Ingredients:(Yields: 8 servings)
• ½ cup warm whole milk (105° F)
• 2 tablespoons active dry yeast
• 5 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour plus more for dusting work surfaces
• 2 thick slices nitrite-free bacon, cut crosswise into 1/3-inch wide strips
• 1 large yellow onion (about 10 ounces), finely chopped
• 1 tablespoon plus 1 ½ teaspoons sea salt
• ½ cup sugar
• 3 large eggs
• 1 cup whole milk, at room temperature
• ¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, chilled
• 1 cup finely chopped, cooked ham
• ¼ cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
• 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme
• 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
• Olive oil for oiling bowl
• 1 egg yolk beaten lightly with 1 teaspoon water (optional)
Measure the milk into a small bowl. Add the yeast, whisk well, and then add ½ cup of the flour and whisk again until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place until the mixture begins to foam, about 15 minutes.
Place a skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until crisp, about four minutes. Remove the bacon and place on paper towels to drain, leaving the fat in the skillet.
Place the skillet with bacon fat over a medium heat and cook the onion, stirring and tossing until they are soft and translucent, about 8 minutes. Season with a pinch of sea salt, stir, and then drain the onion on paper towels. Set aside.
Into the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a dough hook, place the remaining five cups flour, sugar, sea salt, eggs and milk. Start the food processor and allow the machine to run until the dough becomes elastic and forms a ball the spins around the workbowl. Add the butter and the starter and run the machine for approximately two more minutes. Add the reserved bacon and onion along with the ham, walnuts, thyme, and parsley and pulse until the ingredients are mixed into the dough.
Remove the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead a few times until it becomes smooth and elastic. Add small amounts of flour as needed. Form into a bowl and place into a lightly floured bowl.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place to rise until doubled in size, about 45 minutes. When ready, the dough will not spring back when gently poked with a finger.
Punch the dough down and turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide it into 6-ounce pieces. There should be enough for about eight to ten buns. Hold each piece of dough beneath cupped and floured hands. Rotate your hand in quick circles until the dough forms a nice, smooth ball. Let the dough stick very slightly to the counter to help pull it into a tight ball. Arrange the balls on a parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving plenty of space between the balls. Press them down lightly to form 4-inch diameter circles. Dust lightly with flour and let rest in a warm place until they begin to rise, about 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375° F. Brush the tops of the buns with the beaten egg yolk (if using) or lightly dust the tops with flour. Score them with a razor blade with a diagonal checkerboard pattern. Bake until lightly golden, about 15 minutes. Rotate the pans front to back and top to bottom half way through the baking time. Cool the buns on a rack. The buns are best eaten the same day they are baked, but keep very well, wrapped in a paper or plastic bag, for a day or two at room temperature. The buns also freeze very well.