Belated Happy Easter, Part 2? Paul Hollywood’s Hot Cross Buns

I didn’t plan on making hot cross buns for Easter 2018. I had already made my pretty pastel meringue “Easter eggs” – I thought I was good to go for the Easter baking season.

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PS – The photos in this post are kind of ugly. Sorry about that.

Then, my fellow baking-obsessed friend messaged me, asking if I had a good hot cross buns recipe. I didn’t – but the seed was planted and I became obsessed with finding a good one.

We agreed to try Paul Hollywood’s iteration – you know, the fellow of Great British Bake-Off fame. If it’s good enough for Paul, surely it would be good enough for us!

But first, we had to translate the recipe. There are some slight differences between baking in the UK and baking in Canada, apparently. With the help of Google and some educated guesses, we decided on the following:

  • “strong bread flour” could be substituted with Roger’s bread flour
  • “caster sugar” is granulated sugar
  • 425 degrees Fahrenheit sounded about right
  • “hand temperature” is lukewarm (i.e., body temperature)

And, in our respective kitchens, we attempted to give the recipe a try.

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First, I boiled milk, added butter, and let the whole thing cool down a little. Meanwhile, I whisked together the dry ingredients, then dug a little hole in the centre for the milk and butter combo. As instructed, an egg was introduced into the equation.

After giving it all a good stir with a wooden spoon, I ignored my stand mixer and kneaded the whole thing by hand. I’ll admit that this is a very satisfying process. After about five minutes (you’ll feel it in your hands!), it was time to leave the whole thing to rise in a greased plastic-covered bowl.

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In hindsight, I think I should have put the bowl in my “proofing drawer” (i.e., my bathroom, with the heat turned up and the door closed). My kitchen was on the cooler side and I think my dough could have been a little springier.

After the first rising, it’s time to mix in the good stuff. The good stuff includes orange zest, raisins (i.e. sultanas), an apple (that’s new to me for hot cross buns!), cinnamon – and normally, mixed peel (a.k.a., the colourful dried fruity bits), but I am not a fan of that stuff so I left it out. Good thing, too – there were almost too many toppings to incorporate into the dough! I kneaded it all together as best as I could, but the toppings kept spilling out. I took that as a good sign – the more stuff, the better.

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Once I got the stuff really stuffed in, I left the dough to rise for a second time.

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The recipe makes 15 buns, and I dutifully weighed each and every one out so they would be uniform. I think my extra precision was rather unnecessary, because when it came time to shape, I couldn’t get my buns to be uniform! I found the dough a little tricky to work with. I left my poorly shaped buns to rise for another hour, and then they were just about ready to bake.

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There was only one step left: piping on the crosses. I came across a lot of online recipes that pipe the crosses on post-baking with icing – no! To me, that is not a true hot cross bun. Paul’s recipe calls for a ration of 5 tbsp of water to 1 tbsp of flour, but I used a few more tablespoons of water than that – and still, my consistency was iffy. I don’t think I whisked it properly, because it kept clogging in my piping bag’s nozzle.

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As a result, some of my crosses sunk nicely into the buns, while others stayed separated on top, even after baking. It wasn’t a huge deal, but it didn’t make for the prettiest buns.

Regretfully, I took a shortcut post baking: I skipped out on the strained apricot jam that Paul suggested, opting instead to brush the buns with a simple sugar syrup that I whipped up. DO NOT SKIP THE JAM! My friend did hers the proper way, and I thought the extra sweetness and flavour really took the buns to the next level. (Yes, she dropped off a couple so I could try them!) Next year… next year.

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So the buns were a little ugly – but they were tasty little morsels, and I have to admit, they made the holiday feel proper. I think I have some room for improvement with this recipe, but I’ll keep it in mind for next year.

Early Happy Easter? Dorie’s Cookies Meringue Vanilla Snowballs

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I was meeting up with some friends around Easter last year [yes, I am posting this a year late…], and I wanted to bring an Easter-esque treat that didn’t involve chocolate. Don’t get me wrong – I love chocolate more than the average person, but Easter tends to be pretty choco-ful and I wanted something a little different.

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Enter the Meringue Snowballs.

I figured if I made these “cookies” (can they really be called cookies?!) in pretty springtime pastels, they would fit with the Easter theme – and nary a cocoa bean in sight.

I have made meringue a few times before, and Dorie’s version is decidedly unfussy. It’s relatively quick, easy, and foolproof – at the expense of perfection. My meringues cracked a little and yours might too, but they still looked good and – most importantly – tasted like the perfect little sugar clouds that they are.

The ingredient list for meringues is short and sweet (hey… kind of like the final product!): granulated sugar, icing sugar, egg whites, cream of tartar, and a wee bit of sea salt. The Dorie’s Cookies cookbook offers some flavourful variations – mint chocolate chip! rose! green tea and pistachio! Wanting to add a little something – but not wanting to make a trip to the grocery store – I opted to make the Vanilla Snowball iteration (just add vanilla… easy as that).

Although the recipe is easy, you do have to be a little careful in the preparation. For one, the sugars must be sifted. Second, all of your baking gear must be perfectly clean – fat is the murderer of meringues, so be ultra careful when separating your whites from your yolks. I always break each egg individually before putting them in a communal bowl – that way, if you mess one up and break the yolk, you won’t contaminate all the other whites.

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The whites, cream of tartar, and salt get sent to the stand mixer, where they whisk away until they start forming soft peaks. At this point, all but one tablespoon of the sugar is slowly added until the mixture is stiff and perfectly shiny. (This is where I added the vanilla, too.)

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I always mix a little longer than I think I’ll need to – otherwise, I tend to end up with a mixture that is slightly too runny. I think I nailed it on this go. Once the mix is looking good, you gently – gently – fold in the last bit of sugar.

At this point, I divided the glossy goop into a few different bowls and played around with some of the colours. The book suggests spooning the meringue out onto your silicone mat-covered baking sheet, but I knew they were look prettier if I took a little extra time to pipe them. I didn’t bother washing out the bags between colours because I figured a little marble/tie dye effect would look kind of cool and very dip-dyed Easter eggy.

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Don’t these look like these dot candies from your childhood?

I couldn’t decide whether the tame the little cowlicks or to leave them as is. I tried patting a few down (I do this by wetting my finger and tapping the tops), but ultimately I decided to leave most of them up. I kind of like the look.

Slow and steady is the name of the meringue game: these puppies baked at 250 degrees for 75 minutes, then I propped open the oven door and left them in there overnight.

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They kept their colour nicely and didn’t brown at all.

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What do you think? I think they’re a cute – if not quite traditional – Easter option. Bookmark this one for next year, perhaps?

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A Definite Ranking of Easter Candy

Candy season looks like this: Halloween –> Christmas –> Valentine’s Day –> Easter. I would argue that Easter, anchoring candy season in all its glory, offers the best candy overall.

As someone who has eaten a lot of candy in her life, I feel more than qualified to offer my expert opinion on the candy options of this glorious holiday.

I present to you: Easter candy, from best to worst.

#1: Milka Lil Scoops

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A high school friend introduced me to Milka Lil Scoops, and I have never looked back. Today, they are called Cadbury Lil Scoops – but to me, they will always be Milka Lil Scoops.

First, the presentation is perfection: a tiny, 2 x 2 purple egg carton. Cute cute cute! Then, you open it up and there are four foil wrapped eggs and two little purple spoons. Baby spoons! CUTE!

I like to peel the top half of the wrapper off, bite off the tip of the egg, then use the little spoon to scrape out every last bit of the delicious, ganache-y interior. Then, the best part: the chocolate egg shell.

Delicious. Amazing. Perfection.

Lil Scoops are a little hard to come by, which only adds to their prestige. I found some at the Great Glass Elevator Candy Shop in Whistler, but they were FIFTEEN DOLLARS. That’s insanity. Luckily, I found identical ones at Shopper’s Drug Mart for something like $6.99. An indulgence, for sure, but Easter only comes once a year.

#2: Cadbury Creme Eggs

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Cadbury Creme Eggs are a polarizing food: either they make you want to throw up, or you think they are the best thing on earth. I fall in the latter category, and I am always a little suspicious of those who are part of the former.

A thick milk chocolate shell enveloping liquid sugar – what else could you want? My second year of university, I ate something like four of these over the course of a single plane ride. College was a crazy time for me.

Honourable mention goes to the Cadbury Creme Egg McFlurry, one of the greatest creations to ever come out of McDonalds.

#3: Cadbury Mini Eggs

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Mini Eggs are best eaten by the handful. Many have tried to replicate the mini egg (e.g., Eggies, the PC brand eggs), but NO ONE has come even close to the perfection that is mini eggs. Cadbury has tried to introduce variations (ever had the popping candy mini eggs?) and even made the controversial decision to offer mini eggs year-round, but the best mini egg is the original one, consumed exclusively in the months of March and April. I just saw the giant bags for $13.99 at the grocery store (down from $18.99) – there’s a solid chance I will buy one of these in the very near future.

#4: Other Large Egg Variations

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There are other large eggs, similar in style to the Creme Egg, but channeling other genre of candy: Oreo, Caramilk, Chips Ahoy, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, etc. These hybrid eggs, if you will, are all generally very delicious, but they lack the exclusivity of the Cadbury Creme Egg and just aren’t quite on the same elite level.

There is one exception. In first year university (I ate a lot of chocolate in university), the cafeteria at my residence closed early – at like 7 PM or something. When we’d inevitably get hungry around 9, my roommates and I would head to Magda’s, the overpriced convenience store in the main complex area. During an exam-time late night snack run, I purchased some creme egg variation that essentially chocolate-on-chocolate. It had kind of a malty flavour. I have no idea what it was, but I remember liking it as much as – if not more than – the traditional CCE. I have never seen it since. I suspect that Magda’s may have had them in stock since like, 1982, and few people paid whatever inflated price they charged, so they were still selling them when I was in school decades later.

#5: Fancy Foil Chocolate Eggs

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There are two tiers of little foil-wrapped chocolate eggs: the ones made by popular “fancy” chocolate brands (think Lindt, Purdy’s, etc.) and the kind you buy for $1 at Wal Mart. The fancy ones are good stuff. They’re simple – usually just a little bite of plain chocolate – but the chocolate is tasty and they look festive. I probably wouldn’t buy them for myself, but I would be stoked to win some in a gift basket or something.

#6: Kinder Surprise

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My younger self would be disappointed that I ranked Kinder Surprises so low on this list. The truth is, I’ve finally outgrown the novelty of the little toy that lies within. I still appreciate the white-milk chocolate combo of the egg itself, but the value just isn’t there.

I still remember the best toy I ever got in a Kinder: a little snail that had a suction cup. I got it the Easter of grade 10 and I kept it in my pencil case all year. It became a source of entertainment during boring classes. A friend and I named it something, but I can’t remember what. Cool story, Hansel.

#7: Cheap Foil Chocolate Eggs

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The counterpart to #5 on this list. These chocolate eggs are typically purchased by the mesh bagful. The quality of chocolate is slightly greater than that found in cheap advent calendars, but low enough that it may be called “chocolate flavoured candy” rather than actual chocolate.

I have to admit that I actually like these. I know they’re kind of bad, but I can’t deny my heart.

#8: Those Hard/Chewy Eggs You Never See Anymore

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Does anybody else remember these? Man, these eggs bring me way back. They had a sort of hard outer shell (almost waxy), protecting a chewy, kind of gritty, flavourless sugar paste. I don’t think I would like these if I had them today, but I would still eat one if offered, in the name of nostalgia.

#9: Jelly Beans

Jelly beans just don’t do it for me anymore. Yeah, maybe I like the cheap foil chocolates, but I still have some standards – and jelly beans are below them. As a child, I would have been ecstatic to throw back a fistful of jelly beans. Remember the 25-cent bean machines at the mechanic? Amazing. But those days are behind me now, and jelly beans are officially a bad candy. Yes, even the red ones.

#10: Peeps

One of my favourite things to do in America is to browse the aisles of a grocery store or a Target. I don’t know if Americans realize that the candy options available there are unique to their country. For instance, whereas in Canada, our Oreos take up a small portion of a shelf in the grocery store, the Oreo zone in the States takes up an entire shelving unit, offering endless spinoffs of the original cookie.

Peeps are an American candy. I have never seen them in Canada, and a lot of my fellow Canadians are vaguely familiar with the term but have never seen one in the flesh, much less consumed one.

I myself have eaten a Peep before, and it is simply awful. Even for a sugar fiend like myself, it is just purely disgusting.

Weirdly cute, yes. Edible, not a chance.

The Story of the Chick Cupcakes

This story doesn’t really have anything to do with anything. It just popped into my mind the other day when I was making cookies.

Let’s rewind:

2012 was a heck of a year. It kicked off with me quitting my grown up job in Vancouver, subletting my dreamy Kitsilano bachelorette pad, and officially becoming a ski bum in Whistler.

By the time April came around, I was convinced that life could not possibly be any better. I slept in a single bed in my own room of a shared basement suite in Alpine. When it snowed, the snow would cover my window and I could sleep for 12+ hours. No person has ever been as well rested as I was in 2012. I worked approximately 9 hours a week as the hostess of what can only be described as the most chill restaurant in Whistler (rest in peace, Flipside). I had an epic Eurotrip planned for the summer ahead, and I snowboarded an awful lot.

At the time, my friend Anne was a substitute teacher (she is now a lawyer). Some weeks, she would work a regular workweek. Other weeks, she would work zero days. This was great for me, as it meant she would make the pilgrimage up the 99 and join me for some skiing. This was great for her, as it meant she could crash on the couch and ski again the next day. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement. Synergy at its finest, if you will.

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How Anne and I looked for most of 2012

On this particular April afternoon, after a most satisfying day on the mountain, Anne and I found ourselves wondering what we should do for the rest of the day. The answer came to us quickly: we would bake some cupcakes. Not just any cupcakes – these cupcakes:

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Martha Stewart’s chick cupcakes seemed appropriate, given that Easter was just around the corner.

We began to bake. Anne was extremely impressed with the fact that I could crack an egg with one hand. She told me that there was a scene in Julie and Julia about this, but I had not seen the movie. I still have not. [It is while cracking an egg with one hand baking cookies that this memory came to me, by the way.]

After Anne had buttered me up (ayo! baking pun!) with my egg cracking skills, I felt like a real baking prodigy. I was eventually brought back down to earth when we assembled our final product. It looked like this: [these are genuine photos of our actual cupcakes – I’m so glad I deemed this event worthy of Facebook 5 years ago!)

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(I can’t remember why we made this one blue – I think it’s because I had leftover blue coconut from making cookie monster cupcakes)

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Okay, so they’re not quite Martha Stewart caliber, but they looked cute enough and they tasted divine.

Chicks assembled, it was now time to move on to the next part of our evening: the delivery. We had a limited number of cupcakes and an extensive list of people we wanted to gift them to: my roommate (who never objected to Anne crashing on the couch), the front and back of house staff at my chill restaurant, our favourite doorman, our favourite coat check girls, and our favourite bartenders and barbacks, to name a few.

We piled into the Anne van and made our way to Whistler Village.

First up was Flipside, my place of employment. (For those who weren’t around in the glory year that is 2012, this is where El Furny’s is currently located.) It was a quiet evening in the restaurant, and we joyfully distributed our wee chicks to the bartender, the cooks in the back, and the server on duty. After some cupcake related chit chat, we decided to move on to our next destination.

But as we got to the front of the restaurant, two more patrons came in. One was a bartender who worked with me at Flipside. He was with a girl that I didn’t recognize. They appeared to be high on life, and very possibly other substances.

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Good times (and good goggle tan) at Flipside. Some of the people pictured received a chick cupcake.

Remember, now, we only have so many cupcakes – particularly now that we have fed the Flipside staff. This is an important detail.

We say hello to the off-duty bartender, but I’m keeping an eye on his companion. She looks both lost in outer space and intensely focused – on the tray of cupcakes I’m trying to protect. She has a crazy look in her eye. Slowly – like, ultra slow motion slowly – she reaches out towards me, hand open, palm facing down. She is seconds away from SQUEEZING A CHICK!

My maternal bakerly instinct kicks in. I protect the chicks from her grasp and exclaim (probably too loudly) that she cannot have one. This was rude of me, but it was rude of her to get grabby with them. I am also certain that she will not remember this interaction (or me) in about five minutes.

With the cupcake situation under control, Anne and I proceed to Maxx Fish, where we dole out our coconutty cupcakes to the door man, the coat check girls, the bartenders, and the bar back. Oddly enough, this is not the first time I go to the nightclub solely to disburse cupcakes – nor will it be the last. Serving tray empty, Anne and I return to the Alpine suite and ready ourselves for another day of skiing.

Yes, 2012 was a heck of a year.