With Easter just around the corner…

Hot cross buns are one of those things that I have always fancied making but have never got round to… until now. Last month, I bought a Waitrose magazine and was unable to resist giving the sticky, sweet buns a try (well done Mr. photographer, you managed to make them look irresistable). So, how did they go? Well, they were pretty great! Making your own hot cross buns does require a bit of time but I was so excited with the result I will be making them again and again.

Hot Cross Buns

(Recipe by Edd Kimber)

450g strong white bread flour

½ tsp salt

2 tsp mixed spice

1 tsp cinnamon

50g caster sugar

7g sachet dried yeast

250ml whole milk

30g unsalted butter

1 orange zest

120g raisins

1 large egg

Olive oil

50g plain flour

2 tbsp golden syrup

  1. Mix the bread flour, salt, spices, sugar and yeast in a large bowl. Then melt the butter in a pan with the milk over a low heat and add the orange zest and raisins. Leave this to cool for a couple of minutes before mixing in the beaten egg.
  2. Make a small well in the flour mixture and pour in the milk mixture. Stir until it comes together in a dough.
  3. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead it for at least 5 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Then put the ball of dough into a lightly oiled bowl and cover it with clingfilm. Leave the dough to rise for about an hour in a warm place.
  4. Once risen, place the ball of dough onto a lightly floured surface and flatten by knocking out some of the air. Now divide the dough into however many balls you want: the recipe recommends 9 but this produces quite large buns so I would opt for 10-12.
  5. Place the buns on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper and make sure they are about about 2cm apart before covering them with greased clingfilm and leaving them to rise again for about 40 minutes. During this time you should preheat your oven to 200ᵒC/gas mark 6 for however long it normally takes.
  6. After the second proof, uncover the buns (they should have now doubled in size- woohoo!) and mix the flour with 5tbsp water to make a thick paste. Use this paste to make the crosses for your buns by spooning it into a piping bag fitted with a small nozzle (I just use a plastic bag with the corner cut off) and pipe them on.
  7. Bake the buns for 20-25 minutes until golden in colour. When they have cooled slightly, melt the golden syrup in a pan and then brush it over the buns to give them a sweet, sticky shine.

These hot cross buns are delicious so why not make them for Easter day breakfast? They are best served warm with butter. Mmmmm….

A savoury snack

This Christmas Santa brought me Muffins Galore, a recipe collection by Catherine Atkinson that is full of fresh ideas and experimental ingredients. I don’t usually bake all that much, but this book definitely provides an incentive! I decided to use it for the first time this weekend… from Chocolate Chip Crumble, to Cinnamon-Spiced Courgette and Special Diet muffins, there were so many options to choose from. Feeling in a savoury mood I opted for Sausage & Cheese and they were really quite satisfying!

Sausage and cheese muffins (makes 12)

225g good-quality pork sausagemeat

1 small onion, grated

300g plain flour

2 tbsp caster caster sugar

1 tbsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

175ml milk

1 large egg, lightly beaten

50g melted butter

50g grated cheddar cheese

  1. Preheat the oven to 190ᵒ/Gas mark 5 and grease a muffin tin or line it with paper muffin cases.
  2. Fry the sausagemeat over a high heat for 8-10 minutes or until cooked through. As you cook it use a wooden spoon to break the meat up into crumbs.
  3. Once cooked, remove the sausagemeat from the pan and fry the onion until softened in the same pan.
  4. Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in one bowl and in another mix the milk, egg and melted butter.
  5. Pour the wet ingredients along with the fried sausagemeat, onions and grated cheese into the bowl of dry ingredients and gently bind together. Only stir the mixture until it has all been incorporated as over mixing may give your muffins unwanted air pockets. (It will probably be quite a sticky and stringy mixture.)
  6. Share the batter between the muffin cups and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes until risen and golden.
  7. Allow the muffins to cool in the tin for about 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.

Why not make a batch of these muffins next weekend to enjoy at work as a savoury snack? Muffins freeze well so you can put them away and take one out each day or whenever you fancy.

A little italian treat for Christmas…

During the year I spent in Italy, I ate so many biscotti! They are quite hard biscuits and excellent for dipping in hot drinks or dessert wine. Biscotti come in many flavours and you can pretty much experiment with anything so long as you cut it up small enough! This year I decided to make my own fruit and nut variety so here is the recipe….

Mixed fruit and pine nut biscotti (makes 18-20)

100g dark brown sugar

1 extra large egg

175g plain flour

½ tsp ground allspice

85g dried mixed fruit (I used cranberries, apricots and dates)

55g pine nuts

Butter for greasing

  1. Preheat the oven to 180ᵒ/ Gas mark 4 and grease a baking sheet.
  2. Whisk the sugar with the egg for several minutes until the colour lightens and the mixture is still thick enough to leave a trail when you lift up the whisk.
  3. Sift the flour, baking powder and allspice into the bowl and fold it into the mixture. Add the pine nuts and fruit and gently stir them into the mixture (be careful not to over stir).
  4. Bring the mixture together with your hands and gently roll it into a cylinder of about 35cm in length. Press the roll to flatten it slightly.
  5. Put the dough onto the prepared baking sheet (you may have to cut it into two rolls) and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until golden. Then leave the biscotti to cool for about 5 minutes.
  6. Slice the roll into ½ inch pieces and arrange them flat on the baking sheet.
  7. Bake the slices for a further 10 minutes and then leave them to cool on a wire rack. When these are done, enjoy them with a cup of coffee or store in an airtight container… they should last a few weeks like this!

These little treats are a great way to finish a special meal and perfect at Christmas time. They don’t take long to make so give them a go!

Golden carrot puddings

I first made these little puddings when I was quite young and have made them many times since. They are simple to do and their sweet butteryness is always a hit at the table. The recipe serves 4-5 depending on the size of your cups/ramekins. I use those little microwavable plastic pots you get when you buy steamed puddings in the supermarket and they work a treat. Give them a go and let me know what you think!

Golden carrot puddings (Serves 4-5)

4-5 tbsp golden syrup

60g cold butter

1 ⅓ cups grated carrot

½ cup chopped pecans

½ cup sugar

⅔ cup wholemeal self-raising flour

½ tsp mixed spice

¼ tsp ground cinnamon

1 egg lightly beaten

⅓ cup oil (vegetable or sunflower is fine)

  1. Lightly grease 4 microwave safe cups or ramekins with oil.
  2. Put a table spoon of golden syrup into each cup and a piece of butter on top of it.
  3. Put the carrot, sugar and nuts in a bowl and sift the flour, spice and cinnamon over them.
  4. Add the egg and oil. Mix well.
  5. Spoon the mixture evenly into the cups and smooth the tops over with a spoon.
  6. Cook on a medium/high heat in the microwave for 6 minutes. (If you are cooking the puddings individually, microwave for 1 ½ – 2 mins)
  7. Leave to cool a little for 3 minutes and then turn out the puddings into bowls.

Serve the puddings on their own or drizzle them with cream or custard.

A taste of autumn

With so much ripe fruit in the garden, now is the perfect time to get baking. This Apple and Rhubarb Loaf would be a delicious addition to any afternoon tea table. The texture of the chunky fruit and the beautiful flavour of the spices combine to make a truly great loaf. Try experimenting with different spices such as vanilla, nutmeg and mixed spice.

Apple and Rhubarb Loaf

1 ½ cups finely chopped rhubarb

1 ½ cups chopped apples

1 ½ cups brown sugar

½ cup vegetable oil

1 tsp ginger

1 tsp cinnamon

4 eggs

3 cups flour

1 cup chopped nuts

3 ½ tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

  1. Preheat the oven to 180ᵒ/ Gas mark 4. Mix the sugar, eggs and vegetable oil together in a large bowl and then stir in the chopped rhubarb, apples, and spices.
  2. In a separate bowl, mix the baking powder, salt, and sifted flour. Fold this into the first bowl of mixture and stir in the nuts.
  3. Pour the mixture into a loaf tin lined with baking parchment and bake for 60-75 minutes until a knife comes out clean.
  4. After a few minutes of cooling, remove the loaf from the tin and leave to cool fully on a wire rack.

I would definitely recommend trying a piece of this loaf warm!

A Tuscan Treat

In Italy no meal is complete without bread and there is so much choice that it is easy to see why. Each region has its specialities and schiacciata is a Tuscan flat bread. It is a variation on the well loved Italian focaccia but it uses more oil and salt and is dense with a slightly chewy texture. A few years ago I spent a year living in the little town of San Giovanni Valdarno near Florence in Tuscany and ate hoards of the stuff. It was addictive and before returning to England I was desperate to learn how to make it myself. So one Saturday morning I went along for a lesson at the town’s bakery to learn from the experts.

The recipe below is based on the one I learnt at the bakery with a few tweaks to accommodate using dried yeast and the absence of a huge stone baker’s oven! As I baked this bread this morning the smell enveloped me and biting into the finished product brought back memories of walking down Corso Italia in San Giovanni and stopping off to buy schiacciata for my lunch after work. What a great feeling. It may take a while but this recipe is definitely worth it.

Tuscan Schiacciata

11.5g dried yeast

300ml warm water

½ tsp sugar

500g strong white bread flour

Semolina flour or polenta to cover your baking sheet.

Olive oil

Salt

  1. Add the yeast and sugar to the warm water and stir until the yeast has dissolved. Leave the mixture in a warm place for about 15 minutes until there is a layer of foam on the surface then give it a good stir. This process is important as it enables you to check that your yeast is active.
  2. Put the flour in a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour in the yeast mixture little by little, mixing it with the flour as you go. Flour your hands and use them to bring the flour together into a dough. The mixture should be moist so add a little extra water if needed.
  3. Flour your work surface and begin to knead the dough, pushing and folding again and again until the dough becomes elastic. If you put in a good effort this should take about 10 minutes and leave your forearms a little sore!
  4. Put the ball of dough back into the mixing bowl and cover it with a sheet of cling film that has been brushed with oil. This will help the dough to retain its moisture whilst it proves.
  5. Leave the dough in a warm place to triple in size. It will probably take about 1 ¼ hours so be patient.
  6. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 250ᵒ/Gas mark 9 with a large baking sheet or roasting tray inside.
  7. Once the dough has proven, put it onto a flat surface and roughly push it out so it is about ½ inch thick. Don’t worry about the shape as it is meant to be rustic! Take the baking sheet or roasting tray out of the oven and sprinkle it generously with semolina flour or polenta as this will stop your bread from sticking. Lay your bread onto the tray but take care, as the baking sheet will still be hot.
  8.  Push your fingers into the dough to make holes all over it. Drizzle over olive oil and sprinkle over plenty of salt. Don’t be scared of the oil and salt! Be really generous with them as they give this bread its wonderful texture and flavour.
  9. Put your creation into the oven for about 15 minutes until it is firm, golden, and the oil is glistening. If you want to, drizzle a bit more oil over for good measure.

Schiacciata is best served warm or stuffed to make a tantalising sandwich. I’d recommend filling the bread with prosciutto, cheese and rocket. Mmmmm….