Thursday, 6 March 2008


Hot Cross Buns

For very many years now I have thought of Eastertime as the beginning of the new year, trees in fat bud, the daffodils plentiful enough to pick and bring indoors, lambs appearing, earlier and earlier these days, and of course the birds with beakfuls of dried grass and twigs. This year the blackthorn blossom seems to be especially plentiful, let's hope we won't be calling it a Blackthorn Winter in a few days, that period of cold weather that often occurs when blackthorn is in flower.
I decided to make my hot cross buns a couple of days ago, and put them in the freezer ready for Good Friday breakfast and the rest of the holiday as well, as I have made quite a few.
Here is the recipe to make 24 buns:-
Mix together in a large bowl 2lb of white bread flour, 1 teaspoon of salt, 2 teaspoons of mixed spice and a small pinch of ground cloves, 4oz sugar and 4 teaspoons instant yeast ( 2 7g sachets)
You need to incorporate 4oz butter, which can be rubbed in, but I tend to melt it in the water I am using for the mixture. If you want to do that put 7 fl oz hot water from the kettle into a heatproof bowl and cut the butter up in little bits so that it will melt fairly quickly. Add 8 fl oz milk when the fat has melted, which should make a lukewarm mix and put it all into the centre of the flour etc. with two beaten eggs.
Instead of using milk with the water you can use some dried milk powder in the dry mix, 2 -3 oz. and use 15 fl oz water.
Stir in 8 oz dried mixed fruit, currants, sultanas and mixed peel with the liquid, you should have a soft dough. Turn it on to a floured board and knead it for about 10 mins. until smooth and elastic. If it is too sticky to handle add more flour cautiously, very dry dough makes for heavy buns!
If you have an electric mixer that is powerful enough to take this quantity of dough do not add the dried fruit until the end of kneading time or it will get a bit mashed up. Of course you will not have to knead it for 10 minutes if you are using a machine.
Put the dough back into a bowl and let it rise until doubled in size, 30mins to an hour. Pre-heat the oven to 220c. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface again and knead it gently until very smooth and divide into 24 portions, form each into a neat ball, by sort of flattening each portion and tucking the ends into the centre, which will then be the underside of the bun. Arrange the buns on a large, greased baking tray, or two, not quite touching, and allow them to rise until nearly doubled in size and just touching each other.
To make the crosses, mix together some flour and water to a thick,flowing paste. With a very sharp knife lightly incise a cross in the top of each bun, easier if you treat all the buns as one large item, and pipe the flour water mix across them. See the picture below.

The buns straight from the oven before glazing
Put the baking tray(s) in the oven, near the top and reduce the temperature to 200c as you do so, bake for 15-20 mins. To test for done-ness lift one of the buns off the baking tray and tap it on the bottom. It should sound hollow when cooked. If you are using two trays you will have to swap them around and they will take a good 5 minutes more to cook.
The buns can be glazed with a thickish syrup of sugar and water, or you can use beaten egg and milk brushed on before you pipe on the crosses.
You can make the crosses with thin strips of shortcrust pastry, stuck in place with egg wash.

Sourdough Bread

I'm feeling quite pleased with myself at this very minute, as I have not long taken this loaf out of the oven, and, of course, tasted it. But I'll tell you how I came to make it.

I went to a meeting on Tuesday morning, only four of us turned up, but one who did was Stina. I've met Stina before once or twice, but know very little about her except that she is very artistic and a devotee of organic and local food. Over her clothes she was wearing a large hessian apron with deep pockets, in lieu of a bag I understood, and from one of these pockets she drew a honey jar with a growing, naturally fermented sourdough culture. Did anyone want it, she asked. Of course I did.

Having taken it home and decanted it into a basin I found I had about 3 tablespoons of starter, which had a very fresh smell, and was gently bubbling. I decided to increase the bulk of the starter before I did anything else, so I added literally a few grains of instant yeast (I can hear Stina screaming from here), a pinch of sugar and couple of dessertspoonfuls of bread flour and some lukewarm water and left it in a reasonably warm room . It was looking very healthy in the evening, with a much more developed aroma so I divided it into two, half in a covered bowl in the fridge and the rest in a large mixing bowl, adding probably about 300 grams of white bread flour and enough water to make it a sloppy mixture, a bit like thick pancake batter. I left this at room temperature for 24 hours, the smell was delightful, and the sponge was very well risen.

First thing this morning I added about 250grams of rye flour, another approximately 200 grams white flour and some salt with enough water to make it a soft dough, a bit too sticky I grumpily thought at one time, as this was before my cup of coffee and I was in need of my caffeine fix. I used about 750grams of flour altogether and left it to rise in a stainless steel casserole rather than a baking sheet or tin, to see if I could get a nice rounded shape.

I baked it at 225C for about an hour, longer than I would have thought, but the casserole has a very thick bottom, and I really had a tricky job to get it out, it stuck on the bottom, even though I had greased the pan well, and of course it was much deeper than a baking pan.The shape is good because of the rounded pan, but not an altogether successful experiment.

I am going to give Sandra one half of the remaining starter, to which I have added a little water and flour, and have another go, perhaps writing down the amounts of flour and water I am adding at each stage.

A few days later now and I have made another loaf and written down quantities:-

On Thursday at 4pm I took the left over starter from the fridge, having duly given Sandra one half of the remaining amount. To my share of the starter I added 230g. (8oz.) wholemeal bread flour and 230ml (8fl.oz) lukewarm water. I stirred it all together and left it overnight at room temperature, covered with a damp cloth. ( Had I been making a new starter the flour and water would have to have been left for about 3 days at room temperature).

On Friday at 9am I divided this new mixture in two, putting half back in the fridge for next time and added 230g (8oz) white bread flour and 200ml (7fl.oz) lukewarm water to the one half, beating well together. I covered it again, with a plate on top of the bowl this time until this morning, when I added another 300g (12oz) white bread flour, 4 fl. oz. (120ml) lukewarm water and a teaspoon of salt. I kneaded it lightly, allowed it to double in size, about an hour and a half, kneaded it again and put into a greased bread tin. My bread tins are longer than the regular 2lb tins, and it 2/3rds filled it, I allowed it to rise to the top of the tin, and baked it for 40mins in a pre-heated oven 220c. or until it sounds hollow when you tap the base. A perfectly risen loaf, it rose above the bread tin while baking.