Beyond Store-Bought

Cookbook author brings burger buns to home bakers

By Tessa Marguerite Outland
December 2019

A few years ago, Gregory Berger’s interest in cooking and baking was purely part of the household routine. But then, one sourdough loaf changed everything.

Berger is a stay-at-home dad who spends his days caring for his son, Rowan, while running his own graphic design company in Sacramento. He became inspired to delve into the world of breadmaking after reading “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation” by Michael Pollan.

“The recipe was very well received in the restaurant,” says Barnum-Dann, adding that Gregory Berger also assisted in creating Localis’ sourdough recipe that is used daily.
It was becoming evident that Sacramento residents were hungry for these unconventional breads. With an abundance of creative and scrumptious recipes sizzling in his brain, Gregory Berger decided to create his own cookbook.

“Buns and Burgers: Handcrafted Burgers from Top to Bottom,” released in September, instructs readers on how to grill juicy burgers and bake mouthwatering buns in 32 recipes. Creating bread, bun and burger recipes with texture and color is tied to Berger’s artistic background. “I was originally inspired by when you go to a bagel store they have a zillion different flavors, but you can’t get those on hamburger buns,” he muses. “Why not?”

“Buns and Burgers” includes beginner recipes for a classic burger on a sesame bun all the way to a Cubano burger on a brioche buttermilk bun (see sidebar). Some recipes use just four or five inexpensive ingredients, while others land squarely on the expert level. People are in awe of the Black Charcoal Bun recipe, which includes activated charcoal, a powder that makes the bun completely black but taste like a normal, fluffy, delicious bun.

Pollan’s book explores how the “cook” is the link between nature and culture. By using the four elements—fire, water, air and earth—a cook or baker can transform natural substances into food. In his book, Pollan recommends “Tartine” by Chad Robertson, a cookbook laden with pictures of perfect bread loaves and elaborate recipes, including a 35-page recipe for sourdough.

“It just intrigued me to try the sourdough recipe,” Berger says. He followed the detailed instructions, beginning with gathering ingredients from his backyard for the sourdough starter. “Pretty much the first time I did it, it worked! I was kind of hooked from then.”

Soon, Berger’s interest in baking became more of a ritual than occasional hobby, and his wife, Lori, was particularly supportive. Imagine coming home every day to the smell of fresh-baked bread, warm and just out of the oven. “She was very excited about it,” Berger says with a smile.

Berger’s breads have won awards at the state fair, and have made appearances at the Sacramento Burger Battle, Sacramento Sausage Fest, pop-ups and local restaurants.

Through his graphic design company, Gregory Berger was familiar with the owners of several Sacramento restaurants and farm-to-fork-focused businesses. He approached Christopher Barnum-Dann, owner and executive chef of the Midtown restaurant Localis, and asked if he could create an original brioche bun recipe for the restaurant.

For his burger recipes, at home and in the cookbook, Berger uses Stemple Creek Ranch grass-fed beef from V. Miller Meats in East Sacramento, and shops at farmers markets for fresh, seasonal vegetables. “Buns and Burgers” features a section written by Eric V. Miller and a page about cooking with fresh ingredients by Jay Cuff of Hearty Fork Farm in Dixon.

Berger encourages even the most novice of home bakers to try his recipes and go beyond basic store-bought buns. “I keep telling people they should just try to make their own burger buns,” Berger says. “We’re in a time when everyone’s trying to ‘do-it-yourself,’ but they leave the bun and bread to someone else.”

Tessa Marguerite Outland can be reached at tessa.m.outland@gmail.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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