Saturday, March 30, 2013

Hot cross buns: the recipe!

Here's Ali's recipe for those gorgeous hot cross buns. One secret, she says, is baking them in roasting tins or cake tins. It keeps them close together and means they rise beautifully. I'll post a reminder ahead of Easter next year.

Hot cross buns
(makes 20-24 buns)
 This is based on Alison Holst's recipe in Recipes to Remember (1990). Since then Alison has published several other versions, using slightly different proportions and spice mixes.

1 cup milk
½ cup hot water
2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp active dried yeast (or 2 Tbsp Surebake yeast)
2 cups high grade flour
100g soft butter
½ cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 ½ Tbsp mixed spice
1 tsp grated nutmeg
1 cup mixed dried fruit
2-3 cups high grade flour
2 Tbsp golden syrup
1 Tbsp water
  • Place the milk and water in a large bowl – the resulting liquid should be lukewarm. Add the sugar and yeast, and whisk to combine. Whisk in the first two cups of flour, cover the bowl, and leave in a warm place to rise. 
  • Meanwhile, in a separate bowl or a food processor, cream the butter and sugar, then mix in the egg, salt, vanilla and spices.
  • When the yeast mixture has doubled in volume, stir in the butter/sugar/egg mixture, the dried fruit, and the second two cups of flour. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead until the dough forms a satiny, springy ball, adding more flour as necessary. (I use my old Kenwood food mixer with the dough hook.)
  • Divide the dough into 20-24 pieces, and form each into a ball. Place the balls in a buttered roasting dish and/or buttered cake tins, flattening them slightly and leaving 1 cm spaces between them. (I use a standard roasting dish, which holds 12 buns, and a 22 cm square cake tin, which holds 9 buns).
  • Place in a warm place to rise. (I use the oven, turned to ‘low’ for a few minutes till just warm, then turned off before the tins go in. If the oven’s too hot at this stage the yeast will die and the buns won’t rise.) The rising could take anything from 15 to 45 minutes, depending on the freshness of the yeast.
  • While the buns are rising, make the pastry for the crosses: Rub 30 g butter into ½ cup of flour, and add enough water to form a stiff dough. Roll out thinly and cut into strips about 4-5 mm wide.
  • When the buns are well risen (they should have at least doubled in height, and be touching each other), remove the tins from the oven. Turn the oven up to 200°C using fan-bake (or 225°C without the fan).
  • Brush the pastry strips with beaten egg to make them stick, and lay them cross-wise, very gently, on top of the buns.
  • Bake the buns for 10-12 minutes, until evenly browned.
  • Meanwhile, prepare the glaze: Warm 2 Tbsp golden syrup with 1 Tbsp water, and stir to combine. (You can use soft brown sugar instead, dissolved in the water.)
  • Brush the buns with glaze as soon as they come out of the oven. After 3-5 minutes, gently remove the buns from the tins and place on a wire rack. Serve warm with butter. 

Friday, March 29, 2013

High on hot cross buns

Ali has promised to give me the recipe for her superb hot cross buns, the best I've ever had. This morning I arrived just in time to see all 21 of them come out of the oven, ready for glazing.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Easter Collection

I love good hot cross buns, but I don't make my own - I did try once, and it was a total disaster. This year I've struck it lucky. First my neighbour came over with a sample of the ones she'd just made with her grand-daughter. Then Ali phoned to invite me round tomorrow morning to try hers - I'll post photos later.
         Like most non-religious people, I'm a stickler for tradition, and Good Friday is the only proper day to eat hot cross buns. But Easter traditions are a complex mix of Christian and pagan, male and female.
         The word Easter comes from Eostre, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring. "Bun" comes from "boun", meaning the sacred ox sacrificed to mark the spring equinox. The little cakes eaten for this festival were stamped with the sign of ox horns. The hot cross bun is linked both with those cakes and with moon goddess worship - a round bun with the four quarters of the moon marked on it. The early Christian church built on these customs, keeping the bun and turning the symbol into a cross.

And of course there has to be chocolate. Easter eggs are another pagan symbol of rebirth cleverly adapted by Christians, but the chocolate kind were invented by smart nineteenth century French and German entrepreneurs, using a new blend of chocolate that could be shaped.
       This photo comes courtesy of Makana Chocolates in Blenheim. I was down there this week to give my first talk about my food memoir, hosted by the Friends of the Library for New Zealand Book Month. Next morning I had an hour to spare before my flight, and the library's lovely Glenn Webster took me to a couple of vineyards and also to Makana. We watched them making macadamia butter toffee crunch, and got free samples.

But I was after the Real Thing, which to me means either plain dark chocolate or chocolate truffles. For Easter I thought I should "buy local". So with great restraint, I bought two boxes, one for my sister and one for me (and a lucky friend or two who happen to be around before I've eaten them all), of their Marlborough pinot noir truffles, not to be opened until Sunday.
           I won't be leaving it all up to the professionals. On Monday I'll be experimenting with the classic Kiwi chocolate fudge cake, trying to produce something that looks and tastes exactly like the one my two mothers used to make, so that I can include the recipe in the collection appearing at the end of my forthcoming food memoir. More next week.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Orange and almond dessert cake

I didn't want to think up a clever title for this post - this cake can speak for itself. I've written about it in my forthcoming food memoir. It's now steadily progressing through the publishing process at Awa Press -
I'll be talking about it in Blenheim on 26 March, for New Zealand Book Month.
      I made this last weekend for a special visitor and as always, it turned out perfectly, a rare record in my erratic baking career. I split the mixture into two so I could take a small one to a pot-luck lunch later, so the main cake was only about 2 cm high. But that worked out very well, giving lovely slices of exactly the right size for our dessert.
       It comes from my beloved Claudia Roden's Middle Eastern Food. It's a Sephardic cake, a traditional recipe from the Jewish communities in Spain and Portugal. They had lived there for a thousand years, but in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the Spanish Inquisition drove them to flee to the Middle East. In fact it's a Passover cake, using ground almonds instead of flour (of course you wouldn't use flour for the tin if you were making it for that purpose). There;s no extra fat in it - the almonds provide enough oil. It's extremely easy to make, and Roden says it never fails. In my experience, she's right - but it's so moist that if you want to keep it for more than a day or two, it needs to go in the fridge.

Orange and almond cake
(Adapted from A Book of Middle Eastern Food, by Claudia Roden)

2 large oranges
6 eggs
250g ground almonds
250g white sugar
1 tsp baking powder
butter and flour for tin

Wash the oranges and boil them gently in a little water in a lidded saucepan for nearly 2 hours, until they are soft. Check them every so often to see if they need a little more water.
[You need to remember that this long lead time is required - but you can do it the day or the morning before you make the cake.]
Let them cool, then cut them open and remove the pips. [I forgot to do this, but no one noticed!]
Turn them into a pulp, either by rubbing them through a sieve or putting them in an electric blender or food processor.
Butter and flour a loose-bottomed cake tin. Heat oven to 190C. [Don't use fan bake, just bake.]
Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Add all the other ingredients in the order given, and mix thoroughly.
[I pour the beaten eggs into the orange pulp in the food processor bowl and add the other ingredients one at a time, whizzing enough to mix well after each one and scraping down the bowl carefully between each addition. The baking powder should be added last, using a small sieve, to make sure it's evenly distributed.]
Pour carefully into the cake tin and bake for about an hour. If it is still very wet, leave in the oven for a little longer. [I cooked one shallow cake and one smaller one side by side - because they were both so shallow, they took only about 40 minutes to cook through.] A thin skewer poked into the middle should come out almost clean when the cake is done.

This is absolutely heavenly. If you like, you can put a little orange liqueur or orange blossom water into the accompanying cream when you whip it. But creamy Greek-style plain yoghurt is very good with it too. Or nothing at all, just the cake...