Monday, 5 April 2010

One-a-penny, two-a-penny buns. Looking for a recipe, I picked up Elizabeth David's English Bread and Yeast Cookery. She writes: "Bath buns, hot cross buns, spice buns, penny buns - all these 'small, soft, plump, sweet, fermented' cakes are English institutions. Very stodgy ones, too, if you buy them from the bakeries, and to be avoided by anyone mindful of their weight and, in particular, of the obesity problems of so many of today's English children."

I double-checked the publication date: yes, she was writing about childhood obesity concerns more that 30 years ago. She goes on to reassure us: "Made at home, Bath buns and spice buns are by no means heavy, and hot cross buns, well-spiced and fresh from the oven, are entirely delicious."

It wasn't David's recipe I used in the end, but the recipe from Andrew Whitley's Bread Matters. His sweet bun dough, made with a liquid ferment (flour, milk, sugar and yeast mixed together and left in a warm place until it has risen up and collapsed back on itself), is soft and sticky - the wet dough giving a less dense finished product. The hot cross bun dough is flavoured with mixed spice and has dried fruit folded in towards the end of the kneading.

One of the reasons I like Whitley's book is that it is packed with helpful tips and explanations: soak the fruit for an hour so that it doesn't draw liquid from the dough; don't mess around with pastry strips, make a runny dough that can be piped onto the buns; a whole paragraph telling you how to get a good contrast between the light-coloured cross and the darker bun dough. Best of all, he recommends a finger-licking good, sticky glaze made  from 2 parts honey to 1 part double cream: warm the honey, stir in the double cream, and brush onto the buns when they come out of the oven.

Sticky fingers aside, I am pleased to report that these hot cross buns were entirely delicious.

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