Buttery Hotdog Buns: a HoJo's throwback

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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 was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. Dawn

    How do these compare to the “New England Hot Dog Buns” recipe published in 2010? I have the pan and used that recipe with them, but I found them much too dense. A quick glance shows this recipe has more butter and sugar, but otherwise it looks the same. Does that make enough of a difference?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Dawn, this recipe for buns is especially buttery and soft. Please do be sure to add enough water to your dough – in either recipe – to make a soft dough.~Jaydl@KAF

  2. Jenn

    Hi PJ – I noticed in the first oven picture you have the pan on your stone, but once you remove the top pan, you’ve moved it up off the stone. Any reason for the change, or does it come out better when baked on the stone?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      If you have a baking stone, you can bake right on top of it when you bake breads in loaf pans – or hotdog pans. The intense heat stored in the stone will be conducted quickly to the bread dough. The stone also helps keep the oven’s temperature from fluctuating during baking. If you do notice your bread is browning quickly, you might move the bread – as PJ did – off the stone.~Jaydl@KAF

  3. Jan

    I have the pan but have yet to use it. This may get me started!

    Also, do you know how gluten-free doughs would work in the pan? I’d love to be able to make myself something that doesn’t taste like the cardboard you get at the grocery store.

    Reply
  4. Mary Lee Schultz

    Thanks for bringing back HoJo memories. I remember when I broke my arm, my Dad wanted to make me happy, so he took me to the HoJo’s on York Road in Towson, MD. I had the hot dog and ice cream cone. That usually only happened when traveling up north, so this was an extra special treat.

    Reply
  5. cmurf1960

    Great blog, PJ! Some people may not know that Jacques Jacques Pépin and Pierre Franey were hand-picked by Howard Johnson himself, back in the 60′s, to develop recipes for the restaurant chain. I’m sure that’s a big part of why the food was so good back in the day.

    Although I live in New Hampshire, I still bought this pan last year. My husband and I have been unhappy with the decreasing quality of store-bought bread, so I decided to start baking my own. I’m proud to say that I have achieved my goal of no longer buying any store-bought bread at all, largely in part to King Arthur Flour. I never even knew that such as thing as this hot dog pan existed until I saw it in one of your catalogs.

    The recipe that came with the pan is good, but this one sounds better – more butter plus the dry milk powder. I will be trying it next time I need to make hot dog buns!

    Reply
    1. Valerie S.

      I remember Pierre Franey in 1969-70 when he came to the Ho Jo plant to experiment with recipes in the lab. They used real ingredients and the quality control was strict.

    2. PJ Hamel , post author

      Jacques Pepin was the HoJo head chef for awhile, too – they were definitely progressive for their time, weren’t they? PJH

  6. Carolyn

    I have the pan. Have had it for a number of years. But whenever I try to make the buns, there seems to be too much dough, it pushes up and out of the pan. MESS!! (April 1 blog fodder!) I did find that if I divided the dough into 7 strips plus 2 hamburger buns on the side that it worked pretty well.
    When I first moved to NC I found New England style buns at Hannaford’s. They sold out to Loew’s and soon no more N E buns. But, just recently, Harris Teeter has started selling them as a store brand. Maybe all us Yankees moving south and asking for them has had an impact. But, I’ll try them again with this modified recipe plus my newish cast iron frying pan on top.

    Reply
    1. cwcdesign

      Carolyn,
      They haven’t made it to my Harris Teeter yet. I’ll have to keep a lookout.

  7. Barb White

    I read your article with great hope that this might be the answer for the evil hockey puck material that passes off in the super market for Gluten Free Hot Dog Buns! Maybe I will be able to sample a “real” lobster roll.
    What recipe would work do you think?
    Fingers crossed in Western Canada.

    Reply
  8. cwcdesign

    I’ll have to try this recipe. I agree about the other recipe being dense, so I’ve tended to stay away from making them. Now that we’re in the South, it would be nice to have a taste of home – maybe with shrimp salad instead :-)

    I remember the 3-D burger from HoJo’s with its special sauce – much better than a Big Mac!

    Reply
  9. halfmoon-mollie

    I have a potato allergic person in the family. What could I substitute for the potato flour/flakes?

    Reply
  10. ruthcatrin

    How well do these buns store? With just the two of us in the house being able to store these, preferably in the freezer is something I have to think about. But most store-bought buns don’t freeze well. And its been so long since I was living in MA that I don’t recall how that style of bought ones stored!

    Reply
    1. Amy Trage

      These should do well for a few days if you are in a climate with lower humidity. For prolonged storage, we recommend the freezer. ~Amy

  11. Valerie Szlatenyi

    I love your pan. I have many ideas for how to use it. I’ll be getting one.

    I used to work for Howard Johnson food processing plant in Brockton Ma. I was involved with making the fried clams, macaroni & cheese (I still remember how they made it) and all flavors of ice cream. My mom worked in the bakery section and designed the flowers on the cakes. Only the highest quality went into their products.

    Thanks for the memory,
    Valerie

    PS: missing Betsy here in Rhode Island but we still get to enjoy her recipes

    Reply
    1. Amy Trage

      I passed your “hello” along to Betsy! She will be so happy to hear that she’s missed! ~Amy

  12. Barbara

    Thanks, PJ, for a great trip down Memory Lane. I remember being thrilled at meeting someone who actually KNEW Howard Johnson, I believe he was from Quincy, MA, near my hometown of Hingham.
    My fav was Black Raspberry with chocolate “Jimmies”. Remember Jimmies?

    Reply
    1. Amy Trage

      I think black raspberry was always my childhood favorite also- didn’t matter where the ice-cream came from! Yes, jimmies! Sprinkles? What are they?? ;) ~Amy

    2. PJ Hamel , post author

      I do remember jimmies, Barbara. At Friendly’s, in Hingham, on 3A… We used to go there after field hockey practice, and before dinner. I lived on Crow Point and graduated from HHS, class of ’71. Did you go to HHS? “We’re from Hingham High School, Harbormen are we…” Trust me, I can still remember all the words. Small world! PJH

  13. wccrawford

    Can you explain what “smooth dough” means? I want to make sure I knead it enough. I don’t have a bread machine, but do have a dough hook on my KitchenAid stand mixer. I really want to make these, but I have a bad history with bread dough. Thanks for the help.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      A smooth dough feels strong when you tug on it and has a nice, smooth surface, which is an indication that all the ingredients have been fully incorporated and the gluten has developed sufficiently. On a Kitchenaid this will take about 2 or 3 minutes on low speed (to mix the ingredients) and then 3 or 4 minutes on medium speed to knead the dough (or develop the gluten). If you’re kneading by hand, kneading can take up to 10 minutes. I hope this helps. Remember you can call our Baker’s Hotline at 855-371-2253 if you are in the midst of kneading your dough and need a little advice or support. We love to talk about dough! Barb@Kaf

  14. Janice

    I was planning to make buns for Memorial Day anyway, and this new recipe sounds great! I also will make that dessert, it looks wonderful.

    Reply
  15. dianehagopian

    We moved to Chicago from Boston when I was 7 and the closest HoJo’s was @ 45 min. away – my Dad would take us on a Sunday drive (back when doing such a thing was a pleasure) to get clams and coffee ice cream (not available anywhere else in Chicago at the time) – I purchase most of my ingred. from KAF but now am inspired to purchase the hot dog pan – thanks for the memories

    Reply
  16. Gambles

    I was especially thrilled to find the fauxreos and Jordan Marsh blueberry muffin links. So far I have only found the “whatever you called twinkies” and the restaurant style brown bread – which I looked for for years and couldn’t have been more thrilled to find yours. It actually works!!!!!!! I looked on KAF first with no luck since I didn’t know what you had called it. Then I found people all over the internet trying to make that brown bread and every single one I tried was awful.I gave up. It was just a fluke that it was mentioned in a blog and I nearly fainted.

    Is there a page on this site to links about copy recipes or a blog or anything or is it just luck in finding that type of recipe? Now I’m chomping at the bit wondering what other delights are on this website that I just don’t know how to find!

    Suzanne

    Reply
  17. NewNana

    I’ve gotta drag out my hot dog bun pan for Memorial Day! Thanks for the reminder and the memories. Does anyone know of a recipe for HoJo Orange Toasties?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Hi – Bet your could substitute 1/3 cup OJ for 1/3 cup of the milk in Toaster Corn Cakes recipe, plus add some grated orange rind, and get a good approximation for those Orange Toasties. Good luck! PJH

    2. Valerie S.

      I would love to have the recipe also. I bought them a lot and my mom worked on the assembly line packing them in the boxes. I’ll ask her if she remembers seeing what went into them.

  18. Chris Cantwell

    I’ll have to get a pan to try the buns. I actuallly worked at HoJo’s & remember those buns. I’ve actually grilled regular store bought buns (even though they weren’t NE style) grilling improves them. I remember the hot dogs at HJ’s being prepped in melted butter/oleo on the stove top so they were ready before the orders came in. Thanks for the memories & the recipes.

    Reply
  19. OtterQueen

    These look fantastic! Worth buying a special pan. And yes, Applegate makes great food. Try the apple-cinnamon breakfast sausages, if you haven’t already.

    Reply
  20. waikikirie

    I remember HoJo’s……My grandmother had signed me up so that every year on my birthday I got a card and I think a coupon for an ice cream cone.

    Reply
  21. Rachel Knowlton

    I made Whoopie Dogs this weekend using the wonderful hot dog bun pan. Your favorite fudge cake recipe worked perfectly. I made up some whoopie pie filling using marshmallow fluff and piped the filling into the cake dogs. Fantastic!!

    Reply
  22. judiriley

    I have made the NE hot dog buns numerous times and never found them dense or too heavy. I made these once and felt they were heavy and dry. The dough was stiff and I should have added more liquid, but didn’t want to mess with the recipe the first time around. I will try one more time, but am not convinced I will be swapping recipes.

    Reply
  23. member-halchorp

    PJ, I ADORE your blog! As a transplanted New Englander living in Colorado, this recipe brought tears to my eyes….not so much for the hot-dog reminiscences, but for the ONLY way to have a proper lobster roll! Thanks for sharing this with the “Downeast Diaspora!”
    Your blog has done wonders for my baking….but not my waistline. : )

    -Hal

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      “A moment on the lips, forever on the hips” – that’s our unfortunate mantra as we grow older, isn’t it? :) Thanks for your kind words here, and glad I could bring back some New England memories. (LOVE the Downeast Diaspora! I lived in Maine for 14 years…) – PJH

  24. mlauerbader

    These buns were outrageous. I like them so much better than the original recipe. And thank you for reminding me about HoJo’s. We used to go there a lot when I was a kid.

    This year’s day after Thanksgiving main meal will be the bun rolls and fried clams (our five year tradition.) What could be better.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      This rolls really is pretty spectacular; I’m glad you liked it as much as I do! Jon@KAF

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