Turkey or chicken pasta bake, inspired by Singapore Airlines

The first time I made this, I used fusilli pasta.

It is not usual that you eat a dish on a plane and find it so tasty that it inspires you to make a version of it at home. However, that is exactly what happened on the Singapore Airlines flight involving a chicken pasta bake. It wasn’t the dish that we would have chosen, but it was the only option that was left. Wasn’t that fortuitous?

It also paired wonderfully with their red wine on offer, which was glorious. I’m telling you, this was an unexpectedly wonderful food memory.

When I tried recreating the dish at home, I used a mish mash of two recipes – this turkey bolognese recipe from Delicious and a chicken pasta bake from BBC Good Food. The timing of it chimed with my housemate’s training for the London Marathon and it turns out that it’s a great dish for carb loading or nourishing athletes. The day after the first time I made it, the kids commented again on how yummy it was. Noteworthy praise, indeed.

The second time, I wanted to try out something I’d seen on Instagram. A pasta bake without cooking the pasta first. This was partly as a cost-saving activity and because pasta can become too soft in a pasta bake at times, which had happened in my first attempt at this dish. I was a little bit apprehensive about it. I’d read that if you soak the dry pasta in cold water first, then it will hydrate the pasta but stop it from going overly soft when baked in the oven. Oh, ladies and gentlemen, I’m delighted to tell you that it worked!

You can prepare this a day or two beforehand. Make it until step 5, then cover it and pop it in the fridge until you want to bake it.

Step 2 and 3
Step 4 – Bubble, bubble, simmer, simmer

Both times, I ended up using turkey, rather than chicken, mince. This was purely down to what was available at the shops at the time. My recommendation would be not to go for the lean version as turkey/chicken mince tends to be quite lean in comparison to red meat. This dish benefits from the extra juice from the non-lean mince. And if someone doesn’t like noticing that they are eating the vegetables, then I’d suggest once the vegetables have been cooked until soft (step 2), whizzing it down with a food blender until all evidence is mush.

I made an extra little one as an extra dinner as my housemate’s was carb loading pre-marathon

Recipe for Turkey or Chicken Pasta bake, inspired by Singapore Airlines. This will feed 6 people (2 of whom may have been small children with healthy appetites).

Ingredients

  • 300g penne pasta
  • 1-2 tbsp oil (olive or vegetable)
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 celery sticks, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 500g turkey or chicken mince
  • 2 x 400g tinned chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp dried rosemary, thyme, basil
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • salt and pepper to season
  • 150g mascarpone
  • small handful of fresh flatleaf parsley, finely chopped
  • grated cheddar cheese – enough to cover the dish

Method

  1. In a large-medium sized bowl, submerge the uncooked penne pasta in cold water and let it soak while you cook the sauce.
  2. Heat 1-2tbsp of oil in a deep frying pan or wok. Over a medium heat, fry the onions, celery and carrots for about 10 minutes until softened.
  3. Add the garlic and the mince and cook for 5 minutes until browned.
  4. Stir in the tomato puree and dried herbs, then add the tinned tomatoes, and sugar. Bring it to a boil and then turn it down to a simmer for 10-15 minutes. Then season with salt and pepper. Finally, stir in the mascarpone and the fresh parsley. If choosing to make this on the day, then preheat the oven now (see step 6).
  5. Drain the pasta, which should have softened and changed colour slightly by then. Mix the penne pasta into the sauce. Pour it into a large ovenproof dish. Sprinkle over the grated cheese in an even layer.
  6. Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F/ Gas Mark 6. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes until it bubbles. I normally serve it with some more vegetables and an optional glass of red wine.

Enjoy and thank you Singapore Airlines for feeding and inspiring me.

Vegan hot cross buns (tangzhong method)

vegan hot cross buns
Vegan hot cross buns

Recently, I felt like I have had a breakthrough with my approach to vegan baking thanks to the MsCupcakes book. So I have been leaning into it. The book helped me reevaluate how I approach the free-from baking category. I’ve noticed that many vegan recipes have adapted an existing recipe purely with substitutions for ingredients, like ground flaxseed instead of an egg, or oil instead of butter. Sometimes the ingredient can seem peculiar and unusual, depending on where you live. For example, flax seeds were difficult to get hold of for a while. However, the book helped to start thinking that rather than finding substitutions for things, I should try to think about what that particular ingredient brings and whether I can replicate that texture or flavour in another plant-based way.

I love the spring that the tangzhong brings to the bun

Therefore in the last month, I have been testing out vegan hot cross buns because it’s Easter and because enriched bread should, in theory, be quite simple to adapt. Spare a thought for the family that I live with. They have been through five iterations of a vegan hot cross bun recipe in my quest to perfect them.

The first time, I substituted soy milk for milk and oil for butter and omitted the apples. They were alright but under-proved and missing the freshness from the apple. Next, I made buttermilk, using soy milk and cider vinegar in order to create a softer, rich dough. Buttermilk helps to create a soft texture normally in bread. They were better but the texture was a bit dense. Then I used the tangzhong method to create springy soft buns that would last longer and they were amazing. Why didn’t I stop there? They took 3 rises. One for the dough, then an overnight one with the fruit added in, and a final prove once the buns were shaped. The buns were cracking a bit as if they were underproved. As amazing as they were in flavour and texture, I wanted to simplify and shorten the method. (You can, of course, still do this recipe in 3 rises.) The fourth time, I decided to try reducing the number of rises to two, but they ended up under-proving and cracking at the top. I left it for a week while my brain mulled over it. Do plant-based enriched bread recipes generally take longer to prove than non-vegan recipes? I felt like they shouldn’t as they don’t contain eggs that can slow down the rise. Perhaps it has just been my impatience to get them baked that has resulted in under proved buns. I almost hit publish on the recipe at the end of March but then my perfectionism kicked in. A few days later, I hit on an easy solution – double the yeast in the recipe. It is such a simple answer that you wonder why I hadn’t thought of it earlier. Anyhow, that is what I did and this is what I present to you now.

I adapted this by adding the tangzhong knowledge I learned from last year’s sticky apple and raisin hot cross bun recipe to Paul Hollywood Hot Cross Bun recipe because mixed peel is back in the shops this year. However, I reduced the amount because I think that 50g is just fine. Some more notes on how you can vary the method. I like making this in the stand mixer as the tangzhong makes it a wetter dough. You can knead by hand but it will take longer.

Soft silky hot cross bun dough

I’ve also been trying out different ways of mixing in the fruit with varying degrees of messy success. Method 1 is the put the fruit and the dough into the same bowl and mix it in. A slightly more detailed explanation of this is in my non-vegan version of Paul Hollywood’s Hot Cross Buns. Method 2 is to roll out the dough into a rectangle, scatter the fruit evenly over the top and then to take hold of one of the shorter sides and fold it a third into middle, and repeat on the other side so that it looks like a long rectangle. Next take one short end of the rectangle and repeat the folds again, so that it becomes a more compact rectangle. It is a neater process until the point when I roll it out into a long sausage shape in order to portion out 15 buns. At which point the dough starts breaking and the fruit spills out and away from the dough like runaway gems onto the countertop. Maybe I just need to work on my method 2. Finally, you can also make this with three rises or two, depending on your schedule. If going for three then reduce the yeast to 7g to allow for the overnight rise. The first rise is just the dough, the second as an overnight one after the fruit is mixed in and the third after the buns have been shaped. The method below details it for two.

Ingredients for vegan hot cross buns. This makes 15.

  • 500g strong white bread flour
  • 125ml water for the tangzhong
  • 250ml soya milk (or any unsweetened plant-based one) + 20ml apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
  • 60g caster sugar
  • 14g instant yeast
  • 1tsp (10g) salt
  • 2tsp cinnamon
  • 1tsp mixed spice
  • 70g dairy free margarine (I used vitalite) or vegan butter
  • 1 apple
  • Zest of 2 oranges
  • 150g sultanas
  • 50g mixed peel

Ingredients for the crosses

  • 45g plain flour
  • 2-3 tbsp cold water

Ingredients for the orange glaze

  • 1.5 tbsp granulated sugar
  • Juice of half an orange

Method

  1. First, make the buttermilk. Mix 250ml of soya milk and 20ml of apple cider vinegar in a measuring jug. Stir and leave to coagulate.
  2. Next make the tangzhong. Weigh out 500g of bread flour into a mixing bowl and from it take 25g (about 1 heaped tablespoon) of flour and put it in a small saucepan. Add 125ml of cold water, put it on the hob at medium heat and whisk or stir to combine the flour and water together in order to make a roux, or a paste. Keep stirring until it comes together and your whisk or spatula leaves a line. It’ll take about 1.5-2 mins. Leave to cool while measuring out the dry ingredients.
Your tangzhong is ready when you can leave a line in it
  1. In the mixing bowl with the flour, add in the yeast, sugar, salt and spices. Stir to mix.
  2. In the saucepan with the tangzhong, add the margarine and buttermilk and stir to combine. The margarine won’t melt completely and the buttermilk will make it look bitty and curdled but that’s okay. It will all get mixed in.
  3. Now add the wet ingredients to the flour and knead. I knead it in the stand mixer. I start at low (1) until all the ingredients are mixed in and then continue at medium (3) for about 9-10 minutes until the dough is stretchy and smooth. Take the dough out of the mixing bowl to form into a ball. Put a bit of oil in the bowl and place the dough back in there and cover. Leave for about an hour or until doubled in size.
  4. In the meantime, chop the apples, zest the oranges and stir to combine in a small bowl with the sultanas and mixed peel. Line two baking trays (or one large one).
After the first rise
  1. When the dough is ready, lightly flour the surface and turn the dough out onto it. Gently make it into a rough rectangle using your fingers to gently knock the air out of the dough. Take one long end, fold into the middle and press down with the heel of your hand. Repeat it with the other side. Then fold it in half and gently roll. The dough should feel stronger.
  2. As you know, I’ve been trying out a new way to incorporate the fruit with varying degrees of messy success. Here, I’m going to say to go with the second method because I think that with practice and tweaking, it will be easier. Roll out the dough into a rectangle, scatter the fruit evenly over the top and then take hold of one of the shorter sides and fold it a third into the middle, and repeat on the other side so that it looks like a long rectangle. Next, take one short end of the rectangle and repeat the folds again, so that it becomes a more compact rectangle. Then roll it out into a long sausage shape, divide into 3 equal parts, and then each part into 5. Each piece of dough will roughly weigh 90g. Cover the little portions with a tea towel as your form the buns.
  3. Add more flour to your surface. I like to have a little mound of it to dip into. Form the buns by taking each corner into the middle so it is a tighter round shape. Then flour the palm of your hand, or dip the top of the bun into some flour. With the dough in the middle of your hand, make your hand into the shape of a claw and move it around quickly in a circular shape. I’ve included a video of it below because it’s easier to show it.
How to shape a bun.
  1. Then put each bun onto the baking trays, leaving 2-3cms between each bun. Cover and leave to rise.
  2. As you wait, make the paste for the crosses by mixing the flour and water together. Put it into a piping bag and snip a little hole off the end.
  3. The buns will have finished their second rise after about an hour, when most of them will be almost touching each other or if you press down slightly on them, they will spring back gently but leave a small indent. Of course, this depends on the weather. In a hotter climate, this will take about 30 mins. About 15 mins before you think they’ll have finished rising, preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6.
The buns ready after their second rise
Piping crosses. Also, the consistency for the paste is like this
  1. Pipe crosses on them by piping a line along each row of buns and then repeating in the other direction.  The crosses want to hug the sides of the buns.
  2. 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.
  3. As they bake, make the orange glaze. Measure out the sugar and juice from half an orange into a small saucepan and melt the sugar over a gentle heat. Then turn it up to a medium heat for a few minutes so that some of the water evaporates and it thickens slightly.  Brush the sugar syrup over the warm buns and leave them to cool.

The verdict? I can’t resist one, still hot from the oven, sticky with the glaze and too hot for my mouth. They are full of flavour from the orange zest, fresh apple, spices and dried fruit and the kitchen smells delicious as you’re making them. The texture is springy and soft and they stay like that for 3 days. I love the sticky glaze on them. They are yummy toasted and buttered but honestly, I prefer to just eat them as they are. So, after day 3, when they are a little hard, I will heat them on high (800W) in the microwave for 15 seconds and they’re perfect.

Finally, everyone who has tried them tells me that they can’t tell that they are vegan.

Double Chocolate Muffins (vegan)

The final recipe test for vegan double chocolate chip muffins

I decided to lean into vegan baking last month, it being Veganuary. I came across a recipe book at the library, The Naughtiest Vegan Cakes in Town by Mellissa Morgan, of Ms Cupcake (a London vegan bakery which sadly closed 2 years ago). First off, this is a fantastic recipe book if you are new to vegan baking. She includes a Quick Start guide with explanation on ingredients, which is useful if, like me, you’ve felt overwhelmed by them, and a guide to baking without eggs and dairy. There is an additional section on substitutions (e.g. if you want to go gluten-free and refined sugar free) and trouble shooting common vegan baking problems. However, as the best way to review a book is to test out the recipes, I duly borrowed the book and tried out the Victoria sponge cake, which turned out very well. Then when my vegan colleague mentioned that she craved muffins, I set out to make them.

Now, there is no double chocolate chip muffin recipe in the book. Therefore, I adapted her mint chocolate chip cupcakes. The first iteration were incredibly good. The texture and the flavour were spot on. I made the first batch with soya milk and another with almond milk. They both worked and the type of plant based milk didn’t make enough of a difference. However, I calculated the amount of sugar in each muffin and at the original 200g in the recipe (which makes 12) that was just over a tablespoon of sugar per muffin. That’s without the additional sugar from the chocolate chips/chunks. A little high perhaps? Thus began a series of experiments to reduce the amount the sugar in the recipe. I detailed it in a little table for you.

Amount of sugar in the recipeSugar per muffin (approx) without the addition of chocolateTexture/FlavourAdditional flavouring
200g16.67 (just over a tablespoon)incredibly good1.5 tsp instant coffee
180g15g (1 tbsp)incredibly good1.5 tsp instant coffee
150g12.5 (2.5tsp)still yummy2 tsp vanilla extract and 1 tsp instant coffee
120g10g (2 tsp)denser texture, slightly too bitter1 tbsp vanilla extract
Results of sugar reductions in double chocolate muffins

I took it as low as 120g, which then changed the texture of the muffin so that it becomes denser, slightly stodgy and began to taste a bit soapy and bitter. The chocolate chunks in the muffin masked that unpleasantness. However, let’s be frank. When you bite into a double chocolate muffin, you want it to taste good, not healthy.

So, in the recipe below, I’m going to suggest that you could add anything between 150-180g of sugar. Consult the table above to decide how much sugar you’d like and how to adapt the additional flavourings. I think coffee always complements and enhances chocolate. The vanilla extract brings out sweetness without adding any sugar.

In the end, as I was testing out many variations of this recipe, I decided that I’d halve the recipe each time. That is one of the joys of this particular recipe. It’s pretty simple to scale up or down.

By the way, I like making this in a large measuring jug. It is easier for pouring the mixture into the muffin cases at the end, but a medium sized bowl also works. I alternated between using a whisk and a metal spoon/spatula to mix, but I prefer the whisk for the quantity below.

Top tips: mix until it has just combined and bake them immediately.

Fill the muffin cases and then tap to release the air bubbles

Ingredients for Double Chocolate Chip Muffins, adapted from Mellissa Morgan. It will make 12 muffins.

  • 200ml unsweetened plant based milk – I tend to use soya milk
  • 20ml cider/rice vinegar or lemon juice
  • 150-180g caster sugar (my favourite is 180g*)
  • 170g self raising flour (or 170g of plain flour and 2tsp of baking powder and omit the 1/4tsp of baking powder that follows)
  • 30g cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder (omit this if you’re using plain flour + 2tsp of baking powder)
  • 1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 150g 70%+ dark chocolate roughly chopped up, alternatively use dark chocolate chips (check to see that they are dairy free)
  • 80g vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp instant coffee granules/powder*
  • 2tsp of vanilla extract*

*When using 180g of sugar, add 1 tsp of instant coffee but no vanilla extract. Unless you really want to.

Method

  1. Mix the soya milk and the vinegar together and set aside for 10 minutes. This makes a soya buttermilk. Then add 1tsp of instant coffee so that it has a chance to dissolve. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas mark 4 and line your muffin tray with muffin cases.
  2. In a large measuring jug or a medium sized bowl, measure out the dry ingredients, that is the self raising flour, caster sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, bicarb of soda, salt and the roughly chopped dark chocolate. Whisk it together so that they are all combined thoroughly.
  3. Add the vegetable oil and the vanilla extract (if using) to the curdled soya milk mixture and whisk to combine. Then add this to the dry mixture and mix quickly until just combined. It’s important not to work quickly and not over mix it. If there are a few lumps, that is okay. If it is lumpy, on the other hand, I’d continue mixing it for a few more seconds.
  4. Tap the jug onto the surface. This stops the raising agents from working too quickly. Then pour or measure out the batter evenly into each of the muffin cases. Tap the muffin tray hard on the work surface to pop the bubbles, then bake in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes. They’re ready when a skewer comes out without cake crumbs but may have a little bit of melted chocolate hanging onto it. Let them cool in the muffin tray for 5-10 minutes before taking them out to cool completely. They will store in an airtight container for 5 days, maybe more..? Honestly, they haven’t made it any further than that in my house.

The verdict? Incredibly good. The texture is airy and light, and the chocolate chunks in the muffin are so satisfying. I always think that almost every chocolate baked good will taste better the next day. So, make them at night and have one for breakfast the next day. 😉

On the note of vegan chocolate. I’ve observed a greater selection of vegan chocolate, which is great. However, they are often much pricier. A lot of dark chocolate, 64%+, is dairy free. I will always check the list of ingredients on the packet before using. I prefer to chop it up roughly and then add it. I haven’t ever checked to see if dark chocolate chips are dairy-free. If you do, then please let me know in the comments.

Baking the GBBO 2021 Technical Challenges part 2

This is part 2 of the baking challenge that I set myself whilst I watched the Great British Bake Off 2021. Three of these were baked in the week that I unexpectedly had at home because the winter holiday I had booked was rescheduled due to Omicron. The disappointment of that was offset by relishing the unexpected free time to do some Christmas baking.

I’ll write my final reflections here before I list how the bakes went. What I like about setting myself a baking challenge like this, is that I can grow as a baker in my repertoire and knowledge. I will bake things that I don’t normally make, such as genoise sponge and puff pastry, push myself to try something new, like tuile biscuits and vegan sausage rolls and give me the excuse to make something that I’ve been wanting to for a while, like the Twix bars. Most of the bakes went well and of course there were some that I could definitely improve on. The important thing for me is that I enjoyed doing this and learning from it.

At this current time, I am fortunate to be living with a family who give me the time and space to bake. Between them, the workplace and well-timed visitors, everything gets eaten in good time. In the past, one of the things that would have stopped me from doing a challenge like this would be the difficulties in sourcing the ingredients, the obstacles faced by the climate (try making the Prinzregententorte in a hot and humid climate) and that so much of the end product would end up with so much going into the freezer and forgotten.

Prue Leith’s Sable Breton from Patisserie week

Sable Breton

I was really excited when they announced this as the technical challenge on Patisserie week because I had made it already, 2 years ago, on a whim during my sabbatical. The recipe came from Suzue and William Curley’s Patisserie. I can report to you that my sablé dough was too hard, the pistachio paste lacked the pistachio flavour and I bought jam rather than make a raspberry/strawberry confiture. I’ve had a quick glance over the GBBO recipe and noticed the inclusion of pistachio oil and extract. I don’t know where you’d buy that from but I’d get it to produce a stronger pistachio flavour. While you are at it, if you can afford the extra expense, buy shelled pistachios because shelling them takes a tediously long time and your thumbs will hurt after a while.

Prue Leith’s Vegan Sausage Rolls from Free from week

I love experimenting with vegan baking so I wanted these vegan sausage rolls to taste really good but I was a bit sceptical as to whether they would work. Correction – whether I could make it work. In the past, I haven’t had much success with rough puff pastry as the butter would leak out as it baked in the oven resulting in a soggy, unrisen pastry. This time round, I really pleased with the end result as the filling was delicious and the resulting pastry was crisp and the lamination evident. I don’t know whether it was because I used baking block which has a higher melting point, or I’m gradually getting better at making it. The only way to find out is to conduct a side by side experiment with one made with butter and the other with baking block. I would definitely make this one again as the filling was delicious and substantial. Yes, it was a bit of a faff to get the different ingredients. I replaced the flax seed egg with a chia seed egg, which was fine, as we already had chia seeds. The kids weren’t so keen on the filling as the adults were.

Paul Hollywood’s Jammy Biscuits from Biscuit week

Starry jammy biscuits

I made these in the run up to Christmas and so I substituted the hearts for stars. They made a good Christmas cookie/biscuit. We all enjoyed eating them, even if overall I found them a little too sweet. You can see from the photo how much the oven temperature differs in our oven. I substituted jam sugar with the same amount of granulated sugar and a tablespoon of lime. I think the lime juice is also what gave the raspberry jam such brightness. A nice challenge to do and with Valentine’s Day coming up, you could go back to using hearts.

Paul Hollywood’s Belgian Buns from the Final

Hands down, this was one of my favourites to bake and eat in the technical challenges. I love baking bread. There was a confusing/funny moment when I misread the recipe and missed out the 120ml of water that is added to the dough, alongside the milk and butter. I thought that it looked too dry, but when you are trying out a new recipe, how are you supposed to know exactly what you are looking for? I only spotted my mistake later. Did you know that you can add water to dough once it has been kneaded and left to rise? Yes and that is what I did. After searching online, the internet seemed to suggest that I could knead the water in gradually. The dough was much better after that, soft and silky. The lemon curd filling was a fresh and welcome variation from the normal cinnamon butter fillings that I’m used to, so much so that I professed to liking it more. It’s pretty easy to make so make it and thank me for it later. However, if you don’t like lemons or are allergic to citrus fruit, then don’t make them.

Prue Leith’s Sticky Toffee Pudding from Dessert week

This was the final one that I made. I had put it off for a few reasons:

  • I needed to get the small pudding moulds
  • The toffee sauce was made more like a caramel and different to how I’d made them previously
  • I’d never made tuile biscuits before
  • We don’t eat a lot of desserts
  • I wasn’t sure that I wanted to make something that was going to be so sweet.

Dear reader, I made it just so that I could finish this baking challenge that I set myself. Was it worth it? If you like sticky toffee pudding then I think that it is worth making them. The sponge is light and springy and the tuile biscuits were my favourite component to eat. However, it was too sweet for me. I could only eat half of it before I felt sick. I would still want to make a toffee sauce in the way that I normally make it (because it’s easier than making a caramel). I didn’t bother making the creme Anglaise purely because I’ve made custard before and I had run out of containers to freeze the egg whites. Besides, in the past, I would pair sticky toffee pudding with double cream.

So there you have it. If this inspires you to bake some of them, then do let me know.

Christmas Cranberry Mincemeat (vegan)

chopped cranberries and dried fruit in two jars
Last minute cranberry mincemeat

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 sultanas
  • 100g mixed peel
  • zest and juice of 1 lime
  • half a fresh nutmeg, grated
  • 65g dark brown sugar

Method – also in the photos below.

  1. 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.
  2. Add in the currants, sultanas, mixed peel, the zest and juice of 1 lime.
  3. 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.

cranberries cut in half in a bowl
1. Cut the cranberries in half
2. Add in the dried fruit
3. Grate in apple, the zest and juice of a lime, sugar and grate in half a fresh nutmeg. Give it all a good mix.
The first of this year’s mince pies

Baking the GBBO 2021 Technical Challenges Part 1

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:

  1. Read the instructions of the recipe all the way through and then again.
  2. Have the ingredients and equipment prepared.
  3. Don’t worry if things go wrong, Prue and Paul aren’t going to be judging them anyway.

Prue Leith’s Malt Loaf from Cake week

Malt loaf

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.

Paul Hollywoods Ciabatta Breadsticks from Bread week

  • ciabatta breadsticks
  • pink hummus

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.

Prue Leith’s Prinzregententorte from German week

layered chocolate cake with vanilla sponge
Prinzregententorte (with an extra layer)

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.

Paul Hollywood’s Baklava from Pastry week

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.

Paul Hollywood’s Caramel Biscuit Bars from Caramel Week

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.

The brown butter chocolate chunk cookies aka Crack Cookies

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.

a sauce pan with butter browning and foam
As the butter melts, it foams as the water evaporates.

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.

Photo credit to @pipcree who took this photo at one of my final pop-ups in PP.

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.

Making a double batch of cookies

Ingredients for Brown Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies very slightly adapted from Ambitious Kitchen

  • 227g butter
  • 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.

Method

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. When it looks like the flour has just about combined then add in the chocolate chunks and mix again.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

My favourite way of portioning out the cookie dough is with a medium sized icecream scoop.
In the absence of a scoop, weighing scales works. Preparing them for their overnight stay in the fridge hotel.

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.

Cheesecake Brownies

Two baking trays with brownie mixture. The one on the left hand side has salted caramel, the one on the right hand side is cheesecake
Salted caramel and cheesecake brownies side by side

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.

cake box with cheesecake brownies inside, a green business card with love, Han-Na
Cheesecake Brownies were a popular order

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.

Ingredients all lined up
Cheesecake Brownie ingredients all lined up ready
All the swirls

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.

Ingredients for Cheesecake Brownies, adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Brownie ingredients

  • 150g unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 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

Cheesecake ingredients

  • 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.
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Now fold in the flour and cocoa powder using a spatula, or a spoon until it is well combined.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
ingredients for the cheesecake element
The ingredients for the cheesecake mixture – see step 3
Cheesecake mixture beaten until smooth
Beat the cheesecake mixture until smooth – see step 3
a table spoon dolloping cheesecake mixture into the brownie mix
Cheesecake mixture being dolloped – Step 9
the end of the spoon going up and down to create a swirling effect between the brownies and the cheesecake mixtures
Begin to swirl – step 9
frozen raspberries added to half of the cheesecake brownie before baking
I added some frozen raspberries to half of the tin because I fancied some raspberry cheesecake brownies. I didn’t measure it out, but I’m guessing 45g for half a tin?
4 cut up brownies.  The two nearest are raspberry cheesecake brownies and the two further away are vanilla cheesecake brownies
Tada – two variations from one tin. At the forefront there is raspberry cheesecake brownies and at the back, vanilla cheesecake brownies

Brown Butter Hazelnut Chocolate Blondies

Tower of hazelnut chocolate blondies
Some hazelnut and chocolate blondies

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.

Baking has often been a creative outlet that helps me to complete the stress cycle and thus switch off my buzzing work brain. I listened to Brené Brown’s podcast with Emily and Amelia Nagoski’s work on Burnout and how to complete the stress cycle and doing something creative is a way to complete the stress cycle and so now I feel very much validated.

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.

Once roasted, rub the hazelnut skins off with a tea towel – Step 2

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.

Ribbon stage
Ribbon stage – Step 4

Ingredients for Brown Butter, Hazelnut and Chocolate Blondies

  • 200g butter which I then browned
  • 200g dark brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 200g plain flour
  • 100g hazelnuts
  • 150g chocolate. I used 100g of milk and 50g dark chocolate.

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F/180C or 170C fan.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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
  5. As the eggs and sugar are whisking, line the tin. I used a 20cm square tin.
  6. 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.
  7. Fold in the flour, chopped hazelnuts and chopped chocolate.
  8. Pour half the mixture into the tin, sprinkle over the unchopped hazelnuts and pour the rest of the mixture into the tin.
  9. 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.
  10. Allow to cool completely. I like to leave mine overnight. And then cut into 12-16 pieces.
Hazelnuts added as a layer
Hazelnuts added as a middle layer – Step 8
Baked blondies
The baked brown butter, hazelnut and chocolate blondies

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.

Sticky Apple, Raisin and Cinnamon Hot Cross Buns and my introduction to Tangzhong

Apple, Raisin and Cinnamon Hot Cross Buns

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.

Mix the flour and liquid
Heat until a thick slurry forms

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.

Both times, I made this using a stand mixer. If you were wondering how to knead it by hand, then my iced buns recipe explains how add the ingredients slightly differently in step 2. My earlier hot cross bun recipe for a step by step visual explanation on how to shape the buns.

Ingredients for the buns

  • 560g strong bread flour
  • 140g water
  • 14g fast action instant yeast (or two 7g sachets)
  • 3 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1tsp salt
  • 3tbsp runny honey (this is about 80g)
  • 235ml full fat milk
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 50g of butter, roughly cubed
  • 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
  • 200g raisins

Ingredients for the crosses

  • 40g plain flour (about 3 tbsp)
  • 4-5tbsp of water

Ingredients for the sticky glaze

  • 2tbsp water
  • 2tbsp of granulated sugar

Method

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.

Don’t be perturbed the unmelted butter cubes. They will be kneaded in.
Knead until you get a very elastic dough

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.

3 days later, and they are still soft and springy.
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