When I was in Dubai, I loved that they used Hibiscus in cooking, and in tea. It has a flavour – and colour – similar to cranberry – fruity but tart – so when I saw some in the Bastakiya market I nabbed some, feeling that it would be excellent around Christmas time. Here’s my first Christmassy experiment. I think it works really well.
450g strong white bread flour
1 tsp salt
1 x 7g sachet dried yeast
Zest of one lemon
For the icing:
2 tbsp dried hibiscus flowers
4 or 5 tbsp icing sugar
So for the soft iced buns:
Sieve the flour into a large bowl, then stir in the salt, sugar, and dried yeast. In a small saucepan, warm the milk, butter and lemon zest 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.
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 this will make the end result really 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 soft (you know I’m going to do the bottom cheek analogy now, don’t you – I can’t help it) and akin to a plump baby’s bottom, 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 4 until they sound hollow when tapped on the bottom (God, I’ve got some kind of bottom obsession. Sorry).
While they’re baking, you can make the icing. Take a couple of tablespoons of the dried hibiscus and just cover with boiling water. Leave to infuse. If you’re not using the hibiscus, just use cranberry juice, or even just lemon juice. Remember to add the liquid to the icing sugar and not the other way round. Dribble by dribble, keep adding liquid until the icing is thick and viscous. Too runny and it will all disappear down the sides of the buns, and too thick and it won’t dribble in a satisfactory, dribbly manner.
As soon as they’re out of the oven…
… drizzle the icing all over them so it runs down the sides…
For an added Middle Eastern touch, you could sprinkle them with crushed pistachio nuts, or for added Christmassyness some good old edible glitter, or even chopped, dried cranberries. Or all of it, if you’re feeling all daredevilly (wait, is that a word?).
As always, make these your own by adding maybe some Christmas spices, sultanas or substituting the lemon for orange.