Hot Cross Buns

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Is it just me or has Easter come around spectacularly fast? I’m sure it’s partially due to the early dates this year, but either way, the past three months seem to have flown by. I noticed this when I realised I hadn’t blogged since Christmas!

I’m one of those people who simultaneously complains about hot cross buns appearing in shops on Boxing Day, and secretly craves them. My solution this year (given the alternative was to buy very average buns from a supermarket) was to bake up a storm. I have a bit of an irrational fear of yeast; I’ve always much preferred baking from butter and eggs. My previous experiences with yeast have ranged from average to good, but I was willing to give it another try in the hope of hot cross buns fresh from the oven.

Despite a few issues with the yeast (which I almost expected), the buns turned out fantastic. They were nice and light with plenty of fruit and spice – a bland bun is dead to me! I honestly don’t think I’ve had a better hot cross bun, and this was my first batch!

So, the aforementioned yeast issues: I found that my first yeast mixture didn’t bubble, it just sat there. I could hear it quietly fizzing but nothing really seemed to be going on after 10 minutes. So I ended up leaving it and starting again, but this time with the milk slightly warmer. This did produce better results; I saw the foam start to accumulate on top much faster. Yeast is renowned for being sensitive, but I learnt that you do want the milk to feel warm as opposed to body temperature. You also don’t want the milk too hot which would kill the yeast. But please don’t let this put you off! Dried yeast is infinitely easier to work with than its fresh counterpart, and as long as you have foam your dough will turn out fine.

Onto the next issue: mixing. The first time I made these I decided to make them ‘the traditional way’ and shunned the electric mixer in favour of old fashioned hard work. I started to regret this decision 20 minutes later when my arms were aching and sticky dough was spread out all over the counter. I ended up adding extra flour to the original recipe (that’s modified below) which did help in making the dough less sticky, but the whole process was infinitely easier the second time I made the buns using a Kitchenaid. There was much less mess, and my muscles didn’t feel the pain! I will warn you, however, to make sure your electric mixer can cope with this quantity of sticky bread dough before you start. I also tried to make these buns in my Kenwood mixer, which started to emit steam from the motor after 10 minutes of mixing (it’s fair to say that was a bit of a disaster).

If you don’t have a mixer, or can’t use it, I would still urge you to give hot cross buns a go. Despite my complaints of sore muscles, the whole process really isn’t too bad, and in any case it is completely worth it for piping hot buns fresh from the oven.

Butter, anyone? Happy Easter!

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Hot Cross Buns, adapted from taste.com.au

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups (375ml) warm milk
  • 2 tsp (7g/1 sachet) dried yeast
  • 1/4 cup (55g) caster sugar
  • 60g butter, melted
  • 1 egg, lightly whisked
  • 4 1/2 cups (675g) plain 00 flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1.5 tblsp mixed spice
  • 1tsp cinnamon
  • 1 3/4 cup (300g) sultanas
  • 1/2 cup (75g) plain 00 flour, extra
  • 1/3 cup (80ml) cold water
  • 1/2 cup (170g) apricot jam

Method

  1. Combine the milk, yeast and 1 tbs of caster sugar in a small bowl. Set aside in a warm, draught-free place (such as the microwave) for 10 minutes or until frothy.
  2. Combine the milk mixture, butter and egg in a jug and whisk to combine. In a separate bowl, combine 4 1/2 cups (675g) of flour, salt, mixed spice, cinnamon and remaining caster sugar. Add the sultanas and stir to combine. Make a well in the centre. Pour in the milk mixture and use a wooden spoon to stir until just combined, then use your hands to bring the dough together. Alternatively, combine the dry and wet ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer on the lowest setting using a dough hook.
  3. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 15 minutes or until smooth and elastic, or alternatively, knead using an electric mixer on low speed for 10-15 minutes. Place the dough in a bowl and cover with a damp tea towel. Leave in a warm, draught-free place for 1 hour or until dough doubles in size.
  4. Preheat oven to 200°C. Grease a 23cm square cake pan or rectangular baking dish and line with baking paper. Punch the dough down with your fist. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 2-3 minutes or until dough is smooth and elastic. Divide dough into 16 even pieces and shape each portion into a ball. Arrange dough portions, just touching side by side, in the prepared pan. Cover with a tea towel and set aside in a warm, draught-free place for 30 minutes or until dough has risen 2cm.
  5. Meanwhile, mix the extra flour and water together in a small bowl until a smooth paste forms. Place in a small snaplock bag and snip off the end. Pipe a continuous line down the centre of each row of buns, lengthways and widthways, to form crosses. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 180°C and bake for a further 20 minutes or until golden and cooked through (buns are ready when they sound hollow when tapped on the base).
  6. Turn onto a wire rack. Place the jam in a small saucepan over high heat. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes or until jam melts. Strain through a fine sieve. Brush hot jam over the buns. Serve fresh out of the oven with butter. Hot cross buns are best eaten on the day they are made, but are lovely toasted the next day.

Buttermilk Pancakes

Everyone has a recipe for something that they claim is the best. It might be the best pumpkin soup, or the best roast potatoes, or the best chocolate cake. It’s usually a recipe for something that is well known, recreated often and stuffed up more often. It probably has a little tip or trick that may or may not work for everyone that tries the recipe. My ‘best’ recipe is for pancakes.

I’m not kidding when I say that everyone who tries these pancakes proclaims them to be the best ones they have ever tasted. They are quite thick pancakes, but also light and fluffy. They also don’t have that floury taste you often get with a basic pancake recipe. I think the addition of butter and sugar make them more cake-like, but in a good way – you can still cover them with as much maple syrup and icecream as you like, as they’re not too sweet on their own, but you could probably eat them on their own if you wanted to.

I guess there a couple of tricks to this recipe. The first is the buttermilk: it thickens the pancake mix so that when you put the batter into the frypan, it doesn’t spread out and become too thin (resulting in thin pancakes, which aren’t really my thing). Buttermilk is in the same section as ordinary milk in the supermarket, and despite its name, doesn’t actually contain butter. The second tip is the temperature of your hotplate: pancakes need to be cooked slowly, so they are evenly browned on the outside and cooked through on the inside. Hence you want your stovetop on low to medium heat; the worst thing you can do is crank the heat up too high, which would result in the middle of the pancake being raw. Sometimes it’s tempting to increase the heat because these pancakes take quite a while to cook (they’re no pancake shake, that’s for sure) but good things come from being patient!

A couple of other notes about the recipe – the original recipe only specified 500 mL of buttermilk, but I found this made the batter way too thick and difficult to work with, so I got into the habit of adding a little bit of extra ordinary milk to thin out the batter. The batter will still be thick enough to spread manually, but it will also spread a little bit by itself. I never actually measure the extra milk, as you might need more or less on each occasion, but it is approximately 1/4 cup. Another option is that if you’ve bought a 600mL carton of buttermilk, you can just use the entire thing and skip the ordinary milk entirely.

Secondly, I wouldn’t attempt these pancakes if you’re in a rush. I like to cook one pancake at a time and from preparation to consumption, the whole process takes over an hour. If you’re coordinated you could attempt to cook multiple smaller pancakes at a time in a larger frypan, or you could have two pans going at once, which would speed up the process.

Buttermilk pancakes, adapted from BBC Good Food Magazine (Australia) 

Ingredients

  • 45g butter
  • 2 cups/300g plain flour
  • 2.5 tsp baking powder
  • 0.5 tsp bicarb soda
  • 1/4 cup/55g white sugar
  • 600mL buttermilk or 500mL buttermilk with approx. 1/4cup regular milk
  • 2 free range eggs
  • A little bit of butter, extra, for the pan
  • Maple syrup, jam, honey, strawberries and icecream to serve

Method

  1. Melt butter on stovetop or in microwave, cool.
  2. Sift together flour and raising agents. Stir in sugar.
  3. In a separate bowl whisk together milks and eggs. Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture and pour in the milk mixture. Whisk together gently until almost combined. Add butter and gently fold through. The mixture should still be a bit lumpy.
  4. Heat a little bit of butter in a heavy-based non-stick frying pan on low-medium heat (I preheat the stove on mark 4, then reduce to 3 when I’m ready to cook – my stove goes up to 9). Wipe out most of the excess butter with paper towel (you don’t want to shallow fry your pancakes).
  5. Once the pan is hot, pour 1/3 cup of batter into the pan. The batter will still be quite thick. Gently spread out mixture into a circle of about 15cm diameter with the back of a spoon or spatula. Once you have made a couple of pancakes you will be able to work out how thin you should spread your batter to get it the thickness you want – I like them thick, so I leave the batter thick, maybe half a centimetre in height.
  6. Cook the pancake for 3-4 minutes or until a few bubbles appear on the surface and pop. You can also use a spatula to have a little peek underneath the pancake; it’s ready to flip if it’s brown. If your pancakes are browning too much but not cooking, turn the heat down to low.
  7. Flip and cook for about a minute or two, increasing the heat slightly (I increase to mark 4). The pancake should puff up and be nice and fluffy. Repeat until all of the pancakes are finished.
  8. Serve with whatever you please. If you want to serve the pancakes all at once, you can keep them in a very low heat oven while the others are cooking. If you want to save them for later, put the pancakes on a wire rack to cool as you cook them (this stops them going soggy) and then store them in the fridge.

This recipe makes around 10 large pancakes, or more smaller ones. It really depends on how much batter you use per pancake. The original recipe stated it should serve 6 people, but I think it’s probably closer to 4.

So I guess you want photographic evidence that these pancakes actually are super yummy. I wish I could give it to you, but I am still awful at taking photos. You’ll have to look at this (awful) picture on instagram and trust me…

Until next time then! Let me know if these pancakes turned out as well for you as they do for me.