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.

Dark Chocolate Cashew Almond Butter Cookies

I meant to publish this recipe a few months ago, but I didn’t have the photos ready.  I still don’t have the perfect photo sequence for how to make these cookies.  But it’s the middle of the Open and these cookies were thought up between a few crossfitters so better like this than never, right?  Besides, what better timing than the middle of the CrossFit Open Games to tell you how I got started on CrossFit and baking paleo cookies.

The ingredients for the cookies minus the bicarbonate of soda

I started CrossFit in February last year.  I had been given a tough teaching schedule at my school and they weren’t letting me push back on it.  As I despaired, I felt God say to me, “Han-Na, you’re stronger than you think you are.” Since I often experience God in physical activities, I decided to also translate that into trying out CrossFit to see how strong I was.  This was after months of pushing back on my coaches because I was very happy in the Bootcamp classes and not interested in getting stronger.

Pretty soon, it was clear to my coaches, that I had the potential to lift heavy weights.   I, on the other hand, intimidated by lifting anything vaguely heavy and the technicalities of the lifts, really did not enjoy the barbell work for the first few months.  Not long ago, one of them encouraged me, as I was going for my 1 rep front squat max, that I had the ideal physique of a squatter.  I’m not entirely sure what he means by that, do you?  Still, I managed 72kg that day, which I was delighted with.

Then one day, one of my coaches asked me when I was going to bake some paleo cookies for her.  I told her that Christina (of Joyfully Nutty) and I had just been talking about how to use cashew almond nut butter in baked goods and so why not try them in a cookie.

So, thank you Minna and the CrossFit community for pushing us into trying to make these paleo cookies.

I use the Dazed and Cashewed, cashew almond nut butter from Joyfully Nutty.  You could make these with a cashew nut butter or an almond nut butter, it comes down to preference.  I went off the back of Julie Wampler’s recipe from Table for Two, and experimented with reducing and changing the sugar to make it suitably paleo.  I was also baffled as to whether palm sugar is paleo or not.  It would appear that the paleo community embrace coconut sugar but differ on palm sugar.  The little personal research that I’ve done suggests that palm sugar is produced in the same way as coconut sugar, and therefore is paleo.

Then I discovered this delightful nugget.  With the addition of different spices, I could halve the sugar or omit the sugar completely and they would still result in tasty ‘sweet’ morsels, that are soft yet chewy.  Curious, I tried a sugar free version, which admittedly, is more delicate and will thus crumble more easily, but because there’s a lot of dark chocolate, you hardly notice that the sugar is gone.

Top tip: by adding spices, you can reduce or omit the sugar.

I believe that you could make these vegan by replacing the egg with flaxseed or chia seed but I’ve yet to try it.

Baking these is a cinch (read the method below), which is another reason why I like them.  You want to satisfy that cookie craving but don’t have to wait 24 hours to rest the cookie dough.  From start to finish, you could be sitting down with a cookie (or twelve) in 30 minutes, or less.

So here is the Dark Chocolate Cashew Almond Butter Cookies, adapted from Table for Two.

Makes between 12-14 cookies

  • 1 large egg
  • 60g palm sugar (*optional)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 250g cashew almond nut butter
  • 1tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 100g dark chocolate*, broken into chunks. Or you could use dark chocolate chips. I use small round discs of chocolate.
  • *use one that is at least 65%.

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF or gas mark 4.  Line a large baking tray (or two depending on size) with baking paper.
  2. Whisk the egg, sugar, salt, cinnamon and turmeric together in a small mixing bowl.
  3. Add in the cashew almond nut butter and the bicarbonate of soda and mix until it is all combined.
  4. Stir in the dark chocolate.
  5. Place generous tablespoon dollops (sort of ping pong ball sized) of the cookies on the baking tray.  I use a 1½tbsp cookie scoop for the sake of ease now.
  6. Bake in the middle rack of the oven for 12-15 mins, or 10-12 mins in a fan oven.
  7. They will have puffed up a bit and be lightly golden brown in colour.  As they cool they will collapse slightly into themselves.  At this point, I like to place a chocolate disc on top of each cookie because I like how it looks.  Allow them to cool completely on the baking tray and then store them in an airtight container.
  8. In Cambodia’s humid climate, they’ll keep outside the fridge for about 3-4 days.  I normally store them in the fridge and they’ll happily chill out there for 2 weeks.  Or they freeze well.  But you know, they’re pretty tasty straight out of the freezer too.

The verdict?  You’d never know that this was a gluten free, dairy free cookie.  Soft  in texture and rich in flavour.  I get orders for these, with sugar, without sugar, without chocolate… hehe.  So you know that they’re customisable.  I like them as a pre-workout snack.  I also like them because it’s such an easy recipe.

Paul Hollywood’s Hot Cross Buns

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The best hot cross buns in Phnom Penh!

If my previous post was months in the making, this has been years.

This time 3 years ago, my friend Rachel posted a beautiful photo of her freshly  baked hot cross buns, complete with twinkly fairy lights in the background.  What got me was that she commented on how incredibly delicious they were, much more than any shop bought variety.  She’d used Paul Hollywood’s Hot Cross Buns recipe from BBC Good Food, which she said was overly long (two rises).  Regardless, I  promptly tried it out and the resulting buns were life changing to say the least.

I will never buy another hot cross bun again.

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The life changing hot cross buns!

These home made hot cross buns had bags more flavour and were so moist compared to any Best, Finest or Taste the Difference version.  That year (the only year I made two batches of hot cross buns), I must have raved about the experience so much, that I talked another friend, Sarah into baking hot cross buns for the first time.  We tried out Paul’s slightly simplified (one rise) version on BBC Food.  Boom!  What a taste sensation.

Sarah piping crosses onto hot cross buns
Year 1: Initiating Sarah into baking hot cross buns

Then of course I moved out to Cambodia where you can’t buy hot cross buns anyway and baking is a bit of an adventure.  My first year, Sarah and Joe sent me mixed peel because it wasn’t available in Phnom Penh then but the yeast had died so the buns were lumpy fruit rock cakes.  The second year, they tasted good but they looked anaemic: I hadn’t figured out how my oven worked.  This year, post-long bike ride, unaware that it was Good Friday (which is easy to do in Cambodia), I baked my best batch of hot cross buns, since moving out to Cambodia.  It wasn’t until my housemate (another) Sarah was sinking her teeth into a hot freshly baked bun and said, “It’s definitely Good Friday.  It’s definitely Easter”, that I remembered again why we eat hot CROSS buns on Good Friday.  Duh – seriously, where has my brain wandered off to?

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“It’s definitely Good Friday! It’s definitely Easter!” – Sarah

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But seriously, I don’t know why I don’t bake hot cross buns more often.  Oh, yeah, I remember.  It’s an Easter thingy.  And it’s in the weird time of Lent where all my friends have decided to fast from sugar and all that, so by the time I get round to baking them, I only manage to bake the one batch.  Well, this year, I’ve decided that I’m going to try out a tropical version with mangoes, ginger and lime during Khmer New Year.

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One way to keep the ants off your food in a hot country – create an island!

I’ve adapted Paul Hollywood’s recipes a wee bit to add a bit more spice and replace the apricot jam glaze with an orange syrup one.  No reason really, except this last time, I was too lazy to buy apricot jam didn’t want another jam jar cluttering up my fridge.  I reckon it works pretty well.

And I swear that at one time, I watched a Bake Off Masterclass, in which Paul Hollywood baked these and recommended mixing the fruit into the dough inside the mixing bowl.  It’s much more efficient and you don’t have any bits of fruit trying to escape.  It’s not very explicit in his instructions so I’ve changed that too.

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Paul Hollywood’s Hot Cross Buns, adapted from his recipes on BBC Food and BBC Good Food

Ingredients for Hot Cross Buns

For the buns

  • 300ml/10fl oz whole milk
  • 500g/1lb 2oz strong white flour
  • 75g/2½oz caster sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 7g fast-action yeast
  • 50g/1¾oz butter
  • 1 free range egg
  • 150g/5oz sultanas
  • 80g/30z mixed peel
  • 1 apple, cored and chopped
  • 2 oranges, zest only
  • 2tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1tsp mixed spice or 1/2 tsp ground ginger, 1/8 tsp ground cloves, 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg, 1/8 tsp ground coriander, 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
  • sunflower/vegetable oil for greasing

For the cross

  • 75g/2½oz plain flour
  • about 5 tbsp of water

For the orange syrup glaze

  • 1 tbsp sugar – caster or granulated
  • juice of half an orange.

Method

1. Bring the milk to the boil and then leave to cool until it’s hand hot (i.e 37°C) .  Heating the milk creates a softer dough.

2. In a bowl, measure out the sultanas, mixed peel, cinnamon, mixed spice, orange zest and chopped apple, and then mix them together.

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3. In a large bowl, mix the flour, yeast, sugar and salt.  Then rub in the butter to the flour, like you’re making short-crust pastry.  Then add the egg and slowly add the milk until you form a sticky dough.

4. Knead the dough for about 10-20 minutes (by hand always takes longer) until it becomes smooth and elastic.

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5. Now mix in the fruit.  Add the fruit into the large bowl and then spread the dough on top of the fruit so that the fruit is fully covered by the dough.  Then gently try and wrap the dough all around the fruit so that the fruit is fully enclosed.  Don’t worry if you can’t entirely.  Then gently massage the fruit into the dough so that the two are thoroughly combined.  Empty it out onto the side.

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6.  Grease the large mixing bowl using a tablespoon of sunflower/vegetable oil, add the dough back in the bowl and cover it with cling film.  Rest the dough for about 1-2 hours until it has doubled in size.

7. Line a baking tray with baking paper.  Once the dough has risen, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and strengthen it.  Bring one side into the middle and press firmly with the palm of your hand, do the same with the other side, then both sides together and press firmly.  Roll out a bit to so that it’s easier to divide.  Divide into 3 equal parts and into 5 again, so that you have 15 pieces altogether.  Lightly flour the surface in order to roll each piece a smooth ball.  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 an hour.

Top tip: to roll the balls, 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 – et voilà, smooth balls!

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8.  Pre-heat the oven to 220°C/425°F/Gas Mark 7.

9. Meanwhile, prepare the mixture of 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.

10.  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.

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11. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown.

12.  Measure out the sugar and orange juice into a small saucepan and melt the sugar over a gentle heat.  Brush the orange syrup over the warm buns and leave them to cool.

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13.  Gently break the buns apart and enjoy.

Verdict?  They were the best hot cross buns in Phnom Penh!

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The perfect easter breakfast – coffee and hot cross buns!

Making Mulled Apple Juice for 100

Mulled Apple Juice

How have I ended up posting about how to make a mulled Christmas drinks for the masses again, this year?  When I left the residential life team in July this year, I thought that I’d also left my mass mulling days behind.  But apparently not.   I’m trying to remember the last time that I made a mulled concoction for like 4 (drinks with friends) or 10 (a gathering) or even 30 (a wee party)… I think that it was maybe 3 years ago for Cryfield Subwarden housewarming?

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Having peeled the first orange the traditional way and spent 10 minutes removing the pith from the peel, I decided to attack the next one with a knife.

 This time it was for our church’s annual Christmas Celebration.  Simon had asked me whether I wouldn’t mind being in charge of the catering side for the event.  He wanted to try out a different way of serving food at big events, so did I think that I could do a drink and some traditional english christmas goodies for 100 people within a $100 budget?  Well, it’s definitely a different scale from what I was used to at Warwick, but I took up the challenge.

Top tip: stick the cloves in the orange peel and then you won't have problems fishing them out later
Top tip: stick the cloves in the orange peel and then you won’t have problems fishing them out later

A bit of online research, excel spreadsheets and visits to various shops ensued and this is  the menu, that I came up with:

  • Mulled Apple Juice
  • Mince pies
  • Iced Christmas biscuits
  • Snow topped Spiced Cake.

The day before the big event, I hailed a tuk tuk and carted to the church:

  • 20 litres of apple juice
  • 12 oranges and some lime peel
  • 140 cloves
  • 80 pieces of cinnamon bark (my mum’s friend had kindly sent me cinnamon bark
  • 600g sugar
  • 1 very large sieve ladle

Unfortunately my pre-arranged mulling helper got the dates mixed up and forgot to turn up.  Just when I was wondering how I was going to make 20 litres of mulled apple juice with my poorly knee, help came in the form of various others who tasted, carried vast quantities of liquids, peeled oranges and decanted many cartons of apple juice.  What a Godsend! 2.5 hours later we were all done.

Mesa, can you see what's going in?
Mesa, can you see what’s going in?

 So, say you fancy mulling a non-alcoholic drink this christmas time.  Then, this one is a definite winner.  It went down really well at our Christmas Celebration tonight.  In fact, I had quite a few people asking me what the ingredients were but unfortunately I still have holes in my khmer vocabulary for words like cloves, cinnamon and peel.

I adapted the mulled apple juice recipe from BBC Good Food because it was the simplest and still garnered good reviews.  Most reviewers said that they didn’t bother adding in the sugar because it was already sweet enough.  It was sweet enough but slightly tart (which I like) for me when I tried it.  But my Khmer tasters said it was ‘jjoo’ (sour).  So, in went the sugar.

Here’s the recipe for mulled apple juice for 8 people, adapted from BBC Good Food.

Ingredients

  • 1 litre apple juice
  • peel of 1 orange
  • peel of 1 lime/lemon
  • 7 cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • golden or white sugar to taste – for the khmer tastebuds, I added 2 tablespoons.

Top Tip: Stick the cloves into orange and lime peel.  That way, it’s really easy to fish out the cloves later and you won’t get unwelcome ones ending up in your drink.

Method

1. Stick the cloves into the orange and lime peel.  I used a knife to peel the fruit so that I could get as little of the bitter pith as possible.

2. Decant the apple juice into a pan, add in the orange and lime peels with the cloves, the cinnamon sticks and bring to a simmer on a medium to low heat.  Leave to simmer for 10 minutes.

3.  Sweeten, or not, according to taste.

Chakriya - one of my happy helpers
Chakriya – one of my happy helpers

Spiced Banana and Dark Chocolate Chunk Cake: the first foray into baking in Cambodia

Banana and chocolate chunk cake

I hadn’t meant to create an entirely different cake when I decided to bake the chocolate, whiskey, currant banana cake (or Dumb Rum Banana Cake, as it’s known in Emma’s house) as my hello gift to Liberty Family Church.  The cake just morphed into something different as Becci and I trawled along the aisles in Lucky Supermarket, looking for ingredients, on my first Saturday in Cambodia.

  • Firstly, I discovered that butter is expensive.  The cheapest block of 227g of butter was $3.50
  • Chocolate is expensive as I expected.  There isn’t a tesco value or sainsbury basic equivalent block of dark chocolate that I can use either.  Hmm…
  • Sultanas and currants are ridiculously expensive.  The 180g of sultanas was going to cost me $1.90.
  • I couldn’t see a bag of walnuts or pecans that I can use in baking.
  • Rum or whiskey – well, alcohol is pretty cheap in Cambodia.  I wasn’t sure whether Cambodians would like the flavour of either one of them in a cake.

I’m standing looking at the dried food shelves and wondering if there’s any cheap dried fruit in Cambodia.   I’m scratching my head, ‘what am I going to do about flavour and texture?’  All my normal options were out and obviously I needed to economise on some ingredients.  And thus the cake transforms from a chocolate, nutty, whiskey, currant, banana cake into a spiced, banana cake with chocolate chunks.  ‘Out with the dried fruit and nuts’, I decide.  ‘I’m going to add flavour with a mix of spices and create texture by adding a greater quantity of chocolate chunks to it.’

Plenty of chocolate surely covers over a multitude of improvisations.

There was never a moment of questioning whether I should bother baking.  Needs must and all that – I wanted to give a hello present to the church and I needed to do some baking.

ingredients for banana and chocolate chunk cake

Ingredients for the Spiced Banana and Dark Chocolate Chunk Cake

  • 175g plain flour
  • 2 tsps of mixed spice or 1 tsp of cinnamon powder, 1/2 tsp of ground ginger, 1/4 tsp of ground nutmeg, 1/4 tsp of ground cloves
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 125g unsalted butter, melted
  • 90-100g soft brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 large or 4 small very ripe bananas, mashed (about 300g in weight with the skins off)
  • 200g dark chocolate, roughly chopped

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 170°C/325°F/gas mark 3 and line (preferably) springform cake tin, anywhere between 23-25cm. I only had a 25cm round cake tin at hand.  It was the first time I’d used it and it worked beautifully for sharing with so many people.

2. Measure out the plain flour, spices, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, salt and give them all a good mix with a metal or wooden spoon. This means that you don’t get any lumps of salt or bicarbonate of soda in the eventual cake.

3. Melt the butter either in a pan or in zap it in the microwave in a pyrex bowl.  Now add the sugar to the butter and stir well until the sugar is well blended into the butter. It should look almost toffee-like in colour because of the brown sugar. Follow with the eggs. Beat them in, one at a time, to the sugary buttery mixture.

Top tip: Emma shared a really good tip with me, if you are going to melt the butter in the microwave.  Use a pyrex bowl, add the butter and COVER IT WITH KITCHEN PAPER.  It means that if the butter happens to explode in the microwave, because you zap the butter for a bit too long, it won’t go all over the inside of your microwave.

preparing to bake banana and chocolate chunk cake

4.  Now add the mashed bananas,vanilla extract and the chopped chocolate to the mixture and mix them in well.

5. Add in the flour mix (from step 2) but add a third of it at a time, stirring well after each addition. Once all of the dry mixture is mixed in, add the cake mixture into the cake tin and bake in the middle of the oven for 50-60 minutes. I check after 40 minutes and if the cake looks like it is browning at the top too quickly, then I cover it with some baking paper to protect the cake from burning. The time needed for the cake to bake will vary depending on the size of the cake tin that you use, so don’t worry if the cake needs an extra 15-20 minutes in the oven. You’ll know when the cake is done when you insert a cake tester, or I use a sharp knife, into the cake and the tester comes out clean.

6.  Let the cake cool completely.  Then cut it up into as many pieces as you like and share it around.

Of course, you could serve it whilst it’s still warm with cream or icecream.  I just find that the cake is easier to cut when it is cold and you don’t get so much chocolate goo all over the knife as you are cutting it.  The cake stores well in an airtight container – not that this one had a chance.  It was all gobbled up in under 10 minutes.

The verdict? The cake is really tasty.  The chocolate chunks give it texture and bite that would be missing if you omitted them.  The spices worked really well in transforming the flavour of this cake and it went down really well with the Cambodian palette too.  I still prefer the chocolatey, whiskey and currant version of the cake (who would blame me) but while I’m here, I will quite happily bake this new banana and chocolate cake.

Cake, anyone?

Kat’s mum’s apple cake

Apple cake baked in Phnom Penh
The apple cake that I baked living at Simon and Becci’s in Phnom Penh

I recently found out that these apples are really tasty and cheap, compared to the other varieties of imported apples that they sell here.  So, when I woke up, I realised that the one thing that I really wanted to do today was to bake Kat’s mum’s apple cake.

applesapples slices 2
Remember how I confessed to being a baking addict?  Since moving to Cambodia, I’ve limited myself to baking once a week and I think that’s as far as my baking addiction allows me to go before I get my next fix.

That need fuelled my first ever visit to a fruit stall in the Russian market, where I bought 8 pomme for 8400 riel (the equivalent of $3.50).    I may have overpaid for my apples: I haven’t learned yet how to bargain for food in the market.  But, I didn’t mind paying a bit extra if if meant that I could bake.  However, I wasn’t quite prepared to pay $3 for 250g of palm sugar (the only raw sugar they had available), when what I really wanted was demerara sugar.  Let’s bake together at a later date, palm sugar.  I think that you’ll be delightful in a cookie.

This apple cake goes down in my baking history as the third ever cake I made on my own.  I was 21 at the time.  Kat’s mum baked this apple cake for us when Kat invited a few friends to her Devonshire home for a holiday during our final year at university. The cake tasted wholesomely delicious and I found myself asking Kat’s mum for the recipe. I was no baker in those days so what convinced me to attempt making this cake was her reassurance that the recipe was really simple.

And it was.  Once it entered into my baking repertoire, it was then pretty much the only cake that I baked for the next 2 years.

I told you that I came late into this baking thing later than most foodies.

apple peel

The only step that requires a bit of time is peeling, coring and chopping the apples and this time, Simon and Becci did that bit for me this time round.  Hurrah for happy helpers.  But once you’ve done that, you can pretty much throw the ingredients altogether, mix it around with your hands and pop it into the oven.  There’s no faffing with trying to make it look pretty: part of the charm of baking this cake is that is meant to look rustic.  I’ve made it before when I’ve reserved a few choice apple pieces to make it look prettier, but the detail got lost underneath the topping of sugar and ground cinnamon.  You can also use a loaf tin or a round tin, as you can see from my photos.

Since being here and discovering how expensive it is to bake with butter (the cheapest i’ve found is $3.50 for 227g) I reverted back to using margarine.  The cake tastes better, I think, if you make it with margarine rather than butter.

You can also use any apples.  I really like using cooking apples because of their tartness and size, but it doesn’t seem to matter.

Ingredients for Kat’s mum’s apple cake

  • 8oz/225g self-raising flour
  • 4oz/110g margarine
  • 4oz/110g granulated sugar, preferably golden but it can be white
  • 3 or 4 cooking apples, peeled, cored and sliced into 1-2cm slices.
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • a splash of milk

Cake topping – adapt the measures according to taste.

  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp demerara sugar

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6.  Grease and line either a 2lb loaf tin or a cake tin, that is deepish and anything between 8-10 inches.
2. Prepare the topping first for ease because your hands will be gloopy by step 5.  In a small bowl, mix together the demerara sugar and cinnamon.
3. Peel, core and chop the apples and put them into a large mixing bowl.
4. In a medium sized mixing bowl, rub together the flour, butter and sugar until they resemble crumbs.  Add this crumbly mixture to the apples.

until the mixture resembles crumbsmixing the apple cake 2throw the cake mixture into the tin

5. Add in the eggs and a splash of milk.  Mix it around with your hands so that it all combines into a gloopy mess.
6. Sprinkle the demerara sugar and cinnamon mix on top of the cake.

Trying to make it pretty apple cake
you can prettify it if you want

7. Pop into the middle of the oven and bake for about 1 hour.  Check after 40 minutes.  If the top of the cake is browning too much  then cover the top with foil.  The cake is ready when a tester comes out clean.
8. Let it cool down and rest before taking it out of the tin.

trying to make it pretty baked apple cake
but the cinnamon/sugar topping negates the efforts

Enjoy while it’s still warm if you can.  I think that it’s worth pointing out, that with this cake you get one portion of your fruit and veg allowance, only if you eat a quarter of the cake.

Peanut and Rosemary Cookies

I am, in fact, quite excited that it’s snowing outside. It has given me that wee impetus to press publish on this recipe, which has been lurking around in my drafts folder for a while.

peanut and rosemary cookies


On an aside: say aloud with me, ‘lurking around for awhile’. Doesn’t it conjure up that horrible childhood fear of a shadowy bogeyman patiently waiting to catch you in the middle of a long, dark corridor? Mind you, saying the whole of that first sentence out loud now brings up a ridiculous image of a recipe like a white vapour, snaking out of a metal filing cabinet. It’s not quite the way that I’d planned to introduce this recipe to you.

rosemaryrosemary 2

peanutspeanut and rosemary cookies

So, back to the recurring theme of this post. Essentially, it’s about ideas remaining dormant and not being actualised because of whatever reason.

You see, I’d been wanting to bake these peanut and rosemary cookies ever since one of my colleagues passed me a newspaper clipping with this recipe on it. That was about 18 months ago. The timing of this recipe landing on my desk was perfect because I had just been thinking about combining rosemary or thyme with a sweet dessert for a wee while. But I just didn’t get round to it, or I forgot. Maybe some student emergency came up before I fully committed to baking the recipe, or something! You get the idea. The recipe continued to lurk in between the covers of other recipe books.

When summer came around, my tastebuds changed and my mind started exploring the idea of combining lemons and black pepper. So, one afternoon I invented a lemon, fig, nut and black pepper cookie recipe, which Val promptly decided were her favourite cookies.

When the nights started drawing in and the temperatures dropped, my tastebuds hankered after a more pungent flavour. I pulled out this recipe, sent myself off to go to the shops to buy some salted peanuts and snipped off some fresh rosemary. It’s as simple as that really. I think, that most of you, will have the other ingredients as standard store cupboard items already. The other joy of this recipe, I discovered, is that you can pretty much make this in one bowl, mix it within 5 minutes and be biting into your first batch within 20 minutes of starting out on the recipe. I don’t know many other cookie recipes out there that can beat that!

chopped rosemarypeanut and rosemary cookie dough balls

And boy, did I enjoy eating them.

peanut and rosemary cookies

These are fast becoming my favourite cookies: I baked them twice within 5 days. Elegant, fragrant, crunchy and very more-ish. If you want an alternative sweet grown up sweet this season, or you’d like to do something different with your leftover bag of salted peanuts which you offer to your guests, then I’d recommend this recipe to you. I know that rosemary and salted peanuts cookies sound odd but I have to congratulate Dan Lepard on this fine flavour combination.

peanut and rosemary cookie ingredients

Dan Lepards’ Peanut and Rosemary Cookies.

Ingredients

  • 100ml sunflower oil
  • 200g golden caster sugar
  • 1tsp honey
  • 2tsp very finely chopped rosemary – I used one very long sprig
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 egg
  • 150g salted peanuts
  • 200g plain flour
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 and line two baking trays with baking or greaseproof paper. I tried out the pizza stone for one batch but found that the baking trays did a better job than the stone.

2. Mix the oil, sugar, honey, rosemary and cinnamon in a bowl until it is like a paste. I use a metal spoon for this,

stage 1 of mixing the ingredientsmixing ingredients stage 2

3. Add in the peanuts and egg and mix well.

4. Finally stir in the flour and bicarb of soda. Naturally you start mixing this in with the metal spoon, but soon, it becomes clear that it’ll be much easier to get hands-on stuck in with your hands and finish mixing in the flour.

mixing ingredients stage 3mixing ingredients final stage

5. Press together 30g balls of dough. That’s ping pong sized balls, for those of you who don’t really want to measure out them out. Lay them out on the baking tray, spaced 5-6cm apart because they spread a lot. Last time I made them, the peanuts rebelled a bit and didn’t want to stay on the cookie dough. Tell them who’s boss and push them on.

6. Bake them in the oven for 12-14 minutes, depending on how chewy you like them. I aim to take them out when they’re a golden colour, rather than bronzed all over. The bronzed ones are fine warmed up, but otherwise they get a bit hard when they cool. Lift the baking paper with the cookies, off the baking tray and let them cool on a wire rack for a minute, then carefully peel them off to the wire rack.

They make 24 cookies, so I bake these in batches.

If you find them a bit too salty, Dan suggests that washing the salt off the peanuts first. Personally, I like salty sweetness. To top it off, I’ve got a kitchen fragrant of rosemary.

Herman, the friendship cake.

Let me introduce you to Herman. He’s been living in my kitchen for a few months.

herman growing

If that hasn’t put you off, then read on.

Herman is a sourdough starter cake, aka Amish Friendship cake. David first described him to me, when one of his colleagues gave him a Herman:

David: “So, I leave him out in a bowl on the side for a few days. I have to talk to him! And feed him with milk, flour and sugar.

Me: “Can’t you put him in the fridge? Won’t the milk go off? Why do you have to leave him out?”…

A few days later, David told me that he has gotten rid of Herman. Herman was smelly and had been cluttering his worktop.

If I can be frank with you. I’d suggest that David’s colleague misjudged him in thinking that David and Herman would pair up well. David is a good cook but a ‘meat and 2 veg’ kind of guy. So, this type of cake didn’t stand much of a chance with him.

Well, a few weeks later, Emily asked me if I’d heard of Herman. She had one growing in her kitchen and reported that the herman cake she’d tried was alright. She was still alive, and proof that eating Herman is somewhat safe, even with the souring milk. So, I asked her if she’d entrust me to look after a mini Herman.

By this time, Herman had taken on a personality of epic proportions in my imagination. Naturally, he was german, with spiky red hair, freckles and (as he smells) adolescent.

I duly took care of my Herman and made it through 2 cycles until I went on holiday. I gave him away and thought that was the last of Herman.

Not so. One of my colleagues presented me with Herman at the end of the summer and, as you know, Herman is thriving in my flat. I think that he’s taken to my warm kitchen: he keeps bubbling away. I stir him once or twice a day and cover him with a tea towel so that he doesn’t dry out. As I don’t want to be forced to make a Herman cake every 10 days, I’m fairly relaxed about his feeding and will delay it a day or so, to draw out the cycle. Admittedly, he does smell of yeast. I’m looking forward to this next cycle as his penultimate one with me because I’d quite like to use that plastic bowl and wooden spoon for something else and reclaim the space he takes up on my worktop.

Herman is a great topic of conversation. He is a bit like marmite: people are either allured or repulsed by him. Nevertheless, everyone likes to eat him. Herman adds a tanginess to the cake and he does taste yummy, even if the texture is on the denser side. Below, I’ve given you the most common recipe, a cinnamon and apple version, with a wee makeover. However, my favourite is my carrot, pinenut and sultana cake.

There are a number of different Herman stories out there. This is my favourite one, which I have adapted.

Herman is a friendship cake which you cannot buy but can give away. Herman is alive and grows slowly but surely because of a yeasting process. It takes 10 days before you can eat him.

DO NOT put in the fridge as he grows at room temperature. You do not need a lid, just cover the bowl with a tea towel.

DAY 1: Today Herman is given to you. Congratulations, you must have a friend. Pour him into a big bowl so he can grow.

DAY 2: Stir Herman 2 or 3 times each day using a wooden spoon. You can leave the spoon in the bowl.

DAY 3: Stir Herman and talk to him.

DAY 4: Herman is hungry! You must feed him with:

  • 200ml milk
  • 150g plain flour
  • 200g granulated sugar

DAY 5: Stir Herman

DAY 6: Stir Herman. He really appreciates your visits.

DAY 7: Stir Herman

DAY 8: Stir Herman. Are you still talking to him?

DAY 9: Herman is hungry again! Feed him as Day 4.

Having been fed, he now needs to be split into equal little Hermans. Give away 4 of the little Hermans and a copy of these instructions.

DAY 10: Your remaining little Herman is absolutely starving after all that!

(experiment with different Herman cake recipes, such as carrot cake, streusel topped herman cake, apple cake – see below for my adaptations on the most common version)

Herman would now like to go to a hot resort, the oven will do. Preheat it to 170C (which is between 3 and 4 on a gas mark oven). With everything mixed in, pour him into a lined deeped baking tin. Leave him at the resort for about an hour. After all this care, attention and nurturing … eat him!!!

herman apple cinnamon cake

Ingredients for Herman Apple, Sultana and Cinnamon Cake (makes between 16-25 servings)

  • 1 measure of Herman (a cup)
  • 300g self-raising flour
  • 150g sugar (tastier with demerara sugar)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2tsp cinnamon
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 100g fine chopped nuts or a mix of dried fruit, such as sultanas, cranberries, cherries, apricots…
  • 2 chopped or grated apples – I think that it’s tastier when chopped to approx. 1.5cm sized chunks because it tastes like an apple cake
  • 100ml oil

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4. Line a deep 25cm square baking tin. I like to use my pampered chef square stone because I don’t need to bother lining it with baking paper.

Top tip: use a baking tin, it is better than a loaf tin. When I used a loaf or cake tin, the cake took much longer to bake and was a bit heavy. The cake I made in the pampered chef stone (baking tin would do the same) was tastier and lighter. Moreover, it would have taken much less time but I hadn’t misread the oven temperature and baked it at 130C! Oooops-a-daisy.

2. You can add all the ingredients and mix it thoroughly.

or, Alternatively, I found it easier to measure out the dry ingredients, then make a small well in the middle and add the oil, eggs and the mini herman and mix thoroughly. Lastly, add the chopped apples and dried fruit or nuts (or both) to the mixture and combine well.

3. With everything mixed in, pour him into a lined deep 25cm baking tin.

4. Now, to make the sugar/butter glaze. I highly recommend this step. It seems a bit weird thing to do and I had some doubts when I was pouring the melted butter over the cake batter. But the glaze really moistens the cake and enrichensthe flavour.

Ingredientsfor the glaze

  • 50g dark muscovado sugar (demerara sugar also works)
  • 50g unsalted butter, melted
  • sprinkle cinnamon on top (optional)
  • pecan or walnut halves to decorate on top

Crumble the sugar evenly over the top of the cake and sprinkle over with cinnamon. Pour the melted butter evenly over the batter. I tipped the sides of my square stone to ensure an even spread. Decorate the top with the pecan or walnut halves. Last time, I used 16 pecans but the portions were rather on the big side, so I’d use 25 next time.

prebaked herman apple cake

glaze topping

5. Now, it’s time to send Herman on holiday to a hot resort (namely the oven) for 45-60 minutes. Check on him at half time and if he looks like he is browning too quickly on the top, then cover him loosely with baking paper or foil to prevent him burning. I guess it acts like a sun umbrella, if we’re to continue the holiday metaphor. Herman is ready when you test him in the middle with a clean, sharp knife and it comes out clean. Let him cool for at least 10 minutes in the tin before cutting him up into squares.

Enjoy.

herman apple cake