Coconut is one of those ingredients I’ve never been one hundred percent sure about.
As a little girl, I can remember waiting for what seemed like forever at the local fair while my Dad and brother threw wooden balls at a row of coconuts in the attempt to win this exotic prize. Once the hairy husk was prized open and crumbly white flesh exposed, I’d try a tiny nub but soon be distracted by the other edible excitements on offer: burgers from the BBQ, bags of sweets or a stick of candy floss that melted with every messy, fuzzy mouthful.
On holiday in Italy, alongside the peddlers of sarongs and sunglasses, friendship bracelets, beads and other seaside tat, I was always intrigued by the man who sold coconut. Muscley, suntanned and glistening with sweat, he’d carry an enormous basket of coconut in one arm and a bucket of iced water in the other, his cry of ‘Cocco, bello cocco’ audible from miles across the sand. It looked and sounded so exotic, but when push came to shove, the lure of an Italian ice cream or granita would always win out.
Butter, on the other hand, is an ingredient that I absolutely love. Salty or unadulterated, spread thick on homemade bread, creamed into cakes, crumbled into pastry or melted into nutty beurre noisette, butter brings flavour and texture, all-round richness and deliciousness to almost any dish.
Despite this love, I’ve finally decided to experiment with coconut oil. Buzz around this ‘superfood’ seems to have been building for the last five years and now seems to have reached an all time high with nutritionists and bloggers around the world praising its use in everything from frying fish to baking cakes. Although high in saturated fats, coconut oil burns off quicker than butter, helping boost metabolism and is said to help towards a healthy heart and a myriad of other benefits.
The recipe below is an experiment with coconut oil and my contribution to Easter baking for this year. I love hot cross buns (previous recipes here - Verison 1 and here - Version 2) but find a full batch can be a bit too much for the two of us to get through before they go stale. I know that they freeze well, but once the idea of a hot cross loaf had lodged in my mind, thickly sliced and toasted on demand, I knew it had to be made.
I’ve adapted Paul Hollywood’s hot cross bun recipe using a list of ingredients that I hope you will fall in love with as much as I have. My loaf is 100% wholemeal, the dough enriched with coconut oil, maple syrup, almond milk and spice, kept moist with a juicy grated apple. I appreciate that the inclusion of eggs may be annoying for anyone looking to create a completely vegan loaf, so although I haven’t actually tried it, I would think you could replace the beaten egg with a small amount of mashed banana to reasonable effect. If you try it, let me know.
If you’re a butter-loving sort of a baker, this loaf is the perfect introduction to coconut oil. If you’re already on board, it’s a great way to use any oil you’ve got going spare. In amongst the excesses of Easter, the slices of Simnel cake, towers of chocolate eggs and rich roast lamb, this lovely loaf is equally delicious but a little bit more virtuous.
Which means you can smear on that little bit more butter, of course.
Healthier Wholemeal Hot Cross Loaf (adapted from Paul Hollywood’s How to Bake)
(makes two 1lb loaves)
For the dough
500g strong wholemeal bread flour
65ml maple syrup
10g instant yeast
40g coconut oil, melted
2 medium eggs, beaten*
120ml warm almond milk
120ml cool water
230g mixed dried fruit (I used flame raisins, sultanas & apricots)
Finely grated zest of 2 oranges
Juice of half an orange
1 apple, cored and grated
2 tsp cinnamon
Nutmeg, grated, to taste
For the crosses
75g plain flour
For the glaze
50g apricot jam
For the dough
Put the flour in a large mixing bowl. Add the salt and maple syrup to one side and the yeast to the other. Add the coconut oil, eggs and milk and mix together with your fingers. Add the water, bringing together to make a soft – but not soggy – dough.
Use the mixture to clean the sides of the bowl then tip onto a lightly floured surface and knead for ten minutes or so, until the dough starts to form a soft, smooth skin. This dough is fairly sticky so if you have a stand mixer with a dough hook, now would be a good time to use it.
Lightly oil a bowl, pop the dough inside, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise until doubled in size. This could take as little as an hour, but two or three is fine.
In a small bowl, mix together the dried fruit, orange zest, orange juice, grated apple and spices. Once your dough is ready, tip onto a lightly floured surface, push into a large flat rectangle and scatter over the fruit mixture. Knead in until evenly incorporated then return to your bowl, cover and leave to rise for a further hour.
Preheat your oven to 220 degrees C and lightly oil two 1lb loaf tins. Tip the dough onto the work surface and press out into a large rectangle. Divide the dough into two equal sized pieces. Taking one piece, roll one third of the dough into the middle and press down. Repeat the other side and press down until you have a firm sausage shape then tuck the ends under and place in your baking tin.
Put the two tins inside a clean plastic bag and leave to prove for one hour. The dough should rise up above the edges of the tin and double in size.
For the crosses
Mix the flour and water to a thick paste. Fill a piping bag fitted with a small nozzle.
Take your loaves out from inside the plastic bag and pipe a large cross over the top of each one. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped. Remove from the oven and place on a wire cooling rack.
For the glaze
Warm the apricot jam with a splash of water and brush over the tops of the loaves to glaze.
Served in thick slices, this moist loaf is delicious as both bread and toast.