Hot cross buns

A tray with sixteen hot cross buns, close together and baked, on top of a silicon mat for baking

This is a revised version of the original recipe from Nigella.

When we made these last year, we faithfully followed the recipe to the letter, and while the result was very nice, at heart we knew that it could have been better.

So this year I decided to repeat the recipe and not go for better but for PERFECT. I printed the recipe so I wouldn’t miss a beat while cooking, but afterwards I did so many things in slightly different ways and added so many annotations that it almost is a different recipe (while still being a recipe for hot cross buns), hence I am posting it here.

Two hot cross buns, halved, toasted and with butter on top, melted in parts and showing the dates and raisins
Two hot cross buns, ready to eat
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50/50 cardamom buns

Cardamom buns cooling down on a rack

I loosely followed this recipe from Felicity Cloake, but either I didn’t have enough of some of the ingredients or didn’t want to sacrifice an egg for painting. So I did a few replacements and alterations, detailed below.

The results are surprisingly good, given it’s the first time I made these. The flavour is spot on, exactly what I want from a cardamom bun. They are moist and buttery enough, and the slightly coarser texture from the wholemeal flour wasn’t really in the way, with all that is going on, as there are already the big cardamom seeds interrupting any pretence of smoothness in the dough.

Also, since they have whole grains rather than being 100% refined flour, they are totally healthy 😆 (just ignore the sugar, and maybe the butter, eh??) 🥦🥬🥒

Cardamom buns cooling down on a rack
Cardamom buns cooling down on a rack
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Asian-Inspired Experiments

Tea-cured eggs and tofu

For whatever reason, this cold and dark month we having been craving Asian flavours. Perhaps it is the weather, or more likely, inspired by our Christmas present to ourselves; the new Fuchsia Dunlop book called “Invitation to a Banquet“.

The book is fascinating and we are working through it very slowly, savouring each chapter. One aspect that Fuchsia makes clear is that Chinese food is very misunderstood; for example most meals will have a balance of flavours, textures and ingredients, and when people feel unwell it is usually because they haven’t thought about this balance when ordering.

We are trying to bring this theme into our cooking, and also trying not to destroy the flavours of the underlying food but enhance them with Chinese flavours.

Experiment number 1: tea-cured eggs and tofu

We made a broth with a combination of black tea and various aromatics; star anise, soy sauce, sugar, cinnamon, bay leaves, and szechuan pepper. We marinated a block of tofu in one half of the broth, and marinated boiled eggs in the other half (after cracking the shells of the boiled eggs).

After 24 hours we were very curious to see the result, and prepared a dinner of rice, pak choi and peppers lightly fried in ginger and a touch of mushroom sauce, and then lightly warmed through the tofu and added the tofu and eggs to our bowl. The result was a light and tasty dinner!

The tofu took more of the flavour than the eggs but both had a delicious hint of tea broth slightly tickling our tongues! Beautiful – and not heavy either!

Tea-cured tofu
Tea-cured tofu

Experiment number 2: Szechuan-spiced fried tofu, broccoli in a ginger and mushroom sauce served with a chilli and soy dressing

We really enjoyed the subtlety of the ginger fried pak choi and wanted to apply the same method to other greens. So we steamed some long-stemmed broccoli in the microwave and then gently stir fried it with lots of fresh ginger and a touch of mushroom sauce.

We wanted some protein, so out came the tofu. First, we lightly dry-fried and ground about a teaspoon of Szechuan pepper. Next, we added the ground pepper to a couple of tablespoons of cornflour and a teaspoon of sugar. Then we diced the tofu, lightly patted it with a kitchen towel to absorb a bit of surface liquid and coated the tofu in the cornflour mixture. The tofu was then fried in a very shallow amount of oil, until it started to become slightly golden and crusty.

For the dressing, we mixed a bit of spicy chilli oil with soy and just a pinch of sugar.

Then we served it all together with some brown rice – delicious!

Szechuan-spiced fried tofu, broccoli in a ginger and mushroom sauce served with a chilli and soy dressing
Szechuan-spiced fried tofu, broccoli in a ginger and mushroom sauce served with a chilli and soy dressing

Experiment number 3: cheese and kimchi okonomiyaki

Now, this one is not particularly balanced! So not really following the principles mentioned by Fuchsia…but tasty anyway! And a Japanese comfort food classic!

We are still working through our beautiful kimchi, and had a brainwave one night when trying to think what we could make with whatever we had in the cupboards and fridge. We have okonomiyaki sauces from a prior experiment, so then it became quite easy to prepare!

We made a batter with eggs, flour, dashi and a bit of seasoning, thinly sliced up some cabbage and fried it, added grated cheese, kimchi and the batter to the pan, and let it cook through. Once cooked we added our various okonomiyaki toppings and then we were done!

It was pretty filling so someone had part of theirs for leftovers the next day…!

Cheese and kimchi okonomiyaki
Cheese and kimchi okonomiyaki

Fogassa d’Ontinyent

A fogassa just out of the oven - a round bun with almonds and walnuts on top and sugar on top

This is an enriched sweet bun which also happens to be one of my absolutely favourite Valencian sweets. It has everything you could wish on an autumn bun: softness and fluffiness, aromas, caramelised nuts, juicy raisins… EVERYTHING!

It is my hometown’s local take on the slightly more widely known “Fogassa de Tots Sants” i.e. All Saints’ Fogassa, which was eaten on that day before going to the graveyard to pay respect to the dead. Nowadays you can buy it during the whole month, and you might even convince a local baker to make you one out of season (por encargo).

What I have also found is that by virtue of being so extremely local, the recipe isn’t readily available online or in books, and it has taken me about six iterations to come up with a recipe that tastes how I remember it tasted. In fact, the pictures for this will show you how I ended making four fogasses last week-end, trying two flours and two yeast amounts. I am that scientifically committed to the quest for the perfect fogassa!

And I am also finally pleased with the results and happy to share! 😎

A fogassa sliced open, so we can see the soft fluffy crumb with the ocassional raisin and aniseed. There are almonds and sugar on top
Nice fluffy crumb
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Cauliflower fritters

Cauliflower fritters, with salad and black tahini sauce

I bought some spices online, and an interesting looking recipe by Susie Morrison (Gourmet Glow) was included in the box. I did not have any better ideas for dinner, so I thought: why not try this?

What a success! We’ve made several times already, and I predict there will be more repeats (if only because we’ve bought more za’atar—all these repeats depleted our stock!)

That said, the original instructions confused me a bit, and they also suggested using some ingredients I did not have at hand, so this is my own interpretation, adjusted to my own way of cooking.

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