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.

Delia’s Pancakes for Shrove Tuesday

Whenever Pancake Day comes around, I remember my friend Sarah of the chocolate macarons and the white chocolate, cardamon and rosewater cake. We cooked and hosted many a pancake evening for friends, church small group, and parties. She’d make the pancake batter. I would cook the pancakes. We were the pancake dream team.  So you’d understand why, for years, I had no need for a pancake recipe.  This was compounded because Sarah never used measurements. “You just mix flour, milk and eggs until it’s just the right consistency.”

Then when I moved to Cambodia five years ago, French Esther was the resident pancake/crepe queen.  She followed a recipe of sorts and shared it with me once. I wrote it on the tiles of my kitchen, but when I moved the recipe was wiped away.

Just so that we’re clear.  I’m talking about English pancakes here.  Not the fluffy North American variety or the Scottish drop scone cousin, Scotch pancakes.  On Shrove Tuesday, I’m a fan of the traditional thin, light, slightly crispy, English pancake, drizzled with lemon juice and sprinkled with brown sugar.

Pancakes with lime juice and palm sugar: a Cambodian twist.

Then, last year, after decades of cooking pancakes, suddenly I realised that I did not know how to make the pancake batter and the traditionalist in me wasn’t going to intuitively make them as the others had.  So, I looked up Delia and we had pancakes.

Except I chose to use my bamix mixer to make them.  Why not?  If you have a food processor, it’s much quicker to put all the ingredients into one and process it until you have a smooth batter.  It takes a bit longer if you want to do it by hand, using a whisk.  I’ve included the instructions, having followed both methods.

In Delia’s original recipe she adds 2 tablespoons of melted butter to the batter.  I’ve looked up why one should add butter to the pancake batter. (Sarah nor Esther ever did.)  Felicity Cloake tried it and says it gives a better tasting pancake but in the end decided to cook the pancakes in the melted butter rather than adding it to the batter.  I have a theory that it’s to use up/add more fat, as Shrove Tuesday is the day to use up fat before the start of Lent.  Rather than add butter to the batter, I prefer to use whole milk to add richness.  And controversially, perhaps, I eschew cooking the pancakes in any fat.  I like to use a small good non-stick frying pan, set it on a moderate heat, swirl in just enough of my batter so that it covers the frying pan and gently cook my pancakes on it until there are bubbles forming on the bottom and it comes away easily from the pan.  Flip it over, anyway that you like, cook it on the other side for another minute or two and you’ll have good, thin, crispy English style pancakes.  I find by cooking it like this, I rarely have that dud first pancake that has to be thrown away.

Then all you have left to do is choose your favourite toppings, et voila.  Munch away.

Here are the pancakes, adapted from Delia, this will make about 14-16 pancakes.

Ingredients

  • 110g plain flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 275ml whole milk

Method

  1. Put all the ingredients into a food processor or a blender.  Blitz up until smooth.  Alternatively to make them with a whisk, put the flour and salt in a medium sized bowl.  Add in the eggs, as you whisk them in the flour, slowly add the milk until you get a smooth mixture, the consistency of cream.  It’s ready to use immediately, or you can leave it to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.  This also means that you could make the mixture beforehand so that it’s ready for a pancake party.
  2. Using a small non-stick frying pan, use a moderate to high heat and pour just enough batter into the pan, swirling it around so that it covers the pan.  (I’ve linked this to a video but it takes some time to load up.) Gently cook the pancake until small bubbles form on the bottom and it comes away easily from the pan.  Flip it over, anyway that you like, cook it on the other side for another minute or two and serve.
  3. If you want to get started on pancakes before your eating companions arrive, then keep them warm in the oven.  I stack them on a plate and cover with foil before putting them in a warm oven, which is set at a low temperature.

See the bubbles forming, at this stage it’s just about ready to flip over