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Sunday, 20 April 2014

Chocolate Chip Not-Cross Buns

Yes, it's been an absolute age since I last posted here, and I'm very sorry for that. For one reason or another, I've lacked time and motivation to do write-ups of lots of things cooked over the last few months, and it needed something very special to get me back in the mood. Also, due to going back into full-time employment, I've been making use of a lot of ready-meals in the evenings... most of which didn't really warrant a review.

And, hey, let's face it, it's unusual enough for me to make event-specific foodstuffs and actually write about them on the day, rather than a good week or two later.

So, without further ado... a somewhat secular and chocolate-oriented take on the Hot Cross Bun. The recipe upon which this is based came from the Cadbury Kitchen but, as is de rigueur in my kitchen, I didn't follow it precisely for several reasons, ranging from forgetting to buy some ingredients (such as 'mixed spice') to personal preference (my girlfriend is vegetarian, and so we decided against adding the gelatin-based glaze). Also, since the crosses aren't the most interesting part of the recipe (and adding them involves the use of a piping bag, so I couldn't be bothered with the fuss), they were made without.

Considering this is the first proper baking project I've undertaken in a while, and it involved mixing things up from scratch rather than using a pre-prepared bread/cake mix, it all went fairly smoothly, too...

I've left the formatting in the US-style 'cup' measures because it's easy enough to find such cups these days - my nearest Morrisons has them in its Kitchenware section, and I believe they're available at the likes of Waitrose and Lakeland. The ingredients listed below are sufficient for 12 decent-sized (ie. larger than the sort of thing you can buy in a supermarket) buns.

Ingredients:
  • 4 cups Plain Flour (plus a dusting for a worktop during the kneading stage)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Cinnamon
  • 14g Dried Yeast (ie. 2 sachets @ 7g each)
  • 1/4 cup Caster Sugar
  • 300ml Milk (room temperature)
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 cup Sultanas
  • 3/4 cup Chocolate Chips (I used a single 100g bag of Morrisons Dark Chocolate Chips)
  • Butter (for greasing a baking tray)
Preparation Time: about 20 minutes (plus rising time) to prepare the dough, then about 20 minutes to cook

Tools Required:
  • Large Mixing Bowl (for the dough mix)
  • Small Mixing Bowl (in which to beat the eggs)
  • Measuring Cups (obviously)
  • Measuring Jug (for the milk
  • Spatula/Flat-Bladed Knife (to mix the dough - I used a Pampered Chef jar scraper... it was the closest thing I had!)
  • Whisk or Mixing Implement of Choice (for the eggs)
  • Sharp Knife (for dividing the dough)
  • Cling Film
  • Baking Tray (Foil optional)
The Process:
First off, I measured out the flour, cinnamon and sugar. These were dumped into a large mixing bowl with the yeast and stirred with an Alien chopstick, because it was handy. The eggs were cracked into a small bowl and lightly beaten with a cute little semi-automatic whisk thing I picked up in a nearby branch of Tiger (interesting aside - sometime before Christmas, there was a market in Harrow at which one of the stalls was selling a similar product, perhaps slightly more refined, at almost four times the price, but 'specially reduced' to only about twice the price for the market event), then poured it into the flour mixture. As my girlfriend started stirring it all together, I added the milk gradually, in small stages. The original recipe calls for 350ml of milk, but we found that rather excessive - the dough was coming together very nicely by about the 300ml mark, so the excess was returned to the bottle. At the point where the mixture started to become a cohesive 'dough', I added in the sultanas, then the chocolate chips (conveniently, a 100g bag from Morrisons is pretty much bang-on 3/4 of a cup), then took over for the final stage of stirring, where it started to become both sticky and a little stiff.

Once all the flour mixture had been fully absorbed into the dough, it was turned out onto a section of worktop that had been dusted with flour. I kneaded the dough for somewhere between five and ten minutes, by which time it had become somewhat less sticky (though I wondered if, perhaps, I should not have washed my hands directly before kneading, because so much of the dough remained stuck to my fingers). Then it was dumped back into the mixing bowl, covered over with Cling Film and left to rise for about an hour.

After that time, the dough had more-or-less doubled in size. The original instructions stated that it should be beaten back to its original size, but I'm not sure how well I accomplished that. I kneaded it again briefly, then rolled and stretched it to make it easier to cut into twelve reasonably-similar-sized pieces. While I was doing this, my girlfriend laid out a piece of foil on a baking tray (largely because it's looking a bit manky with age and use, and it's often easier to dispose of a layer of foil than it is to adequately clean the tray) and smeared it with butter to prevent the buns sticking. Once the twelve pieces were laid out, the tray was covered with cling film and left for a second round of rising, for about 30 minutes. The ideal result is that the buns double in size, squishing together on the tray for that authentic 'group of freshly-baked buns' look. At around the 20 minute mark, the oven was switched on and set to 190C.

At the half-hour mark, and since we weren't decorating the buns in any way, they went straight into the oven for 20 minutes. While they looked, if anything, a little burnt (particularly at either side of the tray) they were briefly tested - by sticking a chopstick into one of the middle buns - to ensure they were thoroughly cooked.

The Results:
We had one bun each after leaving them to cool only briefly, because there are few things nicer than a hot bun (and, after all, they're called 'hot cross buns' because they're meant to be eaten hot). We're both of a mind that they could have done with a bit more cinnamon (perhaps the 'mixed spice' would have offered a more substantial flavour) but, otherwise, the buns tasted good - not too dry, though the chocolate (which, naturally, melted slightly) and the sultanas went some way to keeping them moist.

Those that appeared burnt actually seem to be OK, which got me wondering if the glaze is actually a fairly important component for this kind of bun... After all, hot cross buns are noted for being well browned,  with a glossy finish that moistens the crust.

I'm pretty pleased with the results and may well try this recipe with alternative additions... though I'll likely steer well clear of candied peel - a staple in 'normal' hot cross buns - because I'm not especially keen on that stuff. A mix of sultanas and raisins, or ginger, or something wacky like popping candy might be worth a try. Certainly, the next batch will have two teaspoons of cinnamon, if I use any at all.


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