Tag Archives: bread

Sally Lunn Buns

You may well be sitting there wondering who, exactly, is this Sally Lunn lady?

Well, before we get to the “who” part, we’ll deal with the “what” part, by which I mean her buns. What is undeniable is that these buns are made from an enriched yeast dough, similar to brioche, and are an utterly delicious teatime treat with a strong association with the fine city of Bath in Somerset. In addition to these buns, Bath is famous for its remarkable Georgian architecture hewn from honey-coloured Bath limestone and its Roman thermal spas which give the city its name (as well as a more modern spa drawing on the same warm thermals, complete with a warm rooftop spa pool).

It was that thermal source that was a major draw for the British aristocracy during the Regency period, where society ladies and gentlemen would descend upon the city to take the waters. I’ve been to the modern spa, and it’s great fun to bob around in the pool, especially when you can see the spires of the old town while floating in the open-air naturally heated pool. I’ve also tried the waters, and they were, frankly, disgusting – clean, but with a lot of minerals. I can imagine Regency ladies in their fancy costumes drinking this stuff and expressing how well they now felt, all the while dreaming of something that tasted, well, nicer….such as a slice of hot, toasted and buttered slice of Sally Lunn bun!

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In the truest traditions of British baking, the real story is shrouded in some mystery, with various tales claiming to be the real deal. The first story claims the buns were created by a French Huguenot lady in the late 1600s called Solange Luyon (hence Sally Lunn), who whipped them up based on her knowledge of French brioche. The next is that the name is a corruption of “soleil et lune” (sun and moon) due to the shape of the buns. The third suggestion is that this is just rhyming slang, with Sally Lunn being a term for buns. Of the three, I like the first story most. It’s rather charming to think of Mademoiselle Solange arriving off the boat, making her way to Bath, the locals being unable to pronounce her name, re-naming her Sally and taking her to their hearts on the basis of her tasty buns. Whatever the story, these are now a firm part of the British baking landscape.

However, Sally Lunn buns are not one of those traditional recipes that comes from a particular place but which has since gone generic. Oh no, for when I visited Bath a couple of years ago, although I knew the name, I had never tried Sally Lunn buns, so we went to the original Sally Lunn shop where they bake them to a recipe that they claim to trace back to Mademoiselle Solange herself.

Well, I had something different in mind when I came to try them! It turns out I was expecting something known as the “Bath Bun” which is a completely different sort of bake. The Bath Bun is sweet, with the original versions using sugar and caraway and more modern versions featuring currants and pearl sugar on top, whereas the Sally Lunn bun is a rich bread to take with tea. Very confusing for visitors! Just in case I have whetted your appetite for British baked goods, we’ll be tacking Bath Buns another day. However, back to my experience, and I was rather taken aback when I was presented with a large (size of a head) bun, split and toasted, with various topping options. And by “options” I mean lots of butter and jam. On a cold, crisp winter day, there are few things as wonderful as a rich toasted snack with a cup of Earl Grey tea. The outsize sliced and toasted bun only adds to their charm.

The recipe I have used below is an older one that I found, and reasoned that it was a fair bet that it should work, but I must add that this isn’t the original (the one from the Sally Lunn Teashop is known to only six people, and I’m not one of them). I’ve converted the recipe to more modern measures which are the ones I used when baking it, so rest assured – the recipe has been properly tested!

Now, I’ve also seen various references to these buns as a Regency treat and a Jane Austen favourite. However, I’ve also read that Miss Austen was not entirely partial to Sally Lunns, believing them to be rich and heavy, and that they were bad for her digestion. Whatever Miss Austen used to fuel her narratives across those two inches of ivory, it must have been something other than these buns (too bad Mademoiselle Solange!).

The versions I’ve had in Bath were large – I recall around 20cm in diameter – but I’ve also tried making some into smaller buns and they work an absolute treat. While the larger buns are undeniably impressive, the smaller versions might be more practical if you’re looking to serve these to a group of people for breakfast. If it’s just you, then feel free to make the large one and devour alone!

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To make Sally Lunn (or Solange Luyon) buns:

Makes two large buns or 12 small buns:

• 450g strong white flour
• 280ml whole milk, scalded
• 60g butter
• 40g caster sugar
• 2 eggs, beaten
• 1 teaspoon instant yeast
• 1 teaspoon salt

1. Put the milk in a saucepan. Bring to the boil, then remove from the heat. Add the butter, and leave until lukewarm.

2. Add the lukewarm milk mixture to the beaten eggs and mix well.

3. If using a bread machine: throw everything into the machine and run the dough cycle. If working by hand: pour everything into a large bowl, and mix to a dough. Knead for around 10 minutes until elastic (it will be very sticky). Cover and leave to prove until doubled in size.

4. Once the dough has risen, knock it back. Either divide between two round cake tins (18-20cm diameter) or divide into small balls to make individual buns (line the tins with greaseproof paper). Cover loosely with cling film and leave somewhere warm until doubled in size.

5. Bake at 190°C. Allow around 12 minutes for smaller buns, 30-40 minutes for larger buns. If the buns are browning too quickly, cover with tin foil during baking.

6. Once the buns have been baked, remove from the tin and put in a plastic bag to cool. This will make sure the crust is soft.

Worth making? This is a lovely and very easy recipe. The result is rich like brioche, but the simpler shape makes it easy to slice and pop into the toaster. The flavour is excellent hot, spread with butter and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.

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Knäckebröd (Swedish Rye Crispbread)

The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed that my post about a rather hot lentil soup included some sort of crackers on the side. What were they? While I am sure that folk are not exactly lying awake at night, fretting with uncertainty, I’ll clear up the mystery – they were some terribly healthy Swedish-style rye crispbreads, and of course, they were home-made. We’re good like that round here.

Yes, for when you think about Swedish cuisine, you will pretty quickly get to the classic crispbread (via all the other stereotypes – cinnamon buns, amusingly named sweets like skum and plopp, meatballs, fermented herring…). I find crispbread – or knäckebröd (k-ney-keh-br-uh-d) in Swedish –  to be something of a wonder. It’s incredibly simple, but very tasty when made well, and provides the perfect foil for all manner of toppings. It’s rich in fibre, so clearly good for you, but it also has that amazing crispness. Personally, I love the sort of crispbread that seems to shatter. Those crispbreads that are dry and a bit powdery don’t really do it for me. I prefer the stuff that is thin and slightly toasty, that gives you that noticeable crack as you sink your teeth into it.

For all my culinary Swedophilia (as seen from cinnamon buns, “vacuum cleaner” cakes and dream cookies), I’ve never gotten round to making knäckebröd. Until this weekend that is, and I’m happy to report that it was really rather easy, and the results really rather successful. I was particularly pleased with this picture, when the fellows stacked up neatly like a pile of crisp autumn leaves. They’re probably supposed to stay flatter than mine did, but I actually like the mad, warped shape these guys developed in the oven.

I used a dough which was mostly rye flour and a little plain flour (about 4 parts rye, 1 part plain) in the hope this would make the dough a little easier to work with. Did it work? No idea, as the dough was predictably heavy, as you’d expect with mostly rye flour.

I also went for a yeast dough. It would have been simpler and quicker to just make a plain dough without the yeast, but I wanted to have as much flavour in the crispbread as I could get. I wasn’t using much more than rye flour and salt, so this fermentation stage was going to matter. I started the yeast using some honey and warm water, then mixed up the dough and left to prove overnight. All that rye flour meant that the dough was extremely dense, and while it had not exactly puffed up overnight, it was clear that the yeast had worked it magic, and there was a distinctive sour aroma when I removed the lid from the bowl. The use of yeast was wise indeed.

Now, it was time to bake these bad boys. The trick, I have now learned, is that you need to work in batches. No point in rolling out all the dough, as you are aiming to get something that is about a millimeter thick. If you roll all the dough in once go, you’d better have a very large kitchen. Trust me – small batches here work wonders, and it’s much easier to take out your frustrations with the rolling pin to roll it out to wafer-thinness.

Some people also have nifty little rolling pins that make the characteristic holes all over the knäckebröd, but I had to make do with a fork. In fact, I quite like the randomness of them, they look a little but more artisanal. Sometimes it is nice to get things that look absolutely perfect. Macarons should look perfect. Crispbread…well, it should look very rustic, no?

After the baking, it was time for the taste test. I could not have been more thrilled with how they turned out. At first the toasted flavour comes across, giving way to a tinge of yeast and the sour tang of the proving process. But most thrilling of all (or as thrilling as things get when it comes to crispbread) was the proper, sharp crack as you bit into them. It was beyond doubt that these guys were seriously crisp.

So there you have it – a super-easy recipe that makes excellent crispbread. But keep in mind that I’m not Swedish, I’m not an expert, and I’m probably biased. In some ways, I have to be, given that I now have a pile of 30 crispbreads in the kitchen, which are slowly being eaten for breakfast and with dinner (note that knäckebröd is not interchangeable with poppadom when eating curry, no matter how good you might think it would be…). That said, you can buy good crispbread these days, and I’m not sure this is something I’ll be knocking up on a weekly basis (if for no other reason than to avoid another glut of the stuff) but this is something that it will be worth tweaking with lots of seeds and/or extra spices in the dough to make crackers for a party. Now it’s just me going mano a mano with those 30 crispbreads…

Now, I said that I like the sort of knäckebröd that is so crisp that it seems to shatter? As you can see from below,  I’m as good as my word!

To make knäckebröd (makes 30):

• 1 tablespoon dried yeast
• 250ml lukewarm water
• 1 tablespoon honey
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 125g plain flour
• 400g rye flour

1. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Add the honey and three tablespoons of flour. Set aside somewhere warm until the mixture is bubbling.

2. Combine the rest of the flour, the salt and the yeast mixture until you have a smooth dough. It should be firm, but if it seems too dry, add more water, a tablespoon at a time, and work until smooth. I ended up adding three extra spoons of water.

3. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave the rest overnight. The mixture will only expand slightly, but should smell “yeasty” and slightly sour the next day.

4. The next day, prepare to bake the crispbread. Preheat the oven to 220°C (430°F). Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper, but do not grease.

5. Take one-quarter of the dough. Place on a well-floured work surface (use more rye flour) and roll out as thin as you can – around 1-2mm is idea. Use a bowl as a template to cut out rounds and transfer to the baking sheet (I baked four at a time). Use a fork to prick all over the surface of each crispbread.

6. Bake the knäckebröd for around 8-10 minutes until the pieces are browned. Watch carefully as there is not much difference between done and burnt!

Worth making? An easy recipe with great results. As good as the stuff you can buy, which might put you off, but nice to try if you want to put some unusual flavours in the mixture.

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Koninginnedag: Ontbijtkoek

I’ve already featured a fancy recipe if you’re in the mood to celebrate Dutch Queen’s Day, so today I’ve gone to the other end of the spectrum and made something super-easy. It’s called ontbijtkoek which literally means “breakfast cake”.

You can think of this as a very simple gingerbread recipe, but one that’s on the healthy side. Yes, there is some sugar in there, but no eggs and no butter (just milk to bind it), so it’s low in fat. Heck, there is even rye flour in there! This does mean, of course, that it’s actually rather well-suited to being spread with butter and topped with jam or honey. I realise this defeats the object of making such an otherwise healthy loaf, but then – if you’re going to celebrate Queen’s Day by jumping up and down on a canal boat while dressed from head to toe in orange, all that energy is probably essential.

This is something that I used to buy a lot when I lived in Belgium, as I went to the Netherlands rather often. This is something that people tend to buy rather than make these days. However, given how simple the recipe is, there is no reason not to give it a try, especially if you don’t have easy access to the commercial versions or you want to be free-and-easy with the spices.

The only real “prep” work is to scald the milk and then let it cool before mixing for a more tender loaf (and even this step can be skipped if you’re in a rush). Then you just mix everything together until you have a smooth – but still thick – dough, scrape into a loaf tin and bake. You’ll be rewarded by a rich, spicy aroma during baking, but if you want to dive right in, you’ll sadly need to hold off – this needs to be left to cool, then stored for a day. This means the loaf will be soft and slightly sticky on top. It also cuts easily and keeps really well, so it is perfectly suited as something to nibble on during the week for breakfast, but it’s also tasty enough on its own to enjoy with a cup of tea or coffee as an afternoon snack.

I’ve mentioned the spices, and here I’ve gone with a rather traditional mixture that includes a lot of cloves, plus cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. However, you can tweak them to your heart’s content, adding more of what you love and less of what you’re not so keen on. You might like to try other Dutch spice mixtures like speculaaskruiden used in traditional biscuits, or perhaps omit the cloves and use more cinnamon and nutmeg. You can also add nuts, dried fruit or preserved ginger. I think these could all work really well, even if they would mean that you’re getting a little away from the traditional recipes. But by all means – experiment away!

So I hope you’ve enjoyed these little Dutch delights! If you’re still curious about the cuisine of the Netherlands, you can have a look at my recipes for poffertjes (mini-pancakes) or apple tart, as well as aniseed sprinkles and aniseed milk.

To make Ontbijtkoek

 • 120g self-rising flour
• 130g rye flour
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 100g brown sugar
• 1 teaspoon ground cloves
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
• 1 teaspoon ground ginger
• 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
• 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

• 1 pinch salt
• 80ml golden syrup or other syrup

• 1 teaspoon treacle or molasses
• 240-300ml milk, scalded and cooled(*)

Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F). Line a loaf tin with paper and grease with butter.

Put the flours, baking powder, sugar, spices and salt in a bowl. Mix well. Add the syrup, treacle/molasses and enough milk to make a smooth batter (it should be soft but certainly not runny). Add any dried fruit, nuts, ginger etc. if you’re using that.

Pour into the tin, and bake for an hour. Once baked, cover loosely with a clean tea-towel. When cool, wrap in cling film.

(*) This means bring the milk to the boil, then let it cook. I makes for a softer loaf. You need to let it cool because if you add the hot milk to the mixture, the baking powder will get to work before you can put the mixture into the pan. If you’re in a hurry, just use cold milk.

Worth making? This is a nice, easy recipe that gives you a lovely spicy cake. I think the flavour is spot on, but of course tweak the spices to taste. This is also a good one to make with kids, as the recipe is quite easy, and the lack of eggs means that they can lick the spoon and the bowl as much as they want to.

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A very wholemeal Spelt Loaf

After last weekend, I unexpectedly found myself with a bag of wholemeal spelt flour and a large bowl of spelt bran. What, oh what, to do with it?

In all honest, after all the chocolate and sweet, spicy, fruity buns of Easter, this week has left me in the mood for savoury flavours. Cheese, vegetables, nuts. So I went back to make about the simplest thing that I could – a basic wholemeal spelt loaf. No flash, not pizzazz, no super-secret ingredients – just spelt, water, flour, salt, oil and a spoon of brown sugar. Oh – and that bowl of bran.

With all that extra fibre, I am in no doubt that this must have been one of the healthiest things I have made in a while.

Once I had made the dough, that well-known characteristic of spelt flour became apparent – the dough “got going” very quickly and rose easily. I decided to make plain oval loaf, and while it started to puff upwards, it then had a change of heart and started spreading out a little and then went for a more “flattened” look. I was initially a little disappointed, but as it turned out, this was actually a perfect shape for making long Scandinavian-style sandwiches. The texture is somewhat denser than with wheat flour – I’m putting this down in part to the qualities of spelt flour, but also to my very liberal addition of extra bran. Well, it certainly made for a tasty, nutty loaf, and good for sandwiches. So on balance, I’m happy with how this one turned out.

Now, for all my proclamations that I’ve been craving savoury (and I’ve been enjoying this as part of cheese sandwiches or with bowls of lentil soup), it is spectacularly delicious with a little butter and some honey on it. For me, brown bread and honey is one of the classic flavour combinations, and it’s such a nice start to the day – wholesome goodness and a little sunshine to get you going before heading outside.

To make a spelt loaf:

• 500g wholemeal spelt flour
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 teaspoons salt
• 1 tablespoon brown sugar
• 2 teaspoons dried yeast (not instant)
• 275ml warm water

Mix the yeast, warm water and sugar and allow to sit for 15 minutes until frothy.

Now – I confess, I am lazy – and I just throw everything into a bread machine and run the rye dough cycle.

If you’re doing this by hand: combine the flour, oil and salt in a bowl. Rub together with your fingers. Add the yeast mixture and work with your hands until it comes together to a dough. Knead for five minutes, then in a bowl in a warm place (covered) until the dough is roughly doubled in size.

Once the dough is ready, shape into rolls or a loaf, then leave to rise until roughly doubled in size (cover loosely with lightly oiled cling film). In the meantime, pre-heat the oven to 180°C (360°F). Just before baking, brush or spray the loaf with water to ensure a crisper crust.

Bake for around 30 minutes for a loaf or 10-12 minutes for rolls until the crust is lightly golden. The bread is done when it sounds hollow when tapped.

Worth making? I love this loaf – it has a lot of flavour and slices well. It also seems to last well, so spelt flour seemed to be a good choice for a loaf that keeps for several days.

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Hot Cross Buns…with a twist!

OK, first things first – I have a set of chicken-themed salt and pepper shakers, so given its Easter, I have to showcase them. So here they are:

This is in honour of my most recent endeavour at Easter baking. Last year I made a few batches of hot cross buns, but this year, I was looking for something different.

I have recently been making a lot of Swedish cinnamon buns – not only are the delicious, but a batch lasts for a few days to cover off both breakfasts and afternoon snacks. The home-made stuff knocks the socks off a lot of the buns you can buy, so perfecting the art of making my own has become a bit of a mini-obsession.

And this got me to thinking…what if I could make some sort of Anglo-Scandinavian fusion and combine them with the good old hot cross bun? You get a hot cross bun Easter Twist, that’s what!

The trick is just to replace the cardamom with mixed spices (I used the remains of my festive spice mix), and add candied peel and raisins to the filling. The texture is not the same as a fluffy hot cross bun, but the flavour is all there. Well, that was the theory. How was I going to achieve it?

First, I’ve been trying to vary the flour I use, really just to see what the results are like. A lot of folk have been recommending spelt flour, mainly because it give a lighter, fluffier bun. Thus far, I’ve been quite happy with it – it does seem to rise faster than wheat flour, and while it does not puff up to the same extent that strong wheat flour does, it also remains softer and fresher for longer (wheat seems to dry out more quickly). It’s also apparently a better flour for those that are keen to cut down on the amount of wheat in their diets. So frankly, I was almost making a health food!

I was also keen to get away from the spiral shape of the cinnamon buns for my Easter creation, when I saw the recipe on Scandilicious for cardamom twists. They were made from spelt flour (tick!), and were made using a nifty trick to cut the dough into trips, twist it into a spiral, then form into a coil. This looked perfect – it would mean that the buns would look rather funky, but would also help to keep as much of the peel, raisins and spicy filling in the finished buns as possible.

For the dough, I stuck to the same recipe I use for cinnamon buns, but with a teaspoon of mixed spices in place of the cardamom, and the white sugar swapped for light brown sugar. For the filling, I used two teaspoons of cinnamon and a teaspoon of mixed spice (I’d toyed with using just the mixed spice, but the flavour was a little too strong – it needed the cinnamon to balance it), then added chopped candied peel and currants. To keep the filling tender, I left the peel and currants to soak in a little hot water – but there is no reason you couldn’t use a little cold tea or rum. Et voilà – the hot cross bun Easter twist was created!

Well…not quite that simple. For I ended up making two batches. The first, on Good Friday, was a breeze, until I realised I was running late to get to Kew Gardens to see the spring plants. To get the dough moving, I warmed the oven for a minute, put the tray of buns in there to give them a boost, and covered with a damp tea-towel. Bad idea! The oven was too warm and the butter melted and oozed out (rather than being absorbed into the buns) and the tea-towel stuck to the tops! So I ended up with a tray of buns that looked like they had been scalped, so all my careful twisting and shaping was for the wind. After a bout of swearing and generally being rather annoyed, I baked them and I got a tray of tasty, albeit not picture-perfect buns. I was all the more annoyed that I’d promised to send the lady behind the cardamom twists a picture of the finished buns….what to do?

Clearly, make more. And these are the buns you can see above and below!

During my visit to Kew, I picked up another bag of spelt flour, and when I got home that evening, I made more dough. Except…it turned out I had bought wholemeal spelt instead of white. So I sieved it to remove the bran, and ended up with sligtly-less-wholemeal-but-still-quite-wholemeal spelt flour. So I dug out the finest sieve I have – a tea strainer. I then spent about half an hour sieving the flour to end up with something that looked like while spelt flour, and a bowl of fine spelt bran for bread. The lesson? Read the packet carefully, and don’t buy according to the picture on the front.

As it was rather late by this stage, I left the dough overnight to prove. It’s not something I’ve ever done before, but it seemed to work alight. I’m not sure I will do this often, as the chilled dough seemed to take a while to get moving. The next day, the dough was rolled, filled, sliced, shaped, left to prove, baked and glazed. All according to plan, and even with my flour wobble, I ended up with a tray of golden, sticky delicious Easter buns, rich with spice, citrus and juicy fruit. A good thing that I like them…as…eh…I now have a large plate containing 24 of them!

So in the spirit of these Anglo-Scandinavian buns, wishing you all a Happy Easter and Glad Påsk!

To make Hot Cross Bun Easter Twists (makes 12):

For the dough:

• 2 teaspoons instant yeast
• 50g sugar
• 60g butter
• 150ml milk, scalded and cooled
• 1 egg
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 1 generous teaspoon ground mixed spice
• 325g white spelt flour or strong white flour

First thing – whisk the egg and divide in two. You need half for the dough, and half for the glaze.

If using a bread machine: put one portion of the egg and the rest of the ingredients into the mixing bowl. Run the “dough” cycle. Simples!

If making by hand: put the flour and butter into a bowl, and rub with your fingers until the butter has been incorporated. Fold in the salt, sugar, spice and yeast. In a separate bowl, combine the milk and one portion of the egg, then pour into the dry ingredients. Stir with a spoon, then work with your hands until you have a smooth, stretchy, silky dough (at least 5 minutes). Leave the dough a warm place for an hour until the dough has doubled in size (or overnight, in the fridge, loosely covered). Knock back and knead again for 2-3 minutes.

Once the dough is ready, turn it onto a floured surface. Roll into a large rectangle until the dough is about 1/4 cm (1/8 inch) thick. Spread half of the dough with the filling mixture, and scatter over the peel and currants. Fold the other half of the dough on top of the filling, and press down lightly. Use a sharp knife to cut into 12 strips.

Taking each strip in turn, start to twist one end, five or six times, until you have a spiral. Form the twisted strips into coils, and then place onto bun cases on a baking sheet.

Cover loosely with lightly oiled cling film and leave to rise until doubled in size (around an hour, depending on how cool or warm your room is, but go by eye rather than by time).

Preheat the oven to 210°C. Take the remaining egg (remember that?) and mix with a tablespoon of water. Brush the buns with the egg wash. Bake the buns for about 10-12 minutes until golden  (again, go by eye, and if they are getting too dark, open the oven door for a moment to let out some heat, and reduce to 190°C).

When the buns are done, remove from the oven, brush straight away with the hot syrup. Leave to cool.

For the filling:

• 60g butter, soft
• 60g caster sugar
• 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
• 1 teaspoon ground mixed spice
• 50g candied citrus peel, finely chopped
• 100g currants

Mix the butter, sugar and spices in a bowl until smooth and fluffy.

Put the candied peel in a bowl, add a tablespoon of boiling water, and mix. Put the currants into another bowl, add two tablespoons of boiling water, and mix. Allow to soak for at least half an hour.

For the syrup:

• 3 tablespoons white sugar
• 3 tablespoons water
• 1 teaspoon honey

Put everything it a pan and bring to the boil – cook until all the sugar has dissolved.

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Pan di Ramerino

All my weekdays seem to be a rush of work, email, meetings and dashing around London in the tube. By and large, I don’t have much free time during the week. However, I do find myself with a little free time now and again, and I’ve actually gotten very comfortable with the idea that I can use that time for not very much at all. Just hanging in the neighbourhood. And one of my favourite places to hang out is in The Spence on Stoke Newington Church Street. It’s small, cosy and friendly.

When I go there, I am a creature of habit. Generally, it’s a coffee and a pan di ramerino, a sweet-ish bread with sultanas and rosemary. It’s one of those things that is nice to pick at while you’re reading a book or leafing through the papers.

I’ve often sat there, thinking that I should try making them myself. And this weekend, finally, finally, I got round to it.

What I don’t have is an authentic recipe (these buns are Italian, and I have not a drop of Latin blood in my, and no access to a secret family recipe), and I wasn’t really sure where to look for one. So I did what I often do when checking out something new, and tried to find out a little bit about the story behind the bun.

Pan di Ramerino is a traditional baked good from Florence, and is associated with Easter. So I put my thinking cap on, and looked at my recipe for hot cross buns. I decided to wing it – out with the spices and citrus peel, and in with the sultanas and rosemary, as well as a dash of olive oil. As simple as that.

I took the easy route and got my bread machine to do all the hard work for me. I know that there are purists out there who get a bit sniffy about the idea of using a machine when you could lovingly knead the dough by hand, but I’m busy and it’s rather nice to set everything going, then potter around until you hear the “peep”. Then you get to the fun bit – the shaping of the dough.

It is traditional to make a cross on top of the buns before baking – recalling the link back to the Easter story, and making me think that using my hot cross bun recipe wasn’t so crazy after all.

So…how did they turn out? There was scope for this to go wrong, but I was delighted with the results. Soft, lightly sweet buns with a hint of rosemary and lots of plump sultanas. Delicious! But I’ll still be buying them from The Spence from time to time – those occasions when I want just one, and don’t want to wait.

To make Pan di Ramerino (makes 12):

• 400g bread flour(*)
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 150ml milk, scalded and cooled
• 1 egg, beaten
• 30g butter
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 75g caster sugar
• 2 teaspoons instant yeast
• 150g sultanas
• Chopped leaves from 2 sprigs fresh rosemary

(*) Make sure you are using proper bread flour – plain flour just won’t work.

For the glaze:

• 2 tablespoons caster sugar
• 2 tablespoons water

If using a bread machine: place all the dough ingredients except the sultanas and rosemary into the mixing bowl. Add the sultanas and rosemary to the raisin dispenser, and run the “dough” cycle. Simples!

If making by hand: put the flour, butter and olive oil into a bowl, and rub with your fingers until the mixture has the texture of fine breadcrumbs. Fold in the salt, sugar and yeast. In a separate bowl, combine the milk and the egg, then pour into the dry ingredients. Stir with a spoon, then work with your hands until you have a smooth, stretchy, silky dough (at least 5 minutes). Work in the sultanas and rosemary. Leave the dough a warm place for an hour until the dough has doubled in size. Knock back and knead again for 2-3 minutes.

Once the dough is ready, divide it into twelve round buns. Place on a well-greased baking sheet, leaving 4-5 cm between buns, and cover with oiled cling film or a damp teacloth. Leave somewhere warm until doubled in size. Bigger is better!

Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Brush the buns with milk, and bake them for 15 minutes, until the buns are lightly browned. You may need to tun the tray during baking to an even colour.

While the buns are cooking, make the glaze: heat the water and sugar in a saucepan until the sugar has dissolved. Once the buns are ready, remove from the oven, and brush right away with the warm syrup.

Worth making? Yes! This is a very easy and simple recipe, and the buns are great for breakfast or later in the day with a cup of tea or coffee. They also make an interesting change from the normal Easter hot cross buns.

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Semlor (Swedish Cardamom Buns)

This week most of Europe has been shivering. We’ve been doing all we can to keep as far as possible from icy winds, and here in London, it’s been a bit of a waiting game. We wait for snow, then it arrives, then we shiver, then it melts a bit, then it gets colder, then it snows again.

Given how cold things are, it may seem a little bit strange to be thinking about Easter, but it occurred to me a few days ago that we were coming up for the start of Lent quite soon, and that means a raft of calorific goodies. Now do you see how thinking about things made with lots of butter, cream, eggs and sugar is not quite as strange as it first seems? And that made me think about a traditional Swedish item – the semla (pl. semlor).

Selmor are a Swedish specialty (so rather apt in the cold weather) eaten in the run up to “Fat Tuesday”. They are enriched sweet buns made with cardamom, which are then hollowed out, filled with marzipan and whipped cream. So as you can imagine, this is not at the lighter end of the culinary scale. And thus, they’re delicious.

I remember tucking into these when I lived in Sweden, and while I liked them, I probably didn’t track down the place in Stockholm that served the ultimate semla bun. So if you have any tips, these would be very welcome for my next visit.

With no trips to Scandinavia in the offing, there was just one thing for it – this year, I would actually turn try my hand at making semlor.

In fact, thinking back to the winter I spent in Sweden (many feet of snow…frozen sea…) brought a wry smile to my face. No matter how much snow there was, or how cold it got, life seemed to go on and things ticked along as usual. Contrast with here. There is a light air of panic on the streets of London at the moment, as people fear we will, at any moment, find ourselves under inches, nay, feet, of the white stuff. About three years ago, we had a dusting of snow that brought the city to a standstill – roads deserted, no buses, no underground. Admittedly that was an extreme, but today, when the flakes start to flutter from a heavy sky, there is always that little voice in your head saying – Psssst! Might be time to go home, you don’t want to be marooned at work! Lucky for me that I can walk to work (a brisk one hour, but doable!).

I mentioned that these buns are flavoured with cardamom, and I think that when it comes to spices, this is the only way to go. Lucky for me, as I happen to really like cardamom – and I think it’s a spice that is easily overlooked. I like the peppery lemon-like aroma and freshness that it brings to baked goods. So if you want your semlor to be authentic, stick with cardamom. I’m sure they are still delicious made with cinnamon or nutmeg, but I think the combination of cardamom works best with the marzipan.

There is also an interesting technique that you can do to fill the buns. Rather than just stuffing with marzipan, you use a fork to scoop out the insides. Then turn the insides into crumbs, add marzipan and some milk, then use your hands to mash it all together into a paste. Much easier for filling the buns, and it makes for a nice soft squishy marzipan filling. Yes, these are the sort of buns where the filling squirts out when you bite into them.

I’ve included a recipe below, but I have to give fair credit to Anna Brones, who write about her own attempt at making the family version of semlor as a guest on Kokblog (a great site, where foodie posts are paired with lovely illustrations of the cooking process). The original recipe is here, and when you read it, you will understand why I agree with Anna’s mother – “if you’re going to make something decadent, make something decadent. It has to be a real semla!” These were wise words to urge the use of real cream to fill these buns!

So…I made them, and I love them. The creamy-almond-cardamom combination is light and fresh, and they make a fantastic – and slightly naughty – treat with a cup of coffee on these chilly days. Now that I have, squirrel-like, stocked up on calorific food, all that remains is to see what the weather has in store for us. A couple of days of snow is fun, and London looks great on cold, clear days. But a little springtime warmth and a few daffodils peeking through the soil will be most welcome too.

To make semlor (makes 18 small or 10 large buns)

• 250ml milk
• 100 grams butter
• 2 teaspoons instant yeast
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 40g sugar
• ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
• 1 egg
• 450g strong white flour

Put the milk in a saucepan. Bring to the boil, then turn off the heat. Add the butter, and leave until the butter has melted. Mix well and allow to site until lukewarm.

Put all the ingredients, including the milk/butter mixture, into the bread machine tin and run the dough cycle.

When the dough is done, divide into portions (18 for smaller buns, 10 for larger buns). Roll into balls and place on a greased baking sheet. Cover with a damp cloth or cling film and leave in a warm place until doubled in size.

Brush the buns with beaten egg and bake in a preheated oven (200°C / 400°F) for 15 minutes (if necessary, turn the tray half-way through to ensure an even colour).

Once the buns are ready, place on a cooling tray and cover with a clean tea-towel (this catches the steam and makes the buns soft).

For the filling:

• 200g marzipan, grated
• 200ml milk
• insides of the buns
• 200ml double cream

Cut “lids” from the tops of the buns. Use a small fork to scoop out the inside of the buns. Put the insides into a bowl, and crumble with your fingers. Add the milk and marzipan, and work to a smooth paste. You can use a spoon, but it’s easier and more fun just to get in there with your hands. When smooth, fill the buns with the almond paste.

Whip the cream until stiff, then use to top the buns – either with a spoon, or use a piping bag with a large star-shaped nozzle. Use as little or as much as you like, but I would err on the generous side.

Place the “lids” back on top of the buns, then dust lightly with icing sugar.

Worth making?  While this recipe looks like a lot of work, if you’ve got a bread machine, it actually takes almost no time at all. You can also easily make the buns on day, and then fill them on the next. So on balance, easy to make and very, very delicious!

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{8} Stollen

Today we’ve hit upon that rarest of Christmas goodies…something that contains no spice! That’s right – no cinnamon! Nutmeg is absent. Mace is but a stranger. Cloves are no-where to be seen. Cardamom-who?

Yes, it’s Stollen time, and frankly, this tasty treat has just so many other good things in there that you don’t miss the spices.

This is another of those traditional German festive bakes. It just affirms my belief that Germans are just very, very good at this stuff. Visit a German city at this time of year and there are biscuits galore, stalls selling piping hot Glühwein with a shot of rum, decorations, oom-pah music and a good measure of festive cheer. When I lived in Brussels, the trek over to Cologne or Aachen became an annual tradition.

As for the Stollen, this is a rich, yeasted loaf enriched with fruit, cherries, nuts and citrus peel. When it comes out of the oven, the whole thing is brushed with melted butter, then covered in icing sugar. Some recipes even call for the whole thing to be dipped in butter! However, there is also a little surprise. There is a big old seam of marzipan running through the loaf. I have a little theory that the way you eat Stollen says a little about you. I am a picker, nibbling bits of the bread, then ending up with the marzipan at the end. I also tend to dissect bourbon biscuits and custard creams in the same way…

This recipe also has a lot of symbolism and history. There are records and recipes in Germany as far back as the 1300s, and the marzipan wrapped in the dough symbolises the infant swaddled in cloth. I really like this idea of symbolism, and it is nice that these traditions are still with us, all these years later!

To make Stollen:

To make the dough:

• 150ml milk
• 1 egg, beaten
• 1 tablespoon rum or water
• 50g sugar
• 115g butter
• 400g strong white flour

• 2 teaspoons instant yeast

Mix the milk, beaten egg and rum/water, and pour into the bread machine tin. Add the sugar and butter. Spoon in the flour and add the yeast. Run the dough cycle.

To shape and make the Stollen:

• Stollen dough
• 150g mixed dried fruit (sultanas, currant, raisins…)
• 75g glacé cherries, chopped
• 75g candied peel, chopped
• 50g slivered almonds
• 200g marzipan(*)

Knock back the dough, and turn onto a lightly floured worktop. Roll out to a large square. Spread the sultanas, cherries, candied peel and slivered almonds over the dough. Fold it in half, and then fold in half again. You should have all the “nice bits” safely in the dough, and a nice smooth outside.

Roll the dough again out to approx 25 x 15 cm (9 x 6 in). Form the marzipan into a long sausage and place in the middle of the dough(**). Fold the dough over the marzipan, tuck the ends, then flip over and put onto a greased baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. The seam should be on the bottom.

Leave in a warm place, covered with a damp teatowel, until doubled in size. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). When ready, bake for around 30 minutes until golden (turn half way through if needed).

To finish the Stollen:

• 25g butter
• 50g icing sugar

Once the Stollen is ready, remove form the oven. Melt the butter, and use it to brush the warm Stollen. Cover with the icing sugar, and add another dusing of icing sugar just before serving.

(*) If you like soft, squidgy marzipan, mix it to a thick paste with a spoon or two of rum or water.

(**) You can form the marzipan into a round sausage (as I did) to get a disc of marzipan when you slice the loaf, or you can flatten it so you have a strip in each slice of Stollen.

Worth making? I have a long-held soft spot for Stollen, and I was impressed with just how easy it is to make. It tastes great, and makes a lovely lighter alternative to heavy Christmas cake. The lack of spice makes it good for those that prefer things a little milder, but you can of course still add a teaspoon or two if you’re really hooked on cinnamon, allspice or nutmeg.

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{5} Lussekatter

On the fifth day of Christmas…this cook began to make…Swedish saffron buns! (Sing it to the theme of the Twelve Days of Christmas – it works!)

Lussekatter are typically eaten in Sweden for St Lucia on 13 December. This is a celebration of light in the middle of winter, with processions and candles. The dubious highlight (to an outsider at least) is the rather alarming scene of a culture that sends a  girl out in public with lit candles in her hair, but I guess there’s enough snow out there in case you detect the aroma of singed hair…

Pyrotechnics to one side, these saffron buns, however, are great.

In fact, it’s fair to say that they engage all the senses. First of all, they do look pretty – attractive shape, and the amazing colour, bright yellow tinged with golden brown. When you break the bread, you are struck by the vivid yellow colour of the dough, practically neon – it really is daffodil bright. As they bake, the kitchen is filled with the sweet aroma of saffron and yeast. Once they are baked, the buns are light and soft, and they have a lovely rich, buttery flavour highlighting the aroma of saffron. And as for sound…I guess you hear people making mmmmm noise as they eat them? So…all five senses duly engaged!

While I have not basis for saying this, I can see how lussekatter became so popular at this time of the year – they promise sunshine and the coming of spring. I mean, look just how yellow the dough is! But in the meantime, they make for a tasty snack to enjoy while it’s warm indoors and chilly outside.

To make lussekatter (makes 12):

• 1/2 teaspoon saffron threats (0.5g)
• 80g sugar
• 250ml milk

• 2 eggs (1 1/2 for the dough, 1/2 for glazing)
• 85g butter
• 1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
• 450g flour

• 1/2 teaspoon salt

To make the dough:

Start with the saffron – place on a plate and bake in a warm over for 1-2 minutes until the strands are dry. Mix the saffron with a tablespoon of the sugar, and grind until fine.

Next, bring the milk to the boil, then turn off the heat. Add the saffron sugar mixture, stir, and leave to sit until the milk is lukewarm – it will will take on a glorious sunny yellow colour.

[If using a bread machine] Put 1 1/2 of the eggs and the rest of the ingredients (apart from the sultanas) into the bread machine, add the milk mixture, and run the dough cycle.

[If making by hand] In a large bowl, rub the butter into the flour. Add the sugar, yeast and salt and mix well. Add the milk and 1 1/2 of the eggs, and knead well (around 10 minutes) until the dough is smooth and elastic. Cover and leave to prove in a warm place until doubled in size.

To shape and bake the buns:

Knock back the dough and divide into 12 portions. Roll each into a long thin sausage, and then form into a reverse “S” shape. Place the buns onto a greased baking sheet, cover with a damp teatowel and leave in a warm place until doubled in size. In the meantime, heat the oven to 200°C (400°F).

When the buns are risen, brush with the reserved beaten egg, and place a sultana or raisin in the middle of the swirls. Bake for around 15 minutes – the buns should just be developing golden-brown patches, but the yellow colour should still dominate.

Worth making? This recipe might look a little complex, but it’s actually a breeze – just think of an enriched bread with saffron added! The flavour and aroma really make it worth the effort – the lussekatter are fantastic if eaten while still warm with a cup of tea or a glass of mulled wine.

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Summer Pudding

Summer in Britain means an abundance of soft fruit, and this year has been a bit of a bumper crop. I just spent the weekend back at the family ranch (note: not an actual ranch) up in Scotland, and the garden was positively groaning with raspberries, strawberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants and blackberries. Things don’t get much more local – or tasty – than this.

Often one of the best ways to eat summer’s bounty is “as is”, possibly with cream or ice cream. However, there are times when you want something a bit fancier, but which still shows off these fruits to their best. If this is the case, then you might want to think about a summer pudding.

The origins of summer pudding seem to be a bit vague, but to me it has the air of something that probably comes from the Victoria period. Nothing that I can put my finger on, but I just have a feeling. Origins aside, it’s a real star – light but bursting with flavour.

This dessert is actually quite cunning in its simplicity – cook the fruit for a moment to that the juices are released, then put in a bowl that has been lined with bread. The bread absorbs the juices, and becomes sweet and velvety-soft. And the fruit, as it has had only a minimum of cooking, retains all of its fresh flavours and aromas. It also has a real visual “wow-factor” – it’s a deep purple, and surrounded by fresh fruit straight from the garden, it really does capture the essence of a summer’s day.

Given how simple it is, you might think it should just fall apart. However, as the bread absorbs the juice, the pudding does magically stay together.

To serve, I recommend a dollop of softly whipped cream. I’m normally not a fan of cream on desserts, but in this case, I think it really helps to highlight the flavours and bring them to life, so you can enjoy the “fruits” or your labour in the garden. Or, like me, to take advantage of all the hard work that a family member put in. Thanks!

If you like to experiment, you can try adding a dash of vanilla, a pinch of spices such as cinnamon or cloves, or some citrus zest. If that’s what you like, then go for it, but I like it with just the fruit. Then finish it off by arranging lots and lots of fruit around the pudding in an artful-yet-rustic way. I think you’ll agree, it looks stunning!

To make a large summer pudding:

• 750g soft fruits (raspberries, blackberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants, strawberries…)
• 1 loaf of slightly stale white bread, thinly sliced and crusts removed
• 150g caster sugar
• 2-3 tablespoons cassis (blackcurrant) liqueur

To prepare the fruit:

Put all the fruit (apart from any strawberries, if using) into a sieve and rinse. Shake dry. Put into a saucepan. Add the sugar and cook over a low heat until the fruit releases its juices but the berries still hold their shape. Leave to cool slightly, then add the chopped strawberries and cassis liqueur (if using).

To assemble the pudding:

Line a pudding bowl with cling film. Cut a circle of bread for the base. Dip one side in the fruit, then place juice-side down in the bowl. Cut more bread into triangles, dip one side in the juice, and use to line the inside of the bowl. At the end you should not have any gaps, and aim to have the bread coming up over the edge of the bowl.

Pour the fruit mixture into the bread-lined bowl. It should come to the rim of the bowl.

Use more bread to cover the fruit (this will form the base of the pudding). My tip is to rest the bread on top of the fruit for a moment, then flip over so that the base will also be properly coloured by the juice. Trim any extra bread from the edge of the bowl.

Place something flat (like a baking tray) on top of the bowl, then weigh down something heavy (stones, tin cans, weights…). Place in the fridge for 4-5 hours or overnight.

To serve:

Remove the pudding from the fridge about an hour before serving. Trim off any bits of excess bread. Put a plate on top of the pudding and with one swift movement, flip over. Remove the pudding bowl, and then carefully peel off the cling film. Garnish with fresh fruit.

Serve in slices with softly whipped cream.

Worth making? Yes yes yes! This is an easy but spectacular dessert – very worth trying, either as a large pudding or in individual portions. Can also be adapted depending on what is in season. In fact, to show how easy it is to make – we did this twice over one weekend. Simple!

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