Tag Archives: easter

Kulich

Have you been able to enjoy some good weather recently? In the last few weeks, things seem to be warming up, and my garden is full of the joys of spring – the clematis is heavy with pale pink blooms, and the tulips that seemed only a week ago to be tentative at best are now adding extravagant bursts of colour – reds, golds and purples. A few other more traditional flowers are also starting to peek out from the sea of green, and it really does feel like summer days are not far away now.

Actually, I’m under-selling this time of year. I have just spent Easter in Scotland, and against all expectations was able to enjoy some spectacular sunny weather – clear blue skies and lovely views. Walks in the countryside, a picnic by a loch, a ride in a hot air balloon and visits to ancient castles, all in the blazing sunshine. The result of all this excitement was that, eh, I actually got a little behind on blogging and did not get round to posting some of my Easter baking. So I’m afraid you’re going to have to bear with me as I write about some seasonal bakes with a slight time lag. Better late than never!

Easter offers quite a lot of options when it comes to baking. The most obvious thing to do is whip up a batch of Hot Cross Buns, rich with spice and finished with a sticky honey glaze. Well, it would be, except the bakery round the corner makes amazing buns, so I’ve been tucking into plenty of those rather than making them myself. So that left me with the task of trying something a little different, and I though I’d have a go at making traditional Russian kulich. Something like this!

kulich

The most striking thing about kulich is the shape of the loaf – tall and slim, with domed top drizzled with a little icing (or in my case – slathered with lots of icing!). It is topped with a few slivers of candied peel, or more traditionally, some edible spring flowers. To get this shape, the easiest way is to use a large-ish tin can, then just wash it out, and line it well with greaseproof paper on the bottom and the sides, and you’ve got a good makeshift kulich tin. One little tip though – don’t use a can that held garlic cloves or strong curry – they can hold the flavours of their original contents, and I think an curry-garlic kulich is a flavour experience that I can happily live without. In my case, I used a tall milk pan, which had a useful handle that made putting it into the oven a little easier.

Now, I have seen this refered to in a few places as “Russian Panettone” which I think does a bit of a disservice to this bread. You find enriched, spiced, fruited breads across Europe, but I guess that the Italian version is so well-known that they’ve got that market cornered. While there are some superficial similarities, kulich has different spices, including cardamom as well as a little saffron for the adventurous. I find saffron and cardamom a curious combination, one that I really have not seen together very often at all, although I did make an Estonian Christmas wreath last year with that flavour pairing, and I can assure you that it really is very, very delicious. That, and the dough will have the most amazing golden colour!

That said…the recipe I’ve used is actually my own Panettone recipe, as it is one that I have made many, many times and I am very happy that it works well, with a good but not overwhelming amount of fruit and candied peel. Well, it’s Panettone, albeit tweaked to reflect the usual Russian ingredients, and baked in the traditional shape. Matryoshkas and babushkas might find this a little bit strange, but it works.

When faced with such a tall loaf, you might wonder how on earth to cut it. Well, rather than trying to cut it like a cake, lay it on the side and cut it into slices. Hey presto – circles of kulich! This does of course mean that some lucky person will get the last slide, smothered in sweet icing. Kulich is traditionally served with pashka, a sweetened cream cheese mixture prepared in intricate moulds. However, it is equally delicious on its own, or served toasted and spread with butter and jam or honey.

To make one large or two small kulich:

• 80ml milk
• Large pinch freshly ground nutmeg
• Large pinch saffron strands
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
• 1 egg
• 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 35g butter

• 25g sugar
• Pinch of salt
• Zest of 1/2 orange
• 3/4 teaspoon dried yeast
• 200g strong white flour
• 75g dried fruit (such as currants and golden sultanas)
• 40g candied peel, diced
• 25g slivered almonds

1. Put the milk in a small pan. Bring to the boil, then remove from the heat. Add the spices, then leave to one side until lukewarm.

2. Mix the egg and vanilla into the milk and blend well.

3a. If using a bread machine: Throw everything into the mixing bowl (put the fruit, peel and almonds into the raisin compartment). Run the “dough” cycle. Simples!

3b. 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, orange zest and yeast. Add the milk/egg mixture. Stir with a spoon, then work with your hands until you have a smooth, stretchy, silky dough (at least 5 minutes). Work in the fruit, peel and almonds. 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.

4. Once the dough is ready, prepare either one large or two normal tin cans by lining with greaseproof paper (make sure to leave a high collar around the top, as the dough will rise a lot). Take the dough out of the machine, form into one or two balls as needed, then drop into the tin(s). Leave in a warm place covered in cling film for about one hour until the dough has reached to top of the tin.

5. In the meantime, preheat the oven at 180°C (350°F). Put the kulich into the oven, baking for around 15-20 minutes for smaller loaves or 25-30 minutes for a larger loaf (they should sound hollow when tapped). If the top is browning too quickly, cover loosely with tin foil. Remove from the oven and leave to cool before icing.

For the icing:

• 100g icing sugar
• 4 teaspoons water
• slivers of candied citrus peel

6. Mix the icing sugar and water until smooth. Spread on top of the kulich being sure the encourage a few dramatic drips down the side.

7. Finish with a few slivers of citrus peel on top.

Worth making? Definitely. This is a delicious, aromatic loaf which makes a lovely teatime treat. This is equally delicious slices and toasted for breakfast.

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Hot Cross Buns

It’s just not Easter without lots and lots of hot cross buns. On the basis of a rather busy social schedule this year, I had planned to just buy them (a shocking admission, I know). Well, karma kicked in, and when my shopping arrived, there were no buns in the bags. Unbelievably, they had run out! So I was straight in the kitchen and had to whip up a batch of my own.

I’ve made these buns a few times in previous years (my original post is here, which also contains a little bit of their background and history too) so I’ll just leave you to enjoy my most recent results. As you can see, they do have a pleasingly rustic look compared to their commercial counterparts.

hotXbuns

If you are minded to have a go at making these, I’ve got two tips.

First, it’s worth soaking the currants, sultanas and candied citrus peel in warm water, juice or brandy to ensure they are plum and soft (if not, they can be a bit dry after baking).

Second, when shaping the buns, I find the easiest way is to take a piece of dough and then roll it into a ball (so far, so obvious). Next, pull and stretch the dough from the top and sides and tuck under the bottom of the buns (the untidy party will be the bottom of the buns, so you won’t see it). This means you have a perfectly smooth bun.

There you have it! Tasty Easter treats which are wonderful either warm or toasted, served with butter and honey. Happy Easter everyone!

hotXbuns2

To make Hot Cross Buns (makes 12-16):

For the buns:

• 400g bread flour(*)
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 150-200ml milk, scalded and cooled
• 1 egg, beaten
• 50g butter
• 75g caster sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
• 1/2 teaspoon mixed spice or Lebkuchengewürz(**)
• pinch ground cloves
• 2 teaspoons instant yeast
• 50g candied peel, chopped
• 100g sultanas and currants (proportions per your taste!)

(*) Make sure you are using proper bread flour – plain flour just won’t work
(**) If you prefer, just use two teaspoons of ground cinnamon

For the X:

• 3 tablespoons plain flour
• 3 tablespoons cold water

For the glaze:

• 2 tablespoons caster sugar
• 2 tablespoons water

1. Make the dough. If using a bread machine: place all the dough ingredients except the sultanas, currants and candied peel into the mixing bowl. Add the sultanas and peel to the raisin dispenser, and run the “dough” cycle. If making by hand: put the flour and butter into a bowl, and rub with your fingers until the mixture has the texture of fine breadcrumbs. Fold in the spices, 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. Work in the sultanas, currants and candied peel. Leave the dough a warm place for an hour until the dough has doubled in size.

2. Once the dough is ready, divide it into twelve to sixteen round buns. Place on a well-greased baking sheet or one lined with greaseproof paper. Leaving 4-5 cm between buns, and cover with oiled cling film or a damp teacloth. Leave somewhere warm until doubled in size.

3. Preheat the oven to 220°C (420°F).

4. Prepare the paste for the X by mixing the flour and water until smooth. Next, brush the buns with milk, then use the paste to make an X on each bun – you can use a piping bag, a plastic bag with the corner cut off, or just use a teaspoon and a steady hand.

5. Bake the buns for 15 minutes until they are a rich brown colour. You may need to tun the tray during baking to get an even colour.

6. 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.

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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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Little Simnel Cakes

In keeping with the Easter theme, I’ve tried to make a traditional Simnel cake, but in miniature form. To to be clear, these are miniature cakes. Let’s just not use the work “cupcake”.

A Simnel cake is an Easter tradition – a spicy fruit cake which also includes a decent amount of marzipan. You probably have to love marzipan to want to eat Simnel cake, but if you do, you’ll love it. Circular reasoning, but true.

It has a long pedigree, first appearing in mediaeval times, and was originally associated with Mother’s Day, but with time, this has come to be linked with Easter. The Easter connection is also seen in how the cake is decorate with marzipan – there should normally be eleven marzipan balls on top, representing the true apostles, minus Judas. For rather obvious reasons.

The mixture itself is really simple to make, and can also be changed depending on what you’ve got in the cupboard and your personal preferences, provided you keep the quantities the same and don’t do silly things like replacing raisins with fresh pineapple. Dried fruit can be swapped out for another type of dried fruit, but sweet, juicy fruit could do all manner of things to the mixture. By all means experiment, but you’ve been warned. I used candied peel, sultanas and raisins, but a few chopped nuts, dried cranberries, dried blueberries or even dried pineapple or mango would all work too.

The marzipan is the fun bit. Traditionally, the bright yellow marzipan is used, and by all means, go with that, but I prefer the look of white marzipan, which I think is rather more elegant.

Now, you do get a real marzipan hit with a Simnel cake. It’s not just on the cake, it’s in it too. You can either chop some into chunks and fold into the batter, or roll out a disc and place in between two layers of the uncooked cake batter, so that marzipan bakes into the cake. Then you finish the cake with another layer of marzipan and the marzipan balls, and finally – brush with egg white and pop under the grill to give the cake a lovely burnished golden look. Otherwise, use a handheld blowtorch to bring a little more finesse to the burnishing. There may be reason for this touch, but I don’t know what it is, beyond the fact that it’s traditional and looks rather pretty.

For the record, and for the curious, the recipe below can easily be scaled up to make a full cake (20cm diameter), but just be sure to adjust the cooking time accordingly.

Happy Easter!

To make mini Simnel cakes (10 mini cakes or one normal size):

For the cake:

• 300g self-raising flour
• 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
• 1 teaspoon mixed spice or Lebkuchengewürz
• 120g butter
• 120g soft brown sugar
• zest of 1/2 lemon
• zest of 1/2 orange
• pinch of salt
• 3 tablespoons golden syrup(*)
• 300g mixed dried fruit (**)
• 50g chopped candied peel
• 2 eggs
• 100ml milk
• 200g marzipan

Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F). Grease and line a large muffin tray with paper cases.

Mix the flour and baking powder. Rub the butter into the flour using your fingers. Add the rest of the dry ingredients (spice, sugar and dried fruit) and mix well. Add the egg, golden syrup and milk. Stir well, then add until the mixture is soft but not runny, and drops easily from a spoon.

Put half the mixture into the muffin cases.

Next, divide the marzipan into pieces and roll into discs. Place one into each muffin.

Add the rest of the mixture on top of the marzipan, smoothe down, and place in the oven to cook for around 30 minutes (until an inserted skewer comes out clean). Leave the cakes to cool then decorate with the marzipan.

(*) If you don’t have maple syrup, use dark corn syrup, rice syrup, agave nectar or maple syrup.
(**) Currants, raisins, sultanas, cranberries, blueberries…whataever you want, as long as it’s dried.

For the decoration:

• 300g marzipan
• 3 tablespoons strained apricot jam or quince jelly

• 1 egg white

Use one-third of the marzipan to cover the cakes. It is easiest to use icing sugar to dust a worktop,  roll out the marzipan with a rolling pin, then use a circulate cutter to cut a circle for the top of each cake.

Brush the top of each cake with jam/jelly, then put the disc of marzipan on top. Smooth the marzipan, and if you want, use your fingers or a knife/spoon/fork to make a pattern round the edge.

Next, roll out balls of marzipan and arrange 11 on top of each cake. Brush the marzipan with a little egg white, then place under a hot grill or use a blowtorch to heat the marzipan until it is lightly browned.

Worth making? Yes – provided you’ve got the patience to do the fiddly marzipan on top, this cake is simple and delicious.

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One a penny, two a penny, Hot Cross Buns!

It’s coming up to Easter (hence the nifty rabbit-themed header for the next few days)…

…and that means Britain is awash with hot cross buns! We’ve actually been able to tuck into them since, oh, late January, but what with the lighter evenings and warmer weather, now it feels more like the right time to be eating them.

Indeed, some people might even be reciting the nursery rhyme (which is what the title of this post refers to, in case you are wondering). Bet you can’t listen to this one more than twice!

If you don’t know them, these are enriched yeast buns with sultanas, currants, citrus peel and a goodly amount of spice, then finished off with a cross on top. This can range from a simple cross made with a sharp knife to pastry crosses, or for a more luxurious finish, marzipan. Apparently they were originally eaten throughout the year, but were associated with Catholicism, so Queen Elizabeth I, sensing that banning things tends not to work too well, allowed people to keep eating them, but limiting them to Easter and Christmas. The association with this time of year established, hot cross buns have never looked back and are now a firm favourite. While traditionally eaten on Good Friday, I am sure I’ve seen them on sale in the middle of November. Yup, we love them that much!

Now, I thought that this would all be an absolute breeze given the ease with which I made panettone just before Christmas. It’s a fruity, spicy bread, just like hot cross buns, so this should also be easy, right? Well, predictably enough, it was not quite as easy as I imagined.

I started off with Delia Smith’s recipe, which is intended for a breadmaker, but first time round I ended up with overly-hard crosses and not enough fruit. Second time, it was Delia again, but the buns didn’t rise properly, which with hindsight was probably due to me not letting them rise properly in my haste to get to the local park and soak up the sun. C’mon, it was 25 degrees and a clear blue sky!

However, two instances without success put me off Delia’s recipe, and for third time lucky, I checked out what Nigella was proposing. Her recipe was similar, but with a bit less flour and a dash of powdered ginger. So I muddled through, using a composite of Delia and Nigella (Digella? Neelia?) as a bit of a guide, leaning a bit more towards the lovely Miss Lawson, and this time, things were looking up. The resulting dough was soft, silky and puffed up beautifully, and this time they had enough time to actually rise properly. Result!

With the bun mixture sorted out, time to deal with the X.

First time, I did the Delia approach of making a simple pastry with flour and water, rolled it thin and cut out strips to place on the buns. Result? Fussy and a bit like leather. With attempt number two, I made a paste and used a piping bag (or more accurately, a plastic bag with the corner cut out…make do and mend etc), which looked good, but I’d managed to get quantities wrong. Again, the paste cooked to something a little leathery. What was happening? I suspected that I was not using enough water, so when I was mixing the paste, it was developing the gluten in the flour, making it too tough when baked.

Then…third time, I finally got it right – the simple trick is exactly equal volumes of flour and water. Result? Nice and soft!

The buns are finished with a simple hot sugar glaze as soon as they come out of the oven, which makes them nice and soft and they take on the deep, rich brown colour of new conkers.

And how to eat them? They really are at their best when still warm, as the flavours of all that fruit, spice and citrus is at its best, but if you prefer, they are great split and toasted. Then serve with a large dollop of butter and a generous drizzle of honey. For me, this was the chance to open some Hamptons Honey I picked up when I was last in the US. A perfect little combination!

Seriously – did you click the link for the nursery rhyme? I think I might have  5 second tolerance limit for it…


To make 12-16 Hot Cross Buns:

For the buns:

• 400g bread flour(*)
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 150ml milk
• 1 egg, beaten
• 50g butter
• 75g caster sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon(**)
• 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
• 1/2 teaspoon mixed spice or Lebkuchengewürz
• pinch ground cloves
• 2 teaspoons instant yeast
• 50g candied peel, chopped
• 100g sultanas and currants (proportions per your taste!)

(*) Make sure you are using proper bread flour – plain flour just won’t work.
(**) If you prefer, just use two teaspoons of ground cinnamon.

For the X:

• 3 tablespoons plain flour
• 3 tablespoons cold water

For the glaze:

• 2 tablespoons caster sugar
• 2 tablespoons water

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

If making by hand: put the flour and butter into a bowl, and rub with your fingers until the mixture has the texture of fine breadcrumbs. Fold in the spices, 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. Work in the sultanas, currants and candied peel. Leave the dough a warm place for an hour until the dough has doubled in size.

Once the dough is ready, divide it into twelve to sixteen 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.

Preheat the oven to 220°C (420°F).

Prepare the paste for the X by mixing the flour and water until smooth. Next, brush the buns with milk, then use the paste to make an X on each bun – you can use a piping bag, a plastic bag with the corner cut off, or just use a teaspoon and a steady hand. Put the buns into the oven and bake for 15 minutes, until the buns are a rich brown colour. 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? I’ve made this recipe twice now, and it works perfectly. The process is actually quite easy, as long as you can spend a bit of time popping into the kitchen every so often to keep things ticking along. You can also customise them according to taste – cranberries, blueberries, chocolate chips…whatever takes your fancy!

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Filed under Recipe, Sweet Things

On Location: Demarquette (Chelsea, London)

Easter is coming, and that, of course, means that many of us will consume our own body weight in chocolate eggs. So I was thrilled when I received a recent invite to attend a tasting evening at the Demarquette chocolate boutique in Chelsea. A chic part of London that I don’t get to that often, so all the more incentive to attend.

As regular readers might have realised, I have a penchant for nice chocolates from my time in Brussels, and this little place surely did not disappoint. Greeted with a glass of fizz, we then got to sample a variety of the goodies on offer. The selection was great – showcasing the range of what they did, so a glimpse into everything from the classical to the contemporary, old favourites and new twists. There were delectable candied clementines dipped in dark chocolate, which were sweet, plump and conveyed all the flavours of Christmas. There was an utterly delicious salted caramel spread made with Cornish clotted cream. What struck me was that while this clearly contained heroic quantities of dairy and sugar, it had a rich, smooth buttery quality, rather than just cloying sweetness, so it might be appearing in a few gift packs rather soon. The two others that stood out for me were the caramel miniature eggs (of which more later) and mint and green tea chocolates. These were, without doubt, the nicest mint chocolates I have had in quite some time. Forget white fondant filled sweets, these had a rich, smooth ganache filling and tasted just like they had fresh mint leaves in them – this flavour was real, bright and fresh. Absolutely superb.

I was also intrigued by some of the flavours that I saw but did not get the chance to taste – the English Garden Collection (with a range floral flavours – rose, violet, elderflower – and aptly launched during the 2009 Chelsea Flower Show) and the British Summer Fruits (rhubarb! pear! blackcurrant! raspberries!) stood out, and I look forward to getting round to trying these in due course.

We were also treated to a little live demonstration of making ganache, where the owner, Marc Demarquette, shared his technique. This differs from the way in which I have made ganache in the past – he uses warmed cream with melted chocolate – so I will be giving this a try very soon. Needless to say, it was delicious and we were allowed to dip strawberries and brioche in the mixture to our heart’s content, subject to a strict no-double-dipping rule. All this was topped off with the chance to test some of their new creations, including some cloud-like whipped ganache chocolates. I could go on, and on, and on, but suffice to say: lovely shop, lovely staff, and delicious, innovative, creative chocolates. As if all that were not enough reason to head down there, they are also working cocoa growers in Vietnam to source great beans and do a little good for the local community. Sold yet?

Now, from the night, I have to ‘fess up and say that I expected to be more occupied with guzzling sweets and discussing exactly which type of chocolate I liked, so the camera stayed at home and the iPhone firmly in pocket. However, we were also kindly given a little goody bag, so I have used that as the basis of a few pics to share.

Without doubt, my complete, utter and total favourite where the salted caramel chocolate eggs. They had a rich, biting caramel which worked beautifully with the dark, rather fruity chocolate that encased them. I rationed them to one a day, both a massive exercise in self-control and testament to the fact that I did not think it fitting to snaffle them all in one go.

I also loved the two little Easter chicks made of chocolate, and a small gift box of six individual chocolates. In each case, the flavour was just right – just the right strength, and rather impressively, even the banana chocolate tasted pretty good, which I think is something very tricky to pull off.

In short, this was a great evening, and I am so happy to have found this store. I look forward to buying a few more goodies in the future, and popping back to the shop to take in what they have on offer. And if you find yourself in that part of London, I can assure you that it’s worth it.

And just to show a little humour – here are the chocolate Easter chickens!

Demarquette Fine Chocolates, 285 Fulham Road, London SW10 9PZ. Tel: 020 7351 5467. Tube: Gloucester Road or South Kensington.

LondonEats locations map here.

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Filed under London, On Location