Friday 2 April 2010

Happy Easter!

Hot cross buns & butter

On Wednesday, I put in my last shift as acting food editor at Waitrose Kitchen (née Food Illustrated). These darling, brilliant and generous people have given me a desk to call my own (when William wasn’t trying to colonise it with his flashy second computer, laundry, proofs, books, bicycle helmet, adoring fan mail) two days a week for the past six months. It’s kept me off the streets and out of trouble during one of the coldest winters on record and for that I’m grateful. But more than that, they made me laugh twenty times a day, encircled me in their breathtakingly talented, enchantingly co-dependent, enormously cheerful embrace and taught me vocabulary that I may find difficult to transfer to any other workplace. I loved every second.

This is a big thing for me. I like my life of walking the dog then coming home to cook a bit, write a bit, my routine only disrupted by having to pitch up at the odd photo shoot to fiddle with a reluctant radish or coax a pig’s trotter into close-up ready deliciousness. I don’t really like offices, but I grew to love the pod and its inhabitants.

The kitchen fireplace

So Thursday was a bit funny really. It felt good to have my life back but a little sad too. Nothing banishes melancholy like baking, so I lit the fire in the kitchen and busied myself with a batch of hot cross buns. Outside, thunder rumbled and lightening crackled across the north London sky. Inside, I mixed and kneaded and shaped the dough into fat little buns as the rain ran in rivulets down the kitchen’s glass roof. I piped wobbly flour-and-water crosses on their tops. The house filled with the smell of spices and sugar and orange zest and I felt happy.

Dan’s hot cross buns

Dan's hot cross buns

This recipe comes from my lovely, floury friend, Daniel Stevens. Until recently, he was the baker at River Cottage and his book, River Cottage Handbook No.3 Bread, is my favourite go-to guide to all things doughy. Dan’s recipe makes eight, which seemed a little modest to me (believe me, I can pretty much eat that many myself) so I doubled the quantities.

Well, I should have listened to Dan, as always. The dough bulged and undulated over the top of my KitchenAid, struggling for freedom. So I took it out and kneaded it by hand. I’m giving you Dan’s recipe for eight here. It doubles up brilliantly, but be prepared to hand-knead it if you do. Or to spend your Easter weekend picking gunk out of the head of your mixer.

Mixer ambition  Annoying over ambition, in dough form.

250g strong white bread flour, plus extra for kneading
250g plain white flour
125ml warm water
125ml warm milk
5g powdered dried yeast (easy blend type)
10g salt
1- 1 1/2 tsp ground, mixed spice
50g caster sugar
1 medium free-range egg
50g butter, softened
100g raisins, currants or sultanas, or a mixture including some candied peel
Finely grated zest of half an orange

For the crosses:
60g plain white flour
100ml water

To finish:
1 tbsp apricot or other jam
1 tbsp water

If you have a food mixer, combine the flours, water, milk, yeast, salt, mixed spice and sugar in h bowl ad fit the dough hook. Add the egg and butter and mix to a sticky dough. Now add the dried fruit and orange zest and knead on a slow speed until silky and smooth. You can do this by hand, but the dough will be sticky to handle. Put the dough in a warm, lightly oiled bowl, cover and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in size.


Knock back the risen dough and divide into eight equal pieces (they’ll weigh about 120g each). Shape into rounds and dust with flour. Place on a floured board, cover with plastic or linen and leave to prove for half an hour or until doubled in size.

Ready for the oven

All crossed...

While they’re rising, preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas mark 6. To make the crosses, whisk together the flour and water until smooth, then transfer to a plastic food bag and snip off the corner. Transfer the risen buns to a baking sheet and pipe a cross on top of each one. Bake for 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt the jam with the water in the pan. Sieve, then brush over the buns to glaze as soon as you take them from the oven. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm, cold or toasted, but always with lots of butter.


  1. I absolutely love your post. I understand having mixed feelings about changing your life, but your description of the day, and the storm, combined with your baking, was great reading. I wanted to be there! Thank you for sharing this.

  2. Lovely. And I know that solitary routine feeling well - leave me to be quietly unsociable with windows of great sociability and Im happiest. Or is it really that you/we don't like to share (y)our hot cross buns with anyone else?

  3. It is strange when a job comes to an end, and isn't baking (and especially kneading) a good way to deal with it!

  4. Happy Easter dearest Debora and Sean and Barney. The buns look like the real thing. Now you have the time to write your world beating book.

    But I would say that, wouldn't I?

    Hot cross kisses


  5. Happy Easter, indeed! And I'm with your Mum, Dearest's the perfect time to start that epic the world is waiting for (meanwhile, they can eat these yummy looking buns!).

    HUGS, Karen from across the sea!

  6. I so agree, nothing banishes melancholy like baking. My mom has always told me so. She believes in bread baking, specifically. I often turn to cookies. Your buns look fab. I really love the photograph of the dough, the one just beneath the recipe text--beautiful.

  7. These look delicious! Happy Easter!

  8. Susan - Thank you so much for your lovely comment.
    Mark - I love this description. It's me to a T. Obviously the part about being 'quietly unsociable with windows of great sociability', not the bit about hogging all the buns. I'm all about sharing. That's why I made 16 - 8 for me, and a few crumbs for some other lucky souls.
    Joy - Isn't it though?
    Mummy - You would, wouldn't you? Hot cross kisses back.
    Karen - Oh no, I see you and mama are colluding on a pincer movement. This could get dangerous. HUGS to you too darling.
    Denise - And our mothers are always right, are they not (see above)? Thanks for your nice comment about the picture - I love the look and feel of just-kneaded dough. I like the sound it makes when you slap it. So much promise.
    Thanks Lucie. Happy Easter to you too.


  9. It's so tricky... I'm freelance and do stints in offices and always miss being around people when I'm at home with my laptop (although I do love the freedom of being able to work in pjs when I want).

  10. Oh, oh - I've just finished catching up with Lickedspoon after volcano-sponsored absence. Such a lovely post - I was really moved. We loved having you with a capital LOVED and the post D-melancholy is mutual. Pop in any time (buns mandatory) xx


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