Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Traditional Hot Cross Buns

I am quite late with this particular post.  Not only is Good Friday (the day when tradition dictates that Hot Cross Buns appear) past, but Easter has passed as well.  Such is my life at the moment.  Posting anything at all is a bit of a stretch.  Posting something in a timely manner probably isn’t going to happen.  But since Good Friday and Easter will come around next year—and I will be making these every year from now on (they’re that good!)—I’m going to go ahead and post the recipe now.

As a lover of English foods in general, for many years I was a bit mystified by the popularity of the Hot Cross Bun.   I have made them on more than one occasion.  And I’m sure that I probably had a commercial version when I was living in London.  But I don’t ever remember having one (mine, or otherwise) that impressed me too much.  I knew this could only be because I hadn’t been to the right place…or found the right recipe.

Since I wanted to love them, (What’s not to love about the idea of a soft, slightly sweet, slightly spicy, roll—filled with dried and candied fruit?) last year, as the Lenten season drew to a close, I finally decided to do some serious research and try them again.  I turned first to the recipes and writings of Darina Allen (of the Ballymaloe House & Cookery School in Ireland).  I can think of no better living resource for the traditional foods of the British Isles.  Then, while poking around on line, I ran across a recipe (also from Ireland) that looked promising from a place called the Firehouse Bakery. 

The two recipes are not dissimilar, but I liked the method that Patrick Ryan (of Firehouse) used for incorporating the butter.  Somewhat like a brioche, the butter isn’t added until the gluten begins to develop in the kneaded dough (after 5 minutes or so).  This method takes a bit longer—and requires a stand mixer—but ultimately allows for better gluten development (fat is a gluten inhibitor).  I used this method for the pumpkin dinner rolls I posted a few years ago, and I love the light and tender results.   There is a great vimeo available on line of Ryan making his rolls.  It is very instructive. 

In the end my recipe was basically a combination of these two.  My greatest change was to switch to all-purpose flour from the strong/bread flour called for in their recipes.  I may be wrong, but my suspicion is that American all-purpose flour has a protein content that is fairly close to (although not quite as high as) British “strong” flour.  It is always difficult to translate a recipe from one country to another because of the differences in the ingredients.  I thought erring on the side of a lower protein flour (with the all-purpose) would be better than using one that had more protein (American bread flour).  The latter might have made the rolls too hard.  A Hot Cross Bun is supposed to be soft.     

I did look at other British recipes…and a few American ones…mostly to get a feel for the range of butter and sugar and quantity of spice and dried fruits.   There was a fair amount of variation among recipes in this regard.  In the end, I went on the high side with butter, sugar and dried/candied fruit.  These are the things that make them special for the holidays, in my opinion.  My rolls are not too sweet or too rich—but they are definitely not plain.   I can see how they would seem quite decadent—and a welcome treat on Good Friday—after the traditional Lenten fast from dairy-rich foods.

You will find that most American versions of these buns are topped with a piped cross of powdered sugar frosting after they have been baked.  I have never seen a British recipe finished this way.  Traditionally the buns are topped with a couple of strips of crossed pâte brisée/pie dough…or a piped “liquid cross”…prior to baking.  Some recipes slash each proofed roll in a cross (similar to Soda Bread)—but this doesn’t seem to me to be the norm.  I ended up using the Firehouse bakery “liquid cross” …mostly because I was curious about it.  It was like nothing I had ever worked with.  I’m so glad I tried it.  It is very easy to make.  And since it is baked on, it can’t be smeared or smudged off.  It also looks pleasingly neat and precise.

And for Americans who are used to using the term “bun” to refer to something that you fill with a hamburger or a hot dog, according to Elizabeth David (English Bread & Yeast Cookery…among others), in the British Isles a “bun” is a ‘small, soft, plump, sweet, fermented (yeasted) cake.”  There are of course loads of traditional English breads that fall into this category: Chelsea Buns, Currant Buns, Spice Buns…and Hot Cross Buns…to name a few.  So even though Easter is past for the year, you could still make these delicious little rolls.  Just leave the liquid cross off and you’ll have a Spice Bun.  Or make them with all currants and you’ll have a Currant Bun.   Either would be delicious with an afternoon cup of coffee or tea.  Or do as I do and enjoy them with your breakfast (they freeze beautifully).  And then, when Easter rolls around again next year, the making of the buns will be easy and you can focus on learning how to make and pipe the cross. 

Hot Cross Buns

454 g. (4 c.) all-purpose flour  
75 g. (6 T.) sugar
1 t. salt
1 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. ground cloves
1/4 t. nutmeg
1/2 t. allspice
2 T. warm water
7 g. (2 1/4 t.) instant or active dry yeast
1 large egg, beaten
240 g. (1 c.) whole milk, tepid
Zest of one orange
85 g. (6 T.) unsalted butter—cool but malleable, cut into 6 chunks
170 g. (1 c.) mixed dried and candied fruits (see notes)

1 egg beaten with 1 t. of water and a pinch of salt for egg wash

50 g. (1/2 c.) cake flour
50 g. (1/2 c. less 1 T.) all-purpose flour
40 g. (1/3 c.) powdered sugar
60 to 75 g. (4 to 5 T.) whole milk

28 g. (2 T.) water
25 g. (2 T.) sugar

Place the flour, sugar, salt and spices in a medium bowl and whisk to combine.  Set aside.

Place the water in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Sprinkle the yeast over the water.  If using active dry yeast, let it sit for a minute or two to soften.  Add the egg, milk, orange zest, and dry ingredients.  Using the dough hook mix on low speed (no. 2 or 3) until the ingredients are homogenous (a minute or two).  Increase the speed to medium (no. 4) and mix until the dough is just beginning to pull away from the sides—about 5 to 7 minutes.

Add the butter while the mixer is still running and continue to mix for a minute or two, stopping to scrape down the sides a couple of times, until the butter is absorbed.  Continue to knead until the dough is no longer sticking to the sides of the bowl and is smooth, velvety and elastic—about 6 to 8 minutes.  

(The first time you make this, waiting for the dough to come together will be an act of faith.  But eventually—and suddenly—it will.  If your butter is warm...or very soft...it will take longer.  Resist the temptation to add more flour.  This is a soft sticky dough.)  Add the dried fruits and continue to mix until distributed throughout the dough.

Lightly butter a large bowl.  Butter your hands.  If the fruit is not well distributed, scrape the dough out of the mixing bowl and onto a lightly floured surface and use a bench scraper to help mix and fold until the fruit is spread uniformly throughout the dough.  Using your (buttered hands) form the dough into a ball by stretching the surface around to the bottom four or five times, rotating the ball of dough after each stretch.  

Place the ball in the buttered bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.  Let the dough rise at a warm room temperature until doubled in bulk—about two hours.  

(At this point you may form the rolls—or chill the dough over night and form the rolls in the morning.  If chilling over night, deflate the dough before covering the bowl with plastic wrap and placing in the refrigerator.)

Scrape the dough out onto the counter and deflate.  Cut dough into 16 equal portions (about 70 g. each).  Round each piece into a smooth ball.  (The dough will be only slightly sticky—and should be very manageable.  You should only need a whisper of flour…if any at all.) 

Place the formed rolls on a parchment-lined baking sheet, spreading them out evenly so that they (hopefully) won’t touch when they bake.  

Cover loosely with sprayed plastic wrap.  Let rise until doubled in size—about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. 

When the rolls are almost fully risen, mix the cake flour, powdered sugar and 4 T. of the milk.  You should have a stiff mixture.  Add a little more milk only if it is too stiff to pipe.  Scrape into a piping bag fitted with a scant 3/16-inch tip.  Carefully brush the rolls with egg wash. 

Pipe crosses on the buns.  

Bake in a preheated 375° oven until golden brown and cooked through—about 15 to 20 minutes.

While the rolls bake, bring the water and sugar to a boil.  When the buns are done, transfer to a wire rack and brush immediately with the simple syrup.  Serve warm…or room temperature…with butter.  Makes 16 large buns.

  • If you have any candied orange peel left from the Christmas holidays, use some in these buns. I like a mix of 1/4 cup each diced candied orange peel, dried currants, golden raisins and dried cranberries.
  • Recipe adapted from the Firehouse Bakery and Darina Allen.
  • I have made the “liquid cross” with 100 percent all purpose flour and with half cake, half all purpose. It is much better when made with half cake flour—less stretchy and easier to pipe. Also, the all all-purpose version becomes a bit hard/crisp when baked—giving it a discernibly different texture from the bun.
Printable Version

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Changing up my Broccoli Routine…with a Pancake

Most people who cook regularly know that broccoli has a relatively short shelf life.  If you get it from a local grower (soon after harvesting)…or happen to get an unusually fresh head at the grocery store…you might be able to keep it for a week before it starts to turn yellow.  But that’s pretty unusual.  Most of the time it needs to be used up fairly quickly.

I’ve been thinking about this kind of thing as I have begun to adjust my cooking routine to accommodate food for one.  In general, cooking for one starts with smart shopping.  Whenever possible you purchase produce in smaller/one serving quantities.  When that isn’t possible, spreading out the timing and manner of use is the way to keep yourself from feeling like you’re having the same thing every night.  So, for things like root vegetables (or winter squash) that keep well, it is an easy thing to use a small amount of the whole one night and then a few nights later use some more in a different way…and then, if there is still some left, make something else a few nights later.  Unfortunately, things that are not that shelf stable (broccoli…)—AND that generally can’t be purchased in smaller quantities (broccoli…)—present a challenge.

Because I cook for a living—and I love to cook—I have seen this as a challenge that is well within my comfort zone.  It is also beneficial in that it is forcing me to get out of a few of my more well-worn cooking ruts. 

Rigatoni with Broccoli Cooked Two Ways for one with the first of a recent large head of broccoli...

The first thing I tend to make with a head (or crown) of broccoli is of course pasta.  I have two or three favorite recipes that I could happily eat one or the other of every time I purchase broccoli (even if that happens to mean every week).  When I was cooking for two I would take a head of broccoli, make enough pasta for two (plus a bit extra so there would be a little something leftover for someone’s lunch) and if there was any broccoli left after the pasta I would add it to a salad…or grain pilaf…or just use it for a simple vegetable side.  But a couple of weeks ago when I was on my second head of broccoli (maybe I should have purchased something other than broccoli the second time around…but it looked good when I was at the store…) and had made all my usual suspects, I knew I was going to have to come up with some new ideas.   

While poking around on line I had seen a recipe for a large root vegetable pancake for one that I was considering making with some carrots I had on hand.  But of course the carrots will keep and I had broccoli burning a hole in my produce bin.…  But the pancake made me think of the chard fritters I posted last summer.  It occurred to me that broccoli would make a nice fritter too…and that I could easily make the fritter batter into one large pancake.
For the chard fritters, the chard is blanched and squeezed out.  Since blanching broccoli would introduce too much water (you can’t squeeze it out) and make for a gummy pancake, I cooked the grated stems and chopped florets in a little bit of olive oil in a sauté pan instead.  

This softens the broccoli without turning it to mush.  I then folded the cooked broccoli…along with a bit of julienned prosciutto…into a thick egg-rich (for loft), ricotta-based batter.   It made just enough to fill a 6-inch non-stick skillet with a half inch (or so) layer of the batter.  But you could of course make small pancakes (as in the chard fritter recipe), too.  And I should also point out, you can multiply this recipe to make pancakes for any number of diners (just keep them in a low oven while you cook them all).

I served the pancake with a blob of labneh (but thick/Greek yogurt would be fine if that’s what you have) and a roasted beet and arugula salad.  I think any tangy vegetable salad or relish (grated carrot, summer tomato, etc) would be good.

The broccoli pancake was a fantastic way to use the last of my broccoli.  It was light—but had plenty of substance and filled me up.  Best of all, it was delicious.  In fact, I liked my pancake so much I went out and bought another head of broccoli…   True story….

Savory Broccoli Pancake

For each large pancake you will need:

4 oz. trimmed broccoli (florets and stems separated)
1 to 1 1/2 T. olive oil
1 large egg
1 very small clove of garlic, smashed to a purée with a pinch of salt of finely grated using a microplaner
62 g/1/4 c. whole milk ricotta
30 g/2 T. whole milk
20 g/2 thin slices prosciutto, cut crosswise into rough quarter inch strips
20 g/about 3 T. all purpose flour
1/2 t. baking powder
Olive oil for frying
1 t. (or more) butter
Labneh or thick yogurt

Using the large holes of a box grater (or similar) grate the broccoli stems.  Roughly chop the florets, medium fine.  

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a small sauté pan set over medium to medium-high heat.  Add all of the broccoli along with good pinch of salt and let it sizzle, stirring occasionally until it has cooked down a bit and is just tender—four or five minutes.  If it seems dry at any point, add the remaining half tablespoon of olive oil.  Set aside to cool.

Crack the egg into a bowl and whisk to break up.  Add the garlic, ricotta and milk and whisk until smooth.  Fold in the broccoli and prosciutto.  Combine the flour and baking powder and fold in.  Taste and correct the seasoning with salt. 

Heat a 6-inch non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.  Film the pan with olive oil and add a teaspoon or so of butter.  When the butter melts and the foam subsides, scrape in the batter and use a spatula to spread it out into an even layer (it should be about a half inch thick).  

Regulate the heat as necessary to maintain a gentle sizzle, but don’t allow the pancake to scorch.  When set on the first side (after about 3 minutes), simultaneously tilt the pan and slide a pancake turner/spatula under the pancake.  Carefully turn the pancake over and continue to cook until the pancake is cooked through…another three minutes.  If multiplying the recipe, transfer the pancakes to a platter or baking dish as you make them, keeping them in a warm oven while you finish the remaining pancakes. 

Serve warm with a dollop of labneh/thick yogurt and a salad of spicy greens and/or vegetables. 

Printable Version