Hot and cross

Since today is Good Friday, I thought I should  write about Hot Cross Buns for today’s post.  I looked at recipes in several cookery books:  Elizabeth David’s English Bread and Yeast Cookery, Angela Piper’s The Archers’ Cookbook, and Reader’s Digest’s Farmhouse Cookery: Recipes from a Country Kitchen.  For good measure, I also looked at Felicity Cloake’s recipe for Hot Cross Buns on the Guardian website.

The origins of the hot cross bun are somewhat hazy – Elizabeth David has not a great deal to say about the history, and other articles on the subject don’t offer much more.  During Elizabethan times a law was passed forbidding the sale of spice buns except at funerals, on Good Friday and at Christmas.  Elizabeth David does not relate whether the spice buns sold on Good Fridays in Elizabethan times had a cross on them, but she’s fairly categorical in her dismissal of putting a cross on the buns in pastry or with candied peel as “unnecessary fiddling work”.  I do love her no-nonsense style of writing!!

I also love Elizabeth David’s sweet spice mixture, which she gives in her book.  It consists of two parts nutmeg, two parts white or black peppercorns or allspice berries, one part cinnamon bark, one part cloves and one part dried ginger root.  I mis-read the recipe, or perhaps wanted to, and added white peppercorns AND allspice berries! 🙂

My new kitchen scales seem to be fairly precise, so I weighed the nutmeg and used that weight as the basis for the other spices.  My small electric coffee grinder did a great job of reducing the spices to a fine powder.  The smell of the ground spices was divine and filled the whole kitchen!

Once I had studied the recipes on my kitchen table very carefully, I decided to use the proportions of Felicity Cloake’s recipe, but with some modifications.  In her recipe, the milk is heated and left to infuse with the spices – I used Elizabeth David’s spice mix and added it to the flour.  Instead of regular white wheat flour, I used Type 130 spelt flour, which is not quite white but not quite wholemeal either.  Felicity Cloake’s recipe also had the highest amount of currants, so I reduced their weight a little, to 125g.  Other than that, I followed the ingredients of her recipe.

I made the dough at lunchtime, so it could have a slow rise during the afternoon.  After the initial mixing I let the dough sit for five minutes so that the flour could absorb the liquid.  After that “hydration” period, the dough was still a little too soft for my liking, so I kneaded in an additional three tablespoons of flour.  Then I covered the bowl with a lid and let the yeast cells do their work!

At the end of the afternoon, the dough was well risen and had a lovely aroma!  The partially deflated dough looked like this, you can see lots of air bubbles around the edges:

The currants and mixed peel were kneaded into the dough after it was deflated.

Then it was time to portion out the dough.  I weighed the entire dough and then divided it into 16 individual portions, weighing about 70g each.

I shaped the pieces of dough into balls and flattened them slightly.  Once I had my two baking trays filled with the buns, I used my dough scraper to cut a cross into eight of the buns – pushing the straight side of the dough scraper right through and effectively cutting the buns into quarters.  As the dough was quite soft, the cuts ‘healed’ up again but stayed visible.  On the other eight buns I used a knife to cut a cross into the top of each bun.

Whilst I was doing the shaping of the buns, I had turned on my oven on the defrost setting, which warms to 50 degrees – perfect for proofing yeast dough.  Once the buns were shaped, I turned off the oven and put the trays in.  It was just a little warmer than in my kitchen, and produced beautifully risen buns within 30 minutes.

Once the buns were risen enough, I mixed a couple of tablespoons of plain flour and some water into a stiff-ish paste and put it into a piping bag fitted with a small nozzle.  Then I piped crossing lines on the buns.  I had prepared some egg-wash to brush the buns with before piping on the cross, but forgot to do that – oh no!!

Some of the buns which I had cut with the dough scraper did not get a cross piped on – I had run out of the mixture. 😦

I put the trays into the cold oven and turned it on to 200 degrees centigrade.  With yeast dough, I have found that starting with a cold oven can produce wonderful “oven spring”, as the yeast goes into overdrive before being killed off by the heat.  After 10 minutes the buns had puffed up nicely and were starting to brown.  I removed one baking sheet at a time and brushed the buns with egg wash, before putting them in the oven again.  After a further 10 minutes the buns were fully cooked and there was the most beautiful smell permeating the whole house!!  If only this could be a scratch-and-sniff post!!

Traditionally, the buns should be brushed with a sugar glaze as soon as they come out of the oven.  I have done this in the past, but I found that it makes the buns sticky and doesn’t add much more than that, so I gave it a miss this time.

What special foods will you be eating this Easter?

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Melting moments

You may know that I adore chocolate in all its forms: on its own, in desserts, in cakes, Belgian chocolates – you name it, I’ll probably have eaten it!!  🙂

Many years ago, I ate the most wonderful fondant au chocolat in a restaurant.  A fondant au chocolat is a chocolate pudding with a melting interior!!  I’ve been intrigued ever since, and a few weeks ago I decided to make some at home, purely in the interest of research on your behalf, you understand!! 🙂

I searched the internet for recipes, and finally settled on this one from the BBC Good Food website.

The ingredients were very simple:  butter, eggs, sugar, flour, a little coffee, some cocoa powder and, of course, chocolate!!

The preparation was not difficult either.  To start with, I brushed the moulds with melted butter and dusted them with cocoa powder.  The recipe specified dariole moulds or individual pudding basins, but omitted to give an idea of the size.  I had some dariole moulds, so used two of them, and I replaced the individual pudding basins with ramekins.

Next, I put the butter to melt over a very low heat, then added the chocolate pieces to that.  While the chocolate was melting, I beat the eggs with the sugar until they were very fluffy and thick.

I added the melted butter/chocolate mixture to the beaten eggs, and mixed the two, then added the coffee and the flour, and folded everything together until well blended.

My mixing bowl had a pouring lip, so it was very easy to fill the moulds.  The recipe called for six moulds – I managed to fill the two dariole moulds and five ramekins.  The darioles are kind of small, so the ramekins might have been the right size.

I cooked the two darioles right away.  The ramekins all went in the fridge.

After exactly 12 minutes, the puddings were well risen!

I ran a knife around the inside of the mould to help ease them out,  and served them with a scoop of vanilla ice cream!

The fondants were very delicious – the interior was still squishy, although not as runny as on recipe photograph.  Next time, I would reduce the cooking time for the dariole moulds by a minute or two.  They would probably turn out to be100% perfect.

A couple of days later, I cooked three of the larger ones, the ramekins that I had put in the fridge.  After 12 minutes cooking, the fondants turned out almost exactly like on the picture in the recipe!!

I have two more in the freezer for another day!!

Have you tried making these delicious puddings or something along the same lines?  Do you have your own foolproof recipe?

Fit for kings

For those of you who have been following my blog for a few years, I’ll confess now:  I have written about this topic before.  I had planned to re-run that post again.  In the end I decided to write a new post altogether, and I hope you’ll enjoy it just as much.

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In France, Twelfth Night is celebrated with the galette des rois – a wonderful confection of buttery puff pastry, which is filled with almond frangipane.  The galette is usually eaten with friends and/or family, and can be found for sale in French bakeries throughout the month of January.  A small feve (bean or charm) is usually hidden in the filling, and the person who finds the feve in his or her slice is crowned king or queen for the day.  The feve can take all sorts of forms, from a simple dried bean to a porcelain figure such as this:

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If you don’t live anywhere near a bakery where you can buy a ready-made galette des rois, here is how to make your own.  The basic ingredients are very simple, especially if you buy the puff pastry ready-rolled: butter, almonds, sugar, cornflour, eggs.  I’ll be listing quantities at the end of this post as a printable recipe.  I had planned to add some dried yuzu (Japanese citrus) peel to the filling, which is in the yellow packet.  In the end I decided against it.

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To make the frangipane filling, beat the soft butter with the sugar until white and fluffy.

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Add the eggs and beat until incorporated.

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Add the ground almonds, cornflour and amaretto or brandy, and stir until well mixed.

Unroll one sheet of puff pastry and put on a lined baking sheet.  I used the bottom of a cake pan (25cm diam) to cut a neat circle, as the rolled sheets are always slightly oval.  Spread the apricot jam on the base to within 2 cm from the edges…

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…and top with the frangipane mixture.  Don’t forget to put the feve into the frangipane filling!

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Unroll the second sheet of puff pastry, and trim again.  Moisten the edges of the base with water and place the second sheet on top.  Press the edges to seal in the filling.

Mark the top of the pastry with a pattern of your choice:  spirals, zigzags or diamonds – whatever you like.  Glaze the top with beaten egg, which will give the finished galette a wonderful shiny finish.

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Bake the galette in a pre-heated oven (200C, 185C fan, gas 6) for 25 to 30 minutes.  When it comes out of the oven it should look somewhat like this:

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Leave the galette to cool to lukewarm, before you cut it!

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A few notes on the recipe:  I’m not sure whether I’ll be using the apricot jam the next time I make this.  I thought the tartness would complement the rich filling, but having tasted it, I’m not sure that it does.  You could roast the almonds before grinding them.  If you prefer a more pronounced almond flavour, you could add almond essence to the frangipane.  I brushed on too much of the beaten egg so that it went over the edges of the pastry, which stopped it from rising correctly.

 

Galette des Rois

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:
2 rounds of ready rolled puff pastry
2 tbsp apricot jam
100g butter at room temperature
75g caster sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
125g ground almonds
1 1/2 tbsp cornflour
2 tbsp amaretto or brandy
1 beaten egg for glazing

Pre-heat the oven to 200C – fan 185C – gas mark 6

To make the frangipane filling, beat the softened butter with the sugar until white and fluffy.  Add the egg and egg yolk and beat until incorporated.  Add the ground almonds, cornflour and amaretto or brandy, and stir until well mixed.

Unroll one sheet of puff pastry and put on a lined baking sheet.  I used the bottom of a cake pan to cut a neat round (the rolled sheets are always slightly oval).  Spread the apricot jam on the base, to within 2 cm of the edges, and top with the frangipane mixture.

Unroll the second sheet of puff pastry, and trim again.  Moisten the edges of the base with water and place the second sheet on top.  Press the edges to seal in the filling.

Mark the top of the pastry with a pattern of your choice:  spirals, zig-zags or diamonds – whatever you like.  Glaze the top with beaten egg, which will give the finished galette a wonderful shiny finish.

Bake the galette in a pre-heated oven for 25 to 30 minutes.  Leave to cool to lukewarm before cutting.

Operation mincemeat

It’s this time of year, when I start to look forward to Christmas.  I try to keep Christmas firmly out of my mind until December has started, and I’m glad that the French have not yet fallen into the trap of starting to set out their Christmas merchandise as soon as August is over, or putting their Christmas decorations up at the beginning of November.  I know there are villages around here that never take down their Christmas lights, but at least they don’t turn them on until the appropriate moment.  I’m sure you can tell how I feel about timing in relation to Christmas, so I’ll stop the rant now!!  🙂

For me Christmas isn’t Christmas without some mince pies.  I was fortunate to be given a recipe for mincemeat by my dear friend Nadine Holm.  She has been using it for her mincemeat for a very long time, and I believe it’s a fairly old recipe.  Why?  Because for this recipe you actually add meat!  Wikipedia has a fascinating article on mincemeat here.  I was very interested to read that the mince in mincemeat and mince pie comes from the Latin minutia, which means smallness.  When we mince something we usually make it small, as in chopping, so that makes perfect sense.

Anyhow, I digress.  A few months ago I decided to try Nadine’s recipe, and I enlisted the help of a friend to prepare it with me, and to share the resulting mincemeat.  Preparing the mincemeat months before Christmas means that the flavours have time to develop (much as for fruitcake and Christmas pudding) and that it will be much tastier.  It also means that you have one less thing to think about in the run up to Christmas!!  Here is the recipe (you’ll find a scanned copy of the recipe at the end of this post):

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I assembled the various ingredients – not all that easy, as ready prepared suet is unknown in France, and brown sugar is fairly difficult to find.  But where there is a will…

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Weighing out the sugar, raisins, suet and citrus peel was the easiest part.  I prefer to use brown sugar for all the recipes which contain lots of dried fruit, such as Christmas puddings, fruit cake and the mincemeat.  I managed to get the suet from a supermarket that stocks British products, but I have in the past prepared it myself, buying beef fat from the butcher and grating it – somewhat laborious to say the least!  The cooked meat was put through the meat grinder, and the apples were peeled, cored and chopped finely.  I ground the spices by hand, the aroma was wonderful!

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Soon we had everything mixed and in the largest pot I have in my house – as you can see it was a tight fit!! IMG_9384

The smell when the pan came to a boil was beautiful – and very reminiscent of Christmas!  As it simmered, the quantity in the pan reduced, and the texture changed from very liquid to a more jam-like consistency. I know the colour isn’t very appetising, partly due to the yellow cast from the lighting – I’m sorry!!

Soon it was time to put the mincemeat into jars.  It looks pretty good, doesn’t it?

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Oops, that one got filled a little too much 😮

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And then we were done, and all the jars were stored on the shelf until we’re ready to make those delicious mince pies!  Roll on Christmas!!

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Nadine Holm's mincemeat recipe

Desperately seeking Madeleine

The quest for the perfect madeleine started a few years ago.  The children of friends, who have a holiday home in St Chinian, used to go to the bakery next door to buy bread each morning.  One day they brought back madeleines along with the bread, which were gorgeous, and the whole family got hooked!  On their next visit to St Chinian the madeleines made irregular appearances in the bakery, and by the following year they had disappeared altogether.  ‘Not enough demand’ said the baker, ‘people weren’t really buying them’, and so he stopped making them.

The children were bereft, but the gift shop across the road had a madeleine tin for sale, and so the testing began.  At a flea market I came across my own madeleine tin, so between us we were now able to bake a batch of 24 madeleines with ease.

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I started my search for recipes on my bookshelf on http://www.eatyourbooks.com, and found that six of my books listed a recipe for madeleines.  I checked a few other books on my bookshelves at home, and in the end I turned up 10 recipes altogether.  I then made a comparative table for all the recipes.  Of course there were differences, both in method and in quantities, but the basic ingredients remained constant:  eggs, butter, flour, and sugar. There were various additions such as orange flower water, almonds, vanilla, rum, salt, baking powder, and lemon in various proportions and combinations.

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For seven of the 10 recipes the preparation was done by the “Genoise” method, where the whole eggs are beaten with the sugar (sometimes over hot water) until very thick and creamy, then the flour is folded in and lastly the melted butter.  This method is supposed to produce a light and moist sponge cake, used in high class patisseries for their cream cakes.

The other three recipes each used a different method: one was the traditional “creaming” method, where butter and sugar are beaten together until light, the eggs added by degrees and finally the flour (The Penguin Cookery Book); another mixed sugar and flour, added the eggs and finally the butter (The Very Best of Baking); the last was the only one of the recipes where the eggs are separated (Cooking with Pomiane). To the yolks are added the flour, sugar, baking powder and orange flower water, and a little water is added to loosen the resulting stiff paste. Next the melted butter is added and finally the beaten egg whites.   I decided to try two recipes:  the one from Cooking with Pomiane and the one from Rick Stein’s French Odyssey.

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Cooking with Pomiane is one of my favourite cookery books, both for the writing and the recipes. I have just discovered that it was last published by Serif in 2009 (the original was first published in French in the 1930’s), and is still available from the usual booksellers.

In his book, Pomiane recounts in a charming story how madeleines came into being.  Apparently there once was a baker with a very pretty young wife, who took up with a lover when her husband went away on a trip.  When the baker returned unexpectedly the wife told a story of having had to hire help.  The disbelieving baker gave the lover the challenge of producing 18 cakes immediately, or he would kill him and his wife.  The distraught lover, knowing nothing whatsoever about baking, started to pray to St Mary Magdalene, who dutifully appeared and prepared the cakes.  She did apparently make him promise to mend his ways before she disappeared.  The baker returned, the lover presented him with the cakes which he christened madeleines, and the errant wife and her lover were spared.  Wouldn’t you agree that this is a lovely story??  Pomiane writes that he read the story in a book by Charles Nicolle (a Nobel Prize winner in Medicine) called Le Patissier de Bellonne.

The Larousse Gastronomique would have us believe that Avice, the pastry cook to Prince Talleyrand, invented the madeleine when he baked a pound cake mix in aspic moulds.  I’m not sure which of the two stories is the more likely!?

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Quantities for the Pomiane recipe are 4 oz each of flour, sugar and butter to two eggs.  Additions are 1 tbsp orange flower water, 2 tbsp water and 1tsp baking powder (the recipe in the Penguin Cookery Book gives identical quantities, with the baking powder omitted).  The first batch released easily from the tin and showed a good imprint and a nice bump on top.  With the second batch I mixed in a little matcha, Japanese green tea powder – I had it to hand and had been meaning to try using it in baking for far too long.  The bumps on the batch with matcha added showed even better, but I think I cooked them a little too long.  For this recipe the temperature was specified as 220 degrees centigrade, and cooking time as 9 – 10 minutes.

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The Pomiane recipe produced wonderful madeleines, with slightly crunchy edges and a great texture.

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The second recipe I tried came from Rick Stein’s French Odyssey.  Proportions are 100g each of flour, butter and sugar, and three eggs.  Also the zest of 1 lemon, 1 tbsp honey and 1 tsp baking powder.  Once the paste was prepared it was left to stand 15 minutes in the fridge. Oven temperature was 190 degrees centigrade, and cooking time 10 minutes.

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The resulting madeleines were difficult to release from the tin, totally flat on top and unevenly browned.  The second half of the paste was baked at 220 degrees centigrade, released more successfully and formed the characteristic bump on top.  They were somewhat floppy and too light, but with a good flavour.

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So perhaps this is a quest to be continued?  Do you have your own favourite madeleine recipe you’d like to share?

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Books used:

Edouard de Pomiane:  Cooking with Pomiane
Ken Hom:  East meets West Cuisine
Andre Domine:  Culinaria France
Paula Peck:  The Art of Fine Baking
Margaret Fulton: Encyclopaedia of Food and Cookery
Rick Stein:  French Odyssey
Anne Willan: Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Cookery
Constance Spry and Rosemary Hume: The Constance Spry Cookery Book
Bee Nilsson: The Penguin Cookery Book
Christian Teubner and Annette Wolter: Best of Baking