A Magical Christmas with Hotel Chocolat

Chocolate is one of those comfort foods that I’ve always had a soft spot for. My earliest memory of chocolate is probably Cadbury’s Dairy Milk bars, which I used to eat almost religiously. And then there was Kit Kat, which still remains one of my favourite chocolate bars up till today.

Through the years, I’ve tried lots of chocolate – some good, some not so good, and some absolutely amazing ones. Hotel Chocolat is one of those amazing chocolate brands that I’ve come across. I still remember my first ever experience of the Hotel Chocolat range of chocolate gifts – one of my best friends bought me one of their chocolate slabs for my birthday, and I was so in awe of its beauty that I simply admired it for a whole month before actually eating it. Yes, I am strange.

This Christmas, Hotel Chocolat have as usual outdone themselves and come up with a fantastic selection of chocolate goodies. From dark chocolate truffle trees to advent calendars to gingerbread liquid chocolat (hot chocolate), they have it all. Now, who wouldn’t want to receive such lovely treats for Christmas?

Definitely not me. Which is why I jumped at the chance to try out some of the chocolates from Hotel Chocolat’s Christmas present range.

The Ultimate Advent Calendar for two is one of the most beautifully packaged advent calendars I’ve ever seen. Boasting a selection of luscious luxury truffles behind each window, this advent calendar is a guarantee of a very happy and fulfilling run up to Christmas.

One of the most enjoyable things about advent calendars is the mystery of what is concealed behind each numbered window. I was swiftly transformed back to my childhood when I was opening up the windows to reveal the simple yet classy looking truffles. We don’t really do advent calendars back in Malaysia, so I got *slightly* over excited and opened every single window… I blame my inner child.

What I like most about this advent calendar is how there are TWO mini truffles behind each window – i.e. no need to fight your other half/siblings for the chocolate… which is what I know both my sister and I would have done if we had one of these growing up. We’re both slightly obsessive about chocolate, you see.

The truffles consist of six different flavours: liquid caramel (brown line – you can’t see this as it’s been halved in the photo above), gingerbread truffle (green topped), orange liquer caramel (orange topped), rum liquid caramel (light brown topped), mousse au chocolat (red line) and house milk praline. My personal favourites were the rum liquid caramel and the gingerbread truffle – nothing like a bit of rum and ginger to bring a bit of festive cheer.

And then there was Mr. Best Dressed Reindeer, who was made from 70% dark chocolate. This was another one of those “I can’t bear to eat this, it’s too cute/pretty” moments. After some oohing and aahing, I finally nibbled at his ear – and my, it was good. If dark chocolate is not your thing, you could always go for the milk chocolate Santa, or the white chocolate Snowman. All “Best Dressed”, naturally.

And then there were the Tiddly Snowmen. These adorable white chocolate mini snowmen would be a perfect stocking filler – and trust me when I say no child (or even adult!) would not want to find this in their stockings come Christmas morning.

Now on to the exciting part! Thanks to Hotel Chocolat, one lucky winner will win an Ultimate Advent Calendar to accompany his/her countdown to Christmas! Just imagine how much more pleasant December will be with the knowledge that you’ve got chocolates to look forward to every single day… :D

To enter, do any (or all) of the following: (Each will get you ONE entry)

  • Visit the Hotel Chocolat Christmas site, and leave a comment below telling me what your favourite chocolate gift is.
  • Tweet about the giveaway: I just entered the @breadetbutter giveaway for a @HotelChocolat Ultimate Advent Calendar! http://wp.me/pAcXx-oI #giveaway
  • Like Hotel Chocolat on Facebook, and leave me a comment below telling me you’ve done this.
  • Stumble this post, and leave me a comment telling me you’ve done this.

This giveaway is open to all residents of UK, Europe and USA. Giveaway ends Friday 19th November 2010 at 23:59 BST. A winner will be chosen at random, and once he/she confirms their address, the Ultimate Advent Calendar will be sent out to them. If the winner fails to confirm their address within 24 hours, another winner will be chosen.

Good luck! :)

***Giveaway has now ENDED***
Congratulations to Alison, who has won herself a Hotel Chocolat Ultimate Advent Calendar!

* non-watermarked photos courtesy of Hotel Chocolat

The food of Florence [part 3]

Gelato. This Italian style ice cream truly needs no further introduction.

During my recent (or come to think of it, not so recent) trip to Florence, I completely overindulged on this gem of a dessert. I lost count of how many scoops of gelato I consumed – though in my defence, it was very hot and I needed a good way to cool down. And judging from the roaring business of the gelaterias, I suspect I’m not the only one with this mindset.

As you can see, we consumed a fair amount of gelato during our trip. (We actually ate a lot more than what you see in the photos, but I didn’t want to scare you all with the sheer amount of it all…) We visited about 4-5 gelaterias throughout the trip, but two of them stood out – these are the two I shall blog about here. Do note that there are a fair number of ‘tourist trap’ gelaterias which serve not-very-good gelato at very high prices. You should only expect to pay about 3-4 euro for a medium sized cup.

I mentioned previously that one of the waiters in I’Tozzo di Pane recommended his favourite gelateria to us. And I’m very glad he did, or I doubt we would have found the place! Gelateria La Carraia is slightly further off the normal tourist routes (it’s a 10-15 minute walk from Ponte Vecchio) but I can safely say the walk is worth it. Plus, you can eat more gelato under the guise that you’ve “earned it”. Sort of, anyway.

This place was ALWAYS filled with people each time we paid them a visit (and we went at different times of the day!). Which is always a good sign, especially since they’re not in the main tourist areas. An extra plus is how a large majority of their customers were locals. The gelato here was very good – creamy and very flavoursome. Prices are also more reasonable compared to some of the other gelaterias dotted all around Florence (cones start at 1 euro and go up to 3 euro, cups start at 1.30 euro and go up to 6 euros for a massive cup). My favourite flavours were pistachio (pistacchio) and coconut (cocco), whilst R was a huge fan of the lemon (limone).

The other gelateria which we found ourselves going back to was Perche No!. It took us a while to find this gelateria, much to our initial dismay. Imagine how silly we felt when we finally found it on a street that we’d walked by countless times! It’s true that you never notice something unless you’re actually looking out for it. Anyway.

My favourite flavour here was the sesame (fiordilatte miele e sesamo)the one on the far right in the photo above. As I enjoyed this so much, I was delighted to find that they had a brief description of each of the flavours on their website. Turns out that the sesame gelato is made from mozzarella, sesame caramel and Mugello chesnut honey. Mozzarella! I definitely didn’t even think that it contained cheese of any sort – perhaps this explains why I enjoyed it as much as I did (I looove cheese you see). This was a perfect combination though, and the crunchy bits of sesame caramel went really well with the creamy gelato.

In between all the gelato eating, we also managed to find the time to eat some sandwiches. Even before I set off on the plane, I had two such places highlighted on my list of “places to eat in”.

Da Nerbone is situated in the Mercato Centrale, which is Florence’s food market. They only open for lunch, and are famed for serving excellent Fiorentine “cucina povera” (poor people’s food). From what I could gather, the menu consisted a few pasta dishes, some soups and sandwiches. The sandwiches are the main event here though. There was a huge crowd of both locals and tourists each time we walked past the stall, which is always something I use to judge how good the food is. Food is also cheap, you’ll probably spend only 5-8 euros per person when eating here.

The tripe sandwich (trippa alla fiorentina). Tripe is basically parts of the stomach of the animal (usually a cow), and is very popular in this part of Italy. Now, I have an admission to make: I don’t like eating offal of any sort. It’s not that I find it disgusting, but I just don’t like the texture of it. But I’d heard so much about this sandwich that I knew I had to try it. And I managed to eat it all – so that in itself tells you that it must have been a darn good sandwich. The tripe was cooked well and was beautifully tender. Topped with the green sauce (which contained some parsley amongst a lot of other ingredients, I bet) – yum. One thing to note here is that the bread used is not of the soft variety, and is slightly hard. I suspect this is so the bread can soak up all the wonderful juices of the tripe. I’m not complaining though, as I wouldn’t want my sandwich to turn soggy and fall apart in my hands!

The other sandwich that’s highly popular is the panino con bollito – a boiled beef sandwich that’s bagnato (dipped in the meat juices). Pure genius, this is. I love that the bread is dipped in the meat juices before the sandwich is put together, as it makes for a very juicy and flavoursome sandwich. The beef was again beautifully tender, and was topped with their familiar green sauce. If I must be honest, I preferred this – it didn’t taste as “slimy”. I’d still quite happily eat either though!

The other popular sandwich place is Il Fratellini. It’s known as “the hole in the wall” because that’s what it is – a tiny stall in what looks like a hollowed out wall. No seating is available, but customers are more than happy to eat on the sidewalks. The menu is on two boards next to the counter, and they have approximately 30 variants on the menu. With most of the sandwiches only costing 2.50 euro, this place is great for a quick lunch or snack. In fact, we bought some sandwiches for our last dinner in Florence – we had a plane to catch in the evening and didn’t have time for a proper sit down dinner, so we packed the sandwiches and ate them when we got to the airport.

Ham and truffle cream. The beautiful aroma of the truffle cream hits you the moment you lift this towards your mouth, and goes beautifully well with the salty ham.

Wildboar salami with butter. If you look closely, you’ll note that the butter is served in beautiful thick chunks here. Utter perfection (as this is how I eat freshly baked bread – with similarly thick chunks of butter). The wildboar salami tastes meatier compared to normal salami, and makes me wish wildboar was something that was more available in London.

Ham and parsley sauce. This was good, but nowhere close to the deliciousness of the truffle cream version.

For such a small place, they also have a rather impressive selection of wines. Again, these are very reasonably priced.

So that rounds up most of the food I ate in Florence. (See here for part 1 and part 2.) Writing this post makes me yearn for the food, and for that reason I’m sure it won’t be long before I visit again.

Some addresses:

Gelateria La Carraia
Piazza N. Sauro 25/r
50124 Firenze

Perche No!
Via Tavolini 19r
50122 Firenze

Da Nerbone
Mercato Centrale (Stall no. 292)
50123 Firenze

Il Fratellini
Via dei Cimatori 38/r
50122 Firenze

I know this post is fast becoming one that is too long, but I wanted to share some photos I took during my trip. No more words, I’ll let the photos do the talking. :)

The food of Florence [Part 2]

It has been very warm in London lately, and the sun has brought back many fond memories of my recent trip to Florence. In an ideal world, I’d jump on a plane and fly out to Florence again (because it has truly won its place as one of my favourite holiday destinations)… but for now I’ll just have to be content with looking back at photos and reminiscing.

As I mentioned previously, the only part of the trip I planned (besides where we would stay, of course) was the food. I actually had a list of restaurants tucked in my handbag, which I constantly referred to in the time we were there. One of the places that was high up on that list was Osteria I’Tozzo di Pane. I read many good reviews about this cozy little Italian tavern, tucked away in a quiet street away from the bustling tourist spots. It took a while to find it, but boy am I glad we did. The food was simple, but oh so good. And to top it all off, they had the most beautiful outdoor dining area – if only we had similar places in London! I can’t think of how to describe the area, so I’ll let a photo do the talking.

Isn’t that just so beautiful? We dined at an odd time, so the restaurant was almost empty. From what I hear, it gets really busy during dinner service – and I can imagine why! We dined there twice, but both times were during lunch so we never got to see the outdoor dining area by night.

I was happily snapping photos of my surroundings whilst waiting for the food to arrive…

Carpaccio di bresaola con rucola, scaglie di grana e limone (very typical salami beef with salad and cheese).  So simple, yet so good. The beef carpaccio was seasoned to perfection, and complemented the bitter rocket leaves well. The cheese was just icing on the cake, because what dish doesn’t taste good with cheese? (Please note that I am an utter cheese fanatic though – when I was younger, I used to throw cubes of cheddar cheese into Chinese style soup because err.. well, I liked the meltiness of it. My mum thought I was completely bonkers by the way, so I won’t be surprised if you are appalled by this.)

Salsiccia di cinghiale con carciofi marinati e mozzarella di bufala (wildboar sausage with artichoke and buffalo mozzarella). I was on a slight artichoke-mad phase whilst in Florence, and would inevitably be attracted by any dish that had artichokes in it. Based on the deliciousness of the wildboar ragu at Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco, I decided to order this and I was very happy with my choice. I sometimes find it amazing how simple ingredients can taste so good, because this was what it was. The meatiness of the wildboar, woodiness of the artichoke, the freshness of the buffalo mozzarella and the sweetness of the tomato slices went really well together, and I truly enjoyed this dish.

Carpaccio di carciofi con scaglie di pecorino e limone (artichoke carpaccio with pecorino cheese and lemon). More artichokes, yes. I’m unstoppable when I’m on a food craze. Also, artichokes are rarely used as the star of the dish in London, and it was really nice to see it being featured so heavily in Florence. This was very good, and the artichoke carpaccio was perfectly seasoned. I suspect meat lovers may feel that the dish is lacking ‘meat’ though.

Orecchiette con salsiccia, cavolo nero e semi di finocchietto (pasta with pork sausage, black cabbage and fennel seeds). I absolutely LOVED this dish. I’d never even heard of black cabbage (also known as black kale/Tuscan kale) before eating this dish, and I’m so glad I now know that it exists. I felt that the addition of the fennel seeds elevated the pasta sauce to something really special. I was planning to order it again when we returned two days later…. but alas, they didn’t have it on the menu! (The menu had changed ever so slightly… it’s good though as it probably means the food they cook is dependent on the produce that is available on the day.)

Garganelli di pasta fresca con zucchine spek e zafferano (fresh pasta with smoked ham, zucchini and saffron). Now, we’ve all cooked a ham and zucchini/courgette pasta at some point. But I’Tozzo goes one step further and adds saffron. And my oh my it does it work well. This was a perfect example of how Italians manage to keep their pastas simple but so wonderfully delicious.

Spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams). Again a wonderful example of how you don’t need many ingredients to create a stunning dish. I always find it hard to plate pasta/noodles, as mine inevitably ends up looking really un-artistic and ugly. I can only look at the wonderful pasta and noodle photos in Donna Hay magazine and hope that one day, I will learn how to plate noodles properly. Anyway, I digress. I meant to say that I loved how this was plated, and the sprinkling of chopped parsley added more colour and vibrancy to the dish. No paramesan with this dish: our waiter pleaded “please don’t use parmesan, pleeease” when he brought this to the table. Heh.

Filetto di maiale all’aceto balsamico (balsamic vinegar pork fillet). I daresay this was R’s favourite dish in I’Tozzo, as he ordered it on both visits. It doesn’t look like much, but it definitely delivers on taste. The pork fillet was beautifully tender and each bite gives you a huge hit of balsamic vinegar. I enjoyed this, but not as much as R – but that’s because I have very sensitive teeth that don’t do very well with acidic foods like vinegar. Having said that I did eat a fair bit of this… as much as R would allow me to anyway!

Straccetti di manzo al vino rosso e finocchietto (beef in red wine with fennel seeds). This was good, but not as good as all the other dishes that we tried here. The beef chunks, whilst perfectly seasoned, were ever so slightly tough – which made me not as fond of it as I could potentially have been.

Panna cotta with a chocolate sauce. Now, compared to the panna cotta at Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco, this was much much creamier. I could literally feel the pounds piling on as I ate this. Not that it stopped me from finishing it, of course. My only gripe about this was that the chocolate sauce wasn’t thick enough.. perhaps an attempt to not make the dessert too cloying? If I could, I’d eat the panna cotta from I’Tozzo with the chocolate sauce from Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco. If only.

So yes. This is just a glimpse of the wonderful dishes at this cozy and friendly osteria. I daresay we experienced the friendliest and most helpful service here – our waiter (whose name I forgot to ask for!) was the most cheerful waiter I have EVER come across, and was constantly humming/singing. It also helps that he recommended an excellent gelato shop to us, and even marked it on my map! (I shall blog about gelato in a future post.)

Delicious food and excellent service. Could a girl want any more?

Osteria I’Tozzo di Pane
Via Guelfa 94/r
50129 Firenze
http://www.osteriatozzodipane.it/en_home.html

The food of Florence [part 1]

My attitude towards food has changed in the last few years. I used to be the sort of person who would ‘wing’ it when it came to meals whilst on holiday. Then there’s the me of today, who researches the food before anything else when it comes to holidays… and you know what, I’ve eaten better since I started doing this. I mean, trawling through restaurant reviews and making a shortlist of restaurants has to have some sort of benefit, right? :D

We truly indulged in food (and gelato) whilst in Florence. Don’t ask me what it was, but we were eating twice the amount we normally do in London. I don’t regret a single bite of it though, and would go back and do it all again. (Except if I did I might no longer fit into my clothes….)

If you’re not familiar with Italian dining, the menu is often broken down into a few parts… First of all you have the antipasti (which translates into “before meal”), which is usually a selection of cold items like cured meats. Then you have the primi piatti (first course) which consists of dishes like pasta, polenta or soups; as well as the secondi piatti (second course) of meat or fish. Lastly there’s the dolce (desserts). From what I understand, not everyone has all 4 courses… because let’s face it, that is a whole lot of food to eat. When we were there, we ate 3 courses at the most.

Here’s a peek of the deliciousness that was Florence…

Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco

I’d read good things about this osteria, and immediately put it on my ‘to eat’ list after I visited their website. What can I say, I’m a complete sucker for well constructed websites with good photos. I wasn’t dissapointed though, so maybe this whole ‘judging a book by its cover’ thing works at times…

Photos (unfortunately) have a yellowish tinge to them due to the lighting… *sniff* Food was amazing though, so look past the yellow-ness! :)

Taglierini al tartufo (taglierini with fresh truffle) – this dish was simplicity at it’s best. Being someone who had never tried truffles before (I know, shocking) I instantly fell in love. The strong nutty flavours of the truffle complemented the perfectly cooked taglierini very well, and I only wish I could have regular access to this dish in London.

Pappardelle al cinghiale (wide ribbon noodles with boar sauce) – by far, one of the best ragus I’ve ever tasted. I suspect it’s because it used wild boar meat for the sauce, which gave it a very hearty and “meaty” taste. If only I had easy access to wild boar meat!

Coniglio arrosto con patate (roast rabbit with potatoes) – It’s always nice to see rabbit on the menu, and we decided to have this as one of our main courses. I don’t know about you, but I find that rabbit tastes very similar to chicken – but with a slightly game-ier aspect to it. If that makes any sense.

Maialino arrosto con contorno (roast baby pig with roast potatoes) – I’m a sucker for pork, especially when it’s cooked well. This dish was cooked perfectly, and the meat was deliciously tender. Accompanied with the roast potatoes and gravy, I was in heaven. :)

Panna cotta with chocolate sauce - Now I must be honest, I was completely stuffed by the time it came to contemplate dessert. But I had spied the neighbouring table order some dessert and willed my stomach to make some space for something sweet. Mind over matter and all, you know. ;) Boy was I glad I did. This panna cotta was perfect. Creamy, gooey, and with just the right amount of wobble. The chocolate sauce that came with it was rich and not overly sweet, and was a perfect pairing to the panna cotta. I could eat this everyday.

Tiramisu – this didn’t look like very much when it was brought to the table, but I must admit it did taste good. The sweet mascarpone cream, liqueur soaked sponge and coffee flavour… all done to perfection. I still preferred the panna cotta though, and I suspect it’s because I was enthralled by it’s wobbliness. :D

Il Santo Bevitore

We turned up (without a reservation) at this very popular restaurant around 8pm, and was told that there were only 2 tables left, but they were located near the kitchen. I like having a nice atmosphere when dining, but in this instance the need to try out this highly rated restaurant overrode the need for not seeing waiters rushing in and out of the kitchen. And you know what, I barely noticed them. One thing I really did not like about this place was how DARK it was! Sure, it was romantic and all but it was a nightmare for any food blogger. All I had for lighting was literally the candle on the table (oh and some really dim lights on the ceiling)… I wanted to weep. I still managed to take photos though, but please forgive the poor quality!

Also, I forgot to note down the exact names of the dishes so I’ll be describing them based on what I remembered of the waiter’s explanations…

Spaghettini with clams, fresh spring onions and botargo fish roe. I expected the usual spherical fish roe, and was very surprised when this dish came to the table – my first thought was “where is my fish roe?”. Then I realised that the shaved orange pieces on sitting upon the mound of pasta were the roe.. and you know what, they tasted really good. A bit like a very fishy version of proscuitto. I’ve since done a spot of googling and found out that botargo is a Mediterranean delicacy of cured fish roe, usually served grated or in thin slices. The fresh spring onions were an interesting addition, and gave a ‘fresh’ taste that cut through the fishiness of the roe and the clams. I really enjoyed this dish.

Pasta with a duck ragu, topped with a deep fried sage leaf. I love duck (roast duck rice is truly one of my comfort foods), but have never ever had it with pasta. This dish was a revelation – I mean, duck in pasta? Genius. I might just have to attempt recreating this at home.

Artichoke souffle topped with fried artichokes, served with a lemon sauce. Now, I really wanted to try this because I looove souffles. I was expecting some really nice puffy souffle, and was really disappointed when this was served. It tasted more like a mousse than a souffle. I have to admit that I enjoyed the flavour of artichokes in this, but I wish I had forgone this dish to make space for dessert – what was I thinking? Sniff.

Grilled octopus served with romano chicory and citrus glaze. I can safely say all my previous experiences of eating octopus has not involved eating a beast as big as this. It was beautifully cooked with no hint of rubbery (I hate it when that happens)… glorious. Admittedly I wasn’t a fan of the chicory, but that’s because I don’t like anything that’s bitter. Errr so I just ate the octopus. R had to eat most of the chicory. :P

Cod fillet with caramelised aubergines and juniper berries. This dish was SO pretty. As I have mentioned, I’m a complete sucker for anything that is plated beautifully, and this dish was one of those. The cod was perfectly cooked, and I especially enjoyed the crust – not sure what it was… possibly some semolina? No idea. The caramelised aubergines were divine, with just the right amount of charring on them. All that paired with the mild sweetness of the juniper berries made for a very good dish.

Trattoria Sant’Agostino 23

This was located slightly off the main areas of Florence, in a ‘not so touristy’ area. We turned up quite early (it was just after seven I believe) and were told they only opened at eight! So it was off for another wander around the streets of Florence until 8 o’clock came about. The menu was in Italian (no English menus here) so we had to ask our waiter for help when it came to ordering. The food here was lovely but something was lacking… maybe it was the fact that the restaurant was really empty (it was a Wednesday night), or the fact that they forgot to bring the white beans that we ordered to go with our steak. But as I said, the food was good so it didn’t matter as much.

Spaghettone in salsa d’acciuga (spaghetti with an anchovy sauce). The menu stated that this would take 18 minutes to prepare, but we weren’t too fussed as we weren’t in a rush. I’m also a huge fan of anchovies and wasn’t going to pass up a chance to try this. And I’m so glad I did. I don’t know how they did it, but the pasta was miraculously not salty at all. I’m still trying to figure it out, because I would love to recreate this in my own kitchen.

Mille righe al sugo di carne (penne with a ragu sauce). This was good, but not as good as the wild boar ragu we had at Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco. I know it’s not really fair to compare wildboar and beef, but oh man, wildboar ragu is awesome.

Bifstecca alla fiorentina (Florentine steak). One word – yum. We eat our steaks medium rare, and they cooked it perfectly. Not too underdone, and not too overdone. The meat was also beautifully tender, not something I can always say about steaks. Now, I won’t lie – I have almost no knowledge of steaks (apart from how to eat them), so I decided to do a spot of googling. It’s actually rather scary how I rely so heavily on google… Anyway. Florentine steak is essentially a T-bone or porterhouse steak (taken from the loins), usually from Chianina or Maremmana breeds. It’s usually cooked rare or medium rare over a grill/charcoal fire, and served with a side of white beans. We ordered some beans to go with the steak, but it never came. You might ask why we didn’t ask for it, but the waiters were no where in sight for the first 5 minutes, and I’m not someone who can refrain from eating food that’s sitting right in front of me. It didn’t take anything away from the gloriousness of the steak though.

So yes, that’s some of the food we ate in Florence. Just so you know, I’ll be blogging about other things in between the Florence posts, as to not bore you all. :)

Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco
Borgo San Jacopo, 62r
50125 Firenze, Italia
+39 055 215706
http://www.cinghialebianco.it/ (for some reason their site seems to be down at the moment…)
Closed Wednesdays

Il Santo Bevitore
Via di Santo Spirito 64 r
50125 Firenze
+39 055 211264
http://www.ilsantobevitore.com/home.htm

And lastly (forgot to take a photo of this one):

Sant’Agostino23
Via Sant’Agostino 23r
50125 Firenze
+39 055 210208

A very belated Easter post

I love Easter for many reasons. Not only does it give me an excuse to overdose on hot cross buns and easter eggs, but it also tells me that spring (and the sun) is just around the corner. I had great plans for this Easter weekend, which included making mini chocolate easter eggs, jellies in eggshells (which my aunt used to make and I found so cool) and hot cross buns. Alas, my plans were not to be as I was rather unfortunately working over Easter – which I was highly upset about, naturally!

I did, however, manage to find some time to bake some hot cross buns. A few years ago, I would have scoffed at the idea of baking hot cross buns, especially when there are such amazing ones available at Marks & Spencer (especially the luxury ones, oh my) and Waitrose. Of course, this was when I thought baking bread was too difficult and required too much work. But as I become more obsessed with food *cough* I do feel the need to recreate the food I like in my own kitchen.

I used this recipe from Wild Yeast for these hot cross buns. What I liked about this recipe was that it uses a mix of plain and wholemeal/wholewheat flour, which adds that “healthier” edge to the buns. Do be forewarned though – I commonly throw in one healthy ingredient into my meals and declare it good for myself, even when it’s so blatantly not the case. Another thing I found interesting was how it used a sponge dough method – I previously made some buns (Rotiboy buns for you Malaysians out there who know what these are) with this method, and they turned out to be the softest, fluffiest buns I had ever made.

And these buns didn’t disappoint. They were best eaten warm, fresh out of the oven, and were really soft and light. I cut down on the amount on sugar used, and also only used raisins (as I didn’t have anything else to hand) so these were not as sweet as the hot cross buns you normally get in stores. I did feel that my hot cross buns lacked some dried fruit though – the next time I make them, I will use a mixture of sultanas, raisins and currants. And I will use a LOT of it! (p.s. I don’t use orange peel as I’m not a huge fan of orange in bread)

I must admit to having a mini-disaster when trying to pipe the crosses onto the buns. I didn’t have a suitable tip for piping them, which I rather helpfully discovered only after I was left with ridiculously thick crosses onto the buns. This was unacceptable to the OCD in me, so I scraped that off and started pacing the kitchen (whilst eating some chocolate to stimulate my brain) for an alternative way to pipe these crosses. I considered using a spoon to drizzle it on, but that would result in uneven crosses. And finally I had another idea – to use my squeeze ketchup bottle. And it worked perfectly (thankfully!). Anyway, the moral of the story is: always ensure you have everything you need before trying to cook or bake anything.

And because there were quite a few leftover hot cross buns, R suggested that I try making a hot cross bun bread and butter pudding. I believe it was something he saw Jamie Oliver make on the food channel (the food channel is the source of a lot of inspiration I must admit). As always, we decided on this on a whim, which also meant we didn’t have a lot of ingredients to hand. So, I guiltily admit to using a “sort of” custard for the base of this pudding – made from milk, vanilla bean paste and… custard powder. I know, I know. Terrible. Rest assured that it tastes nothing like the real thing, but it still made for a pretty good pudding. I think it would have tasted amazingly good if I had used proper custard though…

Let me also mention to these amazing hot cross buns that popped up on the blogosphere this Easter. How good do those look? Man.

Hot cross buns
Slightly tweaked from this recipe from Wild Yeast

For the sponge dough:

  • 40g bread flour
  • 190g warm milk
  • 10g caster sugar
  • 8g instant yeast

For the final dough:

  • 170g bread flour
  • 170g wholemeal bread flour
  • 60g butter, softened
  • 55g sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3g salt
  • 1 tbsp ground allspice
  • 1/2 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tbsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tbsp ground ginger
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 120g raisins

For the piping paste:

  • 80g plain flour
  • 10g oil
  • 45g water

For the glaze:

  • 3 tbsp hot water
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1/2 tbsp sugar

1. For the sponge, combine milk and yeast in a medium bowl. Whisk in flour and sugar. The mixture will be very liquid. Cover and let rest until it is about 3 times its original volume, 30–40 minutes. (I left it for a good 2 hours as I decided to err… nap.)
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer with paddle, mix final dough flour, whole wheat flour, and softened butter until the butter is evenly distributed through the flour.
3. Add egg, sugar, spices, and salt. Continue to mix until combined. The mixture will be quite dry at this point.
4. Replace the mixer paddle with the dough hook. Add the sponge and start mixing in low speed. Add water as needed to make a very soft dough and mix until well combined, about 3 minutes. It is almost more like a cookie dough at this point, and will not come together yet.
5. Mix in medium speed, occasionally scraping the dough down the sides of the bowl. Continue to mix until the dough starts to leave the sides and come together around the dough hook. This may take about 8 minutes, but will varies depending on the mixer.
6. Add the currants and orange and lemon peels. Mix in low speed just until they are evenly distributed through the dough.
7. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled, covered container. Ferment in a warm place for 1 hour.
8. Turn the dough onto an unfloured counter and divide it into 12 pieces (about 70g each).
9. Lightly punch each piece of dough and tuck the edges under to form a loose ball. To tighten the ball, place it on the counter with your cupped hand loosely around it, and move your hand in a tight circle several times.
10. Place the balls on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Press them lightly with your palm to flatten them a bit.
12. Cover and proof in a warm place for about an hour.
13. While the buns proof, make the glaze. Combine the sugar, hot water and honey. Mix well.
14. Now make the piping paste. Sift the flour and combine it with the vegetable oil. Slowly add water, stirring well after each addition, until the mixture reaches the consistency of very thick glue. Don’t make it so thin that it runs, but if it is too thick it will be difficult to pipe.
15. Preheat the oven to 190°C.
16. When the buns are finished proofing, pipe the crosses onto them using a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4 inch round tip. (Or in my case, by using a squeeze ketchup bottle)
17. Bake the buns until the tops of the buns brown (this took about 10 minutes in my oven). To check that the buns are cooked, tap the bottom of the buns – they should sound hollow.
18. Brush a light coating of glaze on the hot buns, and serve.

As I mentioned earlier, I did not use a proper recipe for the hot cross bun bread and butter pudding. I made some (instant) custard, added some vanilla bean paste, soaked the (buttered) buns in this mixture, and baked for about 20 mins at 180°C. For a better, more coherent recipe, do check out this recipe from Jamie Oliver, which I will be using in the future.