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hot cross buns

Dark Chocolate and Prune Hot Cross Buns

hot cross bunsI used to be very strict about only eating hot cross buns on Good Friday as tradition dictated and then Marks and Spencer brought out their limited edition chocolate and caramel ones and I had to start cramming as many in as possible in a short space of time to make the most.

This year, they don’t seem to be doing this variety at all and I am highly disgruntled. I had a little sulk and then I tried the stem ginger ones to see if they hit the spot. They didn’t, so I decided I would revisit one of the very first things I blogged and make my own hot cross buns instead of waiting for someone else to fulfil my baked goods needs.

They were going to be dark chocolate and ginger and then I realised that I didn’t have any crystallised ginger, but I did have a big bag of prunes and what goes together better than chocolate and prunes? The recipe is adapted from Dan Lepard’s Spiced Stout Buns which are actually very easy to make despite what I thought a few years ago as a novice baker.

Dark Chocolate and Prune Hot Cross Buns (makes 18)

  • 325ml warm water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fast acting yeast
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon mace
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 875g plain flour
  • 50ml dark rum or brandy
  • 50ml golden syrup
  • 250g prunes, stoned and chopped
  • 250g mixed dried fruit
  • 100g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 1 large egg
  • 50g melted butter
  • 100g sugar
  • 200ml cold water
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

You need to start the buns the night before. Measure out 325g of the flour into a large bowl along with the yeast, spices and warm water and mix it all well together. Cover with a clean teatowel and leave to prove overnight.

In another bowl , put the chopped prunes (I cut mine into pieces just bigger than the raisins) and your dried fruit. I used a hotchpotch of raisins, golden sultanas, currants and candied peel. Add the booze and the golden syrup and allow the fruit to soak up their flavours overnight

Next morning, melt your butter and add it and the egg to the fruit mixture and then add the chopped chocolate. Add it all to the bowl of yeast batter and stir in the remaining 550g flour, the salt and sugar and about 150ml of the cold water. Mix until it forms a dough. It should be soft and slightly ragged but not sticky. Allow it to sit and breathe for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes (or however much longer it takes you to tidy your work surface…) tip the dough out onto an oiled work surface and lightly knead for 10 repetitions. Leave it where it is and repeat this action twice at 10 minute intervals, then return the dough to a clean bowl and leave it covered for 1 hour.

Line a baking tray or two with greaseproof paper and then measure the dough out into 100g balls per bun. I just pulled lumps off the dough and roughly shaped them between my hands so they were a bit more rustic looking than they could have been if I was the kind of person who is a neat baker. Put the buns on the baking tray touching each other and leave to rise again by half their volume. Mine took about another 30-40 minutes in a warm kitchen while the oven heated to 200℃.

Mix 3 tablespoons of plain flour with about 5 tablespoons of cold water until it is a smooth but not sloppy paste and put it in a piping bag. Pipe a long line of the paste across the buns from top to bottom and then from side to side so each bun has a cross. Doing this individually gets really faffy in comparison. Bake the buns for 25 minutes and remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.

To glaze the buns, mix about 2 tablespoons of sugar and hot water together and brush over the buns while they are still hot. Repeat twice to build up a nice glossy top and then allow the buns to cool on a rack. Serve slathered with butter and with a good strong cup of tea to hand. They will keep for several days in an airtight container or freeze well. I’m going to enjoy the heap I made since it’s not like I can go completely untraditional and make these again before next year. That’s just too much…

half hot cross

 

Sowing the Seeds

nigella bookWatching the ghastly events at Isleworth Court this week, it was pretty much a forgone conclusion I’d be Team Nigella since it would take a lot for me to back a man who throttled his wife. But it was also because Nigella has probably been the biggest influence on my cooking career of anyone.

It was her columns in Vogue in the very late 90s that turned me from being able to make food to being able to cook and understanding the power of writing and talking about food. Prior to that, most of my food influence had been from family or watching people like Keith Floyd on TV, but Nigella introduced me to food writing. Her columns seemed incredibly grown up and very cosmopolitan. I felt so very adult cooking things she wrote about while friends made baked potatoes and Old El Paso kits when we went round for dinner before a big night out.

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Maple Rosemary Popcorn Pie

Maple Rosemary Popcorn Pie

Maple Rosemary Popcorn Pie

At this time of year, although Hallowe’en is to me a very Irish celebration, I do like a spot of Americana in my stomach as the autumn nights draw in. Glorious orange pumpkins, soups and stews spiked with smoky frankfurters or the same sausages battered and served up as corndogs, glistening sticky pecan pies and handfuls of crispy popcorn. They seem to have the right flavours for the season and sheer greed and a slightly abstract conversation made me wonder if I could perhaps multi task and turn the latter two into one dish for ultimate eating?

I wanted something slightly more grown up that the crunchy toffee coated popcorn I so desired as a child on cinema trips which now seems sickly sweet and artificial. Reading recipes for caramel corn made me think mine needed the adult twist of sea salt for sure,  but I wanted something else to lift it and my memory went back to this lovely post for Rosemary Sea Salt Millionaires’ Shortbread that I’ve been meaning to make for yonks. Seeing that my rosemary bush was the only thing in the garden to survive the summer of slugmageddon decided it for me and that woody floral flavour would be my secret weapon.

Maple Rosemary Popcorn Pie: makes one 9″ pie (or 4 small ‘uns with tonnes leftover like me)

  • 250 g sweet shortcrust pastry
  • 3 tablespoons popping corn
  • 1/2 teaspoon coconut oil
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 50g golden syrup
  • 50g maple syrup (use all golden if you don’t have maple)
  • 150g golden caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • large pinch of sea salt (enough to just taste the salt)
  • tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

First start with your pastry. You can just use bought stuff for this, but if you’re making your own, may I recommend the sweet shortcrust by Dan Lepard in Short and Sweet? I’ve always had issues with my pastry shrinking no matter how well I chill it and this recipe is foolproof. I’m not going to write it all out because Dan explains it well elsewhere if you search, but really because if you’re buying a cookbook, it should be this one. Call it an early Christmas present…

Line your tart tin and chill the pastry again before blind baking for 15 minutes at 180℃ or until just colouring the palest golden shade. Leave to cool while you make your filling.

Place three tablespoons of raw popping corn kernels in a paper bag (I use leftover flour bags) and the smidge of coconut oil and fold the bag over loosely and microwave for about just under 2 minutes (I usually whip it out at 1.45 or it starts to burn) and voila! You have the quickest easiest popcorn possible. If doing something as delicious as this just carry as normal, but you’ve skipped the whole washing up stage.

Now melt the butter, sugar and syrups together in a pan. I’ve used unsalted butter because it’s too easy to overdo the salt with regular butter and then adding more salt, so have gone for a blank canvas, but obviously, you can improvise if you only have salted butter. Take the mixture off the heat and add in the chopped rosemary and the salt. Allow the mix to cool for about 10 minutes. Don’t skip this stage or your mix will be so liquid to pour in the case, you’ll stick everything in the kitchen to itself, you and the tart case as I did the first time.

Once the mix is cooled slightly, beat the eggs in it. They won’t curdle now you’ve reduced the temperature of the mix. Then stir the popcorn into the mix. You’ll need to do this fairly carefully and repeatedly as popcorn floats quite well and resists dunking unless really coaxed. I originally used this caramel corn which made it easier, but a) really isn’t very nice or worth the washing up and b) made the pie so sweet, the Scottish person I tried it on couldn’t eat it. Once your popcorn is entirely coated, pour the filling into the tin making sure you don’t overfill or the whole thing will stick. Bake the large case at 180℃ for about 40 minutes whereupon it should be golden brown but still slightly soft in the middle.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool and set slightly. Both this pie and the pecan pie it’s based on are best served slightly warm but not hot unless you want to remove several layers of skin from your mouth with molten sugar. This pie calls out to be served with clotted cream or really good vanilla ice cream. Just don’t expect as much crunch as pecan pie and you’ll love it. The popcorn is both soft and sugar coated crisp and the filling is like proper butter toffee with bite. The salt should be just enough to enhance the sweetness and the rosemary adds just enough interest to leave you guessing what the extra flavour is. Once I’d toned the sugar down, this was great.

If you like popcorn, you’ll love encasing in butter, sugar and syrup and then crisping it right up. If you don’t love popcorn, you’ll think this is just another American oddity, but to be honest, that’s why I rather liked it!

Squirrel Street Food Style: Satay and Sliders

Wild squirrel sliders, pickles and ketchup in home-made buns

Mister North and I have long had a slightly competitive game where we try to buy each other the oddest and most interesting  presents possible. This is why I own ice tongs and he once had his own jellyfish at London Zoo. So the bar was quite high last Christmas. I needed something for the foodie who has everything and the answer came to me when I found a company who can supply wild meat and I realised  Mister North would very much be the person to appreciate a brace of squirrel in his stocking…

Sense prevailed and I decided not to send him the beasts over the festive period in case they went a-wandering and sat in a depot somewhere if the weather was bad, but promised them at a time of his choosing. When he announced he was coming down to London last week for a bit of culture, we agreed this was the perfect time for Tufty to visit. We decided to try and do the squirrels different ways to get the maximum impact from what is a fairly small animal. Mister North suggested squirrel satay as soon as the present was mentioned and I then took a notion to do squirrel sliders and see if I could convince myself they are more than mini-burgers.

Although the satay was Mister North’s idea, I volunteered myself to make it so I could show off the satay skills I got after attending a Brunei Malay cooking class with Siti Merrett at Books For Cooks last summer. If, like me, you know little of this cuisine, I recommend Siti’s book Coconuts and Kelupis as both the beef in soya sauce and the satay are amazing. The following recipe is my version of her satay. The Malay version does not contain the coconut of Thai versions, so don’t be surprised not to see it. If you really like the creaminess of coconut, I guess you could add it. Try not to be scared by the list of ingredients, the recipe is actually very simple!

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Rhubarb and custard tarts

Angled plate1 new

I love custard of any description. Whether it be Bird’s or Ambrosia’s Devon kind or fresh stuff poured over a crumble or a quivering baked version, I love custard. Sadly it has never reciprocated that love and everytime I’ve tried to make it, there have been problems. It’s split, ended up scrambled, been full of lumps and the packet version has resembled concrete. I’ve always thought if I wrote a book about my cooking exploits, it would be called ‘Custard is my Nemesis.’

Few things go better with custard than rhubarb so when I finally got my paws on some proper Yorkshire forced rhubarb for the first time this season (even though Mister North has been cooking up a storm with it for a while now this winter.) I decided that come hell or high water, this weekend would be the time that I tamed custard, even if it meant the kind of mayhem in the kitchen that accompanied the cartoon duo of the same name.

I’ve been eyeing Dan Lepard’s Bay Custard Tarts forever, even having cut the recipe out of the Guardian and kept it when it first appeared several years ago and thanks to the clear and foolproof instructions in Short and Sweet, I knew this was the place to start with custard, but decided to put a seasonal twist on it by layering the baked custard with a topping of tangy rhubarb curd, partly because it would no doubt be delicious, but because it might hide a custard malfunction…

I made the tart cases from scratch using Dan’s sweet shortcrust recipe and tips on pastry handling. The first time I made pastry it was exceptionally good and I wondered why people worry about it, but every subsequent time has been a mess of varying levels. I decided to try and teach myself better pastry skills while I was mastering custard, but you could just use shop bought if that’s easier. But do follow Dan’s tip to only blind bake the cases for 15 minutes and undercook them slightly to allow the custard to ‘stick’

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