Tag Archives: sultanas

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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Diamond Jubilee: Queen Cakes

Today’s regal bake-fest involves dainty little morsels called Queen Cakes. In spite of their very grand-sounding name, they are actually rather simple, and they are the perfect addition to an afternoon tea spread or to serve at a street party. However, I must confess that I don’t know the origin on the name – some suggest they were created for a queen consent, others suggest they were seen as the height of refinement (the “queen of cakes”) or that this was just a generic name for small, individual cakes before the rise of the cupcake.

These are simple small sponge fairy cakes that have been livened up with some sultanas or other dried vine fruit. No glaze, no icing, no mountains of fluffy pink buttercream. If you want to make them look fancy, just dust very lightly with icing sugar. I suppose you could think of them as the dignified understated and queenly addition to the tea-table in comparison to the cupcake’s gaudy courtesan or the scheming French court ambassadress as typified by the macaron.

I was pleased as I started to make these cakes that the eggs I had bought had decided add a crown stamp to the shells. A nice touch, yes?

The recipe here is very similar to Victoria sponge and would traditionally have required a large bowl, strong arms and a fearsome command of the hand whisk. Baking powder is a relatively recent invention, so the cook in olden days had to rely on getting lots and lots of air incorporated into the mixture. Fortunately, we can rely on creaming the butter and sugar, then adding the eggs and flour, but letting the baking powder in the self-raising flour take the strain. Whew!

These cakes would, in the past, have been baked in special pans, and if a heart shape was used, they were called heart cakes. Luckily, we live in a more modern world, and the convenience of the paper case makes these cakes a breeze, but I think they would still be rather nice if you can find some appropriately shaped silicone moulds.

As I mentioned, this is quite a straightforward recipe that does not need much adornment. However, if you want to make these cakes a little more fancy, I would suggest adding a dash of spice (nutmeg or mace would hint at the Regency kitchen), or soak the sultanas overnight in rum. Alternatively, you could prepare a simple water icing and brush over the warm cakes. Anything more might be a bit too flashy, and that would never do, would it?

As you can see, the finished results look rather nice when piled up high on the tea-table. These are what I’ll be contributing to a Jubilee weekend picnic, along with a couple of pitchers of Pimm’s punch. Cheers!

To make Queen Cakes (makes 16):

• 110g butter
• 110g caster sugar
• 2 eggs
• pinch of salt
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
• 110g self-raising flour
• 50g sultanas

Preheat the oven to 190°C. Line a muffin tray with small paper cases.

Put the butter and sugar into a bowl. Mix well (best to use an electric beater) until light and fluffy.

In another bowl, whisk the eggs, then add, a little at a time, to the butter mixture, beating well after each addition. Add the salt and vanilla. Fold in the flour, then stir in the sultanas.

Divide the batter between the cake cases and bake for around 15 minutes, until golden and risen, and an inserted skewer comes out clean.

Leave to cool, then finish with a dusting of icing sugar.

Worth making? These are lovely little cakes, and make a change from very fancy, rich cupcakes. Great with a cup of tea mid-afternoon.

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Diamond Jubilee: Edinburgh Tart

For most of us, the Queen has always been the Queen. Always there, changing only very slowly. Stability. Certainty. Continuity.

However, while it may at times seem hard to believe, the Queen has not always been the Queen. Back in 1947, she was newly-married and know as HRH The Duchess of Edinburgh. So today’s Jubilee-related foodie frolic honours this earlier part of the Queen’s life. This is a sweet treat called the Edinburgh Tart.

The obvious question is what is an Edinburgh tart? I’ll admit that it’s not one of the most famous pieces of Scottish baking (that title clearly belongs to our national biscuit shortbread). This tart has a puff pastry shell and is filled with a custard-like filling made with butter and sugar, candied peel, sultanas and eggs. It’s similar to certain other Scottish tarts like Border Tart or the Ecclefechan Tart, but with more of a citrus, sunny demeanor (of which more later).

I was thinking for a while how I would be able to make a foodie link to Edinburgh, and it came down to this tart and the less refined Edinburgh rock. Edinburgh rock is like “normal” seaside rock, but made with cream of tartar, so that it becomes very soft and crumbly…which is rather odd, when you consider that Edinburgh is built on the very hard stone of an extinct volcano…anyway, I though that the tart looked simpler and would be a lot more sophisticated.

This tart has two links to Edinburgh. The most obvious is that it shares its name with Scotland’s royal capital. The second is via one of the Queen’s royal ancestors. The story goes that this tart was first baked in honour of Mary, Queen of Scots, upon her arrival in Scotland for the first time. Given that she was arriving from warm France to freezing Scotland in the 1500s, I suspect that she was in need of as much cheering up as she could get. The luxury of the ingredients would probably have tasted incredibly decadent to the middle ages palate. Faced with bowls of lukewarm porridge, I’m sure the Edinburgh tart would really have looked rather appealing.

My own verdict? I think this is a lovely tart, with a rich, citrus flavour, and it’s a shame it’s not more widely known. It reminded me a little of Portuguese custard tarts (the flaky pastry, I think). It makes a nice large tart, but I think it would also work well if you were making individual tarts.

To make an Edinburgh Tart:

• 75g sugar
• 75g butter
• 1 tablespoon marmalade
• 75g chopped candied peel

• 50g sultanas
• 2 eggs, beaten
• 1 tablespoon whisky
• pinch of salt
• 1 sheet rolled puff pastry (yes – I’m lazy!)

Preheat the oven to 230°C. Lightly butter a loose-bottomed flan dish (23cm diameter).

Put the butter and sugar into a saucepan. Heat gently until the butter melts. Add a generous tablespoon of marmalade, the candied peel and sultanas, and stir until well-combined. Allow to cool until just warm, then add a tablespoon of whisky, the eggs and salt. Stir well.

Roll out the pastry and use to line the flan dish. Prick the base with a fork. Add the filling, spread it out, and bake for around 15-20 minutes until the pastry is puffed and the filling is golden. Watch the tart while it is baking – the base might start to puff up with steam – if this happens, quickly open the door, pierce with a skewer, and the pastry should sink back down.

Once cooked, remove from the oven, allow to cool complete and serve with cream or ice cream.

Worth making? Simple, quick and very tasty! This tart is straightforward (if, like me, you just buy the pastry and don’t make it) and looks spectacular, has lots of flavour but is not too sweet.

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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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{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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Scottish Food: Smiddy Dumpling

Today we are revisiting Scotland’s culinary heritage again. This is a recipe sent to me by my friend Sarah (who previously very kindly shared a family recipe for Belgian Loaf). It has come via her family located north of Inverness, so on at least one measure, it is probably about the most Scottish thing I’ve made for quite some time. So…presenting the “Smiddy Dumpling”.

The name Smiddy Dumpling is a bit of a misnomer though – it’s actually a simple fruit loaf. It’s similar to the famous Clootie Dumpling, which got its name from the fact that it was cooked (boiled) in a cloth – called a “cloot” in Scotland. Smiddy Dumpling is more like a traditional teacake, baked in the oven and served by the slice. It’s crammed with fruit (sultanas, raisins and whatever else you like) and has grated carrot in it to add moisture and some additional sweetness. It’s great with a cup of tea (what else would you drink in Scotland?) spread with a little butter and maybe honey or jam. It is equally good as a comforting pudding with a good glug of custard and/or a scoop of ice cream.

However, maybe we Scottish people approach these sort of recipes with the fond, fuzzy memories of childhood when eating it. We tried it on a German – he just point blank refused to eat what he called “another of those funny little Scottish recipes“.

The method is simplicity itself. It’s the same idea as Belgian Loaf – everything apart from the eggs and flour is put into a saucepan and brought to the boil. This ensures that the sugar and liquid are well-mixed and that the dried fruit has a chance to soften before baking. Once it has been left to cool, you mix in the flour and eggs and pop the cake into the oven. Cook slowly and wait for the final result. One things that I would caution – I am not sure that this will work so well if you try to make it using a muffin tray. It needs a long time in a slow oven for the raising agent (baking soda) to work its magic. Putting the batter into small muffin pans means less cooking time, which might leave a bit of a funny taste from the soda. If you are nevertheless a believer that small is beautiful, I would swap the baking soda for baking powder, and add it with the flour rather than when you boil the mixture. Just a thought.

The resulting cake is similar to Christmas cake. Well, actually, it is better than Christmas cake, as I actually cannot stand the traditional British festive cake. The Smiddy Dumpling has very moist fruit (given that it’s been boiled up with water and sugar) and the “cake bit” holding it all together is very light and soft. You can play around with any spices – keep it plain, add things like cinnamon, ground cloves or allspice, or be creative (for example, you could add festive German Lebkuchengewürz mixed spice like I did).

As a fruity teatime treat, this is easy and pretty hard to beat. Sarah’s sister made this for work and had several colleagues after the recipe – now, that sounds like a pretty good endorsement of this recipe to me!

And finally – you’ll see that the recipe is in cups and ounces – this is how it came to me, and that is how it is staying. If you need to convert, go by volume, not weight, at a rate of 1 cup = 240ml.

To make Smiddy Dumpling (makes a 2lb loaf):

Step 1:

• 1 cup water
• 1 cup sugar
• 2 1/2 cups fruit (sultanas, raisins…)
• 1 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate)
• 4oz (100g) butter
• 1 cup grated carrot
• 1 teaspoon mixed spice

Put all ingredients into a pan, bring to the boil and simmer for two minutes. Allow to cool.

In the meantime, pre-heat the oven to 150°C (300°F) and line a loaf tin with greaseproof paper.

Step 2:

• 1 cup plain flour
• 1 cup self-raising flour
• 2 eggs well beaten

Add the flour and eggs to the cooled mixture and stir well. Pour into the loaf tin and bake for 1 1/2 hours. The loaf should roughly double in size.

Worth making? If you like dried fruit, this really is an excellent fruit loaf, and probably one of the best that I have had in a while. It’s neither too sweet nor too heavy, but has enough good stuff in there so that you don’t feel you are being cheated in any way. Definitely a winner from my perspective!

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Rock On!

If you grew up in Britain, then you surely remember rock buns?

This is a recipe that I remember from years ago. It’s got a bit of a retro feel to it, but that fits right in to all the traditional baking that we are (supposedly) doing these days. You can’t go out for a cup of tea in the afternoon these days without (metaphorically) tripping over flapjacks, coffee walnut cake, scones and the famous Victoria sponge. Rock buns are similarly traditional, straightforward, simple to make and rather comforting.

Rock buns are great for a number of reasons. Chances are that you’ve got all the ingredients in your store cupboard right now. Even if you don’t have them exactly, you can chop-and-change to some extent, using different types of sugar and different dried fruit. They are also an absolute doddle to make – you can do it all in 5 minutes, and they can be eaten warm from the oven or left to cool – perfect if you have guests coming at short notice. Also, if you like things spicy, you can add a dash of whatever takes your fancy – cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon or mixed spice (like this).

In terms of texture, they are a bit like a scone, although they have a lot more butter and less milk, so the texture is richer and crumbly. Great on their own, or spread with a little butter and jam while still warm.

The only thing you need to worry about is how they look. They are called rock buns for a reason – we are not aiming for a smooth surface. It should look rough, which is usually pretty easy to achieve. The look is further achieved by sprinkling with a little granulated sugar, so they sparkle a little bit like granite. Alright, this last stage might be stretching things a little bit far, but it does add a nice bit of extra crunch.

To make rock buns (makes 8):

• 200g self-raising flour
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
• pinch of spice
• 100g butter
• 75g white caster sugar or soft brown sugar(*)
• 1 egg
• 2-3 tablespoons milk
• 75g sultanas (or other dried fruit)
• granulated sugar (to sprinkle)

Preheat the oven to 190°C (370°F). Grease a baking sheet.

In a bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and spice. Rub in the butter using your fingers. Add the sugar and mix well.

Add the egg plus enough milk to make a soft dough. It should be soft and a bit sticky, but not in any way runny. Finish by mixing in the fruit.

Form the dough into 8 buns, making sure they look rough enough (**). Place on the baking sheet and sprinkle with granulated sugar.

Bake for 15 minutes. The buns are ready when they are golden, and an inserted cocktail stick comes out clean. Enjoy warm or cold.

(*) I used 25g white caster sugar and 50g soft brown sugar.

(**) Form the buns using your hands or tablespoons. However, you can also use in ice cream scoop (the sort with the button and the “bit” at the back of the scoop – this gives you equal measures, and the resulting buns look satisfyingly “rocky”.

Worth making? These are super-quick and very easy to make, and taste great, like a cross between cake and a scone. Good to have in the back pocket when you need to produce something for guests, and a nice recipe for kids that don’t want to wait too long to tuck in to their hard work.

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Kugelhopf

I recently passed the Gill Wing cookshop in Crouch End, which is always good for picking up a new kitchen implement. Sitting at the front of the store were a selection of ring pans. Given this is about the only thing missing from my collection of trays, I bought one.

Now, what could go in this new pan? Time to explore the culinary delights of France. Not the fancy-pants glamour of Paris. Nope, it’s a little baked item from the eastern border region of Alsace. We’re making a kugelhopf.

For me, this cake has something of a Germanic character, a little reminiscent of a Viennese coffee house, and that’s not surprise when you think about where Alsace is – it’s on the border with Germany, and the regional capital, Strasbourg, has a distinctive style of architecture that is certainly very different from that you would see along the boulevards of Paris or in the towns of the Loire valley. There are some street signs in the local Alsatian tongue (a Germanic rather than a Romance language). Even the wine glasses has a local and distinctive twist – the characteristic green stems, which you can spot on the tables of just about every bistro-style street cafe in Strasbourg. It’s clearly part of France, but it’s a distinctive part of France.

Enough tourism. Let’s go back to kugelhopf. This is something between a bread and a cake. It’s enriched yeast dough with a decent amount of butter and eggs, plus brandy-soaked fruit, almonds, vanilla and lemon zest. It’s a little bit like brioche, but more aromatic and not quite as rich. It gets its distinctive shape from a traditional ring mould – the Alsatians have a special tall pan for making kugelhopf, but (like me!) you can just use a normal ring pan for this. There is also a little tradition of placing a whole almond in each of the dimples in the bottom of the cake pan. I’ve not idea what this represents, but it seems like a nice tradition, and I had a pack of Mallorcan almonds to use for this purpose. If you know the story behind the almonds, do tell!

In making this, I did a bit of experimenting. I followed a “traditional” recipe to the letter, which involved a very elaborate series of steps – creaming butter and sugar, folding in eggs, adding vanilla and lemon zest, and finally working in the yeast, milk and flour by hand. It looked alright, but in the end the texture was most peculiar – a heavy dough with very large gas bubbles, and a peculiar chewiness. Hand-made is nice in theory, but I sensed it was time to try again.

On the second attempt, I embraced modern technology. Good, fresh ingredients, but it all went into the bread machine with fingers crossed, hoping for the best. This time – the dough came out silky-smooth and with a nice elasticity. Once transferred into the pan, it puffed up nicely and baked perfectly. And this time, the texture was great. Fluffy, fruity, moist and tasty. Now, maybe it had something to do with adjusting the mixture to add a little more flour and replacing some of the butter with cream cheese…but whatever it was, it worked!

I’ve seen a variety of ways to finish this cake, all they way up to elaborate frostings and glazes. But in my view, this cake is best with a simple dredging of icing sugar, which imparts a subtle sweetness and complements the fruit, nuts and delicious aroma of baked cakey goodness.

To make a kugelhopf (for a 2.5 litre (4 1/2 pint) tin):

• 120g sultanas
• 2 tablespoons brandy or apple juice
• 2 teaspoons dried (not instant) yeast
• 120ml warm water
• 1 teaspoon sugar
• 75g butter
• 30g cream cheese

• 90g caster sugar

• 3 eggs
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 teaspoon salt
• zest of one lemon
• 475g white bread flour
• 120ml milk
• 75g flaked almonds, chopped
• whole blanched almonds
• icing sugar, to finish

Put the sultanas in a bowl with the brandy or apple juice. Put to one side.

In another bowl, combine the yeast, warm water and the teaspoon of sugar. Mix well and leave for 15 minutes until frothy.

If using a bread machine: put the yeast mixture, butter, cream cheese, sugar, eggs, vanilla, salt, lemon zest, flour and milk into the machine. Run the dough cycle. At the end, work the raisins and almonds into the dough.

If working by hand: put the flour and salt in a large bowl. Rub the butter and cream cheese into the flour mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar, vanilla and lemon zest. Add the yeast mixture, the eggs and half the milk – work with your hands until you have a soft, elastic dough – add more milk as needed. Finally, work in the dried fruit almonds. Cover and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in size.

Once the dough has risen, knock it back. Grease a ring tin with butter, and place a whole almond in each dimple in the tray. Carefully add the dough. Cover and leave in a warm place until the dough reaches the top of the pan. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).

Bake the kugelhopf for 45 minutes until golden brown. If the top is getting a little too dark, cover the tin loosely with tin foil.

When the kugelhopf is baked, remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tray. Turn out and dredge with icing sugar.

Worth making? This was a spectacular success! I’ve actually made it twice since the original (successful) recipe. It’s also simple to adjust the flavours according to your tastes – experiment with different nuts and dried fruits, orange zest or a little dash of spice. I’m also going to try this in muffin cases to make sweet breakfast rolls. Watch this space for an update!

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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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