Hot Cross Buns

 

Hot Cross Bun Recipe

Easter, to me, is second only to Christmas in the celebration stakes.  There’s always time for family and friends to catch up, share some great food and, of course, to eat chocolate!

As a child we used to hard boil eggs, paint them and race them down the hill outside our house.  Inside we would have a branch that had been painted white and stuck in a pot and my mum would tie sweets to it for us all to share.  Then I had my own children and we started traditions of our own (they cried when we raced eggs down the hill because they did not expect them to break and they wanted to eat them for breakfast!).  Easter egg hunts in the garden became the norm with the clues growing ever more complex as they got older.  This year my 4 year old grandaughter will be staying and she is already wondering if the Easter rabbit will be coming again – last year he left foot prints all over the house and she was delighted to find eggs and gifts hidden at the end of every trail.

But first there’s Good Friday to look forward to with a lazy lie in, hot cross buns for breakfast and, weather permitting, a walk on the beach.

In the Christian calendar Easter marks the death and resurrection of Christ and feasting marks the end of the lenten fasts.  But even if you are not a Christian, there is a very long history of feasting at this time of year as spring arrives and the winter deprivations are at an end.  Eggs and lamb have long been traditional spring foods as have spiced breads.  In recent years hot cross buns have been the bread of choice, traditionally eaten on Good Friday with the cross to represent the crucifixion.  There is even a tradition which claims that spice bread baked on Good Friday will never go stale and you can keep it as a lucky talisman for the rest of the year.  In fairness it never lasts long enough in my house to find out if that is true.

Personally, I’m a bit funny about hot cross buns in the same way that I am about mince pies.  They seem to be available in the shops all year round and yet, to me, they are part of what makes Easter special and so I prefer to wait until Good Friday before I eat one.  I also like to bake my own buns.  In the past I have tried all sorts from mass produced supermarket buns to expensive artisan baked buns and they always seem a bit doughy and a bit lacking in flavour.

This recipe from Paul Hollywood (he of the blue eyes and scathing GBBO comments) is more time consuming than many others as it requires 3 separate rising processes of an hour each but I think it is worth it as it helps the dough to develop real flavour.  Talking of flavour the original recipe called for 1 tsp of cinnamon but I think it can stand a little more so I have doubled it.  You could also try adding mixed spice.

The dough in this recipe is very wet and sticky and you may be tempted to add more flour – don’t.  Persevere and, with the help of a scraper, it will come together beautifully.

This recipe also uses the traditional flour and water paste for the cross.  This paste doesn’t add anything to the recipe in terms of flavour and some people use icing or sugar paste instead.  I really wouldn’t recommend this if you want to toast your hot cross buns – too much sugar in the cross will burn and taste bitter.

I found the original oven temperature (220°C) to be a bit high too, the buns browned before they were baked, so I reduced it to 200ºC.  I feel a bit guilty saying this as I don’t really like to presume that I know better than Paul Hollywood (I really don’t) but this worked better for me.  Feel free to follow the master – it might work better with your oven.

These buns are delicious served hot, straight from the oven but they also work really well re-heated or, my favourite, toasted and spread with butter the next day.

I hope you all have a lovely Easter, whatever you cook and whatever you eat.

Hot Cross Buns

Ingredients

300ml / 11fl oz Full Fat Milk (+ 2 tbsp)

50g / 2oz Butter

500g / 1lb Strong Bread Flour

1 tsp Salt

75 g / 3oz Caster Sugar

1 tbsp Sunflower Oil

7g Sachet of Fast Action or Easy Blend Yeast

1 Egg (beaten)

75g / 3oz Sultanas

50g / 2oz Mixed Peel

Zest of 1 Orange

1 Apple (peeled, cored and finely chopped)

2 tsp Ground Cinnamon

For the Cross

75g / 3oz Plain Flour

For the Glaze

3 tbsp Apricot Jam

Method

Bring the milk to the boil, then remove from the heat and add the butter.  Leave to cool until it reaches blood temperature.  Put the flour, salt, sugar and yeast into a bowl.  Make a well in the centre.  Pour in the warm milk and butter mixture and then add the egg.  Using a wooden spoon, mix well, then bring everything together with your hands until you have a sticky dough.

Tip onto a lightly floured surface and knead by holding the dough with one hand and stretching it with the heel of the other hand, then folding it back on itself.  Repeat for five minutes until smooth and elastic.  Put the dough into a lightly oiled bowl.  Cover with oiled cling film and leave to rise in a warm place for 1 hour or until doubled in size and a finger pressed into it leaves a dent.

With the dough still in the bowl, tip in the sultanas, mixed peel, orange zest, apple and cinnamon.  Knead into the dough, making sure everything is well distributed.  Leave to rise for one hour more, or until doubled in size, again, covered in oiled cling film to stop the dough from getting a crust.

Divide the dough into 15 even pieces (about 75g / 3oz per piece).  Roll each piece into a smooth ball on a lightly floured work surface.  Roll each piece into a smooth ball on a lightly floured work surface.  Arrange the buns on one or two baking trays lined with parchment, leaving enough space for the dough to expand.  Cover (but don’t wrap) with more oiled cling film, or a clean tea towel, then set aside to prove for one hour more.

Heat the oven to 200ºC/ 400ºF / Gas Mark 6.

Mix the flour with about 5 tbsp water to make a paste for the cross – add the water 1 tbsp at a time, so you add just enough for a thick paste.  Spoon into a piping bag with a small nozzle.  Pipe a line along each row of buns, then repeat in the other direction to create crosses.  Pipe slowly so that the paste curves down the side of the buns.

Bake for 20 minutes on the middle shelf of the oven, until golden brown.

Gently heat the apricot jam to melt, then sieve to get rid of any chunks.  While the jam is still warm, brush over the top of the warm buns and leave to cool.

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Pan Rustico – Spanish Country Bread

Pan RusticoThis bread has become my new favourite recipe.  I made it for the first time ten days ago and I have made it 4 times since.

I was making Spanish food for a friend who was staying with us and I wanted an authentic Spanish bread recipe.  So I contacted another friend (who shall remain nameless) who had lived in Spain for a while and she sent me a recipe which had apparently been given to her by an ex-boyfriend’s mother. 

I also did my usual search through recipe books and on-line.  The recipe at the top of my Google search was a BBC Food recipe taken from the Hairy Biker’s Bakeation series.  I had to smile to myself as I read it because it bore an uncanny resemblance to the “authentic” recipe my friend had sent me. 

Now it is possible that Si and Dave (The Hairy Bikers) met my friend’s, boyfriend’s mother on their travels but I suspect that, somewhere along the lines, someone has stretched the truth a little.

Not that it really matters because this is great bread.

The recipe requires you to make the starter 24 hours before you bake the bread so this is not a spur of the moment bake but it is well worth the effort.  The starter ferments and gives off a wonderfully yeasty, beery smell which in turn gives the bread a great flavour, somewhere between a sour dough and a more traditional bread.
The wholemeal flour gives the bread a slightly rougher texture and, again, adds to the flavour but there is not enough of it to make this into a “worthy” bread and it is still light and indulgent with a good, chewy crust.

I should warn you that this is the wettest dough I have ever worked with and it scared me a little the first time I made it.  I would not recommend making it without a scraper as it sticks to everything; your hands, the work surface and the scraper.  It felt more like spreading than kneading but, over time, it did come together although I confess to adding a little more flour when it firmly refused to behave.

For this reason it is really important to measure your water accurately – you really don’t want to add too much.  Measuring jugs are notoriously inaccurate so I always weigh my fluids for recipes.  If your scales don’t weigh millilitres or fluid ounces don’t panic. 1ml of water weighs 1 gram and 1 fl oz weighs 1 oz. 

If you have time on your hands one day try calibrating your measuring jugs.  I have 4 in different sizes and have found that, when measuring 100 ml, there is a 10 ml difference across them all – that’s a significant range when accuracy is needed. 

So, if I haven’t put you off completely, give this bread a go; it tastes great and, because it is “rustic” bread, it doesn’t matter if it is a bit wonky looking – it all adds to the charm.  And my final tip?  Never tell your friends when you have caught them out in a fib.  (oops!)

Pan Rustico RecipeIngredients

For the starter

150ml / ¼ pint tepid Water

1 tsp Caster Sugar

3 tsp fast-action dried Yeast

125g/4½oz Strong White Bread Flour

For the bread dough

200ml / ⅓ pint tepid Water

1 tsp Caster Sugar

1 tsp fast-action dried Yeast

225g / 8oz Strong White Bread Flour (plus a little extra for dusting)

100g / 3½oz Strong Wholemeal Bread Flour

1 tsp Salt

1 tbsp Olive Oil (plus a little extra for oiling the bowl)

Method

For the starter

Pour the water into a medium bowl and stir in the sugar until dissolved. Gently stir in the yeast and leave it in a warm place, away from draughts, for about 10 minutes. When it is ready a beige film will float on the surface.

Stir in the flour to make a thick paste, cover tightly with cling film and leave at room temperature for 24 hours. The starter will rise quite dramatically and then fall back a little – that’s ok; it is still doing its thing.

For the bread dough

Pour the water into a bowl and stir in the sugar until it is dissolved. Gently stir in the yeast and leave it in a warm place for about 10 minutes or until a beige foam floats on the surface.

Stir the flours and salt together in a large bowl, then make a well in the centre and add the yeast and water mixture, the starter dough and the oil.

Mix with your hands until you have a wet, sticky dough.

Transfer the dough to a smooth work surface and begin to knead. At first this feels more like spreading a wet batter across the work surface! Resist the urge to add more flour at this stage as this will give you a drier, more dense loaf. If, after five minutes of kneading, the dough has not started to become smooth and elastic sprinkle the work surface with a little flour and sprinkle a little on top of the dough and continue kneading. This should help it to come together properly

Once the dough has formed a smooth, elastic ball, place it in an oiled mixing bowl, cover it loosely with oiled cling film and leave it to rise for about an hour or until it has doubled in size.

Dust a large baking tray with a handful of flour.

Tip the risen dough straight onto the floured tray. It should tip easily from the oiled bowl but you may need to ease it away from the sides with your fingertips.

Stretch the dough gently until it’s about 30cm/12in long, then fold it in half and stretch again. Repeat twice more. This helps to strengthen the dough and to trap in plenty of air.

Shape the dough into a long oval shape and make three or four slashes in the top with a sharp knife. Dust the top liberally with flour, cover loosely with more cling film and leave in a warm, draught free place to rise for a further 45 minutes. Do not over-prove at this stage. The dough should look well risen but still be holding its shape.

Preheat the oven to 240C/450F/Gas 8 so that it has reached temperature before the end of the second proving.

Bake the loaf for 20–25 minutes or until golden brown and crusty. The base should sound hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.

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Paul Hollywood’s Bloomer Recipe

Bloomer Last night I watched the first episode of Paul Hollywood’s Bread and today I baked some bread.  Me?  Influenced by television?  Never!  Unless it is a cookery programme that is.

Paul baked a beautiful bloomer and so did I.  Try it, it couldn’t be simpler but you do need some time – it is left to prove twice for around two hours each time.

The hardest thing about this loaf is leaving it to cool before you eat it!

Ingredients

500g / 1lb 2oz Strong White Flour, plus extra for kneading

10g / ¼oz Salt

1 x 7g sachet of Instant Yeast

320ml / 11½ fl oz Cold Water

40ml / 2¾ fl oz Olive Oil, plus extra for kneading

extra Oil and Flour, for kneading

Method

Place the flour in a bowl, add the salt to one side and the yeast to the other side of the bowl taking care not to have them touching. Add the oil and 240ml / 9fl oz of water.

Mix the ingredients together with your hands. Gradually add the remaining water (you may not need it all), until all the flour is incorporated and you have a soft, rough dough.

Pour a little oil onto a clean work surface. Sit the dough on the oil and begin to knead. Do this for 5-10 minutes until the dough becomes smooth. Place the dough into a clean, oiled bowl, cover tightly with cling film and leave in a warm place for about 2 hours or until more than doubled in size.

Once risen, place the dough onto a floured surface. Knock the dough back by folding it in on itself repeatedly and pressing with your knuckles. Do this until all the air is knocked out and the dough is smooth.

To shape into the bloomer, flatten the dough into a rectangle. With the long side facing you fold each end into the middle then roll like a Swiss roll so that you have a smooth top with a seam along the base. Very gently roll with the heal of your hands.

Place on a tray lined with baking paper, cover and leave to prove for a further 2 hours at room temperature. It should be doubled in size.

Lightly spray the loaf with water and dust with a little flour. Make four diagonal slashes using a sharp knife across the top.

Preheat the oven to 220 °C / 425°F / Gas Mark7

Place a baking tray filled with water on the bottom shelf of the oven – this will create steam when the loaf is baking. Place the loaf on the middle shelf and bake for 25 minutes. After this time lower the heat to 200°C / 400°F / Gas Mark 6 and bake for a further 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack.

You can find the original recipe here along with some technique videos.

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Baking Baguettes at Home

 

A friend of ours – hello Nigel – recently returned from a holiday in France where he and his family had enjoyed long lazy lunches in the sunshine.  On returning to a slightly damper and greyer Cornwall they decided to recreate a favourite French lunch in order to prolong that holiday feeling.

It is really easy to find great French cheeses or even to source their British counterparts (I love Cornish brie and camembert) and every deli worth its salt will stock at least one wonderful pate but Nigel really struggled to find an authentic baguette.  I can sympathise – over the years I’ve had soggy, underbaked pain de campagne and baguettes so crisp they are all crust and no bread.

Our own love affair with baguettes began on a family camping trip to Brittany back in 1989.  Each morning we would walk down to the shop to buy freshly baked bread and Madame would squeal with delight as our daughters, then aged 3 and 18 months, would each greet her with  a very proud and serious “Bonjour Madame, comment ca va?” We would then wend our way back to the tent with each girl clutching a baguette in the vertical position.  We had to throw away each end of the loaves as one end would always have been nibbled and the other grazed along the ground.

So when Nigel challenged me to find the perfect baguette recipe I had to accept.  Thus started the research and the more I read the more daunted I began to feel.  The general consensus of French artisanal bakers is that baguettes cannot be baked at home – domestic ovens are not big enough and something gets lost in the process of making a smaller baguette.  With a slightly ironic gallic shrug I resigned myself to baking a less than perfect loaf.  Bread also tastes different when baked in traditional stone ovens – I’m afraid I don’t have one but for once my trusty Rayburn might actually be an advantage.

Every recipe I found used exactly the same ingredients – flour, salt, yeast and water – but in such varying quantities and combinations that I didn’t really know where to start.  The simplest recipes I found had all been written by English, Australian or American bakers – the more complicated ones were French.  I decided that authenticity is probably a complicated business so opted to focus only on the French.

A couple of recipes called for a starter to be made the night before.  I know that long slow proving can really improve the flavour of a loaf so figured this was an essential step.  Apart from that my recipe is a bit of a mixture of 3 or 4 others that I read.  Most recipes call for French bread flour but I confess that I used ordinary strong white bread flour – I don’t know what difference the “real thing” would make but I couldn’t find any locally.  I could have, but didn’t, order it on line.

I bought a baguette tin especially for this recipe (actually it is sillicone not tin) and that did the job really well.  You can sprinkle a tea towel with flour and fold it to create a cradle for your bread to rise in but I tried this and it sounds easier than it is!

Overall, this recipe is lengthy and time consuming with multiple risings – you need to make the starter the evening before you want to bake the bread and even if you start early next day it will be mid-afternoon before you can eat your bread.  As I’m used to making soda bread (40 mins from weighing to eating) this seems excessive for a regular bake.

So was it worth it?  I loved the research and enjoyed the baking and the eating!  My bread was not as good as an authentic French baguette (but they come accompanied by a large serving of sunshine and lazy afternoons) but it was much better than anything I have bought here in the UK.  As always – the only way to judge for yourself is to give it a go.

Over to you Nigel…

Ingredients

Makes three 15” baguettes

Starter

4 fluid ounces / 120 ml cool water

1/16 tsp Fast Action Bread Yeast (yes just one sixteenth of a teaspoon)

4 ¼ oz / 120g Strong White Bread Flour

Dough

1 tsp Fast Action Bread Yeast

8 fluid ounces / 240 ml Lukewarm Water

15 oz / 420g Strong White Bread Flour

1 ½ tsp salt

Method

Day 1   Make the starter

Mix the yeast with the water in a medium sized bowl and stir a few times.

Mix in the flour to give a soft dough.  Cover and set aside to rest for 14 hours at room temperature.  The best time time to do this is the evening before you want to make the bread.

The starter should be well risen and bubbly.  If by any chance it is not then your yeast is probably no longer active and it’s time to buy some more!.

Day 2

Mix the yeast with the water in a large bowl and stir a few times.

Add the flour, salt and all of the starter and mix well until a dough is formed.  This amount of water should be enough so be patient but you may need a little more.  (Apparently you need more water in winter or in a very dry climate!)

Tip the dough onto a work surface and knead well for about 5 minutes until smooth and pliant.

You can of course do all of this in a food mixer using a dough hook.

Place the dough in a very lightly greased bowl, cover with cling film or a clean tea towel and leave to rise for 3 hours.  After the first hour has passed gently deflate and turn the dough, re-cover and leave once again to rise.  Repeat after the second hour has passed.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface and cut into three, equally sized pieces. Shape each piece into a rough oval and flatten it out with your palm.  Cover with lightly oiled cling film and leave to rest for 15 minutes.

Fold each piece of dough in half lengthways and seal with the heel of your hand.  Flatten out a little and repeat.

With the seam side down, cup your fingers and gently roll each piece of dough into a sausage shape approximately 15” long.

Place each dough “sausage” into the wells of a baguette tin.*

Cover with lighly oiled cling film and leave to rise for around 1 ½ hours until risen and puffy.

Towards the end of the rising time pre-heat the oven to 230 C /450 F /Gas Mark 8

Use a sharp knife to make three long, diagonal slashes in each baguette.

Spritz well with warm water which will help your baguettes to develop a really crispy crust.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until your baguettes are a deep golden brown.  Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.

Baguettes are best eaten on the day they are made but you can re-crisp them in a hot oven if necessary.

*If you don’t have a baguette tin you can do the final rising in the folds of a floured tea towel – when the dough is fully risen gently roll it from the cloth to a flat baking sheet.

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Crumpets Crumpets Crumpets

Last week I posted a picture of an empty plate on the bunscuffle Facebook page and asked what you would most like to see on it. There were lots of wonderful suggestions including cream teas, Swiss rolls, toast and butter and raspberry friands (which I will get around to) not to mention £50 notes, Euros and Daley Thompson! But the suggestion that made me stop and think was crumpets.

We like crumpets at bun scuffle despite years of the kind of jokes you have to expect when your last name is Crump. We like them for breakfast, as a mid afternoon snack or just when we get in from work tired and hungry and dinner seems a long way away.

The little holes in the top of a crumpet are perfectly designed to hold onto melted butter so a little goes a long way. They taste great topped with jam or honey or Marmite or even a little ripe brie which begins to melt over the hot … I’m getting carried away now but the crumpet is a lovely  vehicle for the sweet or savoury topping of your choice.

I have to confess that I have always just bought crumpets in the past but today, especially for all you lovely people who take the time to read my blog, I have made them from scratch. Have a go – it takes longer than just popping them, ready made, into the toaster but it is well worth the effort.

Ingredients

450g / 1lb strong white flour

½ tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

2 tsp / 1x7g sachet fast-action dried yeast

300ml / ½ pint milk

300ml / ½ pint water

vegetable oil

4 crumpet rings or 3in plain (not fluted) pastry cutters

Method

Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl.

Mix the milk and water and heat to blood temperature (when you dip your [clean] finger in it should feel neither hot nor cold). Stir the sugar and yeast into the milk / water mix and leave for a minute or two.

Pour the warm milk / water into the flour and beat well to give quite a thick, smooth batter. Cover with a tea towel or cling film.

Leave in a warm place to rise for about an hour until it has a light, spongy texture.

Very lightly oil a non-stick frying pan (use kitchen towel to remove any excess oil) and place over a very low heat. Grease the crumpet rings and place them in the pan then leave to heat up for a minute or two.

Pour in enough mixture to fill the rings about half to two thirds of the way up. Leave to cook until plenty of small holes appear on the surface and the batter has just dried out. This will take about 8-10 minutes.

Remove the rings and turn over the crumpets to cook for a further minute or two on the other side. Sit the first batch of crumpets on a wire rack while continuing to cook the remaining mixture.

These crumpets are best eaten at once but can be kept warm or re-heated in the oven without too many problems.