Posts Tagged ‘Lent’

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.

Classic Pancake Recipe

Sunday, February 14th, 2010
Shrove Tuesday is the traditional start of Lent.  It has become associated with pancakes in Britain and so everyone spends the day making pancakes.  We regularly make pancakes for breakfast which the kids then top with cinnamon sugar or lemon and sugar, so I have decided instead to try a savoury pancake recipe, but more of that later.

First, let’s start with a classic pancake recipe.  This is the type of recipe that everyone needs to be able to bang out without really thinking about; it’s a staple, basic meal.  We make it without measuring anything – a bit of flour, a couple of eggs, some salt and add milk until the consistency is about right.  So while the recipe is a simple pan cake recipe, it was actually pretty difficult to work back to a workable recipe.

Ingredients – for 8 – 10

110g / 4oz plain flour
1 free range egg
1 free range egg yolk
Pinch of salt
275ml / 10fl oz full fat milk (traditionally you should use 50:50 water-milk mixture, but I like to give it a good, rich flavour)
1tbsp sunflower oil
1tsp sunflower oil or butter or lard – for the frying

Eggs and Flour For Pancake Batter

Eggs and Flour For Pancake Batter

Sieve the flour into a mixing bowl.  Mix in the salt.  Make a dent in the flour and drop the egg into this.  Add a small amount of milk, roughly 2 tablespoons and with a metal hand whisk, thoroughly mix the egg and milk into the flour.  Now add some more milk and whisk thoroughly again.  Carry on doing this a little bit at a time until the batter is becoming runny.  Now add the rest of the milk, the 1tbsp of sunflower oil and whisk again.

Whisking Pancake Batter

Whisking Pancake Batter

You need to slowly add the milk at the beginning as this ensures that the pancake batter is thoroughly mixed through and there are no lumps.  Now leave the pancake batter to prove for about 30 minutes; it really is worth leaving the pancake batter to prove as this makes the final pancake rise to a fuller height.

We often tweak the recipe in the morning by adding a pinch of cinnamon powder as this really makes for a nice, warming and homely flavour.

To make the pancakes, add a teaspoon of sunflower oil and spread it evenly over the skillet using perhaps a piece of kitchen paper.  You can use a similar amount of either butter or lard, but we like sunflower oil.

Leave it to heat through throughly until sizzling hot – be a bit patient as the reason why many people say that the first pancake just doesn’t work is that they don’t wait for the pan to get hot enough.  Add about half a soup spoon (2 tablespoons) full of pancake batter to the frying pan and spread it over the pan. 

Heat through until the top is just dried through and then flip over using a spatula and heat the other side.  You can lift the edge up to check that it is getting a nice light brown if you are worried that it is going to burn.

Frying Pancakes

Frying Pancake

Serve straight away or keep warm in an oven at about 125oC/ 300oF.

You can then top it with a teaspoon of sugar or flavoured sugar, or sugar and lemon, or (for the kids) spread with Nutella or another chocolate spread.

How do you like yours?