There are some things that just don’t do it for me & that includes anything with really over-dried fruit in it – shop bought mince pies, heavily laden fruit cakes that are more fruit than cake (that’s just plain wrong), & anything with shrivelled up sultanas in it. Scones, buns, cakes or fruit bread should all be graced with sweet, sumptuous fruits & nothing dried of any description.
Sultanas have always intrigued me since I was a child. In those days, those wrinkly, chewy chunks were picked & flicked from whatever pastry they had dared to adorn! I wasn’t quite sure what to make of them & always found them to be hard, chewy & just not very nice! In the history books, a Sultana is depicted as a beautiful bejewelled Queen, so it’s hard to associate such a regal sovereign with this dried delicacy.
My Mum & Grandma taught me to show the sultana some respect & give these fabulous fruits a bit of a pre-bake pampering. Before I bake anything with sultanas in, I give them a good soak in a fragrant warm tea bath, sometimes with a splash of Brandy or Sherry in it. One of my favourite teas for doing this is Chai, especially at this time of year because of it’s heady, spicy scent. The sultanas soak up all this luscious liquid to make them plump & pretty again.
There are a variety of treats you can rustle up with these little beauties & on a Sunday morning, if my Husband isn’t making croissants (his speciality), I will make my Sultana Swirlies. They’re pretty much twirls of enriched dough with squishy sultanas in a swirl of sugar, butter & cinnamon. If you don’t have the time to make the dough, use pre-made all butter puff pastry (the good stuff) instead. So get your apron on & here’s the recipe!
What you need:
1lb 4oz Strong White Bread Flour (plus extra for dusting)
Half an ounce of Fresh Yeast (or dried equivalent)
Half a pint lukewarm water
1 large Egg
A quarter of a teaspoon of ground Sea Salt
2oz Vanilla Sugar (plus another ounce for sprinkling)
1oz melted Butter (salted)
Ground Cinnamon for dusting (only a tiny bit – a little goes a very long way!)
2-3 tablespoons Milk (for brushing on at the end)
1 Chai Teabag
Quarter of a pint of boiling water
1 handful of Sultanas (about 2 or 3oz should be sufficient)
What to do:
Firstly, soak your fruit: put the sultanas in a small bowl or a large coffee cup along with the tea bag, pour on the boiling water & stir well. Put a lid on it (a saucer or small plate will do) & leave to one side for a couple of hours at least. If you want them to really plump up, do this just before bedtime the night before & leave them until you’re ready to use them (I’ve left them for 24 hours before, so they will be fine).
While the sultanas are soaking in their bath, get the dough made! Put the yeast into a measuring jug, pour over the lukewarm water & stir with a fork until the yeast has dissolved. Crack in the egg & give it a quick whisk with the fork until fully combined.
Tip the flour into a large mixing bowl, add the salt & mix in with your hands, making a well in the centre of the flour.
Pour in the liquid & using the fork, draw the flour into the liquid centre, stirring well. Then get your hands in & bring it all together to form a dough, leaving the bowl almost clean. Tip the dough onto a flour dusted worktop & sprinkle a little flour in the bottom of the bowl you just used (you’ll need it again in a few minutes).
Knead the dough for ten minutes by hand (free mini-workout! Yay!). If you’ve never kneaded dough before, simply push it firmly away from you with the heel of your hand then pull it back over, turn it to the side a quarter turn & repeat. Be careful not to tear the dough, you just want to stretch it so that it will rise later. Once you’ve finished kneading, the dough will be noticeably smoother & more elastic. The more effort you put in now, the more risen your dough will be when you bake it, plus you’ll have lovely toned arms. Pop it into the floured bowl, cover with a bit of oiled clingfilm (use a pastry brush, it’s easier) & place on a tray in the airing cupboard to prove for an hour.
While the dough is proving & your sultanas are soaking, relax. There’s not much you can do here, so put the oven on to 220*C, put the kettle on & make yourself a cuppa. Prepare your baking trays – brush with butter & flour them, or line them with greaseproof paper. I’ve used pizza tins for this & they work quite well.
Once the dough is ready, your sultanas will be too. Your dough will have almost doubled in size & have a domed top (your hard work will have paid off!). Scrape it out of the bowl & onto the worktop, then knock it back – give it a quick knead & throw it onto the worktop a couple of times. This knocks out any large air bubbles.
Strain your sultanas thoroughly using a sieve, giving them a good shake to remove any excess moisture. Leave them to sit in the sieve & put this over the bowl they were in (to catch any drips).
On a lightly floured worktop, stretch your dough into a rectangular shape, dust with a little flour & roll out to about a quarter inch thickness. The dough will snap back, just be patient & if it needs a little more flour underneath, dust some sparingly just to prevent it sticking to the worktop.
Next, brush on the melted butter all over from edge to edge using a pastry brush. Sprinkle the sugar evenly all over the buttered dough, followed by the sultanas.
Then comes the fun part – rolling it up to form a big spiral, sultana-filled sausage. It doesn’t really matter which way you roll it, towards you or away from you, but it just needs to be rolled carefully so you don’t lose your fruit. Gently roll the filled dough, until you have a long, sultana-filled sausage.
Using a sharp knife, cut the sausage in half, then cut each half in half again. You should be left with about 16 slices, each one about an inch thick. Lay them in a circle on a prepared baking tray to make a flower shape, leaving about an inch gap between them. Press them down slightly to flatten them a bit.
Cover loosely with greased clingfilm to protect them, then leave them on a draught-free worktop to prove again for about half an hour. They will have doubled in size again & filled the tins completely.
Bake them in the centre of the oven for about 12-15 minutes until golden brown & risen. When they are ready, gently ease them out of the tin onto a wire cooling rack – to test if dough is cooked, give it a tap on the bottom & it should sound hollow.
While they are still hot, brush with cold milk & dust sparingly with ground Cinnamon, plus another sprinkling of vanilla sugar, before leaving to cool.
These fragrant, fluffy swirls taste great as they are, but I like to make some glacé icing & drizzle it over the top, filling the curves like a little icing path to the centre. You can use freshly squeezed lemon or orange juice to make your icing instead of water & give it a zesty zap. They make lovely lazy breakfasts (you’ll burn off all the sugar by lunchtime), or a gorgeous snack with coffee. However you have them, just remember to treat your sultanas like a Queen. Stay hungry 😉 A x