Category Archive: Holidays


  1. Hot Cross Buns

    Easter is almost here and I carry on wishing that fabulously silly Easter hats a la Steel Magnolias might be deemed appropriate attire anywhere outside the deep south of the USA … Alas I would be deemed even crazier than my neighbours think already I am if I started dressing like Dolly Parton and parading around town, so I’ve got to find another way to celebrate. I might just munch down a couple of gargantuan chocolate bunnies and call it good.

    In all seriousness, I really do love this holiday because it’s based on chocolate as much as it is on anything else so that even for the non-religious types it’s enjoyable. Let me be clear though, my grandma was a priest – the 4th episcopal ordained woman, quite an accomplishment (wtf  am I going to do with my life…?), so I’ve got an understanding of the historical meaning of the day. But then I went and married an atheist too so there you go – we modernize.

    In respect of history and tradition, there are Hot Cross Buns. These are another of those traditional bakes that keep coming back year after year. They make your house smell great and are an excuse to eat carbs- so why not?! And yes, sure you can buy them in the shop too, but like most breads nothing beats homemade.

    hot cross buns easter baking

    These are filled with spice and fruit and to die for (insert Jesus joke here? Hmmmm maybe too soon…?). Best served fresh with slabs of butter and drizzled honey in the morning and made into bread and butter pudding the day after, I keep making them well through Spring.

    I am not a huge fan of the dried peel that shows up in lots of traditional recipes so have omitted it in mine and replaced it with fresh orange zest. If you love peel, of course add it in! Simply replace some of the weight of the sultanas and currants.

    Yum. The house is filled with the smell of baking… Now where is that Bunny with my chocolate???

    HOT CROSS BUNS

    Makes 16 buns

    Ingredients

    30g fresh yeast
    80g caster sugar
    300g strong white flour (bread flour)
    150g plain white flour
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    85g salted butter
    225-300g milk, warmed to scalding point
    2 eggs, whisked
    1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    1/4 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
    2 teaspoons mixed spice
    50g dried currants
    75g golden raisins
    Zest of two oranges

    For the Egg Wash

    Mix together 1 egg yolk, 50g milk and 1 teaspoon caster sugar,and pass through a sieve.

    For the Flour Paste

    Mix together 1oog flour and 1tsp sugar with enough water to make a paste the consistency of toothpaste.

    Method

    Preheat the oven to 220ºc/425°f.

    Scald the milk and chuck in the butter to melt and cool down the mixture. Mix the yeast together with a tablespoon of the sugar until it turns to liquid – a great science trick, t happens by osmosis. Sift the flour and salt into a bowl or stand mixing bowl, whisk in the spices and the rest of the sugar, make a well in the centre and pour in the yeast. Swirl a bit of the milk in the yeast pot and pour it in to get everything you can then pour in all but about 50mls of the milk mixture, trying to get in all the butter as you do, and stir to combine into a wet dough. Don’t be tempted to add in all the milk at first, you might not need it and could end up with too much a sloppy mess. Of course if it is a sloppy mess (as I often am), just add a bit more flour (I like to think I’m as easily fixed too).

    The dough should be very soft and sticky. If there are any dry patches or bits of flour left in the bowl add in a teaspoon or two of milk until you lifted it all into a uniformly wet dough. Then leave it for 10 minutes to allow the flour to absorb the liquid fully. Flour absorbs different amounts of liquid depending on the time of year, how damp the air is etc…

    Knead the dough for 10 minutes on a lightly floured surface or in a stand mixer for 5 minutes. The dough should look smooth and elastic and feel springy, which is a sign the gluten has developed nicely. Add in the fruits and the orange zest and knead together, then cover loosely with cling film and leave to rise until doubled in size. It should take about an hour and a half if its warm in your kitchen, longer if it’s cool. Alternatively, you can leave it to rise in the fridge over night, which does tend to give it an awesome flavour.

    Hot Cross Bun Dough

    Knock back the dough and portion it out into 70g pieces. Shape into buns and place on a baking sheet.

    Hot Cross Buns Shaping Dough

    Lightly wash them with the egg wash and then pipe a cross on each using the flour paste.

     

    Hot Cross Buns Crosses

    Allow the buns to double in size, glaze them again carefully with the egg mixture on the dough only, avoiding the crosses, and then bake on the top shelf at 220ºc/425°f for 5 minutes. They should puff up beautifully. Turn down the heat to 200ºc/400°f and bake for another 10-15 minutes. Check regularly and if they start to go too brown too quickly, turn down the oven another notch and continue baking.

    The buns are done when they are a dark golden colour and feel light for their size. Be careful not to get too much colour on them or they will be dry. Now munch away with those gnashers God (and/or evolution) gave you!

    Happy Easter! (Or just Spring…)

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  2. Shades of Orange – Sicilian Gold

    Sometimes, you’ve just got to eat your way through an orange grove worth of luscious, vitamin-c rich oranges to get through the winter.

    I am so happy to see the back of January – the bluest month of the year. February has a couple things going for it and one of those is undoubtedly the Italian orange season, particularly those grown in the cradle of citrus – Sicily.

    Sicily Orange

    Yesterday for dinner we ate a deliciously heavy dish of handmade gnocchi with Alfredo and pancetta. It really was divine. But what sort of dessert can you possibly fit in to follow a main like that? The answer is of course citrus.

    After a heavy winter meal I often peel a bowl full of oranges and then segment half and cut rounds of the other to create a simple dish of plentiful citrus. It’s a boost of vitamin c and helps the stomach digest, especially all that starch, butter and cheese we happily gorged ourselves on last night.

    Blood Orange, Navelina, Blush Orange

    Having oranges like this reminds my of my honeymoon, where my husband and I stayed at an old monastery turned boutique hotel in the foothills of Mount Etna in Sicily. The Monaci delle Terre Nere sits smack dab in the middle of an eco bio farm and orange grove lined with rows of different varieties of orange you can simply pick and eat (with permission of course). There are Navelina, Blood and Blush oranges, even one called Vanilla. The top photo in this post is apparently a Tangelo – a cross between a tangerine and pomelo. Just amazing. I also counted at least 5 types of Blood and Blush orange alone just walking through the grove. These photographs are from the early spring, but the real season starts in February.

    Siciliy Orange Grove , Monaci Delle Terre Nere

    We are so used to eating the over-popular navel variety that it’s hard to believe how many others there are out there, so if you ever get the chance please remember Sicily in February. Either go there to eat these amazing fruits or venture to your local farmer’s market and spend the extra coins to discover what they have. You won’t be disappointed.

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  3. Berry Pie – The Taste of Summer

    Well here we are, it’s September. Late summer days are shortening already but I am hanging on for dear life to the still warm mornings and evenings, pretending that it will never turn cold again. It’s still boiling hot back home in Washington State in the beautiful Pacific Northwest after all! I have it in me to keep my head in the sand a little longer…

    This time of year in Washington, one of the top fruit growing states in the USA, you drive down a highway anywhere east of the Cascade Mountains and the road is lined with little stands selling summer fruits and berries. Buckets of bright red and blue line the fog line beckoning you in to spill juice down your front as you shovel in what you can’t wait to taste when you get home.

    I must say, I always recommend buying an extra punnet for the car. When I was a kid, I used to eat cherries and raspberries until my fingers turned pink and my tummy grumbled in protest. It was the absolute best!

    Now, what to do with those punnets you actually get home? Well don’t just turn it all to jam – make a pie of course!

    Berry pie is my absolute favourite summer dessert. Bursting with juicy flavour, natural sugars and a tang to balance every bite, I think it is the ticket to prolonged summer happiness.

    Serve it warm, just cooled from the oven, with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream and you have equal to the American dream on a plate. I made this back for the 4th of July, which I spent here in London yet again. Homesick? Yes!  But this sweet berry pie made me feel like I could smell the sparklers and hear the pop of fireworks all the way from home…

    cooling berry pie baking pastry homemade

    Berry Pie
    Serves 12

    Ingredients 

    1 quantity Double Rich Pie Crust

    1kg mix of blackberries, raspberries and blueberries

    50g caster sugar (if the berries are tart, add a bit extra)

    1 lemon, zested and juiced

    Pinch of salt

    50g plain flour

    1 tablespoon corn starch

    2 tablespoons butter, cubed

    Method 

    Preheat the oven to 190°c/375°f . You will need a 28cm/12inch fluted pie tin, preferably with a removable bottom.

    Start by making the pastry then form it into two flattened disks and put it in the fridge to chill for at least 30 minutes to rest.

    In a large bowl, mix together the berries, sugar, lemon juice and zest, salt and the flours and allow to sit while you roll out the pie dough.

    Roll out one disk to line the bottom of the pie case. Press the dough neatly into the corners of the case so that you get neat bottom corners when you remove it for serving and roll off the over hanging dough with your rolling pin to neaten up the top edges. Please this in the fridge while you roll out the second disk.

    Roll the second disk out on a very well flour surface. Cut evenly sized strips out of the dough, making sure you can easily move them from the surface as any pulling will stretch the strips and make them irregular. Pour in the filling and begin the lattice. Starting from the center of the round and then use ever other strip going outwards. You should be following the same shape of the circle over the pie. and moving outwards on each side.

    lattice pie pastry berry summer baking

    If the pastry dough has warmed up a little too much, put the whole pie in the freezer for 5 minutes. You want the pastry to be cold as possible before baking so it comes out short and crisp.

    Bake the pie for a good 45 minutes on the middle shelf at 190°c/375°f for 30 minutes, check the top to make sure it doesn’t over brown and cook it for a further 15 minutes, turn the temperature down to 170°c/340°c if it’s getting a little too golden to keep it at a high temperature.  I find it useful to put a square of tin foil over the top of the pie during the remaining cooking time if it starts to go too brown to early. You want to cook it the whole way through to make sure the bottom crust is done.

    berry pie a la mode

    Allow the tart to cool down enough to handle and then carefully lift it out of the tin and slide it off the base onto a serving plate. This step is best done while the pastry is still quite warm, else it will stick to the case and break.

    Berry pie is the absolute best served a la mode with good vanilla ice cream and shared with friends. Just make sure to reserve a slice for tomorrow’s breakfast… you won’t regret it.

    (Thank you to my dear friend Sian Henley for the lovely photo at the beginning of this post. I was too busy pouring fourth of July punch and forgot to snap one before we sliced it!)

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  4. Hot Cross Buns

    Easter is almost here and I carry on wishing that fabulously silly Easter hats a la Steel Magnolias might be deemed appropriate attire anywhere outside the deep south of the USA … but alas. I’ll just comfort myself with other things, like gargantuin chocolate bunnies, jelly beans, coloured eggs and everything Cadbury’s. I really do love this holiday because even for the non-religious it’s just pagan enough for everyone to enjoy.

    But to commemorate a bygone era in another way – there are Hot Cross Buns, which are another of those old fashioned baked goods that keep coming back year after year. They fill our grocery store shelves in all sorts of strange variations from the original, which are never quite as good as the real McCoy. I even saw a chocolate version this year and bought it. Mistake! It was a no-go, trust me. Sounded fantastic but really ended up being some kind of mildly bitter, all too dry bread. So I’m sticking to the classics – dried golden raisins, red currants and orange with warming spices.

    hot cross buns easter baking

    They are filled with spice and fruit and are delicious fresh with slabs of butter and drizzled honey.  I am not a huge fan of dried peel, so have omitted it in my recipe, replacing it with fresh orange zest. If you love peel, of course add it in, replacing some of the weight of the sultanas and currants.

    These hot cross buns are undoubtedly best on the first day, as with all breads, but toasted on the second and third with lashings of butter is also delicious. A few days on, make a hot cross bun bread and butter pudding! Yum. Now where is that bunny???

     

    HOT CROSS BUNS

    Makes 16-17 buns

    Ingredients

    30g fresh yeast

    80g caster sugar

    450g strong white flour (bread flour)

    1/2 teaspoon salt

    80g salted butter

    225-300g milk, warmed to blood temprature

    2 eggs, whisked

    1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

    1/4 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg

    2 teaspoons mixed spice

    50g dried currants

    75g golden raisins

    Zest of two oranges

    For the Egg Wash

    Mix together 1 egg yolk, 50g milk and 1 teaspoon caster sugar,and pass through a sieve.

    For the Flour Paste 

    Mix together 1oog flour and 1tsp sugar with enough water to make a paste the consistency of toothpaste.

    Method

    Preheat the oven to 220ºc/425°f.

    Mix the yeast together with a tablespoon of the sugar until it turns to liquid – quite a good science trick! It happens by osmosis. Sift the flour and salt into a bowl or stand mixing bowl and rub the butter in with your fingers until it resembles sand. Add in the spices and the rest of the sugar, make a well in the centre and pour in the yeast. Swirl a bit of the milk in the yeast pot and pour it in to get everything you can then pour in all but about 50mls of the milk. Don’t be tempted to add it all in at first, you might not need it and could end up with a sloppy dough. Mix everything together until combined, it should be quite a wet dough but not sloppy at all like batter – if there are any dry patches or bits of flour left in the bowl add in the milk in increments until you have a uniformly wet dough. Then leave it for 10 minutes to allow the flour to absorb the liquid fully.

    Knead the dough for 10 minutes on a lightly floured surface or in a stand mixer for 5 minutes. The dough should look smooth and elastic and feel springy, which is a sign the gluten has developed nicely. Add in the fruits and the orange zest and knead together, then cover loosely with cling film and leave to rise until doubled in size. It should take about and hour to an hour and a half if its warm in your kitchen, longer if it’s cool.

    Hot Cross Bun Dough

    Knock back the dough and portion it out into 70g pieces. Shape into buns and place on a baking sheet.

    Hot Cross Buns Shaping Dough

    Lightly wash them with the egg wash and then pipe a cross on each using the flour paste.

     

    Hot Cross Buns Crosses

    Allow the buns to double in size, glaze them again carefully with the egg mixture on the dough only, avoiding the crosses, and then bake on the top shelf at 220ºc/425°f for 5 minutes. They should puff up beautifully. Turn down the heat to 200ºc/400°f and bake for another 10-15 minutes. Check regularly and if they start to go too brown too quickly, turn down the oven another 10º or so and continue baking. A little hint – if you have a conventional oven and your baking two sheets at once, like I did. Bake them for the first 5 minutes and then very carefully, without bumping them, switch their spots in the oven. Continue baking as normal.

    hot cross buns baking

    The buns are done when they are a dark golden colour and feel light for their size. Be careful not to get too much colour on them or they will be dry.

    Share among family and friends with lashings of butter and honey.

     

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