Hot cross buns

I’ve realised recently that for someone who bakes a fair amount of bread/buns, I haven’t written many blog posts about them. In fact, I found some photos of sausage buns which I took TWO YEARS ago… still waiting to be blogged. (And I’ve made them at least 5 times since the photos were taken!). I suspect that a lot of the time I’m too lazy to take proper photos of the bread/buns, and just tweet a photo of it.

So when I made these hot cross buns over the weekend, I thought it would be a good excuse to break the ‘haven’t blogged much about bread’ habit. When taking the photos of these, I realised that I haven’t taken proper photos of my food in a very long time…. I blame Instagram! So much easier to just take a photo of the meal on the stove. No need for any fancy stuff. And this is coming from someone who doesn’t even style her photos very much – I truly have great respect and admiration for all the bloggers out there who take so much time and effort to style their food/photos.

But I digress. As usual.

I tweaked my recipe for Asian buns to make these sausage buns, primarily I am a firm believer in the ‘sponge + dough’ method when it comes to baking bread. It truly produces bread that stays soft for days, without the need for things like bread improvers. There is also the ‘tangzhong’ method of making bread, which involves cooking flour + water for the ‘starter’ (equivalent to the ‘sponge’), and also produces lasting, soft bread.

R isn’t a huge fan of raisins & sultanas, so I decided to make these with dried cranberries and dried apples. But truth be told, you can use any dried fruit you want – I think it is important that you enjoy what you eat, no point a hot cross bun being ‘authentic’ if you don’t like something in it. I felt like I didn’t add enough fruit into the buns, so will have to up the amount next time. (I’ve done this in the recipe below.)

I also decided to make them in two forms: 1) ‘pull apart’ form, baked in a 8″ cake tin 2) individual buns. Although the individual buns turned out prettier, I think I prefer the ‘pull apart’ ones as they look more homemade. 🙂

Speaking of homemade, my attempt at piping the crosses is so laughable. :/ I was too lazy to get a piping bag (Can make bread but noooo am too lazy to use piping bag. Sigh.) so used a ziplock bag… which unfortunately had a gusset, which meant I ended up with a massive gaping hole when I snipped off the edge of the bag, leading thicker crosses than I originally planned. Note to self: laziness never pays.

Hot cross buns
Makes approx 13-14 buns (I had 9 ‘pull apart’ buns, and 4 individual buns)

For the sponge dough:

  • 300g bread flour
  • 7g instant yeast
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 180-200g water (I use cold water from the tap)
  • 3g salt

For the main dough:

  • 125g bread flour
  • 30g soy bran (optional – replace with wheatgerm/bread flour)
  • 20g milk powder
  • 7g instant yeast
  • 30g sugar
  • 6g salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp allspice
  • 1/2 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 60g unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup dried apples*
  • 1.5 cups dried cranberries*

For piping paste:

  • 1/3 cup plain flour
  • 1/4 cup water

To glaze:

  • Apricot jam
  • 2 tbsp boiling water

Making the sponge dough:
1. Mix the bread flour, instant yeast and sugar in the bowl of your stand mixer, and mix with the dough hook attachment. If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can do this with a spatula.
2. Pour in the water slowly whilst mixing the ingredients together – the aim is to get a dough that is firm and dry to the touch. It should form a nice round ball. (You’ll find that you need more water when it’s cold, less when it’s humid.)
3. Add the salt, then continue to mix with the dough hook attachment for approximately 10 minutes.
4. Leave the sponge dough in a well oiled bowl in the refrigerator for 12 hours. (I usually make the sponge the night before, and leave it in the fridge overnight.)

Mixing the sponge dough with the main dough component:
5. When the sponge dough is ready, place it into the bowl of your stand mixer.
6. Add in the bread flour, soy bran, milk powder, instant yeast, sugar, and eggs. Mix on low speed (using the dough hook) for 2-3 minutes.
7. Increase the speed of the mixer to medium, add in the salt, allspice, ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg & ground ginger, and continue mixing for 5 minutes.
8. Add the softened butter, dried cranberries & dried apples and continue to mix for 7-10 minutes until the dough is fully developed. (You should be able to get a nice thin “windowpane” membrane when stretching the dough between your fingers.)
9. Form the dough into a ball and leave to rest for 10-15 minutes.
10. Divide the dough into portions of approximately 80g each, form into little rounds, and place on lightly oiled baking tray. (You can either make them as individual buns, or place them close together in a square/round cake tin to form ‘pull apart’ hot cross buns.)
11. Leave to rise for 1 hour, or until dough has doubled in size.
12. Once the buns have risen, prepare the piping paste by mixing the flour and water together, till the form a thick smooth paste. Add more flour/water if you feel the paste is too runny/thick (I find that it’s rather variable!) Place mix into a piping bag, and pipe crosses on the buns.
13. Bake in 190’C oven for 10-12 minutes, until the buns turn golden brown.
14. Whilst the buns are still warm, glaze with the apricot jam + boiling water mix.
15. Eat!

* Replace with fruit of your choice

I hope everyone is having a lovely Easter weekend! 🙂

A very chocolate-y Easter!

I can’t believe it’s almost April already. Where has all that time gone? Three whole months of 2012 have just whizzed by. Before I know it, it’s going to be Christmas… eeep.

That said, there are a few things I love about April. One of which, is of course how it means that summer (and all the wonderful berries that come with it) is just around the corner. The other is rather interestingly… Easter! Again I suspect this is because it’s not a huge thing back home in Malaysia, as opposed to over here in London where you see Easter eggs being sold from February onwards.

Those of you who have been reading the blog know that I’m a fan of Hotel Chocolat and their beautiful range of chocolates – festive themed, or not.

Their chocolate range gets more impressive each year, and I always look forward to seeing what new twists they come up with. This year’s Easter selection is the best one I’ve seen yet, with a few things I don’t remember seeing last year. I am particularly amused by the chocolate hot cross buns (pictured above)… they’re SOOOO cute! This is one of the things I don’t remember seeing last year (my memory is horrendous though), but I’d definitely say it’s a keeper.

Hotel Chocolat are also known for their extra thick Easter eggs, which boast luxuriously thick chocolate shells (thicker than your average Easter egg). I always say there is no such thing as too much chocolate, and it’s as if they read my mind! 😉

Because I’ve not tried any of their dark chocolate ranges before, I thought it would be nice to try their Serious Dark Fix Easter Egg. The giant egg comes in a lovely keepsake box – I love food that comes in containers/boxes that I can keep and reuse, and this is an example of that. I have been known to buy biscuits and jams just so I can have the tins/jars that they come in…

There’s also a surprise collection of chocolates hidden within the egg, and happily they’ve included one of my favourite chocolate flavour combinations: salted dark caramels. The raspberry liqueur truffles come a close second. The other flavours include: chilli pralines, black cherry truffles, espresso truffles, and rum truffles. If you haven’t already noticed, all the truffles/mini chocolates are from Hotel Chocolat’s dark chocolate range – thus the name ‘Dark Fix’. (And on a side note, I must say I love the Union Jack shaped chilli praline!)

I know I normally hold a giveaway alongside a review, but I’ve been extremely busy with work and as such have left it a little late to photograph & write the post… so there unfortunately won’t be one this time around as it’s already so close to Easter. Apologies!

But anyhow, if you’re looking for an Easter Egg to knock the socks off a child, significant other, or best friend – look no further! (I wouldn’t give the dark chocolate egg to a child though, the milk one will probably go down a lot better).

Have a very chocolate-y Easter! (I know I will) 😀

* I received a Extra Dark Fix Extra Thick Easter Egg from Hotel Chocolat, but all the views expressed are my own. Non-watermarked photos are courtesy of Hotel Chocolat.

Of spring, Easter eggs and yellow daisies

I’ve always been intrigued by decorated cookies, especially ones which are intricately decorated in the most beautiful designs imaginable. However, I never attempted them as I felt they would be 1) too sweet, and 2) too much work.

But sometimes, curiosity makes you do things you thought you wouldn’t do…

In celebration of the oh-so-lovely weather, I decided to try making some decorated cookies last weekend. As Easter was fast approaching, I thought it would be fun to make Easter egg shaped ones. And so I did.

My initial plan was to make a whole range of Easter egg designs… in a number of colours. But, I changed my plans very swiftly when I realised that I had about 80-90 cookies to decorate. I kid you not when I tell you that piping decorations on anything more than 40 cookies will take a toll on your shoulder muscles. My shoulders were aching the day after I made these, and it made me have total respect for professionals who do this on a daily basis – they must have arms (and shoulders) of steel!

Having said this, I still had a complete blast making these, and will definitely be making more in the near future.  Whilst I was pleased with how these turned out, I wasn’t altogether satisfied with the royal icing recipe and my rather amateur-ish designs. All the more reason to make some more very soon! One thing I will do next time around is to make less cookies so I can focus more attention on the actual decorating!

Oh, and I also made some yellow daisies, because flowers and the colour yellow are totally what spring is all about anyway. 😉

Happy Easter, everyone!

Sugar cookies
Adapted from this recipe on All Recipes

  • 340g butter, softened
  • 1 cup caster sugar*
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp almond extract
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 4 1/2 cups plain flour, plus more for rolling

1. Sift the baking powder, flour and salt. Set aside.
2. Beat the butter and sugar in a large bowl, until it becomes pale and creamy. I used my stand mixer and the paddle attachment. You can just as easily use a handheld mixer, or even a wooden spoon if you have strong arms!
3. Add in the eggs one at a time, mixing after the addition of each egg.
4. Add the vanilla extract and almond extract, and beat until just combined.
5. Add the dry ingredients to the butter/sugar mixture, and mix until well combined. Cover with clingfilm, and chill the dough in the fridge for at least an hour. (I chilled my dough overnight.)
6. On a floured surface, roll out the chilled dough to a thickness of your liking (usually between 0.25-0.5 inches). I suggest working with a small proportion of dough each time – I divided mine up into four batches to ensure the dough was always nice and chilled.
7. Cut the dough with the cookie cutters of your choice, and place them 1 inch apart on parchment lined baking trays.
8. Bake the cookies in a oven preheated to 190’C for 6-8 minutes, until slightly golden around the edges. Leave to cool completely before decorating.

* To ensure the resulting cookie wouldn’t end up too sweet, I reduced the amount of sugar used to 1 cup (from 2). I’m glad I did, as I felt that the cookies would have been waaaay too sweet otherwise, especially when paired with the icing. Do feel free to use more sugar though.

Hotel Chocolat Easter Egg giveaway!

***Giveaway has ENDED***

It’s been a while since I last blogged – but work (and play) got in the way. My current job is ridiculously busy, and I usually come home and end up falling asleep on the sofa due to pure exhaustion. There is one good thing about the busy work rota though… the random weeks off we have. And last week, I took advantage of one of these breaks and visited New York for the first time! We had an amazing time, and I ate so much food that I’m sure I gained a fair amount of weight when I was there. But hey, that’s what holidays are for.

I’ll definitely be writing about my New York trip, so stay tuned for those posts. But in the meantime, it’s time for a giveaway! Consider it an apology for the long silence on the blog. 🙂

Easter eggs have always been something of a fascination for me. I suspect it’s because Easter is not a big thing in Malaysia, and you don’t see the abundance of chocolate Easter eggs that you see here in England. There’s just something about biting into a steroid-supersized chocolate egg that appeals to me. Especially when they’re filled with even MORE chocolates. Ahem.

If you’re an Easter egg enthusiast like myself, you’ll love the Hotel Chocolat range of Easter chocolates. From chocolate chicks to egg “sandwiches” – they’ve got it. But of course, they also have the more traditional Easter eggs… with their own twist. A few of their eggs are “extra thick“, which means you get MORE chocolate per bite of egg. How perfect is that?

The Eggsibitionist is one of these extra thick eggs, which is beautifully presented in a white/gold/black box that is simply a treat for the eyes. I’m a complete sucker for well presented food (and rarely buy cookbooks that don’t have pretty accompanying photos to go with the recipes), so Hotel Chocolat appeals to this side of me very well indeed.

But of course, it’s the actual egg itself that counts. Made from 40% chocolate, The Eggsibitionist is not too sweet, yet not too bitter. (I enjoy both milk and dark chocolate, and find that a 40%-70% cocoa content is my happy medium.) The extra thickness of the egg means that you need to employ a little more force when breaking up the egg into bite size pieces, but to be honest, that’s not going to stop anyone from scoffing this down.

The large egg is filled with chocolate mini eggs filled with ultra smooth pralines and meltingly soft centres, all with it’s own individual design. You can take your pick from the Chocolate Brownie Egg (milk chocolate with hazelnut praline and cocoa crispies), the Mousse au Chocolat Egg (silky soft dark chocolate ganache with a 70% dark shell), the Milk Praline Egg (hazelnut praline in a 40% milk chocolate shell), the Vanilla Custard Egg (soft and custardy vanilla ganache in a milk chocolate shell), the Strawberry Egg (refreshing and tangy strawberry ganache in a creamy white shell) or my favourite – the Caramel Egg (soft liquid caramel in a 50% milk chcocolate shell). Nothing like some liquid caramel and chocolate to make my day. 😉

To win yourself a Hotel Chocolat Eggsibitionist, just answer this very simple question:

Are you a milk, dark or white chocolate fan? Or do you just like them all? I want to know!

For bonus entries:

  • Tweet about this giveaway, and leave a comment below so I know you have done this: I just entered the @breadetbutter giveaway to win a Hotel Chocolat Eggsibitionist Easter Egg! #giveaway
  • Like Hotel Chocolat on Facebook, and leave a comment below telling me you have done this. If you already “like” them, let me know and you will still get an extra entry.

And for a little something extra – some of you may be interested in the Hotel Chocolat Easter Competition, where they are giving away a “Be Pampered Chocolate Hamper” to the person who comes up with the best name for their newest Easter Egg. There are also runner up goody bags for grabs.

This giveaway is open to all residents of UK, Europe and USA. Giveaway ends Wednesday 6th April 2011 at 23:59 BST. A winner will be chosen at random, and once he/she confirms their address, the Eggsibitionist will be sent out to them. If the winner fails to confirm their address within 24 hours, another winner will be chosen.

***Giveaway has now ENDED! Congratulations to Romana, the winner of the Eggsibitionist Easter Egg!***

Good luck!

*non-watermarked photo courtesy of Hotel Chocolat

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.