Sunday, April 20, 2014

Hot Cross Buns

Had I really thought about it, I would have prepped more the night before but after a long, hard day at work I managed only to get the ingredients measured and ready for the next morning.  So the hot cross buns didn’t quite make it for morning tea but they were ready by lunchtime.

I’d been inspired to make hot cross buns after a trip to the supermarket to buy some Easter goods for a farewell at work.  The sad offerings of eight squashed, dark and inedible looking hot cross buns made me want to go and spend $3 each on some good ones but it wasn’t my money to splash around.  Of course I didn’t eat any of them, such was their lack of appeal. So what better time to try to make them myself?

I’ve had a couple of hot cross bun recipes lurking in my recipe folder for years now and chose this one from the now defunct (I think?) Notebook magazine.  I replaced the stated plain 00 flour for high-grade flour and added a pinch each of nutmeg and cinnamon.  Next time I might add a little more spice but other than that I was really happy with how they turned out.

I thought I was going to have an epic fail on piping those crosses but I was surprised at how easy it was.  I think last week’s Easter cupcake icing was still fresh in my mind.

What really amazed me was how excited I was the whole morning it took me to do them (don’t be put off, there’s a lot of down time for the dough in there).  Isn’t it great to be excited about something? I’ve missed that!

Hot Cross Buns

Makes 16 

1½ cups (375ml) warm milk
2 tsp (7g) dried yeast
¼ cup (55g) caster sugar
60g butter, melted
1 egg, lightly whisked
4½ cups (675g) high-grade flour
1 tsp salt
3 tsp mixed spice
a pinch each of ground cinnamon and nutmeg
1 cup (170g) sultanas
¼ cup (45g) currants
¼ cup (50g) mixed peel
1/3 cup (80ml) cold water
Glaze: ½ cup (170g) apricot jam

Combine the milk, yeast and 1 tablespoon of the sugar in a measuring jug.  Set aside in a warm, draught-free place for 10 minutes or until frothy (I use the hot water cupboard for this.)

Once the above is ready, add the melted butter and egg to the mix and whisk to combine.

In a large bowl or cake mixer bowl, sift together 4 (600g) cups of the flour  (keeping the remainder for the paste for the crosses), salt and spices then mix in the sugar.  Add the sultanas, currants and mixed peel and stir to combine.  Make a well in the centre, pour in the milk mixture and stir to bring the dough together.  If you’re kneading by hand, turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10-15 minutes.  Alternatively, using the dough hook attachment on the cake mixer, turn the mixer to a slow speed and knead for 10 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic. 

Place the dough in a bowl, cover with a damp tea towel and transfer to a warm, draught free place for 1 hour or until the dough doubles in size.

Preheat the oven to 200°C.  Grease and line a 23cm square cake tin (I used two smaller ones).  Punch the dough down with your fist.  Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 2-3 minutes or until it is smooth and elastic.

Divide dough into 16 even pieces and shape each into a ball.  Place them close to each other in the tin(s), then set aside for 30 minutes in (yes, you guessed!) a warm, draught free place until dough has risen 2cm.

Mix the remaining flour and water together to form a smooth paste.  Place in an icing bag with small round piping nozzle or in a plastic bag with the end snipped off.  Pipe a continuous line down the centre of each row of buns, lengthways and widthways, to form crosses.

Bake the buns for 10 minutes at 200°C.  Reduce heat to 180°C and cook for a further 20 minutes, until dark golden and cooked through.  The buns will be ready when they sound hollow when tapped on the base.

Use the baking paper to lift them onto a wire rack to cool. 

Meanwhile, heat the apricot jam over a high heat in a small saucepan. Cook, stirring, for two minutes until jam melts.  Sieve the jam into a small bowl and brush the tops of the hot cross buns with it.

Leave to cool.  Serve with butter and/or jam.  They are also very good toasted. 

These are best eaten on the day. The buns themselves were fine the next day but the crosses hardened so I removed them (they just lifted off, still leaving a cross indent).

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Easter Egg Cupcakes

It’s a given that if you like chocolate you’re going to think you’re in seventh heaven around Easter time.  Chocolate galore and, thanks to Easter starting shortly after Christmas in supermarkets, plenty of time to enjoy it. 

There’s always the usual favourites in this house – a large Cadbury rabbit for daughter (“it’s a tradition, Mum!”) and a cute little Lindt golden bunny bought for me, by me (no point in leaving yourself out of the equation is there?).   And, if Bill’s been good, the Easter Bunny may just bring him something too.  He has to eat his fast though – you snooze, you loose when I’m around chocolate.

In true form, I scoffed the first packet of Cadbury mini-eggs bought to decorate the cupcakes before I’d even got to weekend baking and had to buy another pack. These ones made it safely to the topping and they are rather cute with their speckled coating.

Thanks to Alessandra and Sweet NewZealand, I’d been given some Fresh As freeze-dried raspberry powder and used that to dust the icing.  It gives a nice sharp tang to counteract the sweetness of the cupcake.  I also had a Christmas gift of Vahlrona chocolate pearls.  I originally thought these were pure chocolate balls ready for melting (well, there’s nothing on the pack to say otherwise!). Thankfully I Googled them before making the horrible mistake of melting what were actually crunchy little chocolate-coated biscuit bites.  They added a nice crunchy texture and I was pretty pleased with the end result. 

I’m always a bit apprehensive when it comes to icing cupcakes but after a couple of re-runs of the lovely Lydia Bakes' icing tutorial, I reckon I made an acceptable attempt even if I was lacking in consistency of style.

I made these cupcakes on a Saturday morning and, after sampling a couple over the weekend and giving most away, I popped two in the fridge.  Happily, Bill didn’t notice his share (may have been the placing at the back of the fridge? J) and I was able to polish it off for morning tea on Tuesday – and it tasted good.  Just to show I'm not completely selfish, I am sharing this post with We Should Cocoa for the chocolate and Easter special hosted by Rachel and also with Marnelli at Sweets and Brains who is hosting Sweet New Zealand.

Happy Easter everyone.

Easter Egg Cupcakes

Chocolate cupcakes 

100g standard flour
20g good quality cocoa powder
140g caster sugar
1½ tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
40g butter, at room temperature
120ml whole milk
1 egg
¼ tsp vanilla essence

Cream cheese icing 

300g icing sugar, sifted
50g unsalted butter at room temperature
125g cream cheese
Food colouring of your choice


Decorate with chocolate sprinkles or easter themed decorations.  I dusted the Fresh As freeze-dried raspberry powder on top of the icing and sprinkled on a few Vahlrona crunchy pearls (tiny beads of biscuit filled chocolate).  To finish each cupcake, I decorated with Cadbury’s Mini Eggs, which resemble real eggs with their speckled candy shells, and a little fresh flower.

Preheat the oven to 170°C (325°F).  Place some paper cupcake cases in a cupcake or muffin tin(s).

Sift the flour and cocoa powder into a cake mixing bowl and add the sugar, salt and butter.  Using the paddle attachment, beat on a slow speed until the ingredients are combined and resemble a sandy consistency.

In a jug, whisk the milk, egg and vanilla together.  Slowly pour about half the liquid into the flour mixture with the mixer on a low speed then turn up high for a short burst to get rid of any lumps.

Slowly pour in the remaining milk mixture with the mixer on slow, scraping down the sides of the bowl.  Mix until smooth (do not overmix).

Spoon into the paper cases about half to two-thirds full (this will depend on the size of your cases as there are so many variants). 

Bake for 20-25 minutes until the cake springs back when lightly pressed and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Leave for 5 minutes in the tin then transfer to a wired cake rack to cool. 

Ice and decorate when cool.

Cream Cheese Icing 

Place the icing sugar and butter in a cake mixing bowl with paddle attachment (or use a hand-held electric whisk).  With the cake mixer on a slow to medium speed, beat until the mix comes together and is well mixed.

Add the cream cheese and beat until incorporated.  Turn mixer up to medium-high and beat at least 5 minutes until icing is light and fluffy (do not overbeat).

Add your choice of food colouring and beat until incorporated.  I split the mix into two equal parts then added tiny drops of food colouring to get a lemon and a pink shade.

Recipes from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook

Saturday, March 29, 2014

etcetera ... fabulous Fridays

I work 4 days a week so when Fridays come around, I try to do something special.  Now that may mean catching up with a friend, going to a movie or sampling some of the cafes that keep on opening up in Auckland.  It seems that every week there is a new cafĂ© or restaurant, or two or three, on the scene.  How do they all survive?

Last Friday, although strictly speaking it was last week’s Friday, not yesterday (confused?), I had such a lovely day where everything turned out just the way I’d want.

First up I headed for coffee and cake at L’Oeuf in Mt Albert.  I must be one of the few who haven’t had un oeuf at L’Oeuf (an egg for those without the benefit of my school taught French), mainly because I seldom go out for breakfast or brunch – I will have had my breakfast early and by mid-morning I am more than ready for a coffee, especially after a drive into the city.  Anyhow, in my book, cake and coffee go so much better than eggs and coffee (just saying…). 

Do you ever get that anxious feeling when you step inside somewhere new?  I do, but at L’Oeuf I was instantly made to feel genuinely welcome by the waitstaff. So much so that after all their warm attention I practically skipped out the door.  Great service, guys. 

I chose this delicious pear and cardamom cake, along with a latte.  The waitress placed them in front of me and explained they had a new barista so if anything was not up to scratch I was to let them know (it was all perfect).  Later she came by to check and to have a little chat.

Now the really annoying thing is that I used to live close to this cafe and now I don’t.  I sat there wishing L’Oeuf had been around then.  C’est la vie.

Moving on and a short drive to the Capitol Cinema to see Wadjda.  This is a little gem of a movie about a spirited young girl (played so captivatingly by Waad Mohammed that it’s almost like watching a documentary) who comes up with some ingenuous ways to save money for a bike she covets.  As we follow her daily life and attendance at a strict religious school, the film gently illustrates the restrictions of women and children in Saudi Arabia. Directed by a female Saudi Arabian, the movie explores the issues simply and effectively and in a way that leaves you with hope.  My feminist hackles rose several times but I was heartened a few days later hearing a radio movie reviewer say that since the film’s release, bicycle areas had been introduced in Saudi Arabia for young girls to use (one of the problems Wadjda faced was that it wasn’t seemly for girls to ride bikes in public).

The last thing to put a smile on my face before leaving the city behind was missing all the normal Friday afternoon traffic and cruising home with no delays.  Bliss.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Fudgy Chocolate Macaroons

Not to be confused with the highly popular macarons (although it can be quite confusing as macarons are also known as macaroons), I'm distinguishing them like this - French macarons for coloured meringue discs sandwiched with filling and macaroons for chewy coconut  confections with a crispy outer.

I never took a liking to the plain coconut macaroons which were usually pyramid shaped morsels with toasted coconut on the outside but these ones are on chocolate overload and are really something. If you can imagine a meringue based brownie you'd be close to the taste and texture of these - fudgy, chewy chocolate and coconut covered with a crisp baked outer shell. Highly addictive.

Fudgy Chocolate Macaroons

Makes 16-18

250g good quality dark chocolate (72% or more cocoa)
2 egg whites
a pinch of salt
3/4 cup caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 cups coconut (best with long thread coconut but you can substitute desiccated coconut)

Preheat oven to 150 degrees C.  Line a large tray with baking paper.

Chop or break the chocolate into small chunks and place in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (don't let the water touch the base of the bowl or let it splash onto the chocolate).  Stir frequently until the chocolate is melted.  Put aside to cool.

Place the egg whites, salt and 1/2 cup of the caster sugar into the spotlessly clean (no grease!) mixing bowl of your cake mixer and, using the whisk attachment, whisk until stiff.  Add the remainder of the sugar about a heaped tablespoonful at a time, whisking each addition for a few minutes.

Turn your cake mixer onto lowest setting and briefly mix in the vanilla and melted chocolate. Using a metal spoon, fold in the coconut carefully.

Place small scoops onto the baking tray.   I used a mini ice cream scoop which holds just over a tablespoon of mix, depends on how big you want the macaroons.  I think next time I'd go with just using a spoon to get a more rustic look at these were too rounded for my liking.

Bake for approximately 15-20 minutes until crisp on the outside but soft and chewy in the centre.

I'm sharing these with Sweet New Zealand hosted this month by Frances at Bake Club.

I'm also pleased to be participating in We Should Cocoa as this has been on my food blogging To Do list since, oh I don't know how long.  We Should Cocoa is also a monthly food blogging event all about chocolate and whatever other ingredient the guest hosts come up with.  This month's host I'd Much Rather Bake Than ... has chosen coconut so it seems I am lucky in that all my stars converged (drum roll, please) resulting in my first ever entry.

And if you want more chocolate and coconut loveliness, don't miss this previous post - another favourite of mine!

Chocolate Date Slice

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Tomato Chutney in a hurry

Sometimes I can't face banging around with pots and pans and sterilizing and labelling - all those things that precede a glittering array of sealed jars of bottled fruit and preserved chutneys to see you through the winter.

For those of us who want the tastiness of a spicy tomato chutney without all the fuss, this is a quick and easy recipe adapted slightly from Anjum's New Indian cookbook.   It's been great for using up our little crop of garden tomatoes - especially good smeared over a sandwich or on top of  crackers and our local Mercer cumin gouda cheese.  I've also used it as a relish for corn fritters or add it to spice up a sauce.

It usually takes the two of us some time to polish off a jar of chutney but this one's been so popular that I ended up making another batch after we'd scoffed the first lot in record time.

Adjust the chilli flakes to how much heat you want - I used 1/4 teaspoon the first time, but upped that to 1/2 teaspoon for this last batch for a bit more fire.

Tomato Chutney

Makes 1 small jar 

1 tbsp olive oil
1 bay leaf
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/4 - 1/2 tsp chilli flakes (or dried chilli)
2 large tomatoes, chopped
1/4 tsp turmeric
salt (1/4 to 1/2 tsp - adjust to your own taste)
4 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp sultanas
1 tsp fresh ginger, finely grated
1 tsp red wine vinegar
50ml water

Heat the oil in a medium sized heavy based saucepan.  Add the bay leaf, mustard seeds and chilli flakes and cook until the mustard seeds start to pop.

Add the tomatoes and turmeric and stir for a few minutes until soft.  

Add the remaining ingredients, bring to the boil and then simmer for 5-7 minutes until thickened slightly.

Cool and place in a sterilized jar (the only amount of fiddling you'll have to do).  Keep in the fridge and use within 7 days. Not hard really.