Happy Easter from the little loaf

Bircher muesli
Life has been hectic lately, to say the least. Beyond the book – which is the best kind of busy – we’ve been up and down the M1 for family reasons and I’m afraid I don’t have a new recipe for you today. What I do have, however, is a selection of my favourite Easter recipes – just click on each picture to take you to the post. A hot cross bun isn’t just for Easter, so although I should probably have posted this a week ago, I hope you’ll try them out anyway.

The last couple of weeks have really hammered home to me the importance of family, and Easter feels as good a time to give that some recognition. Wherever you are, I hope your weekend is filled with friends and family, love and laughter. Plus an endless supply of speckled chocolate eggs, of course. Continue reading

Healthier Wholemeal Hot Cross Loaf

Wholemeal hot cross loaf

Hot cross loaf made with wonderful, natural ingredients

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. Continue reading

Fresh From the Oven Challenge April: Hot Cross Buns

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Little spiced buns with a sticky syrup glaze

Hot cross buns. The name for these Easter treats always anthropomorphizes them in my eyes: rather than being crossed for religious reasons, I always imagine them as hot and bothered: a flustered little addition to any baking repertoire. Luckily making these lovely seasonal buns is anything but bothersome. A simple enriched dough of flour, sugar, butter and egg is stirred through with mixed spice and additions of your choice – typically raisins, sultanas and candied peel, although chopped dried dates, apricots, cherries or even chocolate are all delicious alternatives – before being quickly kneaded, left to rise then divided into perfect little pillows and marked with a cross.

This month I’m hosting the Fresh From the Oven challenge and I’ve decided to task anyone who wants to get involved with making spiced buns. With Easter just a few days away and the shelf-life of a homemade hot cross buns a little less than 48 hours, now couldn’t be a more perfect time to get baking. But don’t worry if you’ve been hugely organized and already baked a batch for your freezer  – there are some suggestions below for alternatives to your standard hot cross bun, and the more diverse and imaginative the entries the better!

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Creme Egg Ice Cream (Fior di Latte, Milk Chocolate, Passion Fruit)

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A thin milk chocolate shell encloses soft, pale fior di latte ice cream

Cadbury’s Creme Eggs. How do you eat yours?

If you’re me, the answer is not very often. Despite their popularity (300 million of the things are sold every year in the UK), and strong association with all things seasonal (Creme Egg ads are to Easter what Coca Cola ads are to Christmas, sad but true), I’m just not that keen on them. Give me a caramel-filled alternative or handful of Smartie-like Mini Eggs any day over the sickly fondant slop that fills the nation’s favourite Easter egg.

That’s not to say I don’t like the idea of them. There’s something about peeling back the foil, biting off the top and licking out that gloopy goo which brings out the child in all of us. This childish joy has been so perfectly captured in the Creme Egg ad campaigns that every year I’ll be tempted to try one, opening it in eager anticipation only to be defeated after a couple of bites by the onset of sugar on top of more sugar. Continue reading

Chocolate & Caramel Layer Cake

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Vanilla, chocolate & caramel cake layered with salty caramel

A word of warning before you embark on reading this post: if you’ve given up chocolate and sweet stuff for Lent, you might want to look away now. Recent events suggest I have a tendency to lead people into temptation . . .

Last week I met one of my school friends for dinner after work. There were supposed to be three of us, but my other friend ended up stuck in the office in the way, it seems, that only lawyers can, unsure whether more paperwork might come through from the States and if she’d be there until ten at night or two in the morning. Despite her absence, the evening was lovely: wine was opened, stories shared, gossip caught up on and plenty of good food consumed. After two very virtuous fish-based mains, we both decided to go for the most indulgent-sounding dessert on the menu: chocolate brownie with homemade hazelnut ice cream. Continue reading

Banana, chocolate & walnut loaf

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Sticky, moist banana loaf

Over the last few days I’ve seen quite a few blog posts cropping up with recipes recommending what to do with leftover Easter chocolate. Rocky road, tiffin, brownies, rice crispy cakes, chocolate cake, chocolate sauce and more; these are all suitably worthy resting places for those sad little eggs and shells that didn’t quite make it into the Easter morning binge. But to be honest, I’ve never really had this issue of ‘egg-cess’ (sorry), having subscribed to more of an ‘all or nothing’ approach to anything sweet from a young age. Consuming my own body weight in chocolate before Easter breakfast has now become pretty much standard practice.

Having said that, yesterday a little bit of Easter egg chocolate did manage to sneak its way into the mixing bowl as I was making my favourite banana loaf recipe. I’d returned home after Easter to a pile of soft, slightly blackened bananas and needed a recipe to salvage them pretty quickly, This sticky, moist banana loaf was the perfect answer- in fact, it simply doesn’t taste the same if the bananas you use aren’t blackened, squidgy and sickly sweet. And the addition of a few nuggets of deliciously dark chocolate prevents the richness of the banana from becoming overpowering.

chocolate_walnut_banana_loaf

Banana, chocolate & walnut – the perfect combination

I mentioned a few weeks ago my discovery of a delicious banana, chocolate and walnut loaf recipe on Gourmet Traveller ‘s blog. I’ve made it a few times since, tweaking the ingredients here and there, and the result is always spot on – dense, moist and nutty inside, crusty and golden on the top, with a richly intense banana flavour and little hits of chocolate. This loaf is delicious as a dessert with natural Greek yoghurt or vanilla ice cream, the perfect tea-time snack served straight up, or an incredible indulgence toasted and smothered in butter. It’s really more of a cake than a loaf though, so arteries take heed if you do decide to go for this final option.

Banana, Chocolate and Walnut Loaf
(adapted from a Gourmet Traveller recipe)

4 large ripe bananas
100g unsalted butter, slightly soft
140g soft brown sugar
2 large free range eggs
50g walnuts, chopped
50g dark chocolate (70% cocoa minimum), chopped
150ml semi-skimmed milk
140g plain flour
140g wholemeal flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 level tbsp demerara sugar

Preheat the oven to 160°C. Grease a 900g (2lb) loaf tin with butter and line the base with baking parchment.

Peel and roughly mash the bananas with a fork. In a separate large mixing bowl, whisk the butter and sugar together until pale and creamy. Crack in the eggs and whisk further to combine, then stir in the mashed banana, walnuts, chocolate and milk. Stir thoroughly to incorporate all the ingredients – the banana means there may be a few lumps.

Sift the flours and bicarbonate of soda into the bowl and gently fold into the wet mixture until just combined. The key here is to work carefully to preserve the lightness of the cake batter. Pour the batter into your prepared loaf tin and sprinkle with the demerara sugar.

Bake in the oven for 1 hour – you’ll know it’s done when a metal skewer inserted in the middle comes out mostly clean. If it’s still wet with batter, pop your loaf back in the oven for another 15 minutes, covering with foil if the top is browning too much. When cooked, remove from oven and leave to sit for 5 minutes before transferring the loaf out onto a wire ack to cool completely.

Homemade Hot Cross Buns

spiced_hot_cross_bunsWhen I started blogging as thelittleloaf a couple of months ago, one of the first people I asked for their honest opinion (Mum, Dad and Carniverous Boyfriend don’t count) was a friend who lives in Sydney. Launching yourself out there into the blogosphere is a pretty daunting prospect; I worried what people would think of my blog. Could I actually write? Would my recipes work? And, perhaps most importantly, would anyone care? I know that the immediacy of the internet means your audience could just as easily be in the next room as on the next continent, but perhaps subconsciously it felt safer to try my ideas out on someone who lives over 10,000 miles away.

As you might expect from a dedicated carb lover and little loaf, my first ever post was a malty wholemeal loaf. After lots of fun baking, uploading my photos and thinking of what to include in my post, I duly sent the link Down Under to see what my friend had to say.  She wrote back to describe in laugh-out-loud detail (Jess, have you considered your own blog?), her own bread baking attempts and the often inedible results, asking if I wouldn’t mind sharing any tips I had. Hurrah! Her heartfelt and immediate response made me realise there might actually be a market, albeit a small one so far (Mum, Dad and CB, again I don’t think you count), for my amateur exploration into the world of bread, baking and other good things you can put in your mouth.

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One particular baking challenge my friend mentioned in her email was hot cross buns. Apparently her most recent batch were renamed ‘hot cross biscuits’ by her husband on account of their texture. I’d never attempted to bake hot cross buns before, but I love eating them every Easter so I decided to do some research and find her the perfect recipe for these sweet, fruity buns.

My first port of call was the River Cottage Bread Handbook by Daniel Stevens. This is the book that tutored me towards my very first light, crusty crumb – a loaf I could actually be proud of. But although I absolutely trust Daniel’s step-by-step guidance, I wanted to see what other bakers were doing with this Easter classic, and had already got my eye on a couple of recipes on the Guardian website.

toasted_hot_cross_bunsI’m yet to make a recipe by baker-extraordinaire Dan Lepard that hasn’t come out delicious, and I loved the look of his spiced stout buns, especially the idea of soaking the dried fruit in tea for an extra moist richness. I’d also bookmarked Felicity Cloake’s recipe as I’m an avid follower of her ‘How to cook  perfect . . .’ series. She’d already done a lot of the legwork for me, incorporating tips from Dan Lepard, Nigella Lawson and another baking blog I love, Wild Yeast. Her ‘perfect’ hot cross bun photo also gave me a glimmer of hope for my own ‘first ever bun’ attempts – totally gorgeous but in a very homemade, rustic way. Last but not least, I had a quick peak at Signe Johansen’s recipe, a Scandinavian food blogger I’ve been following since I found her incredible chocolate chip cookie recipe. She had an awesome idea for an Easter loaf using the same mixture of ingredients, but I decided to forgo this til another occasion in favour of the traditional real deal bun.

So Jess (and all you other baking enthusiasts out there), for what it’s worth, here’s my recipe for the perfect hot cross bun. The photos above were taken from my first attempt, and next time I’ll be making my buns smaller and further apart (the photos above suggest a bun on steroids – all subsequent modifications have been accommodated in my recipe below). I hope you enjoy making these as much as I did.

Hot cross buns
(make 12 regular or 16 small-ish buns)

100ml hot black tea
120g raisins, currants, sultanas & mixed peel of your choice
125ml water
125g milk
2 cloves
1 stick cinammon
Pinch saffron
Pinch grated nutmeg
250g plain white flour
250g strong white flour
5g instant powdered yeast
10g salt
50g golden caster sugar
1 large free range egg, beaten
50g butter, chilled
Finely grated zest of half an orange

For the crosses:

50g plain white flour
1tsp sunflower oil
80ml water

To finish & glaze:

1tbsp apricot (or other) jam
1 tbsp boiling water

Method:

The night before you want to make your buns, soak the dried fruit in the hot black tea. This will give the fruit a dark, unctuous quality.

The next day, strain the dried fruit and set aside. Heat the water, milk, cloves, cinammon, saffron and nutmeg in a small pan til just boiling, then remove from the heat and leave to cool slightly and infuse. In a large bowl mix together the flours, yeast, salt and sugar. Grate the chilled butter into the bowl and rub it into the flour mixture with your fingertips until well mixed. Add the warm milk mixture, dried fruit, sugar, egg and orange zest, and mix to form a soft, sticky dough, then knead for around 10 minutes until soft, silky and elastic.

*n.b. Most of the recipes I looked at suggested doing this step in a food mixer if possible, as the dough is very wet and sticky. I don’t have one, so decided to get stuck in and knead by hand. At first I thought I must have made a massive error as I grappled with a sticky, slimy-looking, unresponsive gloop. But I promise, persevere with your kneading for a few minutes, don’t be tempted to drown it in extra flour, and it will turn into a lovely soft dough*

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Lightly grease a clean bowl and put the dough into it. Cover with a tea towel and leave in a warm place to rise . This will take 1-2 hours depending on where you leave it. Once the dough has doubled in size, tip it out of the bowl and knead for a minute or so, then divide into 12 even sized pieces and roll into bun shapes.

Put the buns on a floured baking sheet, run a sharp knife over the top to form crosses, then cover with the same tea towel and leave to prove until doubled in size – around 30 mins to an hour.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. To make the crosses, whisk together the flour, water and oil til smooth, then spoon into a greaseproof piping bag and snip a tiny hole in the end. Pipe thin crosses across the buns. My piping bag split and I ended up having to do this by hand with a teaspoon, hence the slightly rustic crosses in the pictures above, but although they don’t look perfect, I quite like the rough-around-the-edges homemade look. Pop the buns in the oven and bake for 15-20 mins until golden and delicious.

A couple of minutes before the buns are ready, mix the boiling water and apricot jam in a small bowl. Remove your hot cross buns from the oven and brush with the syrupy glaze. Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool. Enjoy toasted with wedges of slightly salty butter or, for my ultimate hot cross bun indulgence, eat cold with thick cream and strawberry jam.