Of Easter eggs and buns

Hot Cross Buns

Every Easter, for quite a few years now, I’ve been trying out different hot cross bun recipes. It’s not something I intentionally set out to do, but all the same has turned into a delicious, much-anticipated annual experiment. One that rarely results in any duds and instead quite often uncovers a few gems.

Since I also happen to have the luxury of time this year, I decided to try my hand at decorating Easter eggs. For this, a batch of eggs were dyed with food scraps (pictured above) and the remainder were covered with patterns using a neat trick as seen here.

Of the two techniques, using food scraps to obtain natural dyes was the most interesting, especially for a big kid like myself. The eggs were boiled until just cooked, cooled, then left to soak for several hours in jars of various dyes. The unpredictable nature in which the colour would form and be absorbed into the shell meant that the pattern on every egg you scooped out of the dye bath, was always a surprise. So far the best colours have been extracted from the use of boiled onion skins (orange brown), red cabbage leaves (shades of blue and purple) and turmeric (bright yellow).

Once you’re done admiring them though, you’re then left with the task of eating eggs for the remainder of the week – an idea rendered somewhat more palatable by having started with good quality, organic, free-range eggs, and the fact that the eggs weren’t boiled to the point of dry and greying yolks. We had yellow tinted eggs with a noodle salad for dinner last night. Very delicious.

But back to the buns. This year I’ve tried a recipe using an Asian bread baking method that incorporates a water roux also known as Tangzhong, into the dough. The roux supposedly helps retain moisture in the dough, resulting in a fluffy baked product that also doesn’t dry out as quickly. Two dozen very consistent, great tasting batches later and I think this just might be the recipe that puts an end to my hot cross bun baking experiments for good.

Of course, if there was some way to logically incorporate boiled eggs and baked buns into more of our meals, you’d probably find me still experimenting for many years to come.

Hot Cross Buns :
(makes 12; slightly adapted from this recipe)

For the water roux :
25g flour
125g water

For the dough :
350g flour
35g sugar
5g salt
1 egg
125g milk
1 sachet dried yeast
30g soft unsalted butter
100g raisins
20g chopped dark chocolate
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

To decorate : flour paste for crosses and a glaze of your choice (Here I’ve used an Earl Grey tea jelly. Alternatives include : warmed apricot jam, lemon or vanilla-flavoured sugar syrup or a reduced malt/maple syrup)

First make the roux. Whisk the flour and water together in a small pan over medium heat. Cook, whisking at all times, until the mixture thickens. If you’re unsure as to what this is supposed to look like, you can also test the temperature of the thickened mix. It should have reached 65’C. Once it has thickened, scrape the roux into the bowl of your mixer (it should weigh 120g). Place some cling film over the surface of the roux and allow it to cool to room temperature.

When the roux has cooled down, add the egg, milk and sugar to the bowl, followed by the yeast, flour, salt and spices. With the dough hook attached, start mixing the dough until it comes together and looks smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the butter and continue mixing on medium speed for another 2-3 minutes. Mix in the dried fruit and chopped chocolate, then cover the bowl and leave the dough to prove for an hour or until doubled.

Once doubled, divide the dough into 12 pieces (12 x 65g). Roll into balls and arrange them roughly 1.5 inches apart on a lined tray. Cover lightly with greased cling film and allow to prove again for another hour. Meanwhile, make your flour paste (see note below), place it into a piping bag and set aside.

Once the buns have proved, pipe the crosses on the buns and bake them in a preheated 190’C oven for 14 minutes. When they are ready, they should be golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. Remove them from the oven and brush with a glaze of your choice while they are still warm.

[Note : Make a flour paste by mixing 8 tablespoons of flour to roughly 4 tablespoons of water to achieve a pipe-able paste. This is for the crosses on the buns, and is more than you will need, because I find it easier to pipe the crosses evenly when there is a decent amount of mixture in the bag. If you think flour paste crosses taste horrible, you can leave them out and instead pipe a sugar or white chocolate cross on each bun once they are cooled]/strong

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Easter Fare

I told myself that this year was going to be the year I baked more from my bookmarks. So far, it’s been a pretty successful resolution, though I have yet to make the chocolate wine (!) or lychee cake I’ve been eyeing for so long.

After making cookie versions of hot cross buns, I finally found some time to bake the real thing. Since I was in search of a new hot cross bun recipe to try, it was also the perfect opportunity to utilise my bookmarks. I made batches of two different recipes and was very happy with the results from both. B preferred the Baker & Spice recipe because theirs is pretty heavy in fruit and spice. Even though I am all about the fruit and spices in hot cross buns, there’s something about Bron Marshall’s recipe that makes me want to bake it again (maybe with a bit more fruit in it), so for me, hers wins by a whisker.

You can find the recipe for Bron Marshall’s Hot Cross Buns here. However, if Easter buns don’t float your boat, can I suggest something a little different. Something also from my bookmark folder, which is as much about brown sugar and spice (and everything nice) as the buns above.

This lovely cakey version of Lebkuchen comes from Pastry Studio. The original recipe is here, but I’m including my version of the recipe because I made a few changes based on what I had in my kitchen, and also weighed everything so that I would have a record of this recipe metric form for future reference. (Yes, I will be making it again!)

Lebkuchen Cake :
(serves 8; from Pastry Studio)

165g plain flour
45g hazelnuts
45g almonds
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 1/4 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
170g unsalted butter @ room temperature
165g brown sugar
2 eggs @ room temperature
2 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon cognac or brandy [I used Kahlua]
1 1/2 teaspoons candied orange peel, very finely chopped
1 teaspoon candied lemon peel, very finely chopped [I didn’t have candied peel handy, so I used 2 teaspoons candied ginger and 1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest]

Chocolate Glaze :

170g bittersweet chocolate [70% Lindt]
230g thickened cream (35% fat)
1 tablespoon honey

Preheat the oven to 176’C. Brush an 8-inch cake pan with butter and line the bottom with a parchment round. Butter the parchment and dust the bottom and sides with flour.

Place the flour, almonds, hazelnuts, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices in a food processor. Process a couple of minutes until the nuts are very finely ground into the flour. Pour into a bowl.

Beat the butter until smooth. Add the sugar and cream the mixture on medium speed until pale, light and very fluffy, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly before adding the next and scraping down the bowl after each addition. Add the honey, cognac, orange and lemon peel. Using a large rubber spatula, fold in the nut flour by hand in three batches, mixing just enough to moisten and blend. The batter will be quite thick. Scrape into the prepared cake pan and smooth out the top.

Bake in the center of the oven for about 26 – 28 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Run a thin blade knife around the cake to loosen and invert. Flip the cake back over to right side up and cool completely.

To glaze the cake, place the cooled cake on a an 8″ cardboard round or removable tart pan bottom. Return the cake to the cooling rack and place over a baking sheet lined with parchment.

Chop the chocolate into very small pieces and place in a medium bowl.
Bring cream and honey or corn syrup to a boil, stirring to dissolve. Pour over chocolate and let stand a couple of minutes. Whisk slowly and gently starting in the middle and then working outward in concentric circles until completely combined.

Glaze the cake, pouring quickly in the center and around the edges. Tap the baking sheet on the work surface to encourage the glaze to run down the sides if necessary. Just as it begins to dry, run a small spatula around the underside of the cake to smooth the bottom edge and prevent “feet” from forming. Let glaze dry before serving.

(PS: If you are an Australian foodblogger, you might be interested in signing up for the Australian Foodbloggers Group that Reemski has started. Her goal is to create an Australian version of the International Foodbloggers Conference currently being held in Seattle. I have signed up in support, and also think it is a great way to get to know more about the Australian food blogs and bloggers out there that I have yet to stumble across.)

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Hot Cross Bun Ice-Cream Cookie Sandwiches

For most kids, Easter usually means school holidays, trips to the Royal Easter Show, swapping chocolate eggs with friends, and eating countless hot cross buns. I was certainly one of those kids, but these days I like to bake my own hot cross buns.

So far, I haven’t managed to do that this year. Not from lack of wanting to, mind you. I’ve just been a little busy with this and that. So a few days ago while I was making some chocolate cookie dough, it occured to me that I could rectify my hot cross bun-less situation.

The dough ended up being made into these caramel and chestnut cookies, but I also saved some dough scraps which I then added some raisins to, rolled out again and cut as rounds. Once baked, I piped crosses over the top of each cookie, using royal icing, and sandwiched them between vanilla ice-cream flavoured with lots of nutmeg, allspice and cinnamon (since I like my hot cross buns spicy).

I’m quoting the recipe for the basic chocolate cookie dough below, because it’s a handy one to have. As Fran Bigelow says in her cookbook, it is a very versatile dough which you can use not just for cookies, but also as a tart shell. I can imagine them being used to sandwich some salty caramel ganache, or mint flavoured buttercream or even fashioned into homemade Oreos somehow. In the meantime, I’m happy to have some Easter fare to enjoy.

Hot-Cross-Bun-Ice-Cream-Cookie-Sandwiches? Takes ten minutes to pronounce, I know, but only two seconds to scoff down.

Chocolate wafers :
(makes 24 cookies; recipe from Pure Chocolate by Fran Bigelow)

170g unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup dark Dutch-processed cocoa powder, sifted
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups flour

In a mixer with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 4 minutes.

Add the cocoa powder and mix on low speed until well combined. Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl.

Add the egg and vanilla and blend thoroughly, scraping down the sides of the mixing bowl. Add the flour. Mix on low speed until the dough begins to hold together. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill until firm, about 4 hours or overnight.

To bake, position an oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 162’C. Line a cookie sheet or two with parchment paper of Silpats.

Working quickly, on a lightly floured surface roll half the dough into a 12 x 12 inch square, about 1/8 inch thick. Using a 3 1/4 inch round cookie cutter, cut out about 12 cookies. With a metal spatula, transfer to a lined cookie sheet. Pierce each cookie with the tines of a fork several times. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until slightly dull on top. [Note : Mine were a little thicker and took slightly longer to bake] Transfer to racks to cool. They will crisp as they cool.

Repeat with the remaining dough, gathering the scraps together and gently kneading into a second batch. Store in an airtight container as long as 1 week.

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