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New Year wine, a lazy loaf and a clementine drizzle cake

Nigel Slater's lazy loaf

I love the time after Christmas when we have a few lazy days before everyone goes back to school and work.  We had a quiet New Year with Gary Barlow (not literally, I’m not THAT lucky).  Sam’s girlfriend has American parents and had us popping a piece of fruit into our mouths on every bong on the countdown to midnight – I think it’s a Spanish tradition, but it’s hilarious and by the last bong everyone’s cheeks were bulging and we were all drooling and laughing.

We’ve opened some really lovely wine over the festive period.  At midnight, we toasted 2014 a delicious Wolf Blass Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir (on spesh at Asda at £5.75 at the moment I notice – SNAP IT UP!).  We also opened the front door to let the old year out and the new year in – think that one’s Irish.  My own favourite wine of the season was the Cune Crianza Rioja 2010  – an absolute beaut with that hint of vanilla that I seem really drawn to.  Again, on spesh at the moment I think.

Mr English is very keen on Pinot Noir.  His favourite of the season was the Californian Clos du Bois Pinot Noir (Majestic, £9.99 if you buy two American wines).  There’s something herbal about it (which doesn’t sound nice, but is) but it’s still full of really ripe fruit.  Yum.

The Big Bro recommended a splash-out Amarone, perfect for Christmas.  I’ve got this one on my wish list from Majestic: Amarone Classico ‘Vigneti di Roccolo’ 2010 Cantina Negrar.   It’s a pricey one at £23 but comes down to £18 if you buy two fine wines.  One for when the coffers have been replenished.

Baking-wise, I’m loving Nigel Slater’s wonderful lazy loaf.  It’s a soda bread, but because it’s baked in a cast iron casserole, it develops a wonderful chewy crust.  Delicious, and barely 30 minutes to make – with no kneading.  I also used up the last of the Christmas clementines with a clementine drizzle cake.  Exactly the same as lemon drizzle cake:

Clementine Drizzle Cake

3 eggs

Same weight (about 175g) of caster sugar, butter and self raising flour

Juice and zest of a couple of clementines.

So just weigh the eggs in their shells, then weigh out the rest of the ingredients to the same weight.

Beat the butter until soft, then add in the sugar and beat until light coloured and creamy.  Add the zest and juice of the clementines to the eggs and give them a quick whisk with a fork.  Add them a dribble at a time to the butter/sugar mix.

Stir in the flour, then dollop the mixture into a buttered cake tin and bake at 180 degrees/gas 4 for about 30 minutes until springy to the touch or until a knife point comes out clean.

Mix the juice of a final clementine with a  couple of teaspoons of sugar and drizzle over the warm cake.  Delicious.

Clementine drizzle cake

 

In pupster news, she’s settling in really well, has made a best friend at puppy classes (a cute and ridiculously soft Vizsla called Ellie) and thinks having everyone at home over Christmas is wonderful!

 

Cute

Sticky, gooey, plumptious, scrumptious, soft iced buns

I think of all the recipes I’ve ever published, this one has been the most popular.  I made them this morning and was thinking that it’s still one of my most favourite recipes – the buns are just so soft and pillowy, and the topping so delightfully sticky… there’s just nothing better – the ultimate comfort food!

I’ve updated this recipe ever so slightly (doesn’t take much to improve on perfection – I was trying to make the method a bit less waffly, but actually succeeded in putting more waffle in) but hey, the more info you’ve got, the easier it is to do it right? Right?

You will need:

450g strong white bread flour

1 tsp salt

75g caster sugar

1 x 7g sachet dried yeast

150ml milk

150ml water

50g butter

4 or 5 tbsp icing sugar

½ tsp liquid glucose

Sieve the flour into a large bowl, then stir in the salt, sugar, and dried yeast.

In a small saucepan, warm the milk, water, and butter over a low heat until the butter has just melted, then turn off the heat.  The liquid should be at no more than blood temperature ( you know, so it doesn’t feel particularly hot or cold when you pop your finger in, I don’t need you to actually bleed or anything…) when it’s added to the dry ingredients.  You can do this in the microwave, but remove it as soon as the butter starts to melt and stir gently until it’s all combined, otherwise you’ll be waiting for ages for it to be cool enough.

Pour most of the milky mixture into the dry ingredients and stir it around with a knife until you get a light dough.  Leave it as sticky as you can bear as you want your dough plumptiously, pillow-soft.  You can always add a bit of flour.

Now start kneading: with the heel of one hand, press and splurge the dough away from you, (imagine you’re smearing it across the work surface) then bring it back, squish it into a ball again, turn it over and then splurge it again.  As it’s quite a wet dough this is a bit messy, but that all adds to the fun.  Again, if you’re getting really covered, you can always add a bit of extra flour.  As you knead it, it will become more elastic and springy and less squelchy.

When you’ve kneaded for about 5 minutes and your dough is springy and pillowy-soft and looks bizarrely like a nice, round bottom-cheek (I have to add this bit for my friend Snaffles Mummy – its her favourite bit), cover it with clingfilm and leave it in the airing cupboard or somewhere else warm until it’s doubled in size.  Then, just knock it back with your fist and form it into 8 balls.  Either place them on a floured baking tray or arrange them inside a springform cake tin like I did, then cover and rise again until they’re puffed up.

Bake for about 15-20 minutes at 180/gas 6.  Now while they’re baking make your icing by adding a couple of teeny drops of boiling water to the icing sugar and liquid glucose (optional but it keeps the icing from setting) until you get a thick, gloopy icing.

As soon as they’re out of the oven (they’ll be pale golden and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom) drizzle the icing all over them so it runs down the sides.

Of course, this basic recipe can be jazzed up really easily – I’ve done it with pink, hibiscus icing, I’ve done birthday buns with blue icing and candles… I did black for halloween one year too.

Add a hint of spice, some orange zest and a handful of sultanas and you’re well on the way to hot cross buns, or if you fancy Chelsea buns, after the first rise, roll the dough out, spread it generously with butter, brown sugar and sultanas, maybe a little sprinkle of cinnamon, roll into a sausage and cut into rounds, arrange them flat onto a baking tray, allow to rise and then bake as before.  Just be sure to ram as many into your mouth as you can before anyone else smells them and comes to investigate.

 

Step by step spiced orange hot cross buns

Let’s face it: Easter just isn’t Easter without hot cross buns.

And chocolate.

But mostly hot cross buns.

If you’re feeling a bit daunted by the whole prospect of making your own, don’t be. Let Auntie English Mum guide you through the whole process.  Think of me as a little friend hovering at your shoulder in the kitchen.  Actually don’t.  That’s a bit creepy.

Anyhoo, it’s really easy (with a bit of waiting around), and the gorgeous scent of these spicy orangey wonders fills the whole house.  So let’s get cracking.

You’ll need:

150ml milk

150ml water

Zest of 1 orange

50g butter

450g strong white bread  flour

1 tbsp mixed spice

1 tsp salt

75g sugar

1 x 7g sachet dried yeast

100g sultanas (or mixed peel if you must – bleurgh)

For the cross:

2 tbsp flour

1 tsp caster sugar

For the glaze:

1 tbsp orange marmalade, rindless or sieved

Step one:

Before you start, assemble and weigh out your ingredients.  This will save you time and prevent any flapping half way through the recipe.

So in a small saucepan (or jug if you’re doing it in the microwave) warm the milk, water, orange zest (use the finest grater you have) and butter until the butter is just melted, then turn off the heat.  Let it cool so that when you stick your finger in, it feels like blood temperature.

Step two:

While the liquid is cooling, sieve the flour and ground mixed spice together into a large bowl.  Next, stir in the salt, sugar, dried yeast and sultanas (have a quick pick over to make sure there are no stalks left).

Step three:

If you’ve got a mixer,  pop in all the dry ingredients, then set it on low and slowly pour in the milky mixture until the dough comes together (you might not need all of it so go steady), then plug in the dough hook and set it to knead for a good five minutes.

If you’re old-fashionedy or are still waiting to meet the mixer of your dreams (they do actually come out nicer and lighter if you knead them by hand), you’ll have to get to it for at least ten minutes.  Yes, I know, sorry, but it’s true.  Knead away, holding the dough lightly with one hand while you stretch it away from you with the other, before bringing it together and repeating the process.  The sultanas keep trying to escape, but grab any of the little blighters trying to make a quick getaway and poke them back in. Keep going until the dough is nice and springy and firm (think the texture of a boob, or possibly a bottom cheek – poke your finger in – if the dough springs back, then it’s done – if not, knead a bit more).  Disclaimer: possibly best if you don’t actually do this with people’s boobs.

Step four:

When your dough is sufficiently springy, leave it covered with a clean tea towel in a warm place until it’s doubled in size.   Then, just knock it back with your fist and cut it in half, then half again and half again.  Form each of your 8 pieces into a ball and place them on a floured baking tray.  Cover and rise again until they’re puffed up.

Step five:

If you want to add the cross, then mix about 2 tbsp flour, a tsp of caster sugar and enough water to make into a thick paste and either just dribble it with a teaspoon, or pipe it onto your buns (ooer Missus) with a disposable piping bag.  Or, you can cut a cross in the top of the buns and pipe the cross into the little lines.  Totally up to you.

Step six:

Bake for about 15-20 minutes at 180/gas 6 until they sound hollow when patted on the bottom.  Finally, when they’re just out of the oven,  warm up the marmalade with a splash of water and brush it on for extra glossy stickiness (use rindless here – you don’t want bits of peel sticking to your buns). If you’re going to freeze them, slice them in half first so they can go straight in the toaster.

And that’s it.  Congratulations, you are a master bun maker.  Go you!

Review: Bread Revolution by Duncan Glendinning and Patrick Ryan

There’s an awful lot of hype surrounding bread at the moment, what with the ‘Fabulous Baker Brothers’, Henry and Tom Herbert’s recent TV show (and the shock news that one of their loaves sells for over twelve quid – I kid you not – over £20 if you want it couriered), and lots of people reverting to the more traditional kitchen skills of baking their own bread, making butter, etc.

I do make my own bread, but it tends to be a batch of sticky iced buns if I’m feeling like a baking session, or an easy Irish soda bread on a Sunday morning, so when I was asked to review Bread Revolution I was really interested.

Duncan and Patrick own The Thoughtful Bread Company in Bath and really want to encourage us all to bake (or at least buy) proper bread.  There are all sorts of wonderful recipes (don’t miss the Cider and Apple Bread), and great step-by-step guides to mixing, kneading, shaping, etc, plus loads of interesting stuff about ingredients.  The one that fascinated me, though, was the sourdough.  Basically, you make a sourdough ‘starter’, which ferments and becomes your very own living, breathing yeasty friend who lives in the fridge.

Ours was called Fluffy (someone on Twitter told me to give it a name – apparently this helps you ‘bond’).  It’s relatively easy to make (a mix of live yogurt, skimmed milk and bread flour), but you do have to remember to feed it, otherwise it dies.  We had a little wobble when I opened up mine to find mould all up the side of the tub, but I managed to rescue it, and with a new, sterilised pot, Fluffy thrived.  The boys (find them on Twitter @thoughtfulbread) were really helpful, and shared my immense pleasure and pride when my very first sourdough loaf came out of the oven.

Seriously, I don’t think there are many things quite as satisfying as baking your own bread, and having Fluffy in the fridge ready to go whenever I want to bake makes me more determined than ever to keep going.  That, and the chewy-crusted, soft-doughed gorgeousness that is a fresh-from-the-oven sourdough loaf.

What a wonderful book.

Bread Revolution is out 1st March priced £10.59 on Amazon.  Here’s a vid of the boys in action:

Settling in with some honey and buttermilk no yeast, no rise brown bread

So I’ve been reading up on our new abode (I know I should think of some funky new name, but I also know it will continue to be English Towers – why fight it?).  The village was listed in the Domesday Book (thank you Wikipedia), and the hill overlooking the village is not only a site of special scientific interest, but crossed by the Ridgeway as well.  There’s also a very old windmill here, and it’s suitably mental as it has a Bedfordshire postal address, even though it’s actually in Buckinghamshire.  Perfect.

So that’s geography and stuff out the way – what else is there?  Well, very near there are beautiful fields with snaking chalk paths through lovely woodland:

… and lots and lots of rosehips and crab apples (I’m thinking jelly – once I’ve got to the bottom of my Dispreputable Dad’s cooking apple mountain – another mahoosive bag appeared yesterday):

Anyhoo, with most of the unpacking done (it still looks like an explosion has occurred, but we’ve ordered chests of drawers, so it’s Not Our Fault, okay?), and a spectacular cackling and chocolate biscuit session with the gorgeous Glamorous C (she walked – WALKED! – from her house up to here.  I was duly impressed), it was time to hit the kitchen…

One of English Dad’s students has his own bees and brings him pots of the most amazing Buckinghamshire honey known to man – it’s fragrant and delicious, and was used accidentally as I was making my usual soda bread but realised at the last minute I didn’t have any black treacle.  I’ll never use black treacle again now as this honey makes a spectacular loaf:

100g white bread flour

450g wholemeal flour

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

2tsp salt

400ml buttermilk (or just add the juice of  1/2 lemon to whole milk and allow to sit for a while)

1 egg

2 tbsp oil (I use the amazing local rapeseed oil)

2 tbsp honey

So preheat your newly clean, sparkly oven to 200 degrees/gas 6 and oil a loaf tin (do it well, or better still, line it with bake-o-glide, it sticks like a biatch this stuff).

Sieve the white flour and bicarb (make sure you sift the bicarb well – otherwise it will manifest itself in the finished bread as little green dots – not pleasant) then add the wholemeal flour and the salt.

Measure out the buttermilk (or lemony milk) then add in the egg, oil and honey.  Whisk well.

Add to the dry ingredients and stir until combined.  Flop the mixture straight into the loaf tin and straight into the oven.  This is lazy person’s bread – no rising or kneading here.

Bake for 45 minutes to an hour or until the bottom is hollow when you tap it (ooer missus).  I take it out of the loaf tin around 45 minutes just to make sure the bottom is baked and gets a crust too.

This recipe is gorgeous with added nuts and seeds, but won’t keep, so if you’re not going to scoff it straight away, slice and freeze it for instant yummy breakfast toast.

Thank you Buckinghamshire bees!  I can see I’m going to be very happy here.

The fresh bread bakeoff: the entries

So thank you to all the intrepid bakers who entered the Fresh Break Bakeoff.  There are some really great entries here – from complete novices to some very accomplished bakers!  Have a look at all the great entries and I’ll be letting you know the winner of all the Marriage’s goodies very soon!

English Mum’s Fresh Bread Bakeoff

So recently I showed you my simple recipe for  easy step by step bread.  I had a lot of comments from people saying they’d quite like to have a go – so now’s your chance!  The newest, shiniest bakeoff is here – and it’s all about fresh bread!  What do you fancy baking?  A nice crusty loaf?  Some shiny conker-brown bagels?  Sticky buns?

The Rules

As usual, we laugh in the face of rules.  As long as you actually bake something bready, take a picture and send it to me (with a link if you have a website), you’re in.

Photos need to be emailed to me at: english [dot] towers [at] gmail [dot] com, with a brief note saying what your bakey masterpiece is and how you’d like to be credited.

Entries must be received by midnight on Feb 14th, St Valentine’s Day.

Cheating

As usual, a bit of healthy rule-breaking is to be embraced and any creative wavering from the theme will be acceptable.  As long as there’s a suitably waffly and entertaining reason why, I’ll let you off.

The Techy Stuff

If you’re a blogger, please link back to this post, and if you’re a tweeter, please use the hashtag #freshbreadbakeoff. If you’re neither, then just ignore this bit completely.

The Prize

The lovely chaps at Marriage’s Millers (www.flour.co.uk) have very kindly offered to provide a prize of a range of their fabulous quality flours, plus some scrapers, so you can bake bread like a pro!  The entries will be displayed in one enormous blog post (this bit causes a total hysterical meltdown in my non-technical brain, but don’t worry, I’ll get over it).

The Judge

The fabulous Hannah Marriage knows absolutely everything there is to know about flour, bread and baking and has foolishly agreed to be the judge.  All bribes and dodgy approaches to be made directly and not via this blog.  The judge’s decision is final.

So that’s it, then.  You’ve got loads of time, plenty of inspiration, and some very ambiguous rules.  Let’s get baking bread!

Easy, step by step bread. And how to knead.

There is nothing, I think, quite as delicious as the smell of bread baking.  I know there are times in the kitchen when you want to rush in, whip up something quick, and rush out again, but there are other times when a quiet potter is just fabulous.  For those times, breadmaking is ideal.  I love kneading bread – there’s something quite hypnotic and soothing about it – and producing a home-made loaf is possibly one of the most satisfying things you can do.

As you know, I’m a bit of a rapeseed oil nut, and it’s perfect for this recipe, being both very healthy and pleasantly nutty in flavour, but you can use olive oil or melted butter. Just make sure it weighs 50g.

450g strong white bread flour

2tsp salt (remember a tsp is flat though, don’t overdo it)

1 sachet (7g) yeast

50g rapeseed oil

300ml warm water

So first, sift the flour and salt, then stir in the yeast.  Measure out the oil, pour that in, then use the same jug to measure the warm water (it’ll pick up some of the oil that was left in the jug) and pour that in.

Stir it around with a wooden spoon, then when it’s roughly together, flump it out onto your work surface.

The science bit:

Think of gluten as the spongy network that holds all the bubbles (of carbon dioxide, but hey, that’s me being picky) produced by the yeast in place.  This is the most important bit of bread making. You want the gluten to form nice strong chains – under-kneaded bread will be tough, so don’t skimp.

Kneading technique:

Everyone’s got their own techniques, but all you’re aiming to do is stretch and develop the gluten and aerate the dough (as well as making sure that all your ingredients are thoroughly mixed).  Most forms of squishing, folding and stretching will do the trick.

First things first: don’t worry if your dough is sticky – you want your dough to be sticky.  Your fingers will get covered in dough – don’t worry!  The stickier your dough,the softer and more plumptious your bread.

Start off roughly squeezing it together and then start pushing it away from you with the heel of one hand (you have to use your imagination a bit here, because obviously my other hand was holding the camera).  Really smoosh the dough across the work surface:

… then bring it in, folding it over, and squish it together:

…then push it away from you again.  Carry on doing that until your dough is soft, stretchy and plump – about ten minutes should do it – and bounces back when you stick your finger into it (I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but yes, it should be the texture of a nice soft bum cheek).

Rising:

Flour the bowl and pop your ball of dough into it.  Loosely cover with clingfilm and pop into your airing cupboard alongside the pillows and enormously fat, bad tempered cat (hence the clingfilm).  Leave it for a good hour or until it’s doubled in size.

Knocking back:

Fetch your dough, avoiding your unpleasant feline, pull it away from the edges and give it a couple of thumps with your fist to knock it back.

Additions:

This is the time to add stuff in if you’re being fancy: olives, sundried tomatoes, seeds… whatever you like.  As a rough estimate, I’d keep the ingredients to under 150g.

Shaping:

Plop it once more onto a floured surface. This time, you’re thinking finished product, so give it a quick squish and start forming it into whatever shape you like.  Being blessed with the decorative talent of an amoeba, I usually go for something plain – a rough, ball shape with a slit down the middle, but hey, if you want to plait, don’t let me stop you.

Second rise:

Flour a baking tray and place the dough on it, loosely covering it again and then it’s back to the airing cupboard or sunny windowsill for its final rise.  It probably won’t take another hour, but just wait until it’s nice and puffed up.

Baking:

Preheat the oven to 200/gas 6 and bake for about 20 – 30 minutes.  Obviously a ball shape is going to take longer to cook than a flatter shape.  When it’s done it will be browned, and will sound hollow when you tap its bottom (ooer).

This is quite a soft, farmhouse loaf, but it’s got a lovely texture.  Obviously it won’t keep as well as plastic bread, so it’s best to scoff it warm from the oven.

PS: If you’re a first-time bread maker, make sure you take a picture of your efforts – great competition coming up very soon!

You might also like:

Browse bread recipes

The Friday photo: clucking chickens, fresh bread, golden yolks…

This is not just any egg...

I suppose I’m a bit odd (well if you’re a regular reader you’ll know that already) in that most of the best moments in my life seem inextricably linked to food.  My very happy childhood full of roast dinners, Christmas Snowballs, rice pudding and jammy dodgers, warm strawberries straight off my Grandad’s garden and plums off the tree (‘oy gerrof them you kids!’).  Then it was puréed baby food (#2 liked banana and courgette – he won’t believe it now), making cupcakes with the boys as toddlers, a pea and prawn risotto when Hubby and I got a rare New Year’s Eve together while Grandma babysat… holiday food… Christmas food… family food… every lovely memory seems to be accompanied by the warm scent of baking, the zing of lemon or the fizz of champagne bubbles up the nose.

The other day was no different.  We met fellow blogger Maxi Cane and his other half, the adorable Jelly Monster to arrange collection of Maxi’s Ma’s unwanted chicken coop, which he’d kindly agreed to give us.  A friend was picking it up, but I needed to meet them anyways, just to say hi and to make payment in the form of chocolate brownies, carrots and spring onions, all freshly picked.  Now if you know Maxi’s blog you’ll know he’s a bit naughty, but in real life he was sweet and funny, and the lovely Jelly – wow.  You know those people who are just so sexy they practically crackle with it?  She’s curvy and gorgeous with the prettiest face – not a single man walked past without sneaking a look, I swear.

Anyhoo, so we got the coop and later on, David, our garden chappy, dropped off its occupants (in a sack!  Only in Ireland).  The first disappointment (well, the second – the first was the sack) was that the coop was condemned as unsatisfactory – no separate nesting box, no perch and too small, so much to Hubby’s disgust, we had to go out and buy a new one.

€180 lighter (it’s a hell of a pad, it’s got an upstairs with removable poo trays, a perch, a separate nestbox…you name it), but very excited nontheless, we got to check out our new arrivals:

Minnie Dean

We got a bossy little ginger madam who was quickly adopted by #2 and given the name Minnie Dean (named after a serial killer - don’t ask) and a taller, darker red one – adopted by #1 and called Chilli – bit feisty this one – she gave #1 the slip as she was being transferred and sparked a ridiculous 15 minute family chicken chase round the garden (cue the Benny Hill music) where we all hurled ourselves at her, unsuccessfully, shouted at each other, got zapped by the electric fence (#1) and basically made fools of ourselves until she was rugby tackled by Hubby and taken, squawking loudly in protest, to join the others.  Here’s Chilli (top) and Minnie in their new pad (that hangy thing is an apple, by the way):

Chilli and Minnie Dean

And as a freebie, we got a cute little black and white cockerel, who got nicknamed The Stig.

Stig

Trouble is, Minnie and Chilli don’t like Stig and keep attacking him, so there’s a possibility that if they don’t settle, Stig will have to go back.  The chicken man is coming over later to check on stuff. 

Anyhoo, they’re obviously settling in well, because the next morning we got – an egg!  And then this morning another one!  Well, there was nothing for it, this called for fresh brown bread and a perfectly fried egg.  And so, our first ever chickens will be inextricably linked in my mind to the smell of freshly baked brown bread dipped in a golden, runny yolk:

Fried egg

I am a happy, happy chicken owner and no mistake.

Sticky, gooey, plumptious, scrumptious, soft iced buns

Sticky buns

So poor little #2 came home from his GAA tournament yesterday feeling all under the weather.  He was cold and clammy, his head ached, his tummy hurt and he felt all ‘kind of wobbly’.  Of course, there’s only one cure for this particular group of symptoms, which is a snuggle on the sofa with the dog, the fluffy blanket, a hot chocolate and a fistful of sticky bun.  Trust me, I’m a doctor:

450g strong white bread flour

1 tsp salt

75g sugar

 1 x 7g sachet dried yeast

150ml milk

150ml water

50g butter

4 or 5 tbsp icing sugar

½ tsp liquid glucose

Sieve the flour into a large bowl, then stir in the salt, sugar, and dried yeast.  In a small saucepan, warm the milk, water, and butter over a low heat until the butter has just melted, then turn off the heat.  The liquid should be at no more than blood temperature when it’s added to the dry ingredients.  You can do this in the microwave, but remove it as soon as the butter starts to melt and stir gently until it’s all combined, otherwise you’ll be waiting for ages for it to be cool enough.

Pour most of the milky mixture into the dry ingredients and stir it around with a knife until you get a light dough.  Leave it as sticky as you can bear as you want your dough plumptiously, pillow-soft.  You can always add a bit of flour.  Now start kneading: with the heel of one hand, press and splurge the dough away from you, (imagine you’re smearing it across the work surface) then bring it back, squish it into a ball again, turn it over and then splurge it again.  As it’s quite a wet dough this is a bit messy, but that all adds to the fun.  Again, if you’re getting really covered, you can always add a bit of extra flour.  As you knead it, it will become more elastic and springy and less squelchy.

Apologies for the lack of photos here.  I was enjoying myself so much (I love my kitchen – a week away is about all I can bear) that I forgot I was supposed to photograph it for you.  Anyhoo, when you’ve kneaded for about 5 minutes and your dough is springy and pillowy-soft and looks bizarrely like a nice, round bottom-cheek (it really does, I’m sorry – maybe that’s just my filthy mind), cover it with clingfilm and leave it in the airing cupboard or somewhere else warm until it’s doubled in size.  Then, just knock it back with your fist and form it into 8 balls.  Either place them on a baking tray or arrange them inside a springform cake tin like I did, then cover and rise again until they’re puffed up.

Bake for about 15-20 minutes at 180/gas 6 until they sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.  Now while they’re baking make your icing by adding a couple of teeny drops of boiling water to the icing sugar and liquid glucose (optional but it keeps the icing from setting) until you get a thick, gloopy icing. 

As soon as they’re out of the oven…

Sticky 2

drizzle the icing all over them so it runs down the sides…

Sticky 3

…then stuff into face before your family appears to steal them  hand to little chap snuggled on sofa and watch as he feels better instantly.

Sticky 1

Of course, #2 likes these completely plain, but there are a myriad different additions I could suggest – how about a hint of spice?  Or some orange zest and a few dried cranberries?  Or some nice, juicy sultanas?  Or after the first rise, roll the dough out, spread it generously with butter, brown sugar and sultanas, maybe a little sprinkle of cinnamon, roll into a sausage and cut into rounds, arrange them flat onto a baking tray, allow to rise and then bake and, Bob’s your Auntie – you’ve produced Chelsea Buns, you kitchen legend, you.

The Good Friday photo: Hot cross buns or ‘not cross buns’: you decide.

Not cross bun

So I’ve gone a bit hot cross bun mental recently.  I was testing recipes for them ages ago for the magazine as I think I mentioned, and as people keep scoffing them, I’ve just kept making more and more.  I’ve made them with crosses cut in the top, with crosses piped on, with crosses dribbled on… with no crosses piped on…I’ve made them in round tins, or on baking trays… you name it.

Anyhoo, here the ressup.  Do with it what you will:

450g strong white bread flour

1 tbsp mixed spice

1 tsp salt

75g sugar

 1 x 7g sachet dried yeast

100g sultanas (or mixed peel if you must – bleurgh)

150ml milk

150ml water

Zest of 1 orange

50g butter

First, then, sieve the flour and ground mixed spice together into a large bowl.  Next, stir in the salt, sugar, dried yeast and sultanas.

In a small saucepan (or jug if you’re doing it in the microwave) warm the milk, water, orange zest and butter until the butter is just melted, then turn off the heat.  The liquid should be about blood temperature when it’s added to the dry ingredients.  If you’re using a mixer (mine finally exploded during my last batch, sending Hubby and #2 scurrying to the kitchen to see what I’d blown up, and if I’d survived the blast), set it on low and slowly pour in the milky mixture until the dough comes together (you might not need all of it so go steady), then plug in the dough hook and set it to knead for a good five minutes.

I’ve come to believe, though, that they come out nicer and lighter if you knead them by hand for at least ten minutes.  Yes, I know, sorry, but it’s true.  Knead away, then, getting a good kitchen workout into the bargain.  The sultanas keep trying to escape, but grab any trying to make a quick getaway and poke them back in.  Keep going until the dough is nice and springy and firm (apparently, good dough should be the texture of a woman’s breast). 

Dough

Erm anyway, moving swiftly on… when your dough is sufficiently boob-like, leave it covered in a warm place until it’s doubled in size.   Then, just knock it back with your fist (imagine it’s someone you can’t stand – nice bit of culinary therapy there), and cut it in half, then half again and half again.  Form each of your 8 pieces into a ball and place them on a baking tray.  Cover and rise again until they’re puffed up.

If you want to add the cross, then mix about 2 tbsp flour, a tsp of caster sugar and enough water to make into a paste and either just dribble it with a teaspoon, or pipe it onto your buns (ooer Missus).  Or, you can cut a cross in the top of the buns, like so:

Ready to rise

 …and pipe the cross into the little lines like so:

Dodgy piping

But whatever you think.  Let’s not obsess here, they’re just buns. 

Ooh, one thing, though, you can spread them out inside a large, springform tin, which produces a little circle of buns that you have to tear off – good for novelty value:

Not cross bun round

Bake for about 15-20 minutes at 180/gas 6 until they sound hollow when patted on the bottom (sorry, I seem to have gone all Les Dawson in this recipe).  Finally, when they’re just out of the oven, glaze with a tbsp of sugar to which a drop or two of boiling water has been added, or warm up some apricot conserve and brush it on for extra glossy stickiness.

Now, to the important business of face stuffing: if you’re eating them straight out of the oven (a move I heartily recommend), slather them in butter and be done with it.  But if you’re eating them maybe the next day, split and toast them first.  If you’re going to freeze them, slice them in half first so they can go straight in the toaster.

Buttered

Oh, and if you’re going to go all Jamie Oliver, you can slice them, spread them with marmalade, pour over some custard (although I would have thought that ready-made would be disgusting, I’m sure he knows more about it than me) and bake them in the oven.

Erm... is that one mine?

Either way, have a wonderfully happy Easter break/secular celebration of the start of springtime/excuse to stuff yourself with chocolate /insert your own excuse here… with your loved ones.

Back soon!

Bagels: the rather scrummy roll with a hole

Bagel

I love my kitchen.  I’d love it more if it was painted pink, but that’s a bit contentious on the Hubby front and might take some serious marital bargaining, probably best not described on a family blog such as this.  Still, today I had a bit of a reorganisation (well, I suppose I should say ‘we’, seeing as it involved taking plugs off things and drilling holes) and moved the microwave and blender into the utility room, leaving me much more space and hopefully sorting out the ‘aaaaahhh shiiiiiiiiit!’ dilemma which occurs when picking up a very hot saucepan and not being able to find space anywhere to put it down, whilst simultaneously scorching away the skin on your fingers.

To test out my newly acquired workspace, I obviously needed a recipe with a suitable amount of fannying about involved (you can usually check this by watching my family’s reaction as they wander into the kitchen when I’m cooking – if it’s a bad one, Hubby will raise one eyebrow whilst cleverly performing a 360 and disappearing back from whence he came rather than get involved in holding up a muslin while something drains, or being enlisted to stir something).  This one, then, involving all sorts of kneading and poaching and glazing and stuff, was perfect.  The result, fresh out of the oven, is so densely chewy and delightful that I promise you won’t be disappointed.  Credit where credit’s due, this is adapted from the recipe in Rachel Allen’s must-have tome, ‘Bake’, but simplified for the terminally cack-handed amongst us, namely me:

450g white bread flour

1 x 7g sachet of yeast

2 tsp salt

250ml warm water

2 tbsp honey

1 tbsp oil

To poach:

Boiling water

Sieve the flour into a bowl and stir in the yeast and salt.  In a jug, mix the water (remember it must be nice and warm to activate the yeast) with the honey and oil.  Stir the liquid into the dry ingredients and bring together into a firm dough.  This needs kneading for about ten minutes and – be warned – it’s seriously tough, so if you have a dough hook on your food mixer I’d suggest you use it.  Otherwise, work those pecs, baby, and whilst cursing me, you can be all smug that I’m helping guard against bingo wings. 

When the dough is nice and smooth and elastic, and bounces back when you poke your finger into it, leave it somewhere warm to rise, covered with a clean tea towel, until it’s doubled in size. 

Once it’s ready, divide the dough into about 6 pieces and roll them into sausages, linking them into a ring by wetting the ends and squishing them together.  Once formed, put them back in the airing cupboard (or wherever) to puff up again slightly.

 Leave to puff up again

Preheat the oven to 220/gas 7, but  remember that first you have to poach them, so get a really big pan of boiling water going.  Plop the bagels in, two or three at a time and once they’ve come to the surface (watch they don’t stick to the bottom of the saucepan), give each bagel about 3 minutes bathtime, turning occasionally. 

Poach in revolting treacly water

Lift them out to drain on a wire rack, then brush them with a bit of beaten egg  (you can sprinkle them with stuff at this stage if you like: poppy seeds or whatever) and bake them for about 10 – 15 minutes, then turn them over and give them another 5 – 10 minutes to cook the bases.  Cool on a wire rack, then eat smothered with cream cheese, or butter and jam, or peanut butter…ooh, the possibilities are endless…

The finished article

EDIT: Having made this a couple of times, I’d definitely recommend that you don’t put 3 tbsp treacle in with the poaching water as Rachel Allen  suggests.  Not only does it create the most revolting smell, but I don’t think it really adds much in the way of flavour either.