I love making birthday cakes for others. Often it’s an excuse to dig into my prized stash of good quality chocolate or ground nuts. Most of us will be celebrating our birthdays without fanfare this year and so a delivered cake becomes a small symbolic mark of recognition in lieu of a family gathering. During this pandemic, I’ve been nervously eagle eyeing my exotic ingredient stash. It’s easy enough to refill the dark cooking chocolate container, which is sometimes subject to a midnight raid, but my hazelnut and almond meal supplies are precious commodities, not so easily sourced. I’ve made two versions of this Italian style torta over the last year. One was a classic Torta di Nocciole, famous in Piedmonte, and light as a feather, with only four ingredients, butter, sugar, eggs and ground hazelnut. This version is much richer, with the addition of dark chocolate. It stays fresh under a glass dome and keeps well for a week. Unlike the classic Reine de Saba which tends to sink and crack a little, this cake is firmer and stands tall, so long as you use the recommended sized tin and just laid eggs. It’s very easy to make for that special person in your life and tastes a lot like Baci. xxx
Torta di Cioccolato e Nocciole (senza farina) Flourless chocolate and hazelnut cake.
200g dark chocolate, 70%, chopped
150g butter, chopped
6 eggs, separated
2/3 cup caster sugar
1 1/2 cups hazelnut meal
double cream, to serve
Preheat oven to 170°C/150°C fan-forced. Grease a 6cm-deep, 20cm round cake pan. Line base and sides with baking paper.
Combine chocolate and butter in a bowl and melt gently over a saucepan containing water. Cook over low heat, making sure the base of your bowl doesn’t touch the hot water. Stir until melted and set aside to cool slightly.
Place egg yolks and sugar in a bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat until thick, pale and creamy. Add the chocolate mixture. Beat to combine. Add hazelnut meal. Beat to combine.
Place eggwhites in another bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat until soft peaks form. Using a metal spoon, stir one-third of eggwhites into chocolate mixture. Gently fold remaining eggwhite through chocolate mixture.
Pour mixture into prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out cleanly. Stand in pan for 10 minutes. Turn out onto a wire rack to cool.
Same Same but Different is a wonderful Balinese-English expression that was devised many years ago by a streetwise Balinese salesperson. It spread quickly among the shopkeepers and Mr T still wears his 10 year old Same Same But Different T shirt which always cracks me up. Same same on the front, But Different on the back. I love this expression: it captures the humour and inventiveness of the Balinese people and their ingenuity at devising new ways to lure a few dollars from the mindless tourist.
I often think about this crazy expression when imagining ways to use eggplants. Our usual standby dish is eggplant parmigiana, that well loved classic with an interesting culinary history. ¹ Involtini di Melanzane, or eggplant rolls, require very similar ingredients to the former classic, and yet the dish seems much lighter and more interesting. Same same but different.
The following recipe is by Karen Martini. The quick process of flouring and egging the eggplant slices before frying prevents them from absorbing too much olive oil, resulting in a much lighter dish. The original recipe uses a simple tomato passata for the sauce. I found this too bland. A more flavoursome dish results from making a garlic and oregano laced tomato ragù, but if you are in a hurry, go for the bottled passata.
Melanzane Involtini. – eggplant rolls ( serves 4 as a main, 6 as a starter)
2 large eggplants
75g plain flour
olive oil, for frying
salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons currants, soaked in red-wine vinegar for 5 minutes, then drained
40g grated parmesan
200g mozzarella, cut into 1cm thick sticks ( or grated)
extra virgin olive oil
500ml tomato passata ( 2 cups) ( see notes above)
3 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
50g pine nuts
3 tablespoons chunky fresh breadcrumbs
In a small bowl, lightly beat 2 large eggs with 1 tablespoon of water. Peel the eggplants to create a striped effect, then cut lengthways into 1 cm thick slices. Dust the eggplant slices with flour, then dip into egg wash. Heat olive oil in a large heavy based frying pan over high heat. Cook eggplant slices for 1-2 minutes on each side until golden. Drain well on kitchen paper.
In a medium bowl, mix the ricotta with remaining egg. Season with salt and pepper. add the drained currants and half the parmesan and stir to combine. Spoon about 1 tablespoon of this mixture onto each eggplant slice. Add a little mozzarella and roll up tightly.
Preheat oven to 170ºC. Brush the base of a large ovenproof dish with 1 tablespoon of EV olive oil. Spread half the tomato passata or ragù in base of dish. Place the eggplant rolls on the sauce, seam side down, so they don’t unroll. Drizzle with remaining oil, spoon over the remaining sauce and sprinkle with parmesan.
Combine the chopped parsley, pine nuts and breadcrumbs in a small bowl. Sprinkle over the top. Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes. Remove foil and bake for a further 10 minutes or until cheese is melted. and top golden.
Sometimes it occurs to me that writing about food seems inconsequential, perhaps even pointless, when the world has become so dark. I’m also aware that blogging is a pastime for the well- off, those like me who have more time, money, food, and housing security than most people in the world. As our world staggers from one disaster to the next, the deep and underlying fissures in society are being exposed. Environmental disasters caused by climate inaction, the current pandemic which has not yet run its course, imbecilic, corrupt and dangerous national leadership in many countries, shifts in global trading patterns, a potential American civil war, ongoing structural and institutional racism, gender inequality and political manipulation in the elections in so called democracies- the list of modern ills seems infinite. The only safe place is in the kitchen, where the focus is directed towards family, nourishment, and the preservation of ancient food cultures.
Although I’m still reticent to venture out, especially for the time wasting amusement gained by shopping for more things I don’t need, whether they are new or pre-owned, I have enjoyed buying a few things online, including some kitchen ware, and may continue to shop this way in the future. I was also delighted when some social gathering restrictions were eased and I could see my family again. No hugs yet but at least we can eat and drink in the same room. We have also enjoyed one dinner away from home with friends. Sitting at distant ends of the table, the large vegetarian lasagne was a joy to behold and eat- at last something not made by me or Tranquillo.
My granddaughter, Daisy, has been a delightful presence in my kitchen. “Can I help?”or “What are you cooking?” are some of her words that I love to hear, as is the sound of her small cooking stool being dragged into place at the bench. She chops, crumbs, mixes, and tastes for correct seasoning and balance. She prefers anchovies to sweet things, and can wax lyrical about her favourite dish, a white bean and silver beet soup. From the age of two, her refined sense of smell has led her to the kitchen: she’s a natural chef with a strong desire to learn. Now that she is ‘allowed’ to come here for her home schooling, we’ve enjoyed more time together in the kitchen: this has been the up side of the pandemic for me. After we finish the set school tasks, we reward ourselves with some good cooking. Last week she made her own Kolokithopita, mastering the triangular shape, while I rabbited on about equilateral triangles, trying to slip in some math. Kolokithopita is a Greek pie stuffing using pumpkin. I simply substitute some oven baked pumpkin for the spinach in a spanakopita recipe, adding lots of fresh herbs and chopped spring onions. Daisy likes making these mainly because of the smell of the warm melted butter used to paint the pastry sheets. What a nose.
I’ve been baking sourdough bread for 7 years, with four loaves baked weekly along with three large tray pizzas which are delivered to my extended family each Wednesday. Storage of flour and baking equipment was becoming a huge problem, along with RSI in my arms caused by the unusually high kitchen benches. I’ve been longing for a kitchen renovation but am fearful of the expense involved. The solution came in the form of an online purchase of an Ikea stainless steel trolley and a large bread making board. The lot is now wheeled to my dining table where I can work at the right height for dough handling, which for me is around 75 cms.
The lime trees are still covered with fruit. This week I’ve begun an Indian style lime pickle. Below, a bowl of sliced and salted limes, waiting for the next step. Meanwhile, home grown lemons are preserved in salt. Ancient preservation traditions from India to the Middle East.
first step in lime pickle
One of my favourite pasta dishes in winter is Pantacce, bietola, gorgonzolaenoce. I found a small piece of blue cheese hiding in the fridge, which I melted into some cream, tossed in a handful of toasted walnuts, and cooked the chopped silver beet briefly in the same pot as the pasta. The components came together in a deep frying pan. A more precise recipe can be found on my post here.
I posted these Friday Night Indian potatoes last week here: they were popular, and can be whipped up in no time.
Thanks to the abundant rainfall over the first few months of summer and autumn this year, most fruit crops were plentiful, with much larger sized fruit than previous years. Our district received more rain in the first four months of 2020 than the total rainfall for the entire year of 2019. I am thankful that the drought is over. I’m still picking unripe figs and tomatoes on the last day of autumn. Meanwhile my spare fridge is laden with large quinces and frozen plums. Although I made plenty of quince concoctions during the picking season, the stored fruit are wonderful to use during winter in cakes and puddings.
I first made this cake in May 2016 and it has evolved a little over the years. It’s a large cake to share on a Sunday for breakfast after a family walk or for elevenses. If you want to alter the ratio of almond meal to SR flour, by all means do so, bearing in mind that you may need to add a little bi- carb soda to your mix if you remove too much of the SR flour.
Sunday Quince and Almond Cake. Serves 10
250 g butter, room temperature
275 gr caster sugar
1 teaspoon finely zested lemon rind
90 gr almond meal
250 ml cup of milk
300 gr SR flour
2 + poached quinces, drained and cut into slices, liquid reserved.
Poach your quinces the day before baking. Poached quinces last well in a covered container for a few weeks submerged under the poaching liquid. They take around 6 hours to turn ruby red. Consider making more than you need for this recipe.
Preheat oven to 180°C or 160°C fan forced. Grease base and sides of a 22-24 cm springform pan and line with baking paper.
Use an electric mixer with a paddle attachment to beat butter, sugar and lemon rind in a bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Stir in the almond meal. Then stir in milk and flour, alternating. Spoon 2/3 of batter into prepared pan. Top with half of quince. Top with remaining batter. Top with remaining quince. Bake for 1 hr 20 mins or until a skewer inserted in centre comes out clean. Stand in pan for 10 mins, then remove sides of pan.
Serve cake warm or at room temperature with cream and reduced, thickened quince syrup or more simply with sifted icing sugar. It keeps well for a few days.
Some of you have returned to work, some of you never left, and some are still working from home. Despite the changing nature of work and the uncertainties that plague our lives, Friday night is knock off night, a call for simple food, perhaps fish and chips from the local take away, or the equivalent version cooked at home. I’ve always struggled with chip cooking, but can recommend these Indian fried potatoes as a quick and tasty substitute. These are irresistible on their own. Make a big pile and forget about the fish.
Indian style fried potatoes with 5 seeds. This recipe serves 3 as a snack or a side. Double the ingredients for a decent size, they will all be eaten in a flash, I promise.
500 gr potatoes. I used Desiree potatoes today.
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons panch phoran, ( a blend of 5 whole seeds including cumin, fennel, mustard, nigella and fenugreek seeds)
3/4 teaspoons turmeric powder
salt to taste
dried chilli flakes to taste
a handful of chopped fresh coriander
Peel the potatoes and cut into chunks. Cook in boiling salted water until just done.
Place the oil and seeds in a medium non stick frying pan and fry over a low heat for a minute or so, then add the turmeric, chilli and salt. Stir about, the add the potatoes, gently turning them so that they are coated in the spices. Cook over a low heat for a few minutes, turning gently, then turn up the heat so that they form a nice golden brown crust on both sides. when done to your satisfaction, serve, garnished with chopped coriander.
Note- if you don’t have panch phoron on hand, raid the seeds in your spice cupboard and create your own blend.
Recipe adapted from Indian Food made Easy, Anjum Anand. 2007 a very handy collection.
I’m always in search of a better prawn curry than the one I made last time, but the search is over, for a while at least. I’ve made many a good prawn curry along the way, Prawn Jingha Masala, various Keralan prawn curries with coconut milk and fresh curry leaves, prawn Malabar and north Indian masalas, and have finally settled on Prawn Balchao, a prawn curry from Goa. The combination of spice and vinegar makes this gravy really appealing on a cold night. The recipe is relatively simple. Once you’ve made the paste, the rest follows within minutes. During lockdown times, I’ve used frozen prawn cutlets ( large Australian prawns that have been pre-shelled and frozen on board fishing trawlers) and now keep a supply stashed in the freezer especially for this curry.
Prawn Balchao for 2-4 or more with other dishes.
The spice paste
8g ginger, peeled
15 g garlic, peeled
5 dried mild red chillies
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 tablespoon brown mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 small onion, peeled, finely chopped
3 tomatoes, finely chopped ( or use canned tomatoes with only a tiny part of the juice- about 3/4 cup)
1 green chilli, left whole
3-4 tablespoons malt or red wine vinegar
1 tsp sugar
salt to taste
300 g raw prawn meat ( this is the shelled weight)
Make a paste of the ginger, red chillies, and all the spices. I find a large mortar and pestle is the best tool for this job. You can produce a fine paste with a couple of minutes of banging and grinding. A food processor is too large for a paste this small. Add a little water to the paste towards the end to achieve a fine texture.
Heat the oil in a large non stick wok and fry the onion gently until golden. Add the tomatoes and green chilli and fry for about 10-12 minutes over a moderate heat until the mixture becomes a deep red colour. Add a splash of water if the pan becomes dry.
Add the spice paste and fry for 5 minutes until the oil separates. Add the vinegar, sugar and salt. Cook another minute and taste for a balance of flavours. adjust the salt if needed. Add the prawns and cook for 2 minutes or until cooked through. At this point, if the curry is too dry, you can loosen it with water, or cream. The latter additions are not so authentic, but I like a wet gravy in this curry and so recommend loosening the mixture.
Serve with rice and other lovely sides, with some papadum or naan.
Recipe adapted from Indian Food Made Easy, Anjum Anand. 2007. A very handy little book.
As promised, it’s curry recipe time. But first let me say a few words about that ubiquitous word ‘curry’. The word Curry is simply the anglicised form of the Tamil word kaṟi meaning ‘sauce’ or ‘relish for rice’. This makes sense as rice is central to all Indian meals, as it is in other parts of Asia, and the ‘curries’ are often presented in small bowls to add to your rice and not the other way around. If you order a large Thali in India, you will be offered unlimited rice along with little teacup sized scoops of spicy and bland accompaniments- perhaps some mild chickpeas flavoured with sour tamarind, a crunchy fried fingerling, some bland soupy dal, or a dry curry of spicy potato or cauliflower, along with some hot chutney and dahi (plain yoghurt). A good Indian curry recipe involves subtlety in spicing, variation in texture and balance. Some people associate the word curry with heat, but this is a misconception: there are more mildly spiced aromatic curries than hot versions. There are no prizes for choking on chilli, eyes weeping in pain. A good banquet of curries might include one hot dish such as a Madras or Vindaloo, alongside others that are medium or mildly spiced, with some wet and some dry dishes.
Unfortunately, there’s no chance for a banquet here any time soon, given the restrictions on social gathering. So it’s down to one curry at a time in this household of two, made with care, and served with all the sides- basmati jeera rice, naan, chutney and dahi. We have time on our side.
Muttar Paneer ( peas and curd) Serves 4 or more as part of a banquet
This is a two part recipe. The first step involves making the curd (paneer) which can made the day before, or anytime up to 3 hours before you make the curry. The recipe for paneer, including photos of the process, follows this main recipe.
4 Tables neutral flavoured oil, such as canola or a mixture of half oil and half ghee ( my preference for a richer sauce)
250 gr paneer, cut into 2.5cm cubes
6 or more cardamom pods, bruised
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tsp garlic puree*
2 tsp ginger puree*
2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2- 1 tsp chilli powder
200 gr canned tomatoes or fresh tomatoes with skins removed, finely chopped.
350 gr whey or water
1 tsp salt
125 gr frozen peas
1/2 tsp garam masala
2 Tblsp cream
2 Tblsp chopped coriander leaves
Heat half the oil and ghee in a medium sized heavy based saucepan over medium heat. Add the paneer, sprinkling with a few pinches of turmeric if you wish. Cook till golden brown, turning gently. Remove and drain.
Add the remaining oil to the same saucepan. Add the cardamom, stir about for a few seconds, then add the onion,and cook, stirring frequently for 5 minutes, lowering the heat if need be, till soft. Add the garlic and ginger, and cook, stirring frequently for 2 more minutes or until the onion is soft and a pale golden colour.
Add the ground coriander, turmeric and chilli powder and stir for 1 minute. Then add the chopped tomatoes and their juice, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 4- 5 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons of whey, (or water if you’ve used a commercial paneer ) stirring frequently until the oil separates from the spice paste. Then add the rest of the liquid, and salt. Bring to the boil, the reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 7-8 minutes.
Add the paneer and peas to simmer gently for 5 minutes. Stir in the garam masala and cream and remove from heat. Sprinkle with chopped fresh coriander if you happen to have some. Mint works well too.
Serve with rice, naan and thin yoghurt or raita.
* the best way to produce ginger puree is grating it on a fine microplane, while garlic puree is best made bashed in a mortar and pestle. If I’m making a few different curries, I start with this step and make a bulk lot of each.
Making paneer is the one of the easiest and most satisfying things to do. Once you’ve made your own, you’ll never go back to those tough blocks sealed in plastic found in the fridges of Indian Delis. You will also be able to use the whey in your curry, so nothing is wasted. The whey keeps well for over a week and can be used in all sorts of curries and soups.
Ingredients for paneer to yield around 250 gr
2 litres full cream milk
3 tablespoons strained lemon juice
Boil the milk, making sure that it just reaches boiling point and doesn’t develop a skin or begin to froth. Stir occasionally while doing this. Turn off the heat, add the lemon juice and stir about until curds and whey separate. Leave it for 5 minutes, then tip into a muslin lined strainer over a bowl. The bowl will collect the whey. Wrap the curds tightly in the cloth, making a flattish shape, then place in the fridge on a plate with a heavy weight on top. Keep the whey and store in a bottle. The curd will be ready to use in 3 hours. Cut as required.
The pics below show the stages of paneer making. The whole process takes less than 10 minutes. The result is worth it.
The following chart gives an approximate guide of yield of paneer ( curd cheese) to milk. I used 1 litre of full cream milk for my most recent batch which produced 130 gr of paneer, enough for a large curry for two. The time before, my batch of 2 litres of milk produced a yield of 260 gr which is consistent, using full fat generic brand supermarket milk . UHT milk is not recommended.
For Maree Tink, who also enjoys making Muttar Paneer.
India has the most desirable array of street food and snacks. I love them all. Samosa, pakora, bhajii, bonda, aloo chat, and vada are just a few of the Indian treats whose names have become familiar to many Australians over the last 40 years. I enjoy going to the nearby Monday market ( or rather I did, back in the pre-Covid days when big junk markets were still operating ) just to visit the colourful Indian Sikh tent for a morning snack, usually a freshly made samosa, or even better, a plate of samosa chat, a plate brimming with hot chana masala, topped with a samosa, the pyramid draped with yoghurt, green and tamarind chutneys. Balancing the loaded paper plate while standing was always a fearful business. Samosa chat covers late breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea in one go. Most suburban Indian restaurants offer a few standard snacks as starters on their menus but there’s a catch here. Start with a few tempting aloo bhaji, samosa orpakora and there’s not much room for mains.
Pakoras make the best afternoon tea or accompaniment to beer. I’m yet to meet someone who doesn’t love them. When I make pakoras, the wolves appear from nowhere. Lust and greed overcome good manners. Just have pity on the poor cook chained to the stove, making more on demand. If you are that cook, I advise you to keep a saucer of dipping sauce handy, so that you can eat as you go and not miss out.
Over the years, I’ve adapted my pakora batter recipe. In the 1980s, I used recipes by Charmaine Solomon and Jacki Passmore, my only Indian cookbooks at that time. Since then, my Indian collection has expanded, now numbering around 15 but who is counting. The variation on the pakora theme is enormous. Some recipes include a little self raising flour to the base of besan flour ( chick pea flour) providing more puff to the batter. Others add nigella seeds, ajwaiin seeds, garam masala, salt, sliced green chilli, chopped garlic, chilli powder. Everyone’s Indian grandmother has the most authentic recipe, I’m sure. I add a little rice flour to my mixture which gives the batter more crunch. Sometimes I play with a mixture of besan flour and very fine red lentil flour, especially when making onion bhaji, a close relative of the pakora. It’s easier to just wing it with additions so long as you start with around one cup of besan flour in your mixing bowl. The following recipe is a good version.
Pakora Batter Recipe
120 gr of besan flour ( or 100 gr besan plus 20 gr rice flour)
1 teaspoon ajwaiin seeds
1 teaspoon chilli powder
2 teaspoons white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
Mix the ingredients in a bowl. Make a well in the centre and gradually add 275 ml of water to the batter while whisking. The batter should be thickish but loose enough to coat the back of the spoon and gently drip down.
Heat some canola oil in a wok, or heavy based saucepan. Don’t skimp on the depth of the oil- your pakhoras need to be deep fried and must be covered. Test the heat of the oil by adding a little batter to see if it’s ready. Coat individual vegetable pieces, such as eggplant, potato onion rings, cauliflower or broccoli with the batter and deep fry until cooked through and dark golden in colour. If you are making mixed vegetable pakora, as shown in the picture below, chop 250 gr vegetables and mix through the batter before frying spoonfuls. My last combination included diced eggplant, finely shredded silverbeet ( chard) and thinly sliced and halved onion rings.
Green Sauce Recipe
25 gr mint leaves, chopped
25 gr coriander leaves, chopped
2 green chillies, chopped
1 garlic chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 Tbls sugar
1 teas salt
125 g ( 1/2 cup) plain yoghurt
Place in a food processor and blend till smooth. Store in fridge for 30 minutes to allow the faavours to settle before use. Make the sauce before the pakora. If herbs are in short supply, serve with yoghurt or a commercial chutney, thinned down with yoghurt. My kids like pakora dipped in soy sauce, totally inauthentic but still good.
The batter makes and excellent coating for deep fried, battered fish. I often add some turmeric if using with fish.
The recipes are based on two found in Spice Kitchen, Ragini Dey, 2013.
A big loud applause to Melbourne’s Sikh Volunteers Australia, who make and deliver 650 meals each day to vulnerable people within the community. They are currently building a larger kitchen. They have a facebook page with details for donations and many happy photos.
If I knew you were coming I’d ‘ve baked a cake. Sometimes the strangest songs jump into my head for no particular reason. I like to think of them as song pop- ups. This cute but slightly annoying song, recorded by Eileen Barton in January 1950, must have been played often by my parents along the way, an earworm plant from childhood. There’s fat chance of any one coming here for at least another month if not longer. Despite isolation, or in spite of it perhaps, the cake baking continues once a week.
Most of my cakes are flour free. After all those Hot Cross buns this Easter, I’m enjoying this subtle flavoured flourless cheese cake, with its evocative notes of orange, reminding me of Sicily. If you live in a two or three person household, small cakes of 18-20 cm in circumference are the best size to bake when no one is knocking at your door or dining at your table. This cake keeps well for a few days under a cake dome or lidded container in the cooler months, or in the fridge during summer.
Torta Siciliana di Ricotta, Arancia e Mandorle.
250 gr ricotta cheese, firm
4 large eggs, separated
1 tsp + Cointreau or other orange liqueur
175 gr caster sugar
220 gr almond meal
finely zested rind of 1 orange
1 Tbles orange juice
flaked almonds for the top
icing sugar to dust.
Preheat oven to 160ºc. Grease and line a 20 cm springform cake tin.
Beat together the ricotta, egg yolks, and sugar in a stand mixer, making sure the mixture is completely smooth. Add the liqueur and orange juice, stir through, then add the almond meal, mixing well by hand to incorporate.
Beat the egg whites in a clean bowl till soft peaks form. Fold in a few tablespoons into the almond mixture to loosen it. Then gently fold in the remaining eggs whites.
Spread into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the top with almond flakes. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
Cool then release onto a wire rack to cool completely. Dust with icing sugar.
Well, well, well, look who’s here. I haven’t seen you in many a year. If I knew you were comin’ I’d ‘ve baked a cake, baked a cake, baked a cake. If I knew you were comin’ I’d ‘ve baked a cake. How-ja do. How-ja do, How-ja do.
Had you dropped me a letter I’d ‘ve hired a band, grandest band in the land. Had you dropped me a letter I’d ‘ve hired a band and spread the welcome mat for you.
Perhaps even more so during times of uncertainty, we are inclined to seek out tradition as a means of connecting with the past. This seems to be the case with food during the global pandemic: suddenly everyone has turned to bread making, if they can get hold of any decent flour that is. Festive breads are loaded with symbolic connection but the Hot Cross Bun definitely takes the cake for its conspicuous association with Christian mythology. The bun marks the end of Lent while the cross represents the crucifixion of Jesus and the spices signify the spices used for embalming. In Australia, Hot Cross buns land in the supermarkets on Boxing day, December 26 and continue through the new year to Easter and beyond. Most children have no idea what the cross stands for. When I inform them of the crucifixion story, they look aghast and reply ‘that’s gross’. I have to agree with them, but remove the cross, that thick part holding the sweet glaze on the top, the favourite side, and there goes your tradition, and another reason not to learn how to bake festive and seasonal foods, or learn about how food is connected to history and legend.
Over the last week, I’ve attempted four different HC bun recipes. That week might have been 11 days long because I’ve lost all track of time. Thank God it’s Easter Sunday today, now I have a reference point for a while. My first two attempts were both sourdough buns requiring a long period of fermentation. Pande Ramerino, a Tuscan Easter bun, is usually made with either yeast or a biga. I adapted this recipe to sourdough, making it much easier on the digestion. The buns contain raisins and are flavoured with rosemary oil, the tops crossed with a tic tac toe pattern before glazing. They are lovely to eat, but I missed the spice, that sweet and ancient aroma of a bun warming in the oven for breakfast.
The next sourdough recipe came from a sourdough baking group of which I am a member. The dough turned out to be so difficult to handle and ended up as a Hot Cross Focaccia, which tasted fine, but did not provide the sense of tradition I was searching for, despite the sticky quince glaze used on top. If a recipe is not pleasurable and reasonably intuitive to make, and this is my golden rule for bun making, I don’t repeat it. If at first you don’t succeed, give up.
tasty, but missing the bun shape.
The next two buns were yeast based. If you can eat yeasted products without suffering indigestion from the fast ferment, then this is the best way to go at Easter. The first one came from the pastry chef, Darren Puchase, of Burch and Puchase Sweet studio in Melbourne, whose recipe was recently published in the New Daily. The recipe is easy to follow, though I was tentative about the whopping use of dry yeast in the recipe. ( 28 gr of yeast to 400 gr of flour plus other ingredients). The recipe works very well. You can make them in around 3 hours all up. I broke a little with tradition and opted for an XR symbol (Extinction Rebellion) on top. They are now called the XR buns here, a reminder that climate action is still number one priority for our mother earth.
The final recipe came from Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial who has been working variations of her yeasted HC bun for years. The buns were easy to make, and using a stand mixer made the process even faster. Her two recipes can be found here and here.
So which buns were the best? The Tuscan buns lasted well, and being sourdough, were still edible on the third day. The Focaccia -come- bun had a lovely texture but the recipe was far too wet and difficult to shape for my liking. The other two yeasted buns were satisfactory, and good for cooks who have not branched out into the world of sourdough. I find yeasted breads hard to eat, with the taste of unfermented flour too up front on the palate for my liking. Yeasted buns also dry out too quickly. So it’s back to the drawing board, as I search for an achievable and satisfactory sourdough Hot Cross Bun next year. Let us hope that next April will be a safer and happier place for the world.
Auguri di Buona Pasqua 2020. State a Casa. Happy Easter Greetings 2020, Stay at Home.