Sunday, 31 March 2013

Hot Cross Buns

A pile of hot cross buns

I love hot cross buns! I eat shop-bought ones all year round but, at Easter, there is something very special about home-made ones. My mum makes home-made hot cross buns every Easter and it is something that I have really missed for the last couple of years, so this year, I decided it was time to learn to make my own.

I started practising a couple of weeks ago when I attempted a “quick and easy” recipe that I found – which involved no kneading. Unfortunately, it turns out that “quick and easy” doesn’t really work! Or not when I tried anyway! Although the resulting buns had a nice flavour, they didn’t really rise at were very stodgy! Next attempt was in the bread-maker, which is really EHH’s realm! He followed the recipe in the book which came with the bread-maker. These buns were ok, but were fairly bland and missing the nice spicy hit that I like in hot cross buns. They also didn’t have quite the right home-made feel to them.

So Good Friday arrived and I decided that there really isn’t a shortcut to proper tasty home-made hot cross buns. I went with the recipe in last month’s Good Food magazine – the recipe was actually for a bun ring but worked fine just as normal buns. I added extra spice and lemon zest as I like my hot cross buns with lots of flavour! I actually enjoyed working the dough and the satisfaction of these rising beautifully and tasting fab definitely made all the work worthwhile.  My buns were not beautifully round – I think I need to work on my shaping, but they were light and fluffy and tasted great! If I were to make them  again, I think I would try brushing them with a spicy sugar syrup straight after baking – this was suggested in the quick and  easy version that I tried, and would be great on these buns!

Hot Cross Buns


  1. 300ml whole milk
  2. Zest of one orange
  3. Zest of one lemon
  4. 50g butter
  5. 500g strong white bread flour, plus 140g for the crosses, plus extra for dusting
  6. 1.5 tsp cinnamon
  7. 1.5 tsp mixed spice
  8. 1 tsp salt
  9. 85g golden caster sugar
  10. 7g sachet fast-action yeast
  11. 1 large egg, beaten, plus 1 egg to blaze
  12. Oil / cake-release spray, for greasing
  13. 100g mixed fruit


  1. Warm the milk and zests in a small saucepan until steaming.
  2. Remove from the heat and add the butter, gently stirring until the butter has melted and the milk has cooled to hand temperature.
  3. Mix the flour, spices, sugar, yeast and salt in a large bowl (make sure that you don’t put the salt directly on top of the yeast).
  4. Pour in the milk mixture and the beaten egg, and mix together with a wooden spoon until the mixture clumps together.
  5. Tip onto a floured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic – the dough should bounce back when pressed with your finger.
  6. Transfer to a clean oiled bowl (I use a quick spray of cake release spray to coat the bowl) and cover with cling film or a tea towel. Leave somewhere warm for about 2 hours or until doubled in size (If your house is cool, place in an oven at about 30C).
  7. Line two baking trays with baking parchment and dust with flour.
  8. Tip the dough out of the bowl onto a work surface dusted with flour and knead to knock out any air bubbles.
  9. Add the dried fruit and knead to incorporate.
  10. Divide the dough into 12 pieces, roll each piece into a ball and place 6 on each baking tray, spacing evenly.
  11. Cover loosely with oiled clingfilm (again, cake release spray makes this easy!) and leave somewhere warm for about an hour, or until doubled in size.
  12. Heat the oven to 180C.
  13. Brush the buns with a little beaten egg.
  14. Mix the remaining flour with enough water to make a thick paste and then transfer to a piping bag.
  15. Use the paste to pipe a cross on each bun.
  16. Place the trays in the oven and bake for about 25 minutes, until golden and cooked through.

Easter spiced biscuits

Easter spice biscuits - a mix of Easter bunnies, chicks and Easter baskets

Happy Easter! Browsing through the pictures on Flickr this week, I was inspired by the many beautifully decorated biscuits for Easter. I hadn’t made any iced biscuits since Christmas and so decided to have a go at making some for work. Delving through my vast and ever-growing collection of cookie cutters, I found a chick, a rabbit and also my handbag cutter, which I could adapt to make Easter hampers.

The Biscuiteers Book of Iced Biscuits” is my go-to book when making iced biscuits – they hold their shape and taste great! The book describes the icing process in detail and has lots of great ideas and pictures to inspire your decorating! Once you have mastered the basic recipe, it is easy to adapt to incorporate your own flavours. For my Easter spiced biscuits, I added lemon and orange zest, cinnamon and mixed spice to capture the Easter flavours of hot cross buns and traditional Easter biscuits.

These biscuits do taste great still warm out of the oven but also store really well – I find they are fine for at least a week, if stored in a biscuit tin.

Easter spiced biscuits

5 Easter basket biscuits

  1. 350g plain flour
  2. 100g self-raising flour
  3. 1 tsp cinnamon
  4. 1 tsp mixed spice
  5. Zest of an orange
  6. Zest of a lemon
  7. 125g granulated sugar
  8. 125g salted butter, diced (at room temp)
  9. 125g golden syrup
  10. 1 large egg, lightly beaten

Makes approx. 24 biscuits


  1. Sift the flour, baking powder and all the spices into a mixing bowl. Add the sugar and stir well.
  2. Rub in the butter, using just the tips of your fingers, until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
  3. Make a well in the centre of your mix and add the golden syrup, egg and zests.
  4. Use a knife to stir the mixture until it begins to come together as a dough.
  5. Use your hands to bring the dough together.
  6. Divide the dough into two and shape into two flat disks.
  7. Place the first piece of dough between two sheets of baking parchments. (This means that you do not have to add extra flour when rolling.)
  8. Roll the dough out evenly until it is approximately 5-6mm thick all over (you can buy rolling guides, but I have this rolling pin, which is brilliant!). If the top or bottom sheets of parchment crinkle at any time, peel it off and smooth out.
  9. When rolled to the correct thickness, move the dough (still sandwiched between parchment) onto a baking tray and then into the fridge to chill for at least 20-30 minutes.
  10. After chilling, use your selected cutters to cut out the biscuits, cutting each one as close to the last as possible, in order to use the dough efficiently. Re-roll the dough as necessary, but try to work the dough as little as possible. 
  11. Place each biscuit onto a lined baking tray, allowing space between as the biscuits will spread a little.
  12. Bake the biscuits for 14 – 18 minutes. When cooked, the biscuits will be very lightly golden, firm around the edges but still slightly soft on top.
  13. Remove the baking trays from the oven and carefully remove each biscuit from the tray, placing them gently onto a wire cooling rack. The biscuits will still be very delicate at this stage. 
  14. Allow biscuits to cool totally before storing or icing. 

To decorate
Easter spice biscuits in the shape of chicks
These biscuits were decorated using royal icing, which dries to a very hard surface – making it easy to wrap these biscuits as presents or transport them. The easiest way to work with royal icing is to start with a ready-made royal icing mix.  

  1. 500g royal icing sugar
  2. 75ml water
  3. Paste food colours

    Easter spice biscuits in the shape of Easter bunnies
  1. Add the water to the royal icing sugar in a large bowl.
  2. Use an electric mixer to beat the mix (starting on low and increasing to high speed) for about 5 minutes. You are looking for the mix to be bright white and a toothpaste-like consistency (this is “line icing”).
  3. Divide the line icing between smaller bowls.
  4. Use a skewer to add small amounts of the paste colours to the bowls of icing, adding a little at a time until you reach the desired colour.  
  5. Spoon some of the icing into a piping bag with a very small round tip.
  6. Pipe the outlines of the shapes. Set aside the rest of the line icing to add details to the iced biscuits.
  7. Add water to the icing left in the bowls until you reach a pouring consistency (this is called “flooding icing”).
  8. Spoon into a piping bag or piping bottle.
  9. Pipe the flooding icing onto the biscuits to fill the areas outlined on the biscuits.
  10. Allow iced biscuits to set.
  11. Use remaining line icing and other decorative items to complete the decoration of the biscuits (I used jelly beans and flowers stamped out from fondant icing).
  12. Leave to dry for at least 24 hours.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Whitehall Garden Centre restaurant, Lacock

Ok, I admit it, I secretly quite enjoy a Sunday afternoon at a garden centre. Not that I’m particularly interested in gardening, plants etc, but these days, garden centres tend to have a great selection of housey/gift bits and bobs, decent farm shops and a good range of cake in the café! 

A few of our houseplants were looking decidedly worse for wear and we had nothing much planned for a wet Sunday afternoon, so we decided to pop along to Whitehall Garden Centre for a potter. Having skipped lunch, we decided to head straight to the restaurant to find something to eat.  The restaurant is fairly standard for a garden centre – fairly large, with lots of fairly cheap, modern wooden tables and chairs. There are large conservatory-type windows overlooking the outside plant section of the centre, so the restaurant is light and airy. As you would expect on a rainy Sunday afternoon, it was busy and most of the tables were filled.

Cup of tea and a slice of apple and cinnamon cakeAlthough we were thinking about lunch, the range of paninis was fairly limited and didn’t really tempt me, the only sandwiches available were packaged and, as we had a big roast planned for the evening, I didn’t want something more substantial, so after much deliberation, we decided just to have a slice of cake. There was a good range of cakes available, including about 4 different gluten-free options. I immediately spotted the one for EHH – an enormous hunk of caramel-covered flapjack. After deliberating between carrot cake, Victoria sponge and apple cake, I decided to go for the apple and cinnamon cake. We also opted for the standard pot of tea for two. In all, the bill came to just under £10, which was fairly respectable.

Cup of tea with a hunk of caramel-covered flapjackThe tea was standard tea bags in a fairly decent-sized pot. It didn’t come with any additional hot water and the milk jug was fairly small, but the staff were very happy to top up the hot water and provide more milk, when asked. EHH really enjoyed his huge piece of caramel-covered flapjack – it was way too sweet for my tastes but he loved it. My apple and cinnamon cake was rather disappointing: I expect apple cake to be very moist and fruity, this was really quite dry and lacked flavour. The cinnamon icing was too sweet and rather overpowered the rest of the cake.

In all, the restaurant is acceptable but not exceptional. We’d probably pop in again if we were back shopping at the garden centre, but wouldn’t visit specifically for the restaurant.

The Bridge Café @ The Avon Gorge Hotel, Bristol

Clifton Suspension Bridge (not taken from the Avon Gorge Hotel)

Having had a quick visit to Clifton Village back in December, I’d wanted to come back for a proper potter around the many independent shops for a while.  Having taken the day off for my birthday, it seemed like a great opportunity to visit. It was another beautiful frosty, sunny day in Clifton, although the bitter cold did mean that we didn’t spend quite as long wandering around as we may have done otherwise!  Clifton offers quite a few different tea and coffee shops, but, wanting something a bit special, we decided to walk a bit further up to the Bridge Café at the Avon Gorge Hotel, which offers beautiful views out over the Clifton Suspension Bridge. 

The entrance to the café is very understated and not very inspiring, but, once inside, the rooms are modern and classy. It was quiet, with only one other table occupied – possibly other people were put off by the cold, or it’s just not that known for afternoon tea. We sat on a table next to the windows, with great views, although a little chilly, which made us realise why the other table had chosen to sit back next to the open fire! There is a great outdoor space with lots of tables overlooking the fantastic views – this would be a fantastic place in the summer.

Latte and a slice of coffee and walnut cakeThe afternoon tea menu was a little disappointing – I think that for somewhere with such a great location, they could draw many more people in if the menu was more exciting. I get the feeling that the café is more set up for lunch, with afternoon tea offered as a bit of an after-thought. The afternoon tea they offered only included two types of cake – West Country apple cake and Drambuie fruit cake, which didn’t particularly tempt me.  The only other cake available was their daily special, which, on the day we visited, was coffee and walnut. As we were eating out that evening and the menu wasn’t particularly inspiring, we decided not to do the whole afternoon tea option: I opted for the coffee and walnut cake and EHH chose to have the West Country apple cake and the Drambuie fruit cake (which was an option on the menu – he wasn’t just being piggy!).  We both chose to have lattes rather than tea (I figured that tea and coffee cake would be a strange combination!).  My latte came (as it all lattes should!) in a proper latte glass and was delicious, although it could have been hotter. My coffee and walnut cake was moist and tasty – reminding me how much I do like this type of cake (I don’t often make them as EHH doesn’t like coffee cake). EHH enjoyed his fruit cake and apple cake – although both were fairly small portions. The West Country apple cake was quite unusual – it was very dense, more like a pudding than a cake, but did have a nice flavour. His cakes also came served with three small chocolate truffles, which was a nice touch – these were delicious: very rich and velvety.

The staff were very pleasant but the service was really rather slow – particularly considering there were so few people there. There was quite a long gap between my cake arriving and EHH’s arriving, to the point where we thought they had forgotten about his order.

Overall, I felt that this café was a little disappointing as it could be so much better – the location is amazing but the choice of cake was limited, the cakes were ok but not mind-blowing and the service wasn’t quite up to standard.  Although it would be lovely in the summer to sit outside, there are lots of other options for tea and cake in Clifton and I’m not that tempted to return to this one.