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.

Baking Fail: Bread Illustrated’s Portugese Sweet Bread

Sometimes, I feel like I’ve got bread all figured out. I pump out a massive loaf of sourdough weekly (note: the taste has improved since I originally blogged about it – gotta love a maturing starter) and I usually whip up some variation of a sandwich bread, too. Predictable, reliable, and always delicious.

But every now and again, a bread recipe comes along and totally humbles me. In this case, it was the Portuguese Sweet Bread.

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Pictured: what it’s supposed to look like.

This bread looked simple enough – a big round loaf made in a cake tin – and it sounded like the perfect slightly sweet bread to enjoy lightly toasted with some blueberry jam. It’s a single day baking affair and I had all the ingredients on hand (flour, yeast, salt, water, eggs, sugar, vanilla, butter) – what could go wrong?

Plenty, as it turns out.

It started out just like any other bread. I whisked the dry together, I whisked the wet together, then I kneaded it all together in the stand mixer. Things started to go a little sour in step 2: adding the butter. As I added the butter bit by bit, the dough started to get really wet. The mixer was having trouble getting a “grip” on the dough – it was just kind of making a slapping sound and spinning the dough around without kneading it. I knew it would be a finicky dough (as evidenced by this caution in the recipe intro: “We do not recommend mixing this dough by hand”), so I kept stopping it and moving it around with my spatula to get the hook to catch the dough a little better. It worked – sort of – but the dough didn’t quite look like it was coming together. I left it in the mixer a little longer than recommended (about 4 minutes, rather than 3), but then I got worried I was over mixing it.

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You can see how greasy the dough looks here. A buttery mess!

The next step was to knead it by hand for 30 seconds. I gave it a go, but the butter was getting everywhere. I know I used the right amount of butter – I even went by weight, not by volume – but I had to add a little flour so that I could actually get a hold of the bread and knead it. If I’m being perfectly honest, I added quite a bit of flour – maybe an extra quarter cup.

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This is not what a smooth ball looks like.

Finally, the dough was workable and resembled the texture of the dough in the photograph. The problem now was that I couldn’t get a perfect smooth ball of dough. The dough tore as I tried to form the ball and the seam on the bottom gaped open, no matter how much I pressed it together. I even tried wetting it a little, but no dice.

I decided to ignore it and hope everything would sort itself out. I left the ball of dough to rise.

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As it turns out, the tears didn’t magically seal themselves while rising. Huh.

When it came time to flatten the dough and make it into another ball, I had the same issue. The dough just wasn’t cooperating with me, and I think it’s because of the extra flour. At this point, you’re supposed to be place the ball – [gaping] seam side down – into a greased nine inch cake pan. This is what it says: “Place loaf seam side down in prepared pan. Cover loosely with greased plastic…”. It does NOT say (as it usually does) to gently press the dough down so that it fits snugly in the pan. My ball of dough did not touch the edges of the pan, but I hoped leaving it to rise for a second time might just make it naturally puff outward as well as upward.

It did – a little – but not enough to fill the pan entirely. I just let it be.

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Before popping it into the oven, you’re supposed to score the circumference of the dough 1/4 inch deep. I think I scored mine a little too aggressively – more like half an inch.

These are all little mistakes, but they’re starting to add up.

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This is what it looked like when I rotated the pan only halfway through baking.

The directions are to bake for 30 to 35 minutes until the loaf registers 190 to 195 degrees. A check at 30 minutes yielded a temperature of like, 110. I left the bread in for another 10 minutes, but the top was starting to look very dark – minutes away from being burnt. I took it out of the oven.

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Suddenly, I heard Paul Hollywood’s voice in my head, warning Martha (one of my favourite contestants of the Great British Bake Off) that using egg wash on a loaf can make it appear done before it really is. Yup – I fell victim to the too dark loaf exterior. The middle was RAW.

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The loaf also looked like a disaster, but that was the least of my problems. My score had resulted in a muffin top of sorts. I sliced an outside piece of the bread. It was a little ugly, but pretty tasty – a little sweet, but not over the top. As I approached the centre of the loaf, the raw interior became exposed. Again – visions of Paul Hollywood shaking his head with disapproval.

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Okay…

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Not okay.

Cedric and I nibbled at the outer perimeter of the loaf, but I accidentally left it out overnight (partly butchered) and it was dried out by morning. Into the bin it went.

Better luck next time.

My First Tart: Bobbette & Belle’s Mixed Berry Tart with Vanilla Pastry Cream

I am way late to the Great British Bake Off party… but I love it SO MUCH!

I was first introduced to the GBBO a couple of years ago when my aunt a.k.a. baking role model made me this AMAZING raspberry magic birthday cake:

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Yes, that is a dome of raspberry Swiss rolls topped with fresh raspberries… mmmmm. My aunt told me that she’d been inspired by a recipe she’d seen on the GBBO, and that was the first I’d heard of the show. Let’s be honest – any TV show that had resulted in my delicious raspberry magic cake was obviously something worth looking into.

It wasn’t until recently that I started watching. I began with Season 5, and I was instantly hooked. I’m working my way through Season 7 right now and am loving every second of it.

The only bad thing about the GBBO is that it makes me feel woefully inadequate. Whenever they do a bake, my reaction is either “Hey – I’ve made that before!” (8% of the time) or “I’ve never made that before – how can I call myself a baker if I’ve never made that before??!?!” (92% of the time).

This is where I confess that until today, I had never made a tart before. Can you believe it? A tart is like a basic food group in the baking world!

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Teaser…

My trusty Bobbette & Belle cookbook has a couple of nice looking tart recipes, so I finally bit the bullet and bought a tart pan. The book says I can use either a 14 x 4.5 inch rectangular pan or an 8-inch round pan. I bought the former, because a narrow rectangle seems like a cool shape for a baked good. There are enough round cakes, cookies, pies, and tortes in the world. Bring on the right angles, I say.

I opted to make the Mixed Berry Tart with Vanilla Pastry Cream, a recipe with three components:

  1. Sweet Pastry
  2. Vanilla Pastry Cream
  3. Mixed Berry Topping

Sweet Pastry

Pastries always seem to be a little finicky, so this was the step I was probably most intimidated by. Unlike the pie pastries I’ve made, which typically call for cold butter, the tart shell pastry calls for room temperature butter. It also has granulated sugar, one egg, some all-purpose flour, and a wee bit of salt. Kudos to the Bobbette & Belle team for keeping it super simple with the sugar and flour types, because some of the other tart recipes I’ve seen online use specialized stuff that can be a pain to keep around if you don’t bake tarts on the regular.

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After a few steps in the mixer, my pastry looked a little dry, but I trusted in the process and did not want to overmix it. When I shaped it into a disc by hand, the pastry seemed to hold together, which was a good sign. I popped it into the fridge for a couple of hours as directed.

The next step is to roll the dough out to a 1/8 inch thick rectangle. Hahahah – that’s what I thought when I attempted to do this. The dough broke into chunks. The book includes a mildly helpful tip: “If the dough cracks, let it rest for a few minutes to warm up slightly before continuing to roll”. Crack seemed like an understatement. In hindsight, what I think I should have done is beat the dough a bit with my rolling pin to spread it out without it breaking. I managed to smush seams together and eventually ended up with my large rectangle of dough, more or less in one piece.

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Feel free to pin this under “perfect pastry”…

Okay, next step: “Roll the dough around the rolling pin and then unroll it over the tart pan.” It sounds so easy, doesn’t it? Except when I went to roll my dough around the rolling pin, it basically disintegrated – as did my visions of my perfect, Pinterest worthy berry tart.

I managed to mostly get it into the tart pan and I patched my little heart out. It looked a little rough, but hey – it all gets covered, right?

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Mm, lentil tart!

Into the oven it went – first for a blind bake, then finished with a regular bake. I found the instructions a little confusing: blind bake for 12 to 15 minutes “until a light golden colour”, then remove the parchment and beans and bake for another 10 minutes “or until lightly golden in colour”. Erm, wouldn’t it already be light golden? Are “light golden” and “lightly golden” different colours?

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Light/Lightly golden?

After 15 minutes blind baking, my pastry didn’t look raw, but it also wasn’t lightly golden. I left it in for one minute longer (still not golden), then took out the parchment and beans (lentils, in my case). After ten more minutes in the oven, it was light/lightly golden. Time to cool and focus on the pastry cream.

Vanilla Pastry Cream

With the shell done, the worst was surely behind me – right? (Foreshadowing)

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I call this one “Oblivious Whisking”

The Vanilla Pastry Cream is a separate recipe in the back of the book (“Buttercreams, Frostings and Fillings”). It calls for whole milk, egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, vanilla, a wee bit of butter, and some cream. I didn’t have whole milk so I used 2%. Perhaps that’s what cause me grief.

I mastered the first couple of steps: bringing the milk to a simmer, whisking in the egg yolks/sugar/cornstarch/vanilla without creating scrambled eggs in the process, and pouring it all back into the pot.

Here’s where I got turned around: “Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly. Cook, whisking constantly, until the pastry cream thickens, 1 to 2 minutes.” As it turns out, my pastry cream thickened – but before it even boiled. I think I let it get too thick, but I was looking out for the boiling cue, which never came.

The next step was to strain the cream through a fine-mesh sieve. My cream was basically a solid custard. I put it in the sieve and it just sat on top. I had to really mash it down to get it to go through, which I’m not sure is how it’s supposed to go…

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It’s supposed to look like cottage cheese, right?

I chilled it in the fridge for a few hours, hoping I’d done everything right(ish). The final step called for whipping the cream and folding it into the pasty cream. My folding didn’t exactly create a cohesive, smooth cream. Rather, it was a bit… chunky? If I overmixed, I’d deflate the cream, which was no good at all. I decided to leave it a little chunky. After all, it gets covered, right?

(Are you sensing a theme here?)

Mixed Berry Topping

Luckily, it is next to impossible to mess up a berry topping. You literally wash assorted berries, and that’s it. Though the recipe suggests blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries, it also says that you can use any in-season fruit. I stuck with their recommendation, covering my chunky pastry cream with brightly coloured berries. I even popped in a few mint leaves for good measure.

The Verdict

Despite the roller coaster of a baking process, I thought my tart actually looked quite good. I realized I didn’t actually have a serving plate large enough for the narrow rectangle shape (oops – maybe I should have gone the conventional round route?), but a cutting board did the trick just fine (as long as I angled the tart).

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At last, it was time to tuck in.

AMAAAAAZING! It tasted fabulous. Though the pastry cream appeared chunky, its texture was somehow miraculously smooth. The pastry itself was delicious – crisp, a beautiful golden colour, and positively scrumptious (said in the voice of Mary Berry).

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Truly, this is one of the most delicious tarts/pastries I have ever had. The crust really is like a cookie, the cream was rich yet light, and the whole thing was just decadent and delightful.

My first tart was officially a success!

An aside: I want to dress up as Mary Berry for Halloween and make Cedric dress as Paul Hollywood. What do you think – too niche?