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

Eggs Benedict

Time saver: poached eggs, smothered in hollandaise sauce, could this be love?

Eggs benedict with baconThis is kind of a cheeky post-one-get-one-free deal, but I couldn’t let my Hollandaise Sauce post go without talking about Eggs Benedict in a bit more detail. I used to think of these as a cafe breakfast, but with a little bit of effort you can match or better what you’ll get at most cafes.

You can mix it up a bit but the key components tend to be: some sort of lightly-toasted bread base, a layer of filling (generally either bacon, ham, smoked salmon, or spinach), a poached egg, and then a generous serving of hollandaise sauce. I think traditionally a split English muffin is used for the base, in the photo I’m using toasted artisan bread, and lots of cafes in Auckland seem to use toasted Turkish bread.

The trickiest part to eggs benedict is probably the timing. You want to serve everything hot, so that means you need everything ready to go at the moment of assembly – eggs perfectly poached, bread lightly toasted, hollandaise rich and creamy, and your filling ready to go (easy if it’s smoked salmon, a bit trickier if doing bacon or spinach). There’s not really a lot you can do expect practice to get a a feel for it. If you prepare the hollandaise sauce beforehand (or, shock horror, use one from a pouch/jar) you can set it aside ready to go. You could also pre-poach the eggs, then just heat them when you’re ready to go (though in some ways this is more work).

For this recipe I’m going to refer you to previous recipes and tie them all together.

Eggs Benedict – serves 2 (makes 4 portions)

  1. Prepare the hollandaise sauce according to the recipe and set aside.
  2. Get bread ready for toasting, but don’t toast it yet.
  3. If using spinach you want it wilted, so I’d recommend steaming it gently, you should set this up now (i.e. heat the water, don’t actually put the spinach in the steamer yet). If using bacon (or ham and you want it heated) you should heat the frying pan now.
  4. Start poaching the eggs.
  5. Put the toast on – you don’t want it too crispy or it’s too hard to cut (but it shouldn’t be bread either).
  6. If using smoked salmon, relax, otherwise, quickly fry bacon/ham (should only take a couple of minutes). If using spinach you want it just wilted – do this in the steamer now.
  7. Remove the eggs from the water, drain and trim away any ragged edges. By this point your toast should be ready and you’re good to go.
  8. Assemble with toasted bread first, then a layer of your filling, then a poached egg, then a good 1-2 Tbsp hollandaise sauce on top (it should make a sort of smooth dome on top of the egg). Crack a little black pepper over the top and enjoy.

Hollandaise Sauce

Time saver: as close as you can get to drinking pure butter without actually drinking pure butter.

I’ve been a bit unsure about this post. Hollandaise sauce can be made in a variety of different ways, some more involved than others, and even the ratios seem to vary a bit. All I can do is tell you how I would go about making it if I was cooking. Your mileage may vary.

You can drizzle it over asparagus if you want to, but my favourite is eggs benedict with hollandaise liberally poured over the top.

Eggs benedict with hollandaiseAs previously mentioned, the recipes vary a bit. Some will have you reduce vinegar before adding it to the egg yolks, others get you to make the entire thing in the blender. I like the zingy flavour of lemons, so use quite a lot of lemon juice, you may prefer to use half as much (1 Tbsp instead of 2). I also like the flavour of vinegar in it, so sometimes add ½-1 tsp just near the end. You can do the same, leave it out, or try reducing it first (which should take some of the sharpness off it, though you’ll need to start with a couple of tablespoons of it). Using less butter will give you a thicker sauce, using more gives you more sauce at the end. For two servings of eggs benedict (for a total of 4 eggs) I’d use around 75g butter just to be sure I had enough.

Hollandaise sauce

  • 1 egg yolk
  • 50-100g butter
  • 1-2 Tbsp lemon juice (to taste)
  • white wine vinegar (to taste)
  1. Cut the butter into small cubes and leave to soften (if in a hurry you can soften in the microwave).
  2. Set up a double-boiler (put a couple of cms of water in the bottom of a saucepan, then sit a stainless steel bowl on top, big enough that the bottom of it is above the water level) and set over a low heat.
  3. Put the egg yolk and lemon juice in the top of the double-boiler and whisk together. Continue whisking as the double-boiler continues to heat. (Watch it closely and be careful not to completely cook the egg yolk or you’ll have to start again.)
  4. Eventually the mixture should start to thicken, at this point remove the double-boiler from the heat, and start adding the cubes of butter, whisking to combine. Continue until all the butter has been added.
  5. Taste the sauce and add more lemon juice or a little white wine vinegar for flavour. Then serve. (You could add cracked black pepper to the sauce, I normally just crack it over the sauce once served.)
  6. EMERGENCIES ONLY: hollandaise sauce is an emulsion, and emulsions sometimes separate. The key to getting it back together is simple: if the sauce is hot, add cold water a drop at a time and whisk thoroughly until recombined. If the sauce is cold, add hot water a drop at a time and whisk thoroughly until recombined.

Making hollandaise sauce

Mini Apricot Danishes

Time saver: mini apricot danishes, just like regular apricot danishes, only smaller.

mini apricot danishHere’s a treat you can put together pretty quickly. Tasty little parcels of pastry and apricot with a sweet glaze to finish it off. Good for a light breakfast/brunch, or just whenever you feel like it.

Mini Apricot Danishes – makes around 18

  • 400g tin apricot halves (drained, but reserve syrup, you should hopefully get around 18 halves)
  • 2 sheets flaky puff pastry
  • 8 Tbsp icing sugar
  • 2 Tbsp apricot syrup
  • (optional) 1 egg + 1 Tbsp water for egg wash
  1. Pre-heat oven to 200°C on fan-bake.
  2. Cut each pastry sheet into 9 even sized squares (i.e. 3 x 3 grid).
  3. Place an apricot half (cut-side down) into middle of each square.
  4. Fold up two of the corners of each square so they wrap around the apricot and overlap in the middle. Use a little apricot syrup to wet the pastry where it joins, then press down firmly.
  5. Place danishes on a sheet of baking paper on a baking tray.
  6. For a good finish to the pastry, prepare an egg wash by beating together an egg with a tablespoon of water and brushing lightly over the pastry on each danish.
  7. Bake danishes in oven for around 15 minutes, until pastry is golden brown, then remove from oven and transfer to cooling rack.
  8. In a small jug mix together the icing sugar with 2 Tbsp apricot syrup (or just plain water). Using a piping bag or teaspoon, drizzle glaze over danishes in a zig-zag pattern. (Note: if the danishes are warm the glaze will melt and run, if you’re serving immediately that won’t matter so much, but otherwise you should wait until they’re cool before glazing.)

mini apricot danishes

Happy New Year

Time saver: whatever else happens, stick with philcooks.com and you should have a great year. (Overstating it a bit Phil?)

In review of last year: 2011 saw the dawning of a new era of cookery, with the birth of philcooks. For anyone who’s interested, there were 2,668 views of the blog from its inception in July through to December, and I put up 32 posts with around 26 recipes. July was the most visited month so far, followed by December. Hopefully the blog’s been useful to someone.

So what does 2012 mean for philcooks? Well, I reckon I’ll keep posting recipes for the things I’m making, and I reckon you can keep saying “Oh yes, very nice Phil” and then not cooking them, and we’ll get along swimmingly. I also plan (well, as much as I ever plan anything) to brush up the Facebook page a bit. That way you can opt in to being my friend without opting in to being spammed, or vice versa. I’m also open to the idea of a bit of a redesign, and rearranging things to make recipes a little easier to find.

It’s a bit late to wish you a tasty Christmas, but here’s to a delicious New Year. I wish you all the best in all your endeavours, and happy cooking.

p.s. if you have a tablet/iPad and you haven’t checked out the blog on it yet, you should, it looks great.