One Christmas back in 2010, my friend Andrew introduced me to a cranberry mincemeat recipe using very fresh ingredients that is quick to make and can be used on the same day. There is no suet or butter, nor gentle cooking or baking of the ingredients so the trade off is that it will not last as long as more traditional mincemeat recipes. It was a game changer for me in two ways. Firstly, I loved how the lime zestiness and cranberry tartness cut through what can be the overly rich sweetness of mincemeat. Quite a few people, who object to the richness of traditional mincemeat, like this one. Secondly was the fact that it could be made last minute and used immediately. At that point, I don’t think it registered with me that it was also vegan.
I realised that I hadn’t noted down exact quantities when I went to make it the following year and the internet helped me to find a Delia variation of it. Then I moved to Cambodia, where I couldn’t get cranberries so I created another version of it using local dried fruit. However, when I discovered frozen cranberries in Thai Huot, I happily reverted back to using what had now become my own version of Andrew’s original recipe. When I returned to the UK, I took a 2 year hiatus from making this to try out Delia’s more traditional versions because suet was available. However, this year, when my Christmas holiday plans got derailed by the Omicron variant and I suddenly had a week at home, I decided to cheer myself up and make mince pies with this last-minute mincemeat.
This recipe will make about 650-750g of mincemeat. I sterilised a 500g beetroot jar and 330g jam jar to store them in. When I want to bake a lot of mince pies, I double this recipe and prepare more space in the fridge.
Ingredients for Cranberry Mincemeat, adapted from Andrew.
225g fresh or frozen cranberries
1 large green apple – preferably Granny Smiths or Bramley, but any tart apple will do
100g currants – can be substituted with raisins
100g mixed peel
zest and juice of 1 lime
half a fresh nutmeg, grated
65g dark brown sugar
Method – also in the photos below.
Cut the cranberries in half and put into a medium sized bowl*. If they are very large cranberries, then cut into thirds or quarters. If they are very small cranberries, then you can leave them whole. Very small cranberries are difficult to cut and are more commonly found, in my experience, in the frozen packets.
Add in the currants, sultanas, mixed peel, the zest and juice of 1 lime.
Grate the apple with the skin on, into the bowl. Then add in the sugar and grate in half a fresh nutmeg. Give it a good mix to combine it all and use straight away.
Top Tip: I halve cranberries this way because I think it’s slightly faster. Lay one hand down firmly on the cranberries so that they don’t move. With your other hand, use a sharp knife parallel to your palm and carefully cut the cranberries horizontally. I haven’t got a video of this – but if you search for how to halve cherry tomatoes, you should be able to see it.
From experience, you can store this in sterilised jars or tupperware for up to 4-6 weeks in the fridge. Sterilise jars by washing them and putting them in an oven (140°C and above) until they are dry. This normally takes less than 10 minutes.
As well as the usual mince pies (bottom photo), I’m planning to use it to make a stollen babka wreath using a challah dough that was far too chilled out to rise over the weekend, and now finally is ready to be used.
The adjustment to going back to working onsite and the teaching load in the first semester in the academic year resulted in a quiet blog recently. I’m also trying to get my head around Instagram reels and whether to create one on poaching eggs, which has delayed that post. Anyhooo, that all aside, I have been baking, though not creating new recipes.
*Spoiler alert* If you haven’t watched the GBBO 2021 yet and would not like to know what the technical challenges are, then please don’t read ahead.
There was no plan to bake this year’s technical challenges until I realised it was happening by pure accidental happy spontaneity. Then I made an active choice to continue on with it because baking makes me happy and I like trying out and learning new things. Below you have my attempts at five of the technical challenges. I’ll write about the others later on, when I complete them. If you’re a bit unsure about making them, then my top tips are:
Read the instructions of the recipe all the way through and then again.
Have the ingredients and equipment prepared.
Don’t worry if things go wrong, Prue and Paul aren’t going to be judging them anyway.
This is an easy bake and you can leave the fruit to soak in the tea overnight as prep. I made them the same weekend that I made the ciabatta breadsticks. The homemade version is SO much BETTER than what I’ve ever bought. I’m not sure I can ever go back. I baked two at the same time and took one into work. I found two things difficult. The most challenging thing was sourcing the malt extract. I try not to buy on Amazon in an effort to support local stores. I went into a supermarket, where I was shown Marmite, when asking for malt extract and then directed to Holland and Barratts. I bought it from there. The second one was self-created. I heated the malt extract and sugars for too long and so it was overly-sticky. Don’t do that and you’ll be fine.
The most delightful thing about this bake was when I opened the malt extract and tasted it. I was transported back to something I ate as a small child in Korea. I don’t know what it is (Koreans out there, can you help me?) but I remember thinking that this is surely nectar from heaven. I am a big fan of malt extract.
I made the ciabatta breadsticks on the same weekend that I made Nigella’s beetroot hummus recipe. I discovered that the make a delightful pairing. It is also delicious with some kimchi as well. Get all the colours and flavours together for a party in your mouth.
Ciabatta dough is tricky because it is so wet and soft. Alternatively, I think of it as a soft, plush dough, luxurious to work with. “Show the dough who’s boss” – Richard Bertinet quote – rings in my head when I work with it. I deliberately bought manchego cheese to make this. I was surprised by the combination of olives and coriander but it is scrumptious. The recipe says that it will make 18. Make the 18+ if you don’t have baking trays that are long enough. I gave about half of them away to friends but they were gone in our household within 3 days.
This was the bake at which I realised that I wanted to commit myself to baking each of the technical challenges. There was a playdate happening at the same time as this bake which got in the way of trying to complete it in the 4 or so hours that the bakers had in the tent. I didn’t. It has been awhile since I had baked for more than 2 hours straight so I found this bake physically tiring, although satisfying when making the various elements. We had a break for dinner and so it took me about 5 hours to make. The next day, people reacted with a mixture of horror and surprise that I chose to bake a cake that took me 5 hours.
The recipe is detailed and methodical. Have all your ingredients and equipment prepared, clear out an afternoon/evening and don’t put a time pressure on yourself. We don’t have a 23cm baking tin, so I did some maths to reduce the recipe to make a 20cm one and I improvised acetate with baking paper. I enjoyed making the German buttercream and the genoise sponges. I was tempted to see if it would work on a pan, like pancakes, but decided against it. Dinner coincided with when I had just melted chocolate for the decorations. Thus I left it to cool down a bit too long and therefore lost the tempering. However, in this context, it didn’t really matter. There was a birthday at the weekend and so we cut into the cake. I was so pleased with the even layers and the cake is one of the best chocolate cakes I have ever tasted.
I was really nervous about this one because of the filo pastry. A long time ago, I had tried to make filo. It dried out and the texture of the resulting bake was both stiff and rubbery, an unpleasant combination. I hadn’t seen the method that they use in this recipe and it worked really well.
Again, I adapted the recipe because we don’t have a 25cm round baking tin. I halved the filling recipe to fit into the 20cm one. The next challenge to this was cutting the star design. I asked Sarah to help me figure it out and we did. Use a sharp knife and cut all the way through. I took it to church the next day for a bring a share lunch, and to my surprise it all went. Fortunately, I had kept back about a quarter of it for us to try out and to share with friends.
The 5 year old was looking through some of my photos and when she spotted this and said ‘oh look, sausages!’ 😆 I have called them, chocolate sliding off the caramel bars.
I decided to make these on the same afternoon as making the baklava. I’m just going to name them as most of us know them 😄 – the Twix bars. They are one of my favourite chocolate/confectionary bars and I have been wanting to make them for a long time, so this technical challenge gave me the perfect reason to get on and bake them.
I added a bit of toasted almonds in the biscuit base to add an extra flavour element to it (I’m not sure they did really). I did what one of the contestants did and broke the biscuit as I took it out of the tin. I like making caramel but still scared my housemate a little when I made it. I should have let my milk chocolate cool down a bit more before I dipped the caramel and biscuit into it. However, I was distracted by watching fireworks (it was the day after Bonfire Night) and creating photos in the garden with the family with sparklers making fun shapes. Once the chocolate had sufficiently set enough for us to handle, we ate them with a hot drink whilst watching the Strictly results.
Tonight as I was wondering which recipe to share with you (it was between apple crumble and poached eggs), I remembered that I’d been baking a lot of cookies recently and posting photos of them on Instagram. It’s time, isn’t it. The time has finally come to share my crack cookie recipe that I’ve been promising for a while.
Top tip: Keeping cookie dough balls in the freezer are an investment in your future self’s happiness.
There are variations of that sentence around the internet and social media. That’s my paraphrase above. It is one of the reasons why I love making these cookies. This recipe will make enough so that you can store some away (like squirrels do with their nuts in preparation for winter) for a moment when you really want to eat a cookie, or bake something but have no energy for it. That was me two nights ago. I arrived home from work physically and emotionally exhausted, wanting to be fed and then to sit down with a home baked biscuit to watch episode 2 of the Great British Bake Off – Biscuit week. Fortunately I live with a family who will let me do all those things and I had frozen cookie dough balls stashed away in the freezer.
I went through a phase when I was obsessively recipe testing chocolate chip cookies in Phnom Penh to perfect that American style cookie of soft and gooey on the inside, with crispy edges. This was a pretty happy time for those around me. Being around so many more internationals opened up a whole other world of baked goods, their expectations of them and their tastebuds. I enjoyed the challenge of trying to recreate those baked goods that they were nostalgically craving that I had never tasted before. And then of course selling them.
I learned stuff as I researched which I’ll share with you because that’s what this blog is about:
THE MOST IMPORTANT part is to REST the dough so that the baking magic can happen. Firstly, it allows the flour to absorb the fats and the liquids and thus create that puffy, crispy texture. Secondly, the sugars get a chance to chill out and mellow out resulting in richer flavour. In some baking chemistry magic by resting them, they will taste sweet but not overly sugary. It’s a minimum 2 hour wait if you’re impatient, but preferably overnight.
I often use a stand mixer to make this but the joy of this recipe is that as all the butter is melted, it is easy to do in a large bowl and a spatula/large mixing spoon.
Allow the brown butter to cool down. Sometimes I don’t and it results in a more delicate, tender cookie.
Remember with a cookie recipe, you don’t want to cream the butter and sugar together. We just want to mix them sufficiently, not beat air into them.
Mix up different types of chocolate to create a more complex chocolate profile, that’s why I use dark and milk chocolate. I read somewhere (I’m sure it was on Serious Eats but I can’t find the link) that if you use one type of chocolate then your taste buds get used to and stop tasting it. However, if you vary different makes or types of chocolate, your tastebuds will continue to taste them.
My recipe testing pales in comparison to Serious Eats. I am still learning.
Brown butter creates a rich, nutty flavour which I really enjoy.
Why do I call them crack cookies? That’s the nickname that my friend Grace gave them and it caught on. These cookies are really more-ish, sweetly addictive, soft but slightly crispy and satisfyingly not overly sweet. The brown butter gives a slightly nutty flavour, without any nuts, and the two types of chocolate means that each mouthful is a flavour party. I made two batches of these cookies for the soft opening of her store, Ginger and Grace. For some reason, they didn’t make it onto the tables but her friends discovered them later that evening and ate through an entire batch of them. I guess that cemented their reputation as crack cookies.
Now I tell people that these brown butter, chocolate chunk cookies are my best work.
The cookie recipe comes from Ambitious Kitchen. I haven’t made any major changes to it, except I like to weigh everything so obviously here I’ve converted it into grams. There’s a very similar recipe on Joy the Baker. The differences are that Monique browns ALL the butter, uses dark brown sugar, uses two different types of chocolate, adds in a tablespoon of greek yoghurt and doesn’t use nuts. Joy uses light brown sugar but adds in 1 tsp molasses, adds pecans and uses dark chocolate only. I prefer the Ambitious Kitchen version.
Ingredients for Brown Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies very slightly adapted from Ambitious Kitchen
100g white granulated sugar
200g dark brown sugar
1 large egg and 1 egg yolk
1 tbsp natural yoghurt or greek yoghurt
2 tsp vanilla extract
280g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp table salt
140g dark chocolate cut into small chunks, or the chocolate chips, or round discs*
140g milk chocolate cut into small chunks, or the chocolate chips, or round discs
*for prettier looking cookies: if using round discs of chocolate, keep around 21 discs aside to firmly place on the cookies after they have baked. The chocolate will temper as they melt and thus have a nice shine making them prettier to eat.
First brown the butter. Add all the butter to a medium-sized saucepan and place over medium heat. It will start to froth and cackle. That is the water evaporating. Continue and stir the sides and scrape the bottom a few times so that it doesn’t burn. When it is ‘as quiet as a ninja’ (quote from Stella Parks) it is ready. Take it off the heat and either pour the butter in a bowl to cool down, not forgetting to scrape the browned bits from the sides and bottom. Or as I often do, fill up the sink with cold water and carefully place the hot pan in there to cool down.
Add both the sugars into a large mixing bowl and the cooled brown butter and mix for a minute or two until they are combined. I use the paddle beater (K-beater on the Kenwood). Don’t discard the egg white. Store it in the freezer for a cocktail or macaron/meringue baking on a later date.
Now add in the vanilla extract, yoghurt and the large egg and egg yolk and mix again for a minute. It will look and smell like toffee.
In a separate bowl, measure out the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt and whisk to mix. Then add this to the butter/sugar/egg mixture and mix slowly so that the flour doesn’t fly up.
When it looks like the flour has just about combined then add in the chocolate chunks and mix again.
At this stage, I prefer to measure out into 2 tablespoons of cookie dough (I like to use a medium ice cream scoop) and roll them into balls and place them on a lined baking tray so that the cookie dough can chill out in the fridge for at least 2 hours before baking them. Sometimes, I will cover them and leave them overnight in the fridge to bake the following morning. More often, I will cover them and put them in the freezer overnight and then store the frozen cookie dough balls in a bag.
When you’re ready to bake them, pre-heat the oven to 170°C/350°F/Gas mark 4 and line a baking sheet/tray with baking paper. Space them out so that there are 5 cms between each dough ball as they will spread. Sprinkle the cookies with a bit of table salt. If baking from chilled, bake for 11-13 minutes. If baking from frozen, bake for 14-16 minutes. The dough will spread out and go a golden brown colour. The middle will be gooey so when you take it out, it is important to leave them to cool and harden for 15 minutes on the baking sheet. Otherwise it will split into many pieces and chocolate goo will cover your fingers. That doesn’t sound too bad, does it. Haha.
You’re welcome and enjoy.
You can vary the flavour and texture. I added 140g dark chocolate and 140g chopped pecans to the cookies at the top of the post. You could substitute the pecans for walnuts or hazelnuts if you like. Play around with it and let me know how you get on.
You may have picked up already that I really enjoy playing around with the different flavour combinations in a brownie. When I ran a home baking business, as my side hustle, in Phnom Penh, I’d sometimes put a poll out on social media. What brownie flavour would you like next? Cheesecake was a popular request. Cambodians generally really like cheesecake but I made very few to sell because the ingredients were pricey. Thus when this hybrid worked out, it turned out to be a happy compromise. As I am me, I found ways to play around with more flavours and ingredients. I’ve listed them at the end of the cheesecake ingredients.
Last month, I wrote about how I’d picked up a painful thumb injury which I was trying to let heal. It is mostly better now so I made cheesecake brownies and a giant cookie this weekend.
When I posted a picture of this cheesecake version on the post about the infinitely variable fudgy brownies, I said that I’d give you the recipe later as it involves a few more steps. Since then, my brownie recipe and story have featured on TheBrightApp (which is a new social networking site that someone I know is involved in – go check it out). There was a comment that the variations could feature as a different recipe post each time, which is kind. I’m not sure if that will be possible, but here’s the cheesecake brownie version in the meantime.
I adapted this from Smitten Kitchen’s Cheesecake-Marbled Brownie recipe. I wanted to use my more recent whisking to ribbon stage brownie method, so I took note of the cheesecake ingredients and the marbling instructions but combined it with my chosen brownie method. However, you could use my simpler, no frills or ribbons, brownie recipe too. There are more detailed instructions in the previous posts on how to make brownies in general. I’ve added photos below the recipe to expand on the addition of cheesecake.
150g dark chocolate (at least 60%), broken up, roughly chopped
2 large eggs plus 1 egg white*
200g caster sugar
100g plain flour
20g cocoa powder
1/2 tsp of salt
1 tsp of vanilla extract
150g full-fat cream cheese
1 egg yolk from the egg in the brownie ingredients*
50g caster sugar
1tsp vanilla extract, or replace with
Optional flavour ideas – zest of an orange, 1 tbsp of dark rum or plum wine.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/355°F/Gas Mark 4. Line a deep tin. For this quantity a 20cm square tin or a rectangular 27×20 or 28×18 will work.
Start preparing the brownie mixture. Melt the chocolate and butter together and just after it has melted, add in the salt, vanilla extract and leave it on the side to cool down. Ways of doing this are on a previous post.
As you keep an eye on the chocolate and butter melting, prepare the cheesecake mixture. Put all the cheesecake ingredients into a small bowl. Save the egg white for the brownie mixture. Mix to combine until smooth. I often use a hand mixer, but you could beat with a spatula. See photos below.
Turn your attention to readying the rest of the brownie mixture. In a stand mixer bowl (if using) otherwise a medium bowl, crack the two eggs and add the saved egg white into the bowl and add the sugar. Use a stand mixer or an electric hand mixer on high speed to start whisking the eggs and sugar until they are at a ribbon stage. Ribbon stage is when the egg and sugar mixture are a pale yellow colour, doubled or even tripled in volume and when you lift the whisk over the mixture, the batter will fall slowly and leave a trail like a ribbon that will hold its shape for a few seconds. It will take about 10 minutes. I still use a timer to make sure I beat them for long enough. Don’t start beating the eggs/sugar until the chocolate/butter has melted because the chocolate/butter mixture needs this time to cool down.
As the eggs and sugar are whisking, measure out the flour and cocoa powder into another bowl. Sieve it if there are lots of lumps in the flour and cocoa. Otherwise, use a whisk to loosen and mix them together.
When the eggs and sugar have reached a ribbon stage, reduce the speed to low and add the melted chocolate and butter mixture to the eggs and sugar. Whisk until it all appears to have mixed together. If you are using an electric hand mixer, you may need to turn off the mixer, add the chocolate/butter and then switch it back on again to avoid a mess. I speak from experience.
Now fold in the flour and cocoa powder using a spatula, or a spoon until it is well combined.
Pour all the mixture into the baking tin. Debs says that if you want to create an even more marbled effect, then reserve some brownie batter to dollop on top of the cheesecake before swirling them together. I’ll let you experiment.
Use a tablespoon to dollop the cheesecake mixture evenly into the brownie mixture. Use the back of the spoon to swirl the brownie and cheesecake together. I like to go up and down vertically and then again horizontally. See photo below.
If you want to add in any texture (such as crushed biscuits) or fruit (such as raspberries or blackberries), do it now and push them into the marbled mixture.
Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes. They should be firm to touch at the top but still wobble when you shake it. Leave to cool completely in the tin and if you can bear it, cover them and leave them overnight in the fridge. They will be easier to cut and the flavours will have deepened.
I injured my thumb in June and 6 weeks later it is still healing, so there’s no recipe or poem from me this month. I think that I sprained it (or hurt it anyway) whilst balancing my iPad on my knees. Then I aggravated it baking and cooking a lot whilst on holiday at my mum’s. Following this with an epic house move meant that there wasn’t much opportunity for it to rest like it needed to.
Whilst I was forming this little paragraph in my head to post, more sentences wanted to tumble out and create a longer narrative about house moves, injuries, recovery and self-care. I started to think about what photos I had kept on my phone to include on it. Truth be told, I could write multiple blog entries about each one, given my experiences in the last 8-10 years.
However, this post was never meant to be long. So, I’m going to stop here.
I’m enjoying watching the courage and bravery of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and I hope that you are too. I just finished watching replays of Team GB winning gold in two mixed relay team events, the triathlon and the 4x100m medley. What an achievement. But so is this – Simone Biles’ fortitude and leadership to take a stance and prioritise her own well-being. In it’s own way it has had a ripple effect on me in writing this post.
Peace out until August. Lots of baking and poetry love Han-Na
I don’t know what the correct term is, but in Cambodia and I believe certain parts of northern Thailand, there is a difference in how they use the colours blue and green. As the poem references, a lot of vegetables and ‘greenery’ are described as blue. If you’re interested, I’ll write up more about it in another post. I’ve embraced how all encompassing the Khmer blue is in this poem that embraces the ombré, and it was mostly written after a coastal walk in Stonehaven.
Rarely will I just make something up and immediately conclude that it is amazing. Those who know me will testify to how I critique what I make, and recipes go through several iterations before I am happy with them. As I write, I’ve suddenly realised that this recipe also had several predecessors as a cookie re-enacted as a blondie. Wow – I had dismissed that because I hadn’t been trying to tweak that recipe. Nonetheless, this blondie came about with happy accidental happenstance.
Basically, a couple of Mondays ago, I decided that I wanted to bake brownies or blondies. On the Tuesday I ate a rich peanut brownie from Chocnroll, which satisfied my craving for brownies and so I turned my mind to blondies. When Wednesday evening happened, I had finished disseminating the findings of the first round of testing we had done on a major project I’m working on at work, written a lot of action points and very much needing to bake as therapy. Does anybody else do this? I know that I’m not alone in this.
I mentioned before that I have been working on another – yet unfinished – blondie recipe and I set out to make that. However this time, I added in another egg for extra hoped for fudginess, so that it mimicked my fudgy brownie recipe. As I browned some butter, I realised that I had no pecans nor white chocolate. So the substitutions began and a new blondie was birthed.
I’ve since seen on the internet other recipes that call their version of a hazelnut and chocolate blondie a gianduja one. I’ve since thought about grinding up hazelnuts to make a chocolate hazelnut butter that I add in as a layer in the middle or on top. Then in consultations with friends, I decided that this added layer of complication takes away from the simple joy of baking blondies. Admittedly the browning of the butter may be a step too far for some, but it is so essential for the flavour! I promise you that it will be worth learning a new technique that you can use over and over again.
Ingredients for Brown Butter, Hazelnut and Chocolate Blondies
200g butter which I then browned
200g dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
200g plain flour
150g chocolate. I used 100g of milk and 50g dark chocolate.
Preheat the oven to 350F/180C or 170C fan.
Roast the hazelnuts first for 10 mins using the baking tin for the blondies, until the skins come off them. Use a dry tea towel to rub the skins off the hazelnuts, then chop just over half of them. Don’t miss out this step.
Brown the butter: melt the butter in a medium saucepan on a medium heat and it will start to froth and cackle. That is the water evaporating. Continue and stir the sides and scrape the bottom a few times so that it doesn’t burn. When it is ‘as quiet as a ninja’ (quote from Stella Parks) it is ready. Take it off the heat and either pour the butter in a bowl to cool down, not forgetting to scrape the browned bits from the sides and bottom. Or as I often do, fill up the sink with cold water and carefully place the hot pan in there to cool down.
Now whisk the eggs and sugar together until it is at a ribbon stage. I used a stand mixer on a medium setting (3 on a Kenwood) for about 8 mins. I have instructions on whisking to a ribbon stage in my fudgy brownie recipe
As the eggs and sugar are whisking, line the tin. I used a 20cm square tin.
Now on the lowest setting, continue whisking but pour in the butter and add the salt. Whisk again on a medium setting until combined. I’m always amazed by the reaction and how it goes to almost like a buttercream consistency.
Fold in the flour, chopped hazelnuts and chopped chocolate.
Pour half the mixture into the tin, sprinkle over the unchopped hazelnuts and pour the rest of the mixture into the tin.
Bake in the middle of the oven for 17-20 mins until cooked on top. If it looks a bit jiggly, that is ok. It’ll harden up as it cools.
Allow to cool completely. I like to leave mine overnight. And then cut into 12-16 pieces.
And the verdict? Suitably more-ish, dense and fudgy. Surprisingly not overly sweet with the milk chocolate because of the dark chocolate. Lastly, it is always worth roasting the hazelnuts because it improves the texture and flavour.
I wanted to make hot cross buns. Every year, for the past 9 years, I have made my version of Paul Hollywood’s Hot Cross Buns. However, mixed citrus peel hadn’t been available in the Asda online shop for almost a month and we had, actually still have, a surplus of green apples in the house. So I decided to think of it as an opportunity to try out a new hot cross bun recipe without mixed peel but using green apples and a new method. One that I’ve been hearing about and seeing on my social media feeds for a while: the tangzhong method.
I’ve been really intrigued by this method, which originated in Japan and was popularised by Taiwanese cookbook author Yvonne Chen, and how it helps to create a soft fluffy texture that lasts longer than a couple of days. This is useful for something like this as this recipe makes between 17-18 buns. I don’t think anyone or any family could consume them all in one day. I researched a few other posts and found these really useful by way of introduction to using it:
The chemistry of it is quite precise. When flour is cooked with a hot liquid, it can absorb more water. You mix it together and cook it until a roux or slurry forms (pictures below), which is when the temperature of the slurry reaches 65°C/149°F. It pre-gelatinises the the starches in the flour meaning that it can absorb more liquid more, thus creating a dough that has a higher percentage of water.
To make a tangzhong, it suggests that you use 5-10% of your flour. Thus in the recipe below 560g x 0.05 = 28g
1 part flour to 5 parts cold liquid. e.g. 28g flour to 140g liquid.
Whisk to combine until no lumps remain.
Heat, whilst stirring, until a roux/slurry forms to 65°C/149°F
Allow it to cool before adding to the dough
As it holds a higher percentage of water, the hydration level is important too. When you’re not a natural mathematician, like me, then you may spend a fair chunk of time adding the wet ingredients out loud and dividing it by the flour in order to figure out the hydration ratio. King Arthur Baking says that you’re looking for a hydration ratio of 75%. When I calculated it for this recipe, the result was 67%. Hmmm… my next question was whether eggs add hydration to a dough. The internet answer is yes. I learnt that eggs are 75% water. Therefore, an unshelled UK large egg weighs about 60g, so 60g x 0.75 = 45g. This recipe uses 2 eggs, thus adding 90g of water to the recipe. When I did the maths again, with the addition of the water from the eggs:
(375+90)/560 = 0.83 = 83% hydration level.
Does it matter that the hydration is far above 75% and is 83%? By this stage I’m hoping not and just wanting to get on to baking the hot cross buns. On a related tangent, in my research I also learned that the weight of a large egg differs depending on the country. A large egg is bigger in the UK than the US or Australia. Did you know that? I did not.
I’ve heavily adapted this recipe from Not Quite Nigella’s Apple and Cinnamon hot cross buns, who is an Australian food blogger. Do you remember that in my previous blog post, I highlighted that US cup measures differ from Australian ones? This was a useful titbit of information to remember whilst converting her recipe into grams. I decided to add raisins because I wasn’t ready to move on from not having dried fruit in my hot cross bun. Sultanas or currants would work too. The first time, I added in 100g and I felt like they could do with more. If you don’t like dried fruit then you could omit them completely.
I adapted her method too by simplifying some of the steps and adding in an extra rise. I almost forgot to add in the salt the first time I made the recipe. I realised just as the dough was finishing proving a second time (I’d decided to prove the dough three times) and so I sprinkled it in hoping that it would be absorbed. Sadly not. I had a mouthful of salt in the first hot cross bun that I ate. Thus, I decided to add the salt in at the beginning when I made these a second time. I don’t think that it made a noticeable difference but it improved the flavour of the bun, as one didn’t randomly get a mouthful of salt, and there’s less chance of forgetting the salt at a later step. I also added all the wet ingredients and the butter into the roux and whisked it together before adding it all into the flour. I gave the dough three rises, rather than two, so that the dough would be less sticky and easier to work with when shaping them. One rise before adding the fruit, another afterwards and one more time after I shaped them into buns.
1 medium sized, tart, green apple, chopped (I used a Granny Smith). I don’t peel it. I rather like the look of the bright green skin in the buns
Ingredients for the crosses
40g plain flour (about 3 tbsp)
4-5tbsp of water
Ingredients for the sticky glaze
2tbsp of granulated sugar
1. In a big bowl (I use the standmixer bowl), measure out the bread flour. Then, take 2 level tbsp of the flour and put it into a small saucepan to make the tangzhong. If you want to be more precise than this, then measure out 28g of flour. Next add the water to the saucepan.
2. Use a whisk to mix the flour and the water together for the roux. Heat on a low-medium heat until the roux reaches 65°C/149°F. If you don’t have a thermometer handy then on a low-medium heat, this will take between 1.5-2 mins. Leave to cool while measuring out the dry ingredients. I’ve used both a whisk and a spatula for this. The whisk works much better to mix the water and flour together. (See the photos above for the consistency of the slurry.)
3. Add the yeast, salt and cinnamon to the bowl that has the bread flour. Mix it together with the dough hook. *If kneading by hand, rub in the butter to the flour at this stage. It will make the kneading of the dough much easier.
4. To the tangzhong, whisk in the butter, milk, honey, vanilla extract and eggs. The butter won’t melt and that is okay. It will be incorporated into the dough in the kneading process.
5. Use the dough hook to mix the liquid and the flour together so that it roughly combines. Then knead until it is soft and very elastic. At a medium setting (3 on a Kenwood), I let it knead for 7 minutes. Keep an eye on your stand mixer so that it doesn’t walk off the counter. I have let that happen before – a big ooopsadaisy!
6. Then cover and leave to rise until doubled in size for about 45mins – 1 hour. In the meantime, chop up the green apple and weigh out the raisins. Add them into the dough after the first rise. I just add them into the bowl with the dough and use the dough hook to knead it again so that it combines. By doing so, it knocks back the air in the dough and as it rises a second time, will create a more even crumb. Shape into a ball, place in an oiled bowl and cover to rise again until doubled in size, about 45 mins – 1 hour.
7. Whilst the yeast is doing its magic, this is a good time to decide how many buns you’d like. I wanted 18 but did I tell you already that maths isn’t my strongest point? I ended up with 17. If you’re my brother-in-law, this fact may make you laugh. I want the buns to bake evenly, so I will weigh out the dough then divide by the number of buns that I want.
8. Once the dough has doubled in size, lightly flour the surface and turn the dough out of the bowl. Strengthen the dough by shaping into a vague rectangle. Take hold of a longer side, fold one third towards the centre and press down with your thumbs or the heel of your hand. Fold the other third towards the centre and press down. Finally fold it in half lengthways, press down and roll it out a bit with your hands into a long sausage shape. The dough should feel stronger.
9. Divide the dough into the number of buns. If you want 15, then divide it into 3 equal parts, then into 5. If you want 18… well I think that you should tell me what I should do .
10. Lightly flour the surface in order to roll each piece a smooth ball. To roll the buns, turn the sides into the middle, then turn over so that the seam side is on the bottom. Make your hand into a claw shape and roll the ball inside your claw and move your hands quickly in circles. Arrange the buns on a baking tray lined with baking paper, leaving just enough space so that buns touch when they expand. Lightly cover with oiled clingfilm or a damp tea towel. Leave to rise for a 45mins to an hour.
11. Preheat the oven to 200°C and make the paste for the crosses. Measure out the flour. Add in the water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it forms a smooth, thick paste. It needs to be pipe-able, not too thin so that it disappears when it bakes and not too thick that it’s impossible to pipe. Put the paste into a piping bag.
12. Once the buns have risen, pipe crosses onto the buns, by piping a line along each row of buns and then repeat in the other direction. The crosses want to hug the sides of the buns.
13. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 10 mins and then lower the temperature to 180°C. Bake for another 15-20 minutes, until golden brown. My oven has hot spots, so I turn the tray around after the first 20 mins.
14. Measure out the sugar and water into a small saucepan and melt the sugar over a gentle heat. Brush the sugar syrup over the warm buns and leave them to cool.
15. Gently break apart the sticky buns and enjoy.
Verdict? They are fast becoming a favourite and I was surprised that I didn’t miss the citrus flavour of my usual hot cross buns. 3 teaspoons of cinnamon may seem like a lot, but it disperses in this amount of flour producing a flavoured but not heavily spiced bun. If you wanted to experiment and adapt the spicing then please comment below and share.
‘I hate cups!‘ is how I began this post in a fit of frustration. I was trying to follow a recipe from the Cook’s Cook which had provided their cup measurements and the volume so had written 59ml (1/4 cup) of flour. Who weighs out 59ml of flour? What would have been more helpful would have been to write it as 1/4 cup (30g) of flour. Either they don’t understand the concept of measuring scales or they were trying to add precision to using cups.
Before I start explaining my irritation with cups, however, I’d like to be more measured (pun very much intended 😉) and state that I do see the value in using cups. When I’m measuring out rice, I like using the cup measure that comes with the rice cooker because it’s quicker and much more convenient. The same goes with other dried grains and pulses, such as lentils and barley. Furthermore, as cups measure by volume, I don’t mind using them to measure out liquids. It’s worth noting here that US cups measure 240ml whereas Australian, Canadian and South African cups measure 250ml. This is something that Caroline, one of my Australian friends highlighted to me.
From that experience, I also realised that many households may not own kitchen scales and therefore use cups. For most of the years that I lived in Cambodia it was difficult to buy kitchen scales to measure smaller measurements, although the big ones that market sellers used to sell their produce were abundant. Thus once again, cups were used. Forewarned, I packed kitchen scales with me when I moved out there. I knowingly admit that growing up, in the UK, using scales influences my views on the cups vs measuring scales debate. I hate measurements in cups in baking because there are such disparities in the measurements in a matter that does require consistency and a level of precision.
My heart sinks when I see recipes with a list of the ingredients in cups because inevitably I will look up various conversion tables to adapt the recipe into grams and revisit that familiar feeling of resentment and annoyance when the web throws up differing measurements. Look let me give you an example of the inconsistencies on the web when it comes to volume and weight conversions. In the UK Doves Farm website they say that 1 cup of brown sugar is 180g whereas in the US King Arthur baking website they state it is 213g. At this point, I probably trust a US website to translate it from cups to grams for me because in the King Arthur table they know to specify that this is packed brown sugar and thus displays their greater experience of baking using volume rather than weights. But do you see the difference? ‘So what?’ perhaps you’re asking, ‘what is in 33g?’ Okay, so what? Well, let’s multiply this number when a recipe asks for 2 or 3 cups of brown sugar. I’ve illustrated the difference in a table below:
No. of cups
Difference in weight
66g or almost 100g makes a big difference in the taste and texture of what you’re baking and it can be the difference of whether you have enough of an ingredient when nearing the bottom of a bag. At this point, to be fair, I’d also be questioning why there needs to such a high amount of sugar and whether I’ll reduce it to prevent future me from developing type 2 diabetes. So, why am I quibbling about it?
Well my second point is about wanting clarity and precision, particularly when trying out a new recipe. I know that there is a knack to using cups with flour and sugar to do with a little shake to let the flour settle and using a knife to run over the top to level it. Even when I do that, I find it irritatingly inconsistent. Clearly I am not a pro at it. To add an added element of difficulty, different cooks measure their cups differently and how am I to know what a cup of flour weighs for them? It’s a bit of a lottery whether I’ll guess it correctly. Here’s the proof. At Lunar New Year, I was trying to make steamed buns and I decided to follow Maangchi’s jjinbang recipe and method which asks for 3.5 cups of flour and 1.5 cups of milk. Using both the Doves Farm and King Arthur tables, which agreed with each other, I converted that into 420g. However, it turned into such a wet, sticky dough, reminiscent of a ciabatta dough, and nothing like the photos of her dough, that I decided that there was no way I’d be able to shape it into buns with cute ox faces on them and then steam them. So then I added some more flour to make it a firmer dough but either that is never a remedy or I didn’t add enough. In the end, I relinquished that dough to bake into a tasty focaccia style bread, turned to What to Cook Today’s Year of the Ox steamed bun recipe and started a new dough. She also specifies a total of 2 cups plus 11 tablespoons of flours and 2/3 cup of milk but I didn’t get irritated because she also gives the weight in grams. A smooth, pliable dough formed and I made steamed baozi buns for the first time. I’ve posted the photos of the end result of both doughs at the end of this post.
Interestingly I came across this golden nugget of information in Maangchi’s Hotteok filled with vegetables video beginning at 3mins 11secs onwards when she weighs her cup of flour and it is 5oz or 156g. I will keep this in mind when I use her recipes. By the way, King Arthur and Doves Farm Flour weigh 1 cup of flour as 120g. So I guess then going back her jjimbang recipe that her 3.5 cups of flour = 546g, and not 420g. *Big sigh* Now we’re back to my rant about big discrepancies.
Sidenote: I’m considering blogging a monthly post with my cooking/baking failures, mistakes and disasters that happened that month. Would you be up for that?