You’d Better Bun-lieve It!

Most of us buy bread, usually for ease & because quite frankly, we all lead busy lives & don’t always have the time to make our own.  There’s definitely no shame in that!  All the hard work has been done by some kindly, experienced baker & it’s even been sliced for us.  Personally, I like to have a bit of both – bake my own & buy some for convenience too.  I find making bread a relaxing experience, a chance to lose myself in thought (that’s when I get all my best ideas) & tone up my arms at the same time – bonus!  No fancy machines, equipment or unpronounceable ingredients, just good old fashioned elbow-grease & a bit of flour, water & yeast.

Having baked my own bread for a few decades now (who’s counting?!), I know it can be quite daunting to those who haven’t tried it.   Sometimes the mere thought of baking bread can send people into a tizz.  “Isn’t it messy?”, “don’t you need special equipment?” & “doesn’t it takes hours to make?” are some of the questions I’m often asked.  The answers are yes (getting messy is part of the fun), no, you don’t need special equipment & no, it doesn’t take hours.  Also, you don’t need to sit & watch over it – I make the dough, get on with other things while it’s proving & then go back to it. 

This recipe is for my Dunn Buns & they take less than a couple of hours to make, from start to finish.  Plus, you can bake them in advance (they freeze very well & retain their fluffy interior).  These gorgeously glossy topped buns are made with an enriched dough, meaning they don’t fall apart when crammed with a filling & hold their crumbs when sliced, making them perfect for burgers, breaded chicken & of course, bacon & eggs too.  They are pillowy soft with a smooth golden top & retain their shape as you eat (there’s nothing worse than when your bun goes flat & doughy).

Let’s get those beautiful buns baked & bronzed.  Ready to bake it happen?  Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!

What you need:

500g Strong White Bread Flour (plus extra for kneading, etc)
10g Fast Acting Yeast
1 large Free Range Egg
300ml Lukewarm Water
1 large tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil (keep the bottle handy for later)
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt
A little melted butter for the tin (or a butter wrapper will do)

For the topping:
2 heaped teaspoons Sesame Seeds
1 large Free Range Egg, beaten with a pinch of Sea Salt

What to do:

Pre-heat the oven to 220*C & line a large baking tray with greaseproof paper.  Brush the greaseproof paper with the melted butter or give it rub all over with a butter wrapper (I always keep a few wrappers in the fridge, ready for greasing baking tins & such).  You can go without the greaseproof layer if you like.  I find it helps keep the bun bottoms soft, while still giving them colour.

Mix the flour, sea salt & yeast into a large mixing bowl.

Crack the egg into a measuring jug & top up with the lukewarm water to just about 400ml.  Give everything a whisk with a fork to break up the egg & blend it into the water.   If it gets a little frothy on top, that’s fine.

Tip the egg & water mixture into the flour, along with the olive oil.  Give everything a good mix with the fork, making sure you get right to the bottom of the bowl.

Once it’s all gathered into a sticky dough, tip it onto a lightly floured worktop.  I use a pastry scraper to make sure I get all the dough out of the bowl.  You will need a bit more flour as you go along, as it will be quite sticky to start.   Set your mixing bowl aside, you’ll need it later.

Knead firmly for about 8-10 minutes, stretching the dough away from you with the heel of one hand & pulling it back towards you.  Try not to tear the dough as you do this.  Repeat & keep going until the dough is a smooth & supple ball.  If you need a bit of flour as you knead, sprinkle a little onto the worktop & use the pastry scraper to loosen the dough if it gets sticky.

When you’re finished kneading, dust a little flour into the bottom of your original mixing bowl & place your dough inside, sprinkle a little flour on top & cover with either clingfilm lightly coated in olive oil or a dry tea-towel/cloth.

Leave the bowl in a draught-free, warm place to prove for about an hour, until you can see a little dome on the top where it’s risen & grown to almost twice the size.

Once your dough has proved, tip it out onto a lightly floured work surface (keep the oiled clingfilm/cloth from the bowl, you’ll need it again in a moment).  Give the dough a quick knead for a moment to knock out any big bubbles (don’t over-do it though, just a few seconds is fine).

Divide into eight equal pieces & gently roll into balls.  Set them onto the greaseproof-lined baking tray, spacing them a few inches apart (they will need room to grow).  Cover lightly with the clingfilm/tea-towel again & leave them to prove for another 20 minutes, until they have doubled again.

Remove the cling film, delicately brush the tops with the beaten egg using very light strokes (they will be a bit squishy & jiggly, so be gentle) & scatter the sesame seeds over them.

Bake in the centre of the oven for about 12-15 minutes, until beautifully bronzed on top & the sesame seeds are all toasted.

To check if your buns are baked, pick one up & tap the bottom – if it sounds hollow, they’re ready.

Remove from the baking tray & place on a cooling rack.  Let them cool completely (I know it’s hard to resist, but it will give you tummy ache if you don’t let them cool).  That’s it, your buns are done!  Slice, sandwich & serve!  They will keep for a day in an airtight container or you can always pop a few cooled buns into airtight bags & freeze on the day you bake them.

They are perfect packed with bacon, sausage & eggs for breakfast or even better, layered with burgers, cheese & salad for a weekend treat.  Sometimes, I make miniature versions of these with smaller fillings (perfect for picnics).

If you do have any leftover buns, try making my mini “Dunn Bun” pizzas!  Slice a bun into three generous slices, rub half a garlic clove onto each & top with a spoon of squished tinned tomatoes (tip them in a bowl & get your hands in).  Then add slices of mozzarella or whatever cheese you like, a few mushrooms or peppers & maybe some ham.  Sprinkle with a little Basil, Oregano & black pepper, dust with Parmesan & bake for 8 minutes in a hot oven (220*C) – easy mini bun pizzas!  They’re perfect as a light lunch, swift supper or a simple cheesy snack.

However you eat them, these bronzed & bun-tiful glossy buns are always a fabulous treat!  Stay hungry!  Aimee 😉 x

 

Leaf It Out Cake!

Autumn is definitely making her presence felt, with sultry November sunrises becoming crisp, chilly mornings splashed with sunshine.  The trees have turned tinted leaves into a stunning array of amber hues & luscious colours.  This collection of colourful foliage always draws my admiration, as they seem to suddenly appear in full beautiful bloom & disappear just as quickly.  Recently, whilst parked under a particularly pretty tree at a local supermarket, I managed to snap some shots of it’s vibrantly golden leaves shimmering in the sunshine.

Nature is my biggest inspiration (as you probably can tell from my sugar artwork) & this time of year is no exception.  It’s a deliciously indulgent season, perfect for hot chocolate & comfort foods to sustain us until Spring.  And what better way to celebrate the changing of the seasons than with a sumptuous chocolate cake, layered with rich dark cherries & fluffy cream!   Ready to bake it happen?  Hands washed, aprons on & here we go! 

What you need:

8oz Salted Butter, room temperature
5oz Caster Sugar
3oz Light Muscovado Sugar (Soft Brown Sugar)
6oz Self Raising Flour
2oz Cocoa Powder
2 teaspoons Baking Powder
2 teaspoons Instant Coffee
4 large Free Range Eggs
2 tablespoons Greek Yoghurt

For the topping & filling:
200g Dark/Plain Chocolate, for melting
200g Mascarpone Cheese
300ml Double Cream
1/4 jar Black Cherry Conserve or Jam

What to do:

Pre-heat the oven to 180*C.  Prepare two deep 7 inch cake tins – I used loose-bottomed ones for this, as it’s easier to remove the cakes when baked.  Smudge a little butter around the tins, sprinkle on a little flour & shake all around until thoroughly coated.  Add a greaseproof paper disc in the bottom of each tin & set them aside.

Sieve all the dry ingredients into a bowl & mix well with a fork.  Put to one side.

Whisk together the butter & sugars, until a soft gold & creamy consistency.

Add an egg, whisk in thoroughly & repeat until all the eggs are incorporated.

Sift half of the dry ingredients into the creamed mixture & using a spatula, fold in until all completely blended.  Add the rest of the dry ingredients & repeat until the mixture is a thick, smooth batter & there is no flour visible.

Add the yoghurt & whisk in well.  This will lighten the mixture & also add a moist texture to the cake.

Split the batter between the two tins evenly, smoothing the tops lightly with the spatula.  Place in the oven (lower rack) for approximately 30 minutes, until the tops are risen & cracked.  Poke a stick of spaghetti in the centre & if it comes out clean, your cakes are done.

Place them in their tins on a cooling rack for about 5 minutes, until the cake sides shrink back from the tin.  The centres will dip slightly, but this is fine.

Run a spatula knife around the edge of each cake to separate it from the tin.  Carefully remove the cakes & place on the racks to cool.  Be very gentle, as your cakes will be fragile & soft.  Leave to cool completely before removing the greaseproof disc gently from underneath.

While the cakes are cooling, let’s make the leaves!  Lay out some strips of greaseproof paper on your worktop, about 6 inches wide & as long as a rolling pin.  Melt the chocolate & tip into a greaseproof piping bag, snip off the very tip & pipe some skeleton leaves on the paper strips.  Pipe the outlines first, then a strip down the middle & smaller ones to the sides.  Don’t worry about them being too perfect – real leaves are all kinds of shapes & sizes.  Pipe as many or as few as you like.  Any leftover chocolate (even I laughed at that one!) can be just squished out onto another sheet of greaseproof & left to set for nibbling later.

Carefully drape your strips of leaves over a rolling pin & leave until completely set.  They will become curved & softly shaped, perfect for topping your cake.

Next, make the filling!  Whip the mascarpone & double cream in a large bowl until soft peaks, firm enough for piping (go easy, you don’t want it to become too firm).  Tip into a piping bag with the nozzle of your choice – personally, I like to keep it nozzle-free.  Tip:  If your cream does get too firm, add a teaspoon or two of cold semi-skimmed milk to soften it again.

When your cakes are completely cooled, place one on a decorative serving plate & pipe in a pretty pattern around the edge.  For the spots, I pipe on the outer edge inwards.  Spread a layer of the cream mixture in the centre of the cake & evenly spoon on a good layer of the black cherry jam.

Take the other chocolate cake & flip it over, so the flat side is on the top, then place it on top of the filling.  This will leave you with a nice flat surface for decorating!  If you’re serving this later, pop your cake in the fridge in an air-tight container (to stop it drying out).

Pipe swirls on top of the cake at intervals, then add your chocolate leaves to each swirl – don’t forget the one in the centre!   Sometimes, I also grate a little chocolate to sprinkle on the top of everything (optional, but rather lovely).

Time to indulge, so grab some plates & serve!  The fluffy, almost fudge-like texture of the cake is complimented by the cloud of mascarpone cream & crisp, chocolate leaves that crackle as you bite them.  This cake also looks fabulous with frilly white chocolate leaves mixed in with the dark, dusted with grated white chocolate too.   If you have any extra chocolate leaves, save them for nibbling with your morning coffee or add them to the frothy tops of hot chocolate, amid swirls of cream & marshmallows.

Decadent, dark & deliciously indulgent, this rich cherry chocolate cake will wow your guests whatever the occasion.  Stay hungry!  Aimee 😉 x

 

Easy Like Sunday Cuffins!

Weekends are perfect for baking & I especially adore Sunday mornings!  It’s as if time stands still, those precious couple of hours when it’s just you, your cup of coffee calmness & the birds singing outside.  Although I do love baking anytime, there’s a ravishingly relaxing appeal about weekend baking – up & at ’em early, whipping up a batch of bakes, their heavenly scent perfuming the whole house while everyone sleeps.  Plus, we all have those days where only cake will do, even for breakfast.  This is one of my favourite family “weekend baking” recipes & it fills that cake-shaped gap we sometimes have.

When I wrote this recipe, I wanted the fluffiness of a cupcake combined with the moist fruitiness of a muffin, so I created my brown sugar cuffins – no, that’s not a spelling error!  My cuffins are just what Sunday mornings need – a delicious cupcake-muffin hybrid that’s a little bit lazy & fabulously faff-free.  There’s not a drop of oil in sight, definitely no buttercream & there’s more whisking than stirring (electric whisking too, so very little effort required).  They’re not going to win any awards for their supermodel looks either – cuffins are meant to be gloriously rustic homemade fayre, rather than delicate dainty perfection.  Over the years, I’ve used different fillings (raspberry & white chocolate is always popular), but these are my favourite version.  I’ll admit, they’re not the healthiest option, but they are exquisitely satisfying & if you do eat them for breakfast, you’ve got the whole day to burn off those calories!

The recipe below makes a dozen cuffins, although I like to bake double this amount & freeze some for future cuffin cravings (it’s real, trust me!).  Ready to bake it happen?  Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!

What you need:

4oz Self Raising Flour
4oz Salted Butter (room temp, slightly softened)
2 large Free Range Eggs
3oz Light Soft Brown Sugar (Muscovado)
1oz Caster Sugar*
1/4 teaspoon Vanilla Extract (the real stuff, not “essence”)
1 dessertspoon Greek Yoghurt (overflowing a little, not very precise)
Tip of a teaspoon of Bicarbonate of Soda
1/2 a heaped teaspoon of Baking Powder
Approx 150g fresh Blueberries, washed
Zest of a whole Lemon (wash & dry it first)
1 heaped teaspoon of Self-Raising Flour for the fruit

For the syrup:
Juice of a whole lemon
2 tablespoons Caster Sugar*

(*If you don’t have caster sugar, which I rarely ever do, you can use regular granulated sugar & whizz it up in a coffee grinder/blender to make it finer).

What to do:

Preheat the oven to 175*C (fan oven) & line muffin trays with paper cases (I used paper cupcake cases, which work perfectly).

Pat the washed blueberries on a clean tea towel or kitchen paper, then tip them onto a shallow plate or casserole dish lid & add the lemon zest.  Sprinkle with the teaspoon of flour (you don’t need much) & give everything a good shake around, until the blueberries are completely coated.  The zest may fall to the bottom of the dish, but there should be hardly any flour left (if there is, don’t worry, just tip everything into a sieve to shake off the excess).  Set aside on the plate for later.

Using an electric whisk, cream the butter, sugars & vanilla extract together until it becomes a fluffy, spun gold colour.

Add one egg at a time to the creamed butter & sugar mixture, then whisk thoroughly, repeating until all the eggs are combined.

Sieve the flour, bicarbonate & baking powder into the mixture & then using a spatula, fold into the wet ingredients completely so you are left with a pale golden batter.

Add the Greek yoghurt & give it a good swish around with the spatula, before sprinkling in approximately three quarters of the blueberries & lemon zest (save some for pre-baking topping).  Stir them into the mixture & you’re done!

Scoop little mounds of the mixture into your prepared muffin tins (carefully, so you don’t burst any blueberries), using either an ice-cream scoop or two large dessert spoons (they don’t need to be exact).

Once they’re all full, plop a few of the leftover blueberries on top of each cake with a few strands of lemon zest.

Bake on the lower shelf of the oven for approximately 20 minutes, until the cuffins have risen & are a deep gold – the plopped on blueberries will have half-disappeared into the tops.

To check they are cooked, poke a strand of dry spaghetti in the centre of a cuffin & if it comes out clean, they’re ready!

Carefully place onto a cooling rack & leave to cool slightly, while you make the zesty lemon syrup.

Squeeze the juice of a lemon into a jug (I usually stick a fork in the centre of each half,  then squish it around firmly over the jug).  Add a couple of tablespoons of sugar & heat either in the microwave or in a small pan, until the sugar has dissolved into the lemon juice.  Set aside to cool for a couple of minutes.

Get the spaghetti strand again & poke a few holes in the top of each cake while they’re still warm.  Spoon a little of the lemon syrup onto the cakes, drizzling sparingly (you can save any leftover syrup in an ice-cube tray in the freezer).

Leave them for a couple of minutes, until the syrup has soaked nicely into the top of each cuffin.  If you allow to cool completely, you can freeze them in small batches using a bag or air-tight container.  They take a few minutes to defrost on a cooling rack & will still be as moist & fluffy as when you first baked them – perfect for when you crave a cake, but don’t want to bake!

Before the rest of the family get up, go pour yourself a cup of coffee or tea, grab a cuffin or two & indulge in a little cakely goodness before you start your day!  Stay hungry!  Aimee 😉 x

 

Puff Up The Volume!

Driving home this morning, seeing the luscious much-needed rain has brought the gardens back to greenery & lowered the temperature slightly, I felt rather peaceful.  Last week was particularly interesting, especially as we had to part with our beloved little Peugeot, Phoebe.  Although over the years she leaked, shivered & shook, little Phoebe was like driving a rocket strapped to a rollerskate & I adored her.  So it was rather reluctantly that we drove her to our local “Car Spa”, thinking we would never find another like her.  Fortunately, thanks to the magic of the internet & a rather brilliant chap called Richard (who really knows his stuff!), we bought a beautiful cream coloured beauty & promptly named her Erica (after Eric Clapton, because he was in a band called Cream & calling her Buttercream would have been a bit weird!).  Stress levels deflated, I could concentrate on baking again & two rather rapidly approaching birthdays!

Twenty-four years ago, I was nine months pregnant with my handsome Son & as he was born the day before my birthday, we always celebrate in a double way.  Some of my friends will know that I’m making a sugar lion at the moment (hopefully it will be ready in time!) & it’s rather large, so most of my fridge is full of lion parts (not real ones – please be assured they are all made of marshmallow, chocolate ganache & rice crispies!).  Once it’s finished, I’ll share some pictures with you.  When I bake up a birthday banquet, it’s usually a relaxed affair with everyone helping themselves to the various nibbles & treats, with a triple layer, triple chocolate birthday cake in the midst of it all.  One of our favourite nibbles is cheese pastry straws made from delicate flaky, buttery puffed-up pastry.  You know the sort I’m talking about – the crisp, light, shatter-into-a-squillion-shards-in-your-mouth kind of pastry that melts into a swirl of savoury cheesy butterness once it hits your tongue.

Now usually I would buy some shop-bought puff pastry, as it’s pre-made & quick to roll out – job done!  However, despite my best efforts, I can’t find one made with just butter so I make my own version, using a recipe my Mum & Grandma made when I was younger.  My Mum used to make all kinds of delicious pastries when I was a little girl & the scent of baked buttery delights would always entice me to the kitchen.  Sat on a high stool by the door, I would watch her working her magic & creating all kinds of tantalising treats.  Delicate voluminous layers of flaky fabulousness would crown rich fruit pies, be wrapped cocoon-like around sausage rolls or made into swirly sticks, simply showered in shavings of cheese.  Of course, all magic takes a little time & I was fascinated at how a few simple ingredients can be made into something magnificent (I still am!).  This pastry recipe is really simple to make (the basic recipe is just three ingredients BC – before cheese) & although it takes a little more effort to make than shortcrust pastry, the taste is amazing & it’s really worth it!

One of the most important things when making pastry is cool conditions, so it’s best to make it first thing in the morning (I like to do this when everyone is still in bed at the weekends).  To make sure your hands are cool, after washing them run your wrists under the cold tap for a few moments (trust me, it works).

The next thing to remember is take your time.  Some foods should be made slowly, it’s like a ritual binding all the ingredients together & each process is important, so you can’t skip anything.  This pastry is one of those slow foods, lovingly created by hand – your hands & not squished out of some huge machine into a packet (don’t get me started on the random ingredients list of unnecessary additives either!).  Once you master this flaky-layered lovely, shop-bought pastry will never taste the same again!  Ready?  Aprons on & here we go!

What you need:

For the Pastry:
8oz Self-Raising Flour (plus extra for rolling out)
6oz Salted Butter, cold from the fridge & cut into 4 equal pieces (I used salted, as it omits the need for additional salt)
100ml Cold Water

For the Filling:
1oz Medium Cheddar, grated
Half an ounce each of Parmesan & Grana Padana, grated finely
Freshly ground Black Pepper
A bit of melted butter (a teaspoonful should be enough)
1 large Egg, beaten (for glazing)

What to do:

Tip the flour into a large mixing bowl & add one of the butter pieces.  Rub it into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.

Using a round-ended knife, stir together & slowly add enough water, just a little at a time, to bring it all together – take your time, as you don’t want a sticky gooey mess.  Once you have achieved a thick, dough-like consistency, that should be enough.

Turn out your pastry onto a lightly floured worktop & shape into a rectangle.  Roll away from you into a long piece, about a centimetre thick.  Try to keep the edges as straight as you can, but don’t worry too much or you’ll drive yourself loopy!  Using a dry pastry brush, dust off any excess flour as you go, especially when folding the layers (otherwise it may affect the recipe & you want flaky pastry, not floury).

Take one of the three pieces of butter & cut into small chunks of about 1cm (you can just pull it apart, but the heat from your hands might melt it).

Dot the butter all over the top two thirds of the pastry.

Fold the bottom plain piece over the next third of pastry, then fold the top piece over that.  Brush off the excess flour & press the open edges together to seal the layers of butter & air in.

Dust the worktop with a little more flour.  Turn the pastry one turn to the right & roll out again, just as you did above.

Repeat the above steps a couple more times, using up the last two pieces of butter.  Then turn the pastry to the right, roll it out again & fold into thirds, brushing off the excess flour as you go.

Lay your pastry on a piece of greaseproof paper, fold the top of the paper over your pastry & put it on a plate in the fridge for an hour (you might need to leave it longer during this heatwave we’re having, so probably add another ten minutes if you’re not sure – I’ve left it a couple of hours before & it didn’t do any harm).  Get yourself a cuppa, put your feet up & read a book or something (if you’re like me, you’ve probably been whizzing around, so relax for a bit).

Pre-heat the oven to 220*C & then prepare your tins (you’ll need a couple of baking trays).  Brush melted butter all over the inside of the baking tray & then run under the cold tap.  Tip away the excess, leaving a wet film on the tin.  Repeat with the second tray & set them to one side.

Once your pastry is rested & chilled, it’s time to get rolling!  On a lightly floured worktop, roll out the pastry into a wide rectangular strip, about a centimetre thick.

Cut into two equal pieces & on one of them, brush a little melted butter all over the top & sprinkle on two thirds of the cheese.

Place the other piece of pastry over the top, press down & roll out again, about 1cm thick.

Brush the top of your cheesy pastry with beaten egg – just the top, not the edges, otherwise your pastry won’t rise properly.

Using a knife or a ravioli cutter (my fave tool de jour), cut into finger width strips & twist each one loosely into a twirl of pastry with the egg glazed side outwards.

Place on the baking tray & repeat with the rest of the pastry, until you have a couple of trays of twirly swirls with about half an inch between them.

Sprinkle with the remainder of the cheese, taking care to get the majority of it on the actual pastry (although you will love the crunchy cheesy chips that this produces).  Give them a quick dust with some black pepper.

Bake in the centre of the oven for about 10-12 minutes, until they have risen & turned a gorgeous golden hue.  Carefully transfer them onto a cooling rack using a pallet knife or thin spatula.  Remember the crunchy cheesy chips?  Shake them into a dish for sprinkling on salad as a crispy garnish or just eat them as they are – Chef’s perks!

Serve your cheesy sticks either on their own or maybe dunked in an oozy, warm baked Camembert with a glass of chilled wine (you’ve worked hard & deserve a treat).  I doubt they will last long, but if you do have any leftover just pop them in an airtight container (they will keep for a couple of days, so I’m told).

If you want to make an alternative to cheese twists, just make cheese “sausage” rolls – instead of cutting into strips, cut into wide ribbons.  Lay grated cheese across the top half of the pastry ribbon, brush a line of beaten egg on the opposite edge of the pastry & roll over, carefully encasing the cheese inside.  Press lightly to stick the roll together, then cut into inch long pieces & brush with egg.  Bake at 220*C for about 10-12 minutes, until golden & risen.  Transfer to a baking tray to cool for a few minutes before serving.  Great for lunches, nibbles or parties.

So when your pastry needs to be buttery, puffed up, flaky & fabulous, have a go at homemade!  Stay hungry!  A 😉 x

 

 

One a Penny, Two a Penny, Hot Cross Buns!

It’s been a rather busy week of baking bread, beautiful buns & creating sweet sugar bunnies for Easter treats, so this morning was no different.  After a 5.00am start, one pot of “slap you round the face” coffee & some hot, buttered toast, I was up & at ’em!  Early mornings are special for me, when everyone else is still sleeping & I’m able to get as much done as possible.  Stopping for fuel this morning at my local Sainsbury’s, chatting about chocolates to the lovely ladies who were also up early (hello ladies!), I was able to shop in blissful peace, wandering around the shelves selecting supplies to make tiny bunny toes.  It was as if the world had stopped just for a couple of hours.  By 9.00am, I had managed to hit four supermarkets & be back home (I think my shopping ninja just levelled up!).

Easter is almost here & we always celebrate, as it’s when nature is springing & sprouting, new vegetables are in season & food becomes a bit lighter & brighter.  While baking bread this week, I decided to make my usual light, fluffy bread dough & also an enriched, sweet dough.  Yes, this did involve kneading by hand for ten minutes per batch & yes, my muscles would be worthy of Wonder Woman, but it was worth every minute!  For many years, I’ve been making bread with fruit in (my Husband loves it toasted with butter for breakfast), so thought I’d make some fruity buns.  Now you all know how much I adore proper plumped up fruit in my baking, so I’ve usually got a handful of sultanas soaking in a cup of tea ready for baking (& fluffy bread demands squishy, sumptuous sultanas!).

Hot cross buns were so loved, someone even wrote a nursery rhyme about them, so they must have been popular!  Although there are some splendid shop-bought ones out there, I do love making my own buns whenever I fancy some.  My hot cross bun recipe is really easy, I promise & they freeze really well, so you can have them anytime (just leave the cross off).  I will warn you, you’re going to get messy, but that’s half the fun.  So, hands washed & aprons on, here we go!

What you need:

500g Strong White Bread Flour
12g dried Yeast (or fresh if you like)
300ml Lukewarm Water (dip a finger in it & it should feel just warm)
1 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
50g Sugar
A good pinch of ground Sea Salt
1 large Egg
Splash of Semi-Skimmed or Full Fat Milk (not skimmed)
1 teaspoon each of Lemon & Orange zest (wash them first!)
1 ball Stem Ginger, chopped finely
8 Amareno or Sour Cherries, chopped chunky
A good handful of soaked Sultanas, strained
25g Melted butter (for brushing your tin)

For the glaze:

3 tablespoons Semi-Skimmed Milk
2 tablespoons Sugar
A pinch of ground Cinnamon for dusting (you won’t need much)

For the cross:

3 tablespoons Plain Flour
3 tablespoons Cold Water

What to do:

Pre-heat the oven to 220*C.  For any kind of bread-making, you need your oven to be really hot, so it pays to put it on now.

In a large bowl, tip the flour, yeast, sugar, sea salt & olive oil.

In a jug or bowl, measure your lukewarm water & add the egg, along with a splash of milk.  Using a fork, whisk into a cloudy, fluffy liquid & tip into the other ingredients, using the fork to combine everything into a lovely sticky dough.

Turn out your dough onto a lightly floured surface, ready for kneading.  You will find this dough rather stickier than usual, because there’s more liquid in it, but this will give you beautiful buns!  Get yourself a pastry scraper, in case it sticks to the work top (you don’t want to lose any!).

Knead for ten minutes until you get a pliable, smooth dough ball.

Place your dough into a lightly floured bowl & cover with oiled cling film (just rub a bit of olive oil all over it).  Put it somewhere warm away from draughts (like the airing cupboard) for 30-40 minutes to prove, until it is doubled in size like a big bubble.

While the dough is proving, prepare your tin.  Get yourself a nice, large baking tray & a sheet of greaseproof paper.  The paper should overhang the tray slightly, as it will be filled with dough balls & will stop them touching the tray.

Using a pastry brush, paint melted butter all over it thoroughly.  Press the paper down into the tray, buttered side up, to make sure you have painted it all.

Once the dough has proved & is doubled in size, remove the oiled clingfilm & set to one side (you’ll need this again).  Tip the dough onto your lightly floured work surface & knock it back to remove any large air bubbles – I throw it on the worktop a couple of times & this works really well.  Knead it lightly for a few seconds & spread out on the worktop into a rectangular shape.

Sprinkle the sultanas evenly over the top, followed by the chopped cherries, ginger & zest.  If you don’t like cherries, try adding dried chopped apricots.

Fold the dough into thirds & press it together well to seal everything in.

Carefully cut in half, then half again & once more (probably once more too), until you have sixteen even-sized little lumps of fruit filled dough.  By now your worktop is a bit sticky, but persevere – you’re getting there!

Using floured hands, roll each dough lump into a ball & place on the buttered greaseproof paper, leaving roughly an inch between them.

Once done, cover with the oiled clingfilm you used before & leave to prove again for 20-30 minutes, until they have doubled in size again (they will have already started to do so before you finished filling the tray).

Before they go in the oven, you need to put the crosses on.  Mix the plain flour & water in a cup using a fork, until it resembles a gloopy paste.  Scrape into a piping bag & snip the end off (don’t make it too big, just enough to draw a decent sized line), then pipe crosses on the tops of your buns, which will have all snuggled up next to each other nicely & filled the gaps.

Put the tray in the centre of the oven & bake for about 12-15 minutes.  You will need to turn the tray around a couple of times to ensure they are baked evenly (trust me, you don’t want raw ones in the middle).

When the buns have turned a gorgeous golden colour with lovely cream coloured crosses, they should be ready.  To check any bread, just tip it over & tap it on the bottom – if it sounds hollow, it’s ready!  Be careful not to break up your big batch of buns!

Lay the whole lot out on a cooling rack, placing the greaseproof paper carefully underneath the rack on the worktop.  This will stop your worktop getting messy & you can just roll it up afterwards.

Immediately brush on some cold milk & sprinkle with sugar, then dust very lightly with a little Cinnamon.  The milk will absorb quickly & they will smell absolutely heavenly!

While they’re still warm, gently pull apart or cut into batches of four or even just individual buns.  Freeze any extra ones in bags & you’ll have a treat anytime.  These fluffy, flavourful buns taste fabulous just as they are, lavishly spread with butter (the good stuff), or toasted.  They’re great for tea breaks, breakfast or just when you need something nice to nibble.

You don’t need to wait til Easter though & can make these any time you want a fruity filled bun – just replace the cross with a drizzle of my zesty zingy icing.  It’s really simple, here’s what you need:

5oz Icing Sugar
Juice of half a Lemon
Juice of half an Orange

What to do:

Mix the juices together in a jug & remove any pips.

Put the icing sugar in a bowl & add some of the juice, about a teaspoonful at a time, until you get a silky but slightly thick drizzly consistency (a bit like yoghurt).  If not there yet, add a bit more juice until you feel it’s right.

Get a teaspoon & dip it in the icing, then swirl over your buns in whatever pattern you like (I did zigzags on mine).  Leave them to set.

Smuggle them into your bag for nibbling on with your afternoon cuppa or just have them for breakfast.

So when Easter comes around, why not bake some beautiful buns & share with family & friends!  In fact, I might just have one now with another cuppa!  Stay hungry 😉  A x