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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My Recipe-less Stab at Peppermint Bark… from 2017

Oh, my poor blog! I have woefully neglected this thing and truthfully, I don’t have plans (or time) to resuscitate it any time soon. It turns out that balancing a new baby, a job, a relationship, many friendships, hobbies, fitness, and a household is a lot of work. Maybe one day I will bring it back – but in the meantime, I have a number of old posts that I wrote but never posted that I shall schedule for the coming days. I hope the archives help people down the road who are keen on reading a recipe review or a race recap.

 


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Fun fact: I made this recipe TWO YEARS AGO. I wrote the draft for this post ages ago but wanted to wait til the holidays to post it. Then, I forgot all about it.


Let’s talk peppermint bark. The best peppermint bark that I have ever experienced is the classic Williams Sonoma variety:

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It is SOOOOO GOOD – and so very expensive. At $30 to $50 a tin, it is an outrageous indulgence in the midst of a season of outrageous indulgences. Thus, it usually gets left off my shopping list.

I have tried various knock-offs of the Williams Sonoma bark, but most taste kind of stale, with candy cane that feels too chewy rather than nice and crunchy. The best alternative at a reasonable price (about $10 USD) I have found is the Trader Joe’s version – it’s worth the cross-border trip.

As I snacked my way through the Trader Joe’s tin, I had the thought that every baker has when they’re eating something delicious: “How can I make this?” Peppermint bark seems easy enough, so I decided to tackle it myself without a recipe.

First up, the crushed candy cane. I had a bunch of candy canes – my challenge was now to smash them down to teeny tiny pieces while minimizing the amount of effort and mess involved. Cue the food processor.

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Unwrapping the individual candy canes was a bit of a static-y mess, but it was smooth sailing afterwards. I only had to pulse the candy canes a few times to get them to a satisfying crumble.

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Inevitably, my crushing produced a fair bit of fine candy cane dust. That wouldn’t have quite the right look on my crumble, so I sifted it out and later stirred it into my chocolate for a bonus peppermint touch.

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I couldn’t find white chocolate in large quantities, so I decided that my version of candy cane bark would consist of a dark chocolate layer and a milk chocolate layer rather than the traditional dark and white layers.

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I chopped up 500g of dark chocolate, then put about 80% of it into my homemade bain marie (my aluminum mixing bowl hovering over – not in – a shallow pot of simmering water).

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When the chocolate was melted, I removed it from the heat and stirred in the remaining solid chocolate that I’d left behind, piece by piece. I took a chocolate course many moons ago, but it’s been a long time since I’ve had to temper chocolate. (As it turns out, I didn’t quite nail it – my chocolate developed that telltale chalk-ish colour over time. But hey – it still tasted good.)

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I spread my chocolate out on a parchment-line cookie sheet (much like I did in my English Toffee post), then left it to harden. I then repeated the process with the milk chocolate layer.

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After spreading the milk chocolate over the now-solid dark chocolate layer, I sprinkled the crushed candy cane over the mixture to set. I had lots of candy cane, so I used a “the more the merrier” approach. It is, after all, Christmas.

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My last step was to melt a bit more dark chocolate and drizzle it over the slabs of chocolatey candy cane goodness.

After the whole she-bang had a chance to set, I chopped it into somewhat irregularly shaped chunks and placed the pieces into cellophane bags, tied with a ribbon. I put the bags into a big Ziploc freezer bag and sealed them up until I was ready to distribute them at Christmas. They were a little worse for wear after a cross-country plane trip, but you know what?

They tasted delicious – because they TASTED LIKE CHRISTMAS!

 

Did Somebody Say Baking Roundup?

I have been known to go a little crazy with Christmas baking.

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My first homemade house from 2007, clearly made during my dear Kappa days. (It looks an awful lot like a house from a standard kit, but I swear it wasn’t.)

(In searching for photos of previous gingerbread creations, I found an 8 page file called “Gbread House Ideas”. That about sums it up.)

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This one is from 2013 – I bought edible silver spray paint to make that star.

I take gingerbread houses a little more seriously than most. I like to bake my own from scratch rather than use a kit, which always sounds like a great idea but ends up being a bit chaotic. It takes about three days for everything to come together, and usually there is a glass trapped inside of the house to support a wall, or one year I had to use a dummy cardboard wall because I’d miscalculated my stencils.

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2008 – the motto was “just cover it in candy”

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2008 was the year of the dummy wall and Monster wall support. I drank a lot of Monster in 2008.

I have also had some pretty intense gingerbread cookie sessions. One year I made Martha Stewart (of course) inspired intricately piped snowflake cookies. I was up until 2 AM piping swirls onto hundreds of gingerbread snowflakes. I assembled them into little bags and spent the following work day walking around downtown Vancouver and hand delivering bags of frosted snowflakes to friends and industry people I’d only met a couple of times. (This was right around the time I realized I was miserable in my job but wasn’t entirely sure how to cope with it. Another post for another time.)

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See the polka dot stars in this fuzzy picture? I switched to dots at around 2 AM to preserve my sanity.

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For some reason I actually made the same cookies the following year, but I think I spread the work out over a few days because I don’t have as many horrific memories of this one.

In years past, I have done home drop offs of cranberry pumpkin loaves and trios of seasonal fudge (that one was last year). So this year, by usual Magee Christmas baking standards, was pretty mellow. Let’s review.

I only gave two cookie gifts this year. One was for a “sustainable” Secret Santa (which was widely open to interpretation and included homemade goods), and the other was mailed to a friend across the country. Rather than choosing Christmas themed cookies, I just chose cookies that I liked. Both were from the Dahlia Bakery Cookbook (as was my pumpkin pie from Thanksgiving).

Ginger Molasses Cookies

I like these cookies because they use actual fresh ginger, not the powdered spice. I like mine on the soft side – so soft that you can bend them and they don’t snap. Mmm. They don’t look as pretty as the pictures from the recipe I linked to above, but they tasted fantastic.

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Okay, not quite this underdone…

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… perfect.

Chocolate Truffle Cookies

These ones are decadent and incredibly crumbly – the ones I mailed probably arrived in a million little pieces. They are SO GOOD. They’re a triple chocolate threat cookie: they contain cocoa powder, chunks of chocolate, AND chocolate chips.

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The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

One of the primary reasons I don’t do as much Christmas themed baking is because Cedric isn’t a gingerbread fan (I know, what a weirdo). His favourite baked good is the chocolate chip cookie. We usually have a roll of dough in our freezer so we can cut off a couple of pieces and have just a few fresh baked cookies after dinner, when the mood strikes. I’m not particularly loyal to one recipe because I find they all taste great and it’s fun to try new ones.

At least, that’s how I felt until I found the recipe for the Best Chocolate Chip Cookies. The guy who wrote the post is a true inspiration to me – read it see what I mean.

I was moved to try his recipe, although disaster struck partway through when I ran out of brown sugar (GASP!). I had to compensate with extra white sugar. Side note: I like that this guy’s recipe measures ingredients by weight, not volume.

The directions say to refrigerate the dough before baking for up to three days, or AT LEAST overnight. But come on – we’re only human. We made a few cookies after refrigerating the dough for an hour or so. The verdict? They were good – really good – but I didn’t think they were any better than other recipes I’d used in the past.

And then, a few days later, I made some more. By now, the dough had time to settle – and they were the Best Chocolate Chip Cookies. Full stop. This shall be my new go to recipe.

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Cue the heavenly music.

No Bake Almond (Peanut) Butter Cup Bars

My final baked good of the season (for now – I have one more recipe I want to try) is actually not a baked at all (hence the “no bake” in its title).

This recipe is TOO easy to put together. All you need is a food processor. It’s one of those recipes where you use dates and maple syrup instead of sugar, but hey – it all tastes the same (i.e., delicious) to me. It happens to be gluten free and vegan, so it’s a good recipe for those with diet restrictions. (Unless the diet restriction is a nut allergy).

The bottom layer is peanuts, dates, cocoa powder, and salt.

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The next layer is peanut butter (I make my own – just put peanuts in a food processor. It’s that easy, folks) with a bit of salt and maple syrup.

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The third and final layer is chocolate, coconut oil, and coconut milk.

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If you like Reese’s peanut butter cups (and who doesn’t), you will like this.

So… maybe I should make my next post a trail running post to balance things out, huh?