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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Bourke Street Bakery Croissants

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A pile of beautiful, buttery homemade croissants

How far would you go to find the perfect croissant?

With so many wonderful bakeries in the city, Londoners like me are lucky enough to have some pretty amazing options on our doorstep. Fancy venturing a little further afield? France is your obvious answer, synonymous with the very best croissants in the world and only a couple of hours away. Doable in a day, definitely, and not so completely crazy if you’re really on a mission to find that perfect pastry.

I’m going to throw another option into the mix. How about we travel for twenty two hours, averaging around 500 miles per hour, covering nearly 11,000 miles and ending up in Surry Hills, an inner-city suburb of Sydney, Australia? We’ll head for Bourke Street, number 633 to be precise, and before you can even begin to feast your eyes on the incredible array of bread, cakes and pastries displayed in the window, you’ll detect the irresistible smell of butter and baking that draws Sydney-siders to Bourke Street Bakery like moths to an irresistible, edible flame. Continue reading

Pumpkin, Poppy & Sesame Seed Bagels

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Dense, chewy & scattered with seeds

Growing up there was always good bread available in the little loaf household. My mum didn’t regularly make her own – although when she did we’d fall on it fresh from the oven, devouring slabs of buttered bread so hot they still felt slightly doughy – but she’d always buy loaves from the local bakery rather than anything more mass produced. Nothing particularly fancy, just good a wholemeal tin, nutty malted grain or a batch of poppy seed rolls to fill for our packed lunches at school.

With the arrival of a farmers market in more recent years, her loyalty has strayed. The bakery is still there, but while their honest loaves are perfectly good, they pale in comparison to the six-seeded spelt, rustic rye and ancient sourdough on offer around the corner every Saturday morning. While I’d have to agree that the market-bought breads are delicious, exciting and most likely more expertly made than those from this bakery, I still have to sneak a peak in the window every time I pass to see what’s on offer, for old times’ sake. Continue reading

Fougasse two ways: September Fresh from the Oven challenge

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Fougasse – plain & with semi-dried tomatoes

Baking bread is something that scares a lot of people. The chemistry and craft involved in each stage of weighing, kneading, proving and baking can seem like a daunting task, so it’s important to approach the process with some background knowledge, and even a guide to hold your hand. When I first embarked on the mission of making my own bread, my helping hand existed in the form of the River Cottage Bread Handbook.

I’ve sung its praises countless times on this blog; from simple wholemeal loaves to home made croissants, this lovely little book will guide you through the world of baking in a simple, straightforward way. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that I’m also a massive fan of Guardian columnist and baking guru Dan Lepard; I’m yet to make a recipe of his which hasn’t turned out wonderfully. But there’s one more person I’d like to add to this list, completing a holy trinity of baking brilliance – award winning chef, baker and all round good guy, Richard Bertinet. Continue reading

Wholemeal courgette flower pot bread: August Fresh from the Oven challenge

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Homemade wholemeal courgette loaf…in a flower pot

When I first started writing this blog just over six months ago, I set myself the challenge of baking real bread on a weekly basis. As a self-confessed bread addict and self-styled ‘little loaf’, it seemed madness not to be making my own dough, especially when the average British shop contains such a sad little cardboard collection of bland, sugar-laced loaves.

Since then, I’ve started to eagerly anticipate the ritual of Sunday morning baking; dusting down the work surfaces with flour, kneading and shaping the dough, waiting patiently for it to rise, then slinging it into a super hot oven to bake as delicious smells begin to waft through the house. I’ve experimented with different flours and flavours, from fluffy focaccia to crusty white bloomers, seeded spelt, nutty wholemeal, flatbreads, buns and even croissants. But recently, with six months’ baking under my belt, I felt the need to inject some new inspiration into my bread, so I decided to join the Fresh from the Oven community.

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