For most of my childhood, we lived 1,500 miles away from my maternal grandparents and were only able to see them every few years. For that reason, I have very few memories of them. What I do remember were their thick accents and the treats they greeted us with when we visited them–European chocolate bars and fresh birdie buns with butter and strawberry jelly. If you aren’t familiar with birdie buns, they are delicious sweet buns that are shaped to look like a bird asleep with its head tucked under its wing.
My grandmother, about whom I am slowly writing a book, was of German descent but lived in Communist Ukraine during WWII. Her family had very few modern conveniences, and her childhood with one of loss, lack, and uncertainty. My grandfather was Austrian and also had a very difficult upbringing–his home was bombed, and he lost both his parents at a young age.
At that time in the United States and Canada, you could easily visit buy a loaf of bread from the local grocery store, but my grandmother’s family had to make all their bread from scratch. My grandmother passed away 10 years ago, but in her honor, I recently made a batch of birdie buns using her recipe (birdie bun recipe below). They tasted exactly as I remember!
- 1-1/2 cups milk
- 1/2 cup lukewarm water (85F/30C)
- 2 tsp granulated sugar
- 2 packs active dry yeast
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 7 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
Scald milk, and cool to lukewarm. (To cool quicker, pour milk into a cookie sheet.) Set aside.
Place water in a large mixing bowl. Add 2 tsp sugar, and stir until dissolved. Sprinkle yeast over water, and let stand 10 minutes.
Stir yeast mixture well. Stir milk (scalded and cooled to lukewarm) into yeast mixture, and add 1/2 cup sugar, salt, eggs, butter, and half the flour. Beat with a wooden spoon until smooth.
Add enough of the remaining flour to make dough easy to handle. You might not need the full 7 cups. You can use your hands (make sure to flour them) or a wooden spoon for this step.
Using your hands (flour your hands and work surface) or a mixer, knead the dough until smooth. This will take about 10 minutes. The more you knead, the better the consistency of the buns.
Make the dough into a ball, and place in a greased bowl. Turn the dough in the bowl a few times so the dough is covered in the grease and won't stick to the bowl. Cover with a damp cloth, and let rise in a warm place until dough doubles in size (60-90 minutes).
Punch the dough down, and let rise (covered) again until almost double in size (30-45 minutes).
Form dough into balls that are the size you want your buns (recipe should make about 24 buns). Then, form each bun into a birdie (see pictures below). Place birdie buns on lightly greased cookie sheets. Allow buns to rise another 30 minutes. Buns can be baked in simple balls, although the birdie shape provides a unique twist.
Bake buns for 18-20 minutes (until starting to turn golden brown but still soft). Either bake convection at 325F (with pans on racks 2 and 5) or regular bake at 350F (one pan at a time on middle rack).
Dough will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, although it is best when used right away. To prepare the dough to keep in the fridge, allow it to rise once, and then grease the top well and cover with wax paper and a damp cloth. Refrigerate and use as needed.
Birdie Bun Tutorial
Use your hands to roll each ball of dough into a snake shape.
Fold one end over the other, like so…
Pull one end under the other and up through the center.
Then pull tight.