Hot cross buns

Freshly baked buns

An unexpected pleasure this year has been participating in the panel that’s judging the Guild of Food Writers “Cookery Writer of the Year” award. This particular award is not for cookbooks (my own book is entered for the cookbook award so I couldn’t really be on that panel!) but for articles published in newspapers and magazines during 2017. The five of us judges have each been given 5 recipe articles from 20 different writers, with a view to creating initially a shortlist and then a winner. It was a marathon of reading and thinking about 100 articles (perhaps 400 recipes in total) and their introductions. The breadth of people’s food imagination is remarkable, and I’m excited to have discovered several writers that I wasn’t familiar with – although probably should have been.

Since I’ve only just submitted my shortlist, and the awards ceremony is not until June, I can’t say anything about individual entrants. But the whole process has set off a wave of new recipe cooking at home – including delving again into some books that have been resting on our shelves. On Monday Sarah made a delicious Nigel Slater combination from his Kitchen Diaries vol 3– duck legs slow cooked with port and prunes, plus red cabbage with bacon. I was doubtful about the red cabbage and bacon but wrongly so. The salty cabbaginess made a memorably delicious plateful when eaten alongside the duck and prunes.

Meanwhile, with Easter (and therefore Good Friday) fast approaching, my eye had been caught by a hot cross bun recipe in one of the articles submitted for the GFW awards. I made a first version last week and have tinkered with it in a minor way this week to create the buns pictured here. I think they’re lovely – the diced apple and the spiced glaze giving the deliciously soft dough an extra lift. Taking these buns out of the oven I had to suppress once again my dream of having a little bakery. ’Remember the ridiculously early mornings, Bill, as well as the tricky economics’ I tell myself for the umpteenth time.

‘Mixed spice’ is classic British pudding spice mix which will vary from brand to brand but which generally features cinnamon, cloves, allspice, ginger and nutmeg. I find the combination strangely alluring.

makes 16 buns

This dough is more easily kneaded in a mixer than by hand as it’s rather slack and sticky. As it’s an enriched dough it takes a lot longer to rise than normal bread dough.

340ml milk
50g butter

500g strong white flour
75g caster sugar
7g pckt yeast
5g salt

1 egg, lightly beaten

75g sultanas/raisins
50g mixed peel
1 eating apple, diced 0.5cm
1 tsp mixed spice

For the cross:

75g plain flour and enough water to make a paste like toothpaste

For the glaze

50g sugar
50g water
½ tsp mixed spice

  1. Heat milk to steaming. Add butter and allow to melt. Allow mixture to cool.
  2. In a large mixing bowl (ideally of a Kenwood Chef type mixer) add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Mix together roughly, then mix in the egg and knead for a couple of minutes (or 5 minutes if kneading by hand).
  3. Mix in the raisins, peel, apple and mixed spice and knead again until everything is evenly distributed. Cover with clingfilm and leave for 1½ to 3 hours (depending on the room and dough temperatures) until at least doubled in size.
  4. Line 2 baking sheets each measuring about 26cm x 32cm (or 1 larger one if you’ve got a big oven) with baking parchment. Divide the dough into 16 and arrange evenly on the baking sheets. Don’t attempt to shape the buns as they’re too sticky for this and, in any event, they settle to a nice shape as they rise.
  5. Allow to rise in a warm place until really puffy (1-3 hours depending on room temperature). Pipe on the crosses with the flour paste using a piping bag. If you make a mess (as I usually do) that goes to show that these are home-made buns and none of that shop-bought nonsense.
  6. Bake at 180C (fan) for 20-25 minutes until slightly browned and hollow-sounding when tapped underneath. Remove from the oven.
  7. Put the glaze ingredients in a small pan and heat to boiling point, stirring sufficiently to mix the sugar in to the water. Brush the glaze generously on to the buns whilst they’re still warm.

A spring supper – May 2016

Asparagus ready to cook

Asparagus ready to cook

This is a great time of year for eating. English asparagus has arrived; outdoor rhubarb is doing its manic thing in the garden, and there is the brief but glorious season when, if you’re lucky, you can get hold of Alphonso mangoes from India. Our neighbour Ray goes to Birmingham wholesale fruit and veg market a couple of times a week so he has been our route this year to mango happiness.

Alphonso mango ready to eat

Alphonso mango ready to eat

We had friends round on Friday and feasted on all of these delicious things.

  • Asparagus with a lime and chive hollandaise with a bit of Spianata toast
  • Confit duck legs cooked on ducky potatoes with rhubarb/duck sauce and peas
  • Meringues with passion fruit cream and alphonso mangoes

I find it very satisfying that you use the egg yolks for the hollandaise and the whites for the meringues. That’s what I call wholefood. For the hollandaise I used both juice and zest of a lime with four egg yolks and 250g butter and then snipped a handful of chives into it at the end. Great flavours and very pretty with the perky green asparagus. Add really fresh asparagus to a large pan of boiling water, bring back to the boil and boil for a further minute or so until the bottom of the stem is just beginning to feel tender when you squeeze it.  Drain at once and toss in a little olive oil salt and pepper.

I’ve been experimenting with various delicious Italian breads at home (more of that in another post) and we had some leftover Spianata (a very wet dough that makes fantastic flatbread) that I toasted and that mopped up the hollandaise beautifully.

Dean had made the confit duck at All Saints and so I got ready-made not only the duck legs themselves but also a large quantity of ducky juices which had formed a delicious jelly at the bottom of the confit container. Some of the juices I mixed with thinly sliced Maris Piper potatoes. These I baked in a deep roasting tray for about an hour at 160C until the potatoes were tender. I then put the confit duck legs on top, skin side uppermost and cooked at 220C for about 25 minutes until the skin was crisp and sizzling.

My starting point for the rhubarb/duck sauce was slow-roasting the rhubarb. I picked about 1kg of fat but young stems and chopped them up small with about 100g sugar and then spread them on a big roasting tray covered by bake-o-glide (parchment would be equally good) and cooked at 180C for about ten minutes and then another 3 hours or so at 140C, stirring very occasionally. This reduces the volume of rhubarb to about 20% of what you started off with. The result is an intense rhubarb pulp with a small amount of toffee-like rhubarb juice. Delicious.  I usually eat this with ginger yoghurt and granola for breakfast, but on this occasion I added a generous dollop to a small pan of duck juices and whizzed it all up. It needs a surprising amount of sugar – you’re looking for a sauce which is on the ‘sweet and sour’ end of the flavour spectrum. But taste as you go and decide how you like it.

And once you’ve got duck, potatoes and gravy of course the only thing to eat with it is frozen peas, possibly the world’s finest convenience food.

For the passion fruit cream try to find ugly bumpy fruits that feel very light – the smooth-skinned ones are generally not ripe. Halve the fruits and scoop out the pulp.  Add 5 fruit to 300ml double cream and about 50g sugar. Whizz briefly with a stick blender until the cream is just beginning to thicken. Spoon the cream over a meringue and then garnish with as much Alphonso mango as you can get your hands on. And don’t forget to suck the mango stones.

100% pure spring pleasure.

Crumbly, buttery shortbread – to lemon or not to lemon?

Christmas and shortbread 024

I’ve always been doubtful about shortbread but in the last couple of weeks I’ve become a true believer. Shortbread is such a simple thing that, a bit like a tomato salad, it can either be a thing of exciting beauty or something dull and pointless. This recipe, if made carefully, is buttery, delicate and crumbly – and extremely more-ish. (The version is adapted very slightly from Felicity Cloake’s excellent Guardian column that compares lots of versions of things and then comes up with a recommendation)

The only question that remained is whether at the cafes we should serve classic buttery shortbread or a zesty lemon version. For a week we served both lemon and classic shortbread and the plain (classic) version was the clear winner – we sold nearly twice as many of them. But the great thing is that at home you don’t have to be guided by the majority verdict – the choice is yours.

To ensure that your shortbread is always perfect:

  1. Use plain flour not a strong white bread flour – I didn’t think this really mattered until I tried both and compared them
  2. make sure the butter is really soft before beating it with the sugar
  3. don’t be tempted to omit the ground rice. It adds a delicious nubbly texture which is perfect for shortbread.
  4. don’t overwork the dough
  5. chill the biscuits before baking

Christmas and shortbread 012To make about 22 biscuits

250g salted butter, very soft but not melted
(if using unsalted butter then add 1/4 tsp of salt to the flour)
125g caster sugar
285g plain flour
90g ground rice
extra caster sugar for sprinkling at the end

To make the lemon shortbread just add the very finely grated zest of 2 lemons to the flour mixture before mixing with the sugar/butter mix.

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 130C (fan oven – 150C for a non-fan oven)
  1. Put the very soft butter and the caster sugar into a large mixing bowl, and beat with handheld electric mixer until very soft and fluffy.
  1. Add the flour and ground rice and mix swiftly with a large spoon so it is beginning to come together. Then use your hands to pull it together into one blob.
  1. Roll the dough out to just under 1cm thick and cut out rounds 7cm diameter cookie cutter. Do not use extra flour when rolling out the dough. Re-use leftover dough until it’s all used. Put cookies on to baking sheets on baking parchment, leaving a little space between in each one.
  1. Refrigerate for 30 mins before baking.
  1. Bake for 50 minutes until cooked but not brown. Leave on the tray for 2 minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack and sprinkle with caster sugar. I find that sifting the caster sugar through a tea strainer makes it easier to do an even coating. Store in tins with baking parchment between layers.

Christmas and shortbread 015


Perfect mince pies

mince pies 006I love mince pies but I only love really good mince pies. So for me what’s wanted is: A high proportion of mincemeat to pastry; Excellent well-balanced and fruity mincemeat; And a good crumbly pastry. These mince pies are the business. The recipe comes a bit from Gary Rhodes, a bit from Delia and a bit from me. And whilst it might seem like a bit of a palaver to make your own mincemeat I think it’s worth it – and actually it’s a pretty straightforward process.

I was making these mince pies at home the other day and I ran out of home-made mincemeat and made the last few for us to keep at home with a jar of shop-bought mincemeat that had been in the larder for a while. Jonathan thought the mincemeat tasted a bit alcoholic and I suggested he went and checked the use-by date on the jar which turned out to be 1995 – three years before he was born. I must go through all those old jars at some point…


To make about 2.5kg of mincemeat (sufficient for 100 mince pies) :

500g Bramley apples, cored and diced very small (the size of peas), no need to peel
250g pre-shredded vegetarian suet
500g raisins
375g sultanas
250g mixed candied peel
350g light muscovado sugar
2 lemons, juice and zest
2 oranges, juice and zest
2 dsp mixed spice
1/2 tsp ground cinammon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
100ml ginger wine

  1. Put everything apart from the ginger wine into a large mixing bowl and mix thoroughly.
  2. Cover the bowl with some foil and put in the oven at 110C for about 3 hours (fan – a bit higher for non-fan).
  3. Take out of the oven and stir in the ginger wine. Store in pre-warmed sterilized jam jars.

The pastry

Makes 1kg of pastry, sufficient for about 40 mince pies

500g plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
350g butter
150g caster sugar
2 egg yolks
2 whole eggs

  1. Whizz flour and salt and chilled butter cubes together in a food processor until the mixture is like breadcrumbs
  2. Add sugar and whizz again very briefly.
  3. Mix egg yolks and whole eggs together. Add to flour mix and pulse a few times until the dough has just come together. Don’t overwork it or it will get tough. Divide into manageable-sized blobs and put in clingfilm. All to rest in the fridge for at least an hour before using.mince pies 002

 To make the mince pies

Of course you can make the mince pies any size you like but I think it’s helpful to have some really precise directions in case you want them. At home I use pie moulds which are 7cm diameter and 2.5cm deep with flat bottoms (you don’t get enough filling in the slopey sided ones). The current lot came from Lakeland. The pastry will come just below the top of the moulds which means overspill of mincemeat juice won’t go all over the place.

  1. Roll out the pastry quite thin and cut out circles using 9cm diameter cutter. Put them neatly into the pie mould pushing the pastry well down into the corners and making the  top rim reasonably even.
  2. Put 35g mincemeat (one good dsp) into each one and then top with a star of pastry. Brush with a little beaten egg.
  3. Bake for 15-20 minutes at 180C (fan oven) until golden and crisp. Leave to cool for 10 minutes in the tin and then transfer to a cooling rack. Dust generously with icing sugar to serve.

These mince pies are good for days but they area at their very best when still just a little warm from the oven.

The best gluten free chocolate brownies

GF brownies 009Well. These are extraordinarily good brownies. Chocolatey and deliciously damp but with just a trace of salty graininess.

I never want to make, eat or serve in my cafes a gluten-free or dairy-free or anythingelse-free dish that is less good than its conventional equivalent. However, we do get an increasing number of customers looking for gluten-free food and this had got me thinking. Then a few weeks ago I tried a gluten-free brownie in the café at the top of the Tate Modern that overlooks the Thames and the City and I thought this brownie was pretty good.

So I embarked on a voyage of experimentation in the world of gluten-free cooking. I don’t think I’ve ever tried quite so many different versions of, ostensibly, the same thing. And many of them I have to say were really quite nasty. So I felt like Einstein discovering relativity when after considerable tinkering I came up with what I think is a stunning and reliable recipe. You will create love and adoration amongst gluten-avoiding friends if you make these for them. Or better still come and buy them from us!

The only weird ingredient is Xanthan gum which is used to replace the gluing-together effect of gluten. Xanthan gum is a natural product but fairly potent. You can buy it in powdered form from health food shops or the ‘free from’ sections of supermarkets. Be careful of your measurements and use proper chefs’ measuring spoons. If you put in twice what you need it will make the brownies too solid. Use the correct amount and they’ll be perfect.

Salt might seem an odd addition, but it is the making of these brownies. The Americans know a thing or two about brownie cookery and a little salt is alway there in a classy American brownie.


Quantity ingredient preparation
500g good quality dark chocolate chopped into 2cm – 3cm chunks
325g salted butter cut into 2cm – 3cm pieces
6 eggs
400g light muscovado sugar
250g Dove’s gluten free flour
½ tsp Xantham gum powder
½ tsp salt


  1. Grease and line with baking parchment a straight sided baking tray 32cm x 25cm or similar
  2. Melt the chocolate and butter together in a saucepan over a very low heat. Put to one side to cool.
  3. Put the eggs and sugar in a large bowl and whisk until the mixture has tripled in volume and is much paler in colour and texture.  (Either use a handheld electric whisk or a Kenwood-type mixer with the K blade)
  4. Add the cooled chocolate mixture to the egg/sugar mixture and quickly mix. Then quickly mix in the flour/salt/Xantham gum
  5. Pour into the prepared baking tray and bake for 30 minutes at 150C in a fan oven (a bit hotter for a non-fan oven) until crusty on top but only just set. One of the world’s worst crimes is overcooked brownies….but they’re not nice when they’re not properly cooked either. They start to crack just a little on the surface when they’re ready.
  6. Leave to cool and then portion.

Raspberry cake and other good things

potato salad and raspberry NY Times torte 021

This has been a weekend full of local bounty, both from our veg patch and our local fruit farm: new potato salad; sugar snap peas with tiny broad beans and courgettes; and a sensationally good raspberry cake.

For the potato salad I boiled some freshly dug Charlottes and then tossed them in olive oil, white vinegar, mustard and some very finely diced red onion. Very delicious – although our local retired general said he thought it looked a terrible mess (Thanks Arthur) . There was some left over and I spread it out on roasting tray and roasted it in a hot oven for about 50 minutes until the potatoes were crisp and the onions well browned. Perfect with roast lamb and it’s juices and the aforementioned sugar snaps, broad beans and courgettes.

The raspberry cake was really something. A perfect balance of simple cake and juicy bursting raspberries. The observant amongst you will spot that the recipe is remarkably similar to the cherry cake I wrote about last year. Thank you once again to Sarah’s godmother, lovely Helen Heider, who introduced us to this recipe from the New York Times. And then yesterday (did I mention that I like cake?) I made another one with our blackcurrants – also good but very full on so only make it if you really like blackcurrants. The rest of the blackcurrants were then turned into blackcurrant jam, one of my favourite jams alongside plum, apricot and raspberry.

Raspberry Cake

serves 8 to 12 depending on how hungry you are
1 x 22cm square cake tin – I use a silicone mould

125g butter
125g light muscovado sugar
3 eggs, beaten
100g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
350g fresh raspberries (or 275g blackcurrants – fewer as they have such a strong flavour)
a little extra sugar and flour to go on top

  1. Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy
  2. Mix in the beaten eggs and then the flour/baking powder/salt so that you have a fairly loose batter.
  3. Spread the batter evenly over the tin.
  4. To try to stop the berries sinking to the bottom too quickly: sift a dessertspoon of flour and one of sugar over the batter then gently put the raspberries on top.
  5. Bake at 170C for 45 minutes to an hour until just set.

Best served slightly warm.

Very sticky Chelsea buns


New Year diets are all very well but the time comes when you need a Chelsea bun. When that moment arises these are the Chelsea buns that you should be making. Sticky, rich and delicious. And if you foolishly don’t eat them all straight away, even several days later a few seconds in the microwave will bring them back to a highly acceptable sticky and aromatic warmth.

We got very enthusiastic at home about watching the Great British Bake-off before Christmas and it got me all excited about all things Bun. I’ve now made Chelsea buns a few times at home tweaking the recipe a bit each time. I started off with the recipe in Lynda Collister’s excellent Bread Book, but added considerably to the filling and the glaze. If butter, sugar and raisins are good, then surely more butter, sugar and raisins are even better? They certainly are in this case. I’ve also added cinnamon to makes these half way between a Chelsea bun and a Swedish cinnamon bun.

For the buns I’ve photographed for this blog post I proved the finished but un-cooked buns in the fridge overnight. This is not at all essential but it adds to the flexibility of making them to know that it works should you want to do it.

Tragically we don’t currently have space in our kitchens in either Hereford or Cambridge to be making these for the cafés but maybe in the future…

There are three bits to these buns: the dough, the filling and the glaze. That makes it all sound rather complicated but as long as you take it steadily it’s not too fiddly. But be sure the first time you make this recipe you’re not in a rush. It’s a really lovely thing to do on a cold wet winter’s day such as the one I’m looking out at while I’m writing this.

makes 9 buns

I use a silicone cake mould which is 22cm square. It’s fairly crucial that the tin you use has roughly these dimensions (or a similar total area) as the buns need to fit snugly in.

For the dough

450g white flour
5g salt
40g caster sugar
1 x 7g packet of dried yeast
170ml milk
60g butter, melted
1 egg, beaten

For the filling

40g butter, melted
100g light muscovado sugar
200g raisins
5g ground cinnamon (about 1 dsp)

For the glaze

50g honey
90g butter
120g light muscovado sugar

  1. To make the dough. Put all the ingredients a Kenwood chef (or similar) and knead for about 5 minutes. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave to rise until roughly doubled in size.
  2. Roll the dough out to a rectangle about 22cm deep and 40cm wide.
  3. Mix all the filling ingredients together and spread over the rectangle of dough eaving a margin of about 1cm at the far edge. Then roll it up like a Swiss roll as tightly as possible starting at the near long edge.
  4. Then divide into 9 slices with a dough cutter and put each of them on a cut side into the tin, quite close together but barely touching.
  5. Leave to rise until at least doubled in size. This can take as long as a couple of hours if the kitchen is cold.
  6. In a small pan stir all the glaze ingredients together.
  7. Once the buns have at least double in size, pour the glaze over and bake at 200C for about 25 minutes until the buns are golden brown.
  8. Leave to cool somewhat in the tin before attempting to remove or all the glaze will fall off. If you leave it too long and the glaze has hardened too much to get the buns out then put the tin back in the oven for a bit to warm the glaze up just enough to move them.


Life’s a bowl of cherries

It’s been a luscious summer for fruit. The strawberries have been sweet right from the start; raspberries have been rich and tart; even supermarket nectarines and peaches have ripened properly and drip with juice once they’re ready to eat. And the cherries have been never-ending. We’ve had cherries from Oakchurch (our local fruit farm) for well over a month and all big, fat and juicy. At home we have a huge cherry tree just outside our back door which normally produces just enough pale cherries to feed the birds, but this year the crop was so large that the birds left plenty for us.

The bowl of beautiful bowl of fruit pictured above came from our big tree and went in to a New York Times torte. It got eaten before I had a chance to take a picture of the finished cake. The cake is so named because the recipe (I’m told) is re-printed year after year in the New York Times in response to constant reader requests. It’s simple, adaptable and delicious. It works well with cherries, plums, raspberries, cranberries (best mixed with some pears), nectarines, peaches – anything with juice and some acidity.

1 x 25cm loose-bottomed cake tin, greased and lined

700g cherries
100g butter
100g light muscovado sugar
2 eggs
80g plain white flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt

Juice of ½ a lemon
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 dsp Icing sugar

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 170C
  2. Cream butter and sugar together. Add flour, baking powder, salt and beaten eggs. Mix well.
  3. Spoon the batter into greased and lined tin and arrange the pitted cherries on top
  4. Sprinkle with a little lemon juice, cinnamon and sugar depending on how sweet the fruit is.
  5. Bake for about 40 to 50 minutes or until the sponge is springy to touch
  6. Serve either warm or at room temperature with a big dollop of crème fraiche.


Rhubarb streusel cake

For about half the year rhubarb is the only native ‘fruit’ being harvested in the UK. We start with the delicate pink-stemmed early forced rhubarb from Yorkshire just before Christmas and then by May anyone with a rhubarb plant will be wondering what triffid-like size it will have grown to by tomorrow. As we can tell by its form, rhubarb is not really a fruit but a vegetable. But it’s lengthy availability means that one of the many food quests of my life is to find the ultimate rhubarb cake recipe which we can then use in my cafes for a large part of the year. I think this may be it. It’s moist, rich and rhubarby. The clever bit about its construction is that the base is partially cooked before the rhubarb is added which stops it becoming claggy. At its best served when still warm, but also very fine at room temperature – I’ve just had a slice for breakfast.

It’s very slightly adapted from ‘Seasonal Secrets’, the outpouring of several decades cooking experience from Victoria O’Neil, Australian/Herefordian extraordinaire whose ‘Cooking with Class’ cookery school has delighted and engaged Herefordian cooks for many years.

18cm loose-bottomed cake tin, greased

for the middle
500g rhubarb – chopped into 1cm pieces
75g light muscovado sugar

for the base
75g ground almonds
75g self-raising flour
40g light muscovado sugar
125g butter – diced
1 egg, lightly beaten

for the streusel topping
100g light muscovado sugar (or a mix of whateve brown sugars you have to hand)
75g plain flour
75g cold butter, diced
40g flaked almonds

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C

2. Mix the chopped rhubarb with the sugar and spread on to a baking tray and put in the pre-heated oven for about 30 minutes until if feels tender but not disintegrated. Leave the rhubarb in the tray until you need it.

3. Prepare the base. Mix the all the base ingredients except the egg either in a food mixer of food processor until they look like breadcrumbs. Add the egg and mix again to make a dough. Spread the dough into the base of the greased cake tin and bake in the same oven that you’ve got the rhubarb in for 15 minutes. It will have begun to firm up but won’t look quite cooked.

4. Make the topping. Whizz the topping ingredients together – again either a food mixer or a food processor will do the job. If you want the flaked almonds to stay in large pieces then add them right at the end.

5. Assemble and bake the cake. Take the rhubarb out of the baking tray with a slotted spoon, leaving any liquid behind (which you can keep and use as a sauce) and spoon the rhubarb on to the partially cooked base. Spoon the topping evenly on top of the rhubarb. Cook the whole thing at 180C for 30 to 40 minutes until the topping is beginning to brown.

Try to leave it to cool a little before devouring.