Hot Cross Buns

Time saver: as the current of cold water moves up the coast, the stage is set for one of nature’s great events: the hot cross bun run… (apologies to David Attenborough and the sardines).

hot cross buns platedEvery year on Good Friday my mother cooks up an enormous batch of hot cross buns, which are basically all devoured on the spot within minutes of leaving the oven (and some sooner than that). Warm and delicious with that sticky sugar glaze, they never last for long. When we were kids we weren’t that keen on the ones with fruit in them, so Mum kindly left it out of half of them. After a while I realised I could maximise my hot cross bun consumption by diversifying, so I’d eat the fruit-free ones until they ran out, and then branch out into the fruit ones. Eventually I came to prefer the fruit ones, but for that sugar glaze I’m happy to go either way.

Today I’ll share with you the recipe she uses. She originally heard it over the radio and diligently wrote it down. This is the version she dictated to me over the phone when I moved away and had to start making my own. (Slightly modified to fit my format.)

The buns it makes are different to the ones you’ll buy in a shop – for one thing, they’re best eaten fresh (although you can freeze them). They’re at their very best when eaten straight out of the oven. You shouldn’t have any problem finding people to help you do that. You can make them with fruit, or if that’s not your (or your kids) thing, you can leave it out (try buying them like that…).

Hot Cross Buns – makes around 30

For the buns:

  • 5+ cups plain white flour (split into two parts, one of 2 cups, one of 3 cups)
  • 1-2 Tbsp yeast (e.g. 1 Tbsp dried active yeast, 2 Tbsp Surebake yeast)
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup cold milk
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 50g melted butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup mixed fruit
  • 2 Tbsp mixed spice
  • 2 Tbsp cinnamon
  • 2 Tbsp flavourless oil (e.g. grape seed or rice bran oil)

For the crosses:

  • ½ cup plain white flour
  • 2 Tbsp flavourless oil
  • water (just enough to form a smooth paste)

For the sugar glaze:

  • 4 Tbsp sugar
  • 4 Tbsp water

In a large bowl mix together 2 cups of flour, the yeast, brown sugar and salt. Combine the cold milk and boiling water in a jug, then add to the other ingredients and mix well. (I use a large flat wooden spoon for this and it works well.) Leave for 3-5 minutes (for the yeast to activate).

Add the melted butter, egg, mixed fruit, mixed spice, cinnamon, and at least 3 cups flour into the bowl and mix well. Keep adding and mixing additional flour until you have a firm enough dough to start kneading. If making fruit-free ones then obviously leave out the fruit. If making half and half, then don’t add the fruit at this stage. Halve the dough at the “knead lightly” stage (after the first rise), and knead ½-1 cup of mixed fruit in then.

Turn the dough out onto a floured board/bench and knead for 5-10 minutes (depending on texture) until the dough goes from lumpy and resistant to silky and smooth. Add extra flour as you knead it (hah).

Put the dough back into a clean bowl (ideally the old bowl, recently washed in hot water so the bowl is warm), with 2 Tbsp flavourless oil. Turn the dough so it is well coated with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put into a sink half-full of bath temperature water. Leave for 30-60 minutes, until the dough has doubled in size. While you wait, turn your oven on to heat on its lowest setting (for me this is 90°C). Turn it off about 10 minutes before you continue with the next step.

Knead (very) lightly, and cut into 30 even sized pieces. (These are quite small, so can be made into 28 or fewer if larger buns are desired.)

Form into a round by pushing the dough through a circle formed by the thumb and index finger of the left hand. Put into greased pans or cake pans, leaving room for buns to double in size. Cover with plastic wrap and put in the warmed, turned off oven. Leave to rise until just a little more than doubled in size. (Up to an hour, in fact, sometimes longer.)

Remove the buns from the oven 20 minutes before you plan to cook them, so you can pre-heat it to 230°C. (I use my oven’s high bake setting, which runs the element on the bottom, and one on the side with a fan. There’s no way to turn off the fan in my oven.)

To make the crosses, mix together ½ cup flour, 2 Tbsp oil and just enough water to make a paste that can be piped, or squeezed through a plastic bag with the corner snipped. It can be quite hard to judge this, but a smooth paste is essential. (Too wet though and it won’t hold its shape once piped onto the buns.) Pipe the crosses on just before baking – do all the horizontal lines first, then all the vertical lines.

hot cross buns uncookedTurn the oven down to 220°C when the buns are put in. Cook for 10-15 minutes. (They brown quickly on the top. If removed too soon they may be too doughy in the middle. If the look like they’re browning too much you can put tin-foil, or baking paper over the top.)

To make the glaze boil together the sugar and water. Dissolve the sugar in the water while heating, stirring constantly until sugar crystals are dissolved, then bring to the boil. (Do this just before you take the cooked buns out of the oven.) Brush this mixture over the buns as soon as you take them out of the oven. (If glaze looks a little crazed it’s because it was cooked too long, or there was too much sugar to amount of water, but this doesn’t affect the taste too much.)

Serve immediately with plenty of butter, using a knife to separate the buns if necessary (and a spatula/fish slice to remove them from the pan).

hot cross buns tray cooked

Cooking frozen croissants

Time saver: Phil responds to popular demand… (later he’ll be offering advice on how to cook toast, make tea, etc.)

OK, so this is a bit of weird one. For some reason though, people are ending up getting directed to my croque-croissant page when they search for “how to make frozen pre cooked croissants”. No kidding.

Because I’m a helpful guy (really) I figure I may as well give the people what they want. So here it is:

Your Guide to Cooking Frozen Croissants (pre-proved and otherwise)

Frozen croissants are essentially awesome. You get to make fresh, hot croissants, without any of the effort of making them. If you use a little imagination you can pretend you spent hours toiling away, preparing the pastry, and folding to perfection. And then you forgot all about it, et voila, beautiful smells and croissants out of the oven.

So, you’ve got hold of some of these frozen delights, but presumably they either didn’t come with instructions, or you lost them. Careless of you, but luckily Phil’s here to save the day.

First off, you need to determine whether your croissants are pre-proved or not. That just means you need to know whether the croissants have been left to rise already, or whether you’re going to have to do it yourself. If the packaging doesn’t say, then the best way to judge is simply by size. Un-risen croissants are surprisingly small compared to their final size. If the croissants look tiny, then you’ll probably have to prove them. If they look croissant-sized, then you won’t. (Note that just to make things fun it’s slightly trickier than that, since you can also buy mini-croissants. You’re just going to have to make a call, but maybe a sign of that would be the sheer number of them.)

For pre-proved croissants you normally don’t even have to thaw them. Just pre-heat the oven to about 180-190°C (355-375°F), then bake the croissants for around 15 minutes, till golden brown.

For the non-pre-proved croissants, you normally just lay them out on an baking tray (lined with baking paper) and leave them to thaw overnight (or for around 8 hours). After thawing they should expand a lot. Be careful not to leave them too long, or they’ll end up collapsing down on themselves. Pre-heat the oven to around 180-190°C (355-375°F) and bake the croissants for around 10-15 minutes, till golden brown.

For both kinds you can improve the appearance of the final product by giving the croissants an egg wash before you put them in the oven. Just whisk one egg together with a tablespoon of water, then brush over the croissants.

Five minute artisan bread

Time saver: the bread takes five minutes to make, and you want to save time?? OK, OK, Phil reveals a simple bread recipe that also doubles as a great pizza dough (and keeps for two weeks in the fridge!).

Sliced Artisan LoafWhen Mum last came to visit she raved enthusiastically about a new bread recipe she’d come across and encouraged me to make it. Actually, she’d started raving about it a couple of weeks (months?) before she arrived, so when she did she brought the ingredients with her and whipped up a batch in no time. And just as she’d claimed, the results were pretty impressive.

Mum didn’t invent the recipe, and neither did I – it “originates” here – but this is the version that Mum dictated to me from memory, with some minor edits by me. (I put originates in quotes because it’s a pretty simple bread recipe involving just four ingredients, and people have been eating bread for thousands of years. The odds of these guys having uniquely stumbled across this particular combination are pretty slim. There’s a separate discussion here that we’ll have to get into sometime – who owns/invents a recipe? At what point have you made enough changes to a recipe to call it your own? Most recipe books really just contain versions of existing recipes, and a pretty big part of cooking is reproducing things people can recognise, so there’s an awful lot of copying and duplication going on.)

The basic idea with this bread is that you mix up a dough, leave it to rise for a couple of hours, then stick it in the fridge where it will keep for up to two weeks. Whenever you want a loaf of bread you grab a lump of dough, let it rise for a bit then bake it. Voila, fresh bread. And as I’ve mentioned previously – the dough can also be used for pizza bases on demand. (Don’t underestimate the brilliance of this feature. Stuck for dinner ideas? Bust out some dough and whip up a pizza or calzone in no time.)

The loaves it makes aren’t huge, but enough to feed two people comfortably for lunch. They’re best eaten the day they’re made, but will keep for a couple of days. Towards the end of their life they’re probably best sliced and toasted – I find a bit of avocado on some toasted artisan bread pretty irresistible. The loaves are supposed to be round, but for some reason mine always turn out oval shaped – something to do with how I’m cutting the slashes into the top.

And did I mention that there’s no kneading involved?

Small Artisan LoafFive Minute Artisan Bread – makes 4 small loaves (or 5 12″ pizza bases)

  • 6½ c plain unbleached flour (not “high grade” – you want 10.5g -12g gluten per 100g, also, all flour in NZ is unbleached)
  • 1½ Tbsp lightly-textured salt (e.g. fine rock salt, salt flakes etc, fine table salt too fine, rock salt too rocky – roughly 25g salt) (UPDATE: I decided to experiment with iodised table salt to see what difference it made. It didn’t really make any, so feel free to use it. I used a little less, around 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp with no ill effect. If you’re worried about iodine deficiency, then it’s a good option.)
  • 1½ Tbsp dried yeast (any yeast will work including Surebake, you can reduce the amount of yeast if left to sit longer during the initial rise. I’ve been using about 2 tsp of dried active yeast.)
  • 3 c warm water
  1. In a large bowl, put warm water and yeast and stir.
  2. Add salt and flour and mix with a large wooden spoon. Should be a wet dough mixture, mix till combined – it should look rough and wet (for bread).
  3. Cover it with a non-airtight lid (e.g. lid or Gladwrap) until it rises up and then starts to flatten off and fall. This should take around two hours, but depends on the amount of yeast/ambient temperature etc. (It’s also fine if you forget about it and leave it overnight.) Then put it in the fridge.
  4. After 2 hours in the fridge (approx) it’s firm enough to handle. Sprinkle part of the top with a little flour. Grab a handful of the floured dough, pull it up then cut it off with scissors, for a lump of dough about the size of a large grapefruit.
  5. Have a bowl/baking sheet ready with some flour and drop the lump of dough into it, then “cloak”, forming into a rounded boule shape by stretching the top layer and tucking the dough underneath. It’s fine to use a bit of flour to do this.Dough Shaped Into Boule
  6. Put it on a sheet of baking paper and leave it uncovered for 40-90 mins. Flour the top, then cut six or so slashes across the top of it with a sharp knife – about 1-2cm deep.Artisan Dough With Slashed Top
  7. Place bread on a pre-heated tray (if you have a pizza stone, use it) in the middle of a hot oven (e.g. around 250°C with fan bake), with an empty oven tray beneath it (on a lower rack). As you put the bread in, add 1 cup of water to the empty oven tray. (This will cause steam resulting in a glossier finish.) Bake for around 25-30 minutes – you can check after 17 mins or so to see if the bread is cooking evenly, and turn it if not. The longer you cook it, the thicker and crispier the crust – you get a really good crust after baking for 30 minutes and after you take it out of the oven the bread will make a faint crackling sound as it cools. Smaller roll-sized loaves will still take about 20-25 minutes to bake.
  8. Allow to cool before eating.

Artisan Loaf Out of the OvenFive Minute Pizza Dough

Pizza baseDo everything exactly the same as for the artisan bread up to (and including) step 5. Then, after forming the dough into a round lump, just spread it out into a pizza base. (If you leave it on the bench for 30-60 minutes to warm up it will be much easier to roll out.) You can use a rolling pin, or just use your hands and stretch it like a real Italian. You’ll probably need to apply a bit of flour as you go to stop it from sticking. Once you’ve got the base spread out, smother it in your favourite toppings. Then bake in a hot oven (230°C) for around 14 minutes. You don’t need to wait for it to rise, just use it straight away. For a thin crust, use a bit less dough and stretch it thin. For a thicker crust do the opposite. Forget that bit about allowing to cool before eating too.