert. It was fabulous, and I think they were the last company to actually put pistachios in their pistachio ice cream! I might have to get the bun pan just so I can take the whole family down memory lane. HoJo’s was closed before our younger son was old enough to enjoy it, and my grandsons wouldn’t recognize a New England hot dog roll for what it is, although there was a time when you could find them pretty easily here in the Hudson Valley. I’m just going to have to make them myself, not to mention that gorgeous dessert! Thanks for the fun post, and for all the great ideas!

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      My Dad was a big fan of their Butter Pecan ice cream, I still remember the big hunks of pecan. I miss the pistachio, too. ~ MJ

  7. Alanna

    Another brilliant post from PJ! Love the idea of using the pan to make cake. I don’t have the pan now, but it makes me want to buy it.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Brenda, we don’t have a gluten-free hotdog/hamburger bun recipe yet, but I will pass on the suggestion. You could definitely make hamburger buns with the recipe as is. Barb@KAF

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