Posts Tagged ‘easter traditions’

Recipe – Hot Cross Buns

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

I have always bought our hot cross buns from the baker or the supermarket, which just seems a bit too lazy really, so I thought I would have a bash at making them myself this year.

Hot cross buns grew out of traditional Lenten yeast buns that started being popular in England in the mediaeval times, when these small enriched bread buns were served at the end of Lent to be eaten while drinking a good quantity of celebratory wine.  They became popular throughout Lent during the Elizabethan times, when wealthier people loved to show-off their money and sophistication by spicing these buns up with expensive, rare and luxurious spices and dried fruits that were really hard to come by during the cold, winter months.

It had also been traditional in the mediaeval period to mark the loaves with a cross cut into the top of the buns to ward off evil spirits and so encourage the bread to rise.  This was abandoned for most of Lent during the Reformation (in the 17th Century) when such behaviour was regarded as too popish, however they were still made with crosses on them for Good Friday in token of the crucifixion, so the tradition did not completely die out.

Because of the wide availability of storecupboard staples like spices and dried fruits nowadays, we have all lost the excitement and awe that used to arise from cooking with these things to enrich your breads and cakes, while the fact that they seem to start getting into the shops immediately Christmas is past means that we are inured to the religious significance of hot cross buns as a Lenten tradition. 

I really hate this drifting of traditions by the supermarkets with Easter eggs and buns being available for months before Lent and Christmas getting into stores from somewhere towards the end of the summer holidays.

These home-made hot cross buns have a lovely mild spiciness unlike the heavy-handed flavours of the high street bakers, while the texture is great; they have a soft, silky mouth-feel – it’s a bit like the difference between a feather and a foam pillow, where the supermarkets’ hot cross buns are the chewy, rubbery foam pillow.


For the hot cross buns:

210ml / 7½ fl oz milk
1 free-range organic egg
450g / 1lb white bread flour (unbleached bread flour, please)
1½ tsp organic Fairtrade mixed spice
½ tsp organic ground cinnamon powder
½ tsp sea salt
50g / 2oz organic Fairtrade caster sugar
50g / 2oz organic butter or lard or margarine
1½ tsp quick yeast , or easy-blend/ rapid-rise yeast
100g / 4oz organic currants
25g / 1oz organic sultanas
25g / 1oz organic mixed peel

For the pastry crosses:

50g / 2oz plain flour
25g / 1oz butter (or if you prefer margarine)

Tip: you can cheat by using 50g / 2oz shortcrust pastry from the freezer section in a local shop, which you then cut into narrow strips, or add enough water to make it runny enough so that it can be piped as below

For the glaze:

30ml / 2tbsp milk
25g / 1oz organic Fairtrade caster sugar

Stage one – making the dough

Using a bread machine:

Pour the organic milk and free–range egg into the bowl of the breadmaker.  Reverse the order if your bread machine tells you so to do.  Sprinkle over the white bread flour, ensuring that it covers the liquid.  Add Steenbergs organic Fairtrade mixed spice and the organic cinnamon powder.  Then place the sea salt, caster sugar and butter in separate corners of the bread pan.  Finally, make a small indent in the centre of the flour and put the yeast into there.

Set the bread machine to the dough setting; use the basic raisin dough setting if that option is available on your machine.  Press start.   Lightly grease 2 sheets of baking paper.

When the machine beeps or 5 minutes before the end of the kneading period, add the organic mixed peel, organic currants and organic sultanas.

Stage two – making the hot cross buns

Hot Cross Bun Dough

Hot Cross Bun Dough

When the dough is made, remove the dough from the bowl and place it on a lightly floured surface.  Knock it back gently, then divide into 12 pieces.  Cup each piece between your hands and shape into a ball.  Place these balls on the prepared greased baking sheets, and cover with oiled clear film, and leave for 30 – 45 minutes or until it has doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 200oC / 400oF.

Make the pastry crosses either cheating by using some frozen shortcrust pastry cut into strips or making your own pastry.  In a bowl, rub together the plain flour and butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.  Bind together with a little bit of water to make a soft pastry which can be piped.  Spoon the pastry into a piping bag fitted with a plain nozzle and pipe a cross onto each bun.

If you want to be more “ye olde breadmaker” about it, you could cut into the buns rather than put on the pastry crosses.  You do this by cutting into each pastry ball through the surface by not all the way down.

Bake the hot cross buns for 15 – 18 minutes, or until golden brown.

While the hot cross buns are in the oven, heat the milk and sugar together in a small pan to make the glaze.  Stir thoroughly until the sugar has dissolved.  Brush the glaze over the top of the baked hot cross buns, turn them onto a wire rack to cool, then serve immediately or leave to cool, reheating them when you want to eat them.

Home Made Hot Cross Buns

Home Made Hot Cross Buns

This recipe and some of the spiel was based on a recipe from a great book on baking bread, called “Bread” by Christine Ingram and Jennie Shapter.

Recipe for Simnel Cake

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

Today is Mother’s Day and what a glorious sunny, Spring day it has been.  We gave Sophie a gorgeous bouquet of flowers – white roses, lilies and greenery – and went to church for a Mothers’ Day Service, a bit of a rarity for me.  I liked the sentiment which was that mother’s always have time for a smile for their children however exasperating, painful and annoying we can all be.  So thank you Mothers and Mums everywhere for being so tolerant, caring and loving.

Traditionally in Britain, today the fourth Sunday on Lent was the first day that girls in service at the big, posh houses of the gentry were allowed to go home and see their Mothers – this is back in the 17th and 18th centuries.  As such, they would bring home a demonstration of their skills learnt at their place of work – a rich and delicious fruit cake that became known as Simnel Cake. 

So today used to be called Simnel Sunday and then morphed into Mothering Sunday.  Originally, the cakes were decorated with 11 small paste balls, symbolising the 11 faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.  These cakes improved with eating and were best enjoyed at the end of the Lenten Fast or Lent and so they became associated with Easter to become the traditional Easter Cake.  Simnel Cakes are less often baked than a Christmas Cake but I feel they should be made as much of a tradition as the classic Christmas Cake.

Here’s how we made ours today:

Ingredients For Simnel Cake

Ingredients For Simnel Cake

Ingredients for the cake:

125g / 4oz butter
125g/ 4oz  dark brown muscovado sugar
3 free range organic eggs, beaten (they were discounted in Spar – bargain at 50p a half dozen)
150g / 5oz organic plain flour
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp organic Fairtrade mixed spice
350g / 12oz mixed organic raisins and sultanas (about 200g: 150g respectively)
50g / 2oz mixed chopped peel
Grated rind of lemon (I used orange today as I had no lemon and I am sure it will be fine)

For the marzipan or almond paste:

225g / 80z Fairtrade organic caster sugar
225g / 8oz organic ground almonds
2 eggs beaten
1 teaspoon Steenbergs Natural Almond Extract

To glaze the cake

A little apricot jam
A little beaten egg (just cadge some from making the marzipan as you don’t need much)

Prepare an 18cm (7 inch) deep circular cake tin by greasing and lining the base and the sides

To make the marzipan, mix together the caster sugar, ground almonds, Steenbergs natural almond essence and beaten egg and knead with your hands to a smooth pliable mix.  If it feels too gooey, just add a bit more almond and knead some more.  Roll out a third of the marzipan  – almond paste – into a circle and set aside.  Reserve the remainder for topping the cooked cake.

Mixing Up The Marzipan Or Almond Paste

Mixing Up The Marzipan Or Almond Paste

Now put the oven on and preheat to 140oC / 275oF.

To make the cake, cream the butter and muscovado sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs a little at a time.  Sieve together the plain flour, sea salt and Steenbergs mixed spice together and add to the mixture alternately with the dried fruit, mixed peel and grated rind, mixing all the ingredients together.

Put half the mixture into the cake tin, then smooth the top and cover with the circle of almond paste.  Add the rest of the cake mixture and smooth the top, hollowing out a small hole in the centre.  Bake in the oven for 1½ hours.

When the cake has cooled, brush the top with apricot jam.  Now put the oven on and preheat to 180oC / 350oF.  Then with the reserved marzipan, roll 11 small balls (for the good disciples and definitely smaller than the massive balls that I made) and then roll out the rest of the almond paste over the top of the cake.  Now place the almond paste balls evenly around the edge of the cake.  Return the cake to the oven and bake for 10 minutes until the paste has gone slightly brown.

Simnel Cake

Simnel Cake

We then put some coloured speckled Easter eggs in the centre.  leave for a couple of weeks to mature and then eat and enjoy.