Alright, so the title of this post is a little misleading. I’m not entirely sure it would be possible to make healthy hot cross buns, as there is no way of getting around it- they are a treat. But you can make them a bit healthIER. I’ve tried to lighten them up a little with the addition of spelt flour, oats, agave and grated apple for sweetness and oil instead of butter for richness. There’s still plenty of spice there and if you pop them in the toaster, you’ve got a perfect Easter breakfast. This was originally a recipe I created for Women’s Health Magazine. You can see it and other healthy treats here. Make a large batch then freeze the rest for later.
Lighter Hot Cross Buns
Makes 16 buns
You will need:
500ml skimmed milk or dairy-free alternative
4 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
zest of 1 lemon
zest of 2 oranges
300g spelt flour
300g strong white bread flour, plus about 100g extra for kneading and the crosses
1 tsp salt
1 x 7g sachet fast action yeast
50ml sunflower oil
3 tbsp agave nectar
1 large egg, beaten
1 apple, coarsely grated
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp apricot or fig jam, ideally a no added sugar brand
1. Bring the milk to boil with the cardamom pods, cloves, lemon zest and zest of 1 orange. Set to one side and allow to cool to blood temperature. Meanwhile, sift the flours and salt into a large mixing bowl. Tip in the oats, yeast, oil, agave and beaten egg. Once the milk has cooled, remove the cloves and cardamom and pour into the bowl.
2. Mix together until the ingredients are well incorporated. Then tip the dough onto a generously floured work surface and knead for a good 10 minutes, either by hand or using the dough attachment of a table top mixer. It will seem like a very wet dough, but keep working it, slapping it onto the work surface to develop the gluten. It will eventually come together to form a sticky, but elastic dough. Place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a tea towel. Leave to prove in warmish place for about 1 hour, until risen.
3. Tip the dough out onto a floured work surface and flatten slightly. Mix together the apple, cinnamon, currants and remaining orange zest and sprinkle over the dough. Knead briefly to distribute all the ingredients. Divide the dough into 16 even pieces and roll into smooth balls. Arrange the buns on 2 lightly oiled baking sheets in rows of 4, about 1 cm apart. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for a further hour.
4. Heat the oven to 220C/fan 200/gas mark 7. In a small bowl mix together 30g of flour with 2 ½- 3 tbsp water, adding the water gradually until you have a thick paste. Scrape into a small sandwich bag. Once the buns have risen and puffed up, cut off the tip of one corner of the sandwich bag and use to pipe crosses over the buns. Place in the oven and bake for 15 minutes, swapping shelves halfway through. Meanwhile, heat the jam with 2 tbsp of water in a small pan until the jam has melted and is syrupy. Sieve into a small bowl and use to brush over the buns as soon as they come out of the oven. Transfer the buns to a wire rack and allow to cool before tucking in.
It’s Shrove Tuesday and Pancake Day! An absolutely brilliant British institution- why don’t all nations have a dedicated day for eating pancakes? We generally go to town and have some savoury (generally stuffed and baked) followed by a few (or perhaps more than a few) with sugar, lemon, melted chocolate, ice cream… It is only once year, after all.
In Sweden, pancake day isn’t nearly as big as it is in the UK. Instead, they have semlor- wonderful cardamom-scented buns, filled with marzipan and whipped cream especially for Shrove Tuesday. So fair play, really. However, when it comes to pancakes, the Swedes have got something right. It’s called a pancake cake. And it is exactly what it says on the tin- a stack of pancakes layered with fillings, most often cream and berries, and served as a cake with messy slices cut out of it.
One of my favourite books as a child was a beautifully illustrated story book called the Pancake Cake about Mr Pettson and his cat, Findus. For the cat’s birthday, Pettson sets out to make a pancake cake. For this he needs flour, which involves going to the shop. But his bicycle has a flat tyre and the pump is locked in a shed. And the key for the shed is at the bottom of a well, so they need a ladder. But the ladder is in a field with an angry bull in it. So they have to distract the bull, to get the ladder to get the key to get into the shed to get the pump to… you get the picture. Hilarity ensues.
This is my hat tip to Pettson and Findus. A very simple blueberry and lemon flavoured pancake cake that can be made as outrageously tall as you like. For a smaller cake, simply halve the recipe.
Blueberry and Lemon Pancake Cake
You will need:
400g plain flour
4 eggs, beaten
4 tbsp melted butter plus more for frying
2 lemons, zested and juiced
290ml double cream
blueberry jam- or your favourite jam, raspberry and strawberry also work very well
blueberries, to serve
1. To make the pancake batter, sift the flour into a large bowl along with a pinch of salt. Make a well and add the eggs, milk, butter and 100ml of water. Whisk together until you have a thick batter. Add most of the zest and a squeeze of lemon juice. Set to one side for about 20 minutes to let any bubbles or lumps of flour settle.
2. Fry your pancakes. For this cake I used a small frying pan, but you could just as well use a large one. Melt a little butter in a hot pan and add half a ladle full of the batter. Immediately swirl the pan around to evenly disperse the mixture. Once bubbles start to appear on the surface and the bottom seems dry, flip the pancake over using a spatula. Fry for another minute or so. This first pancake is likely to be a disaster- this is the universal pancake rule. Eat it immediately sprinkled with sugar and then carry on making more pancakes. As you can gain confidence, you can try having two pans on the go at the same time and perhaps doing some pancake flips?
3. Allow your pancakes to cool completely on a wire rack. Whip your cream quite stiffly, adding a little squeeze of lemon juice and any remaining zest. Sweeten if you like. Layer the pancakes on a serving plate, alternating with the jam, cream and berries. Finish by spreading the top layer with cream and decorating with more blueberries and perhaps a sprig of mint.
I’ve become a bit of a dab hand when it comes to cheesy Valentine’s bakes. I recently made this loaf cake for work but couldn’t stop there so kept going with this Pistachio, Pomegranate and Clementine cheesecake. The swirly heart pattern is achieved by dotting blobs of pomegranate coulis on top of the cake, then pulling a cocktail stick through them. It’s a lot easier than it looks, but you will need a pipette or a syringe to get really exact dots. You can, of course, omit the hearts and simply serve the coulis on the side- also delicious. These gorgeous shots are courtesy of Faith Mason – photographer extraordinaire.
Pistachio, Pomegranate and Clementine Cheesecake
You will need:
200g digestive biscuits, blitzed to a fine crumb
100g unsalted butter, melted
75g shelled pistachios, finely chopped
2 pomegranates, juice only (try my stain-free method in step 2)
2 tsp cornflour dissolved in 4 tsp water
100g icing sugar, plus extra to taste
4 gelatin leaves
300ml double cream
300g cream cheese, room temperature
zest and juice of 2 clementines
20cm loose bottomed cake tin
One plastic pipette
1. Mix the biscuits, butter and pistachios until well combined. Pack firmly into a loose-bottomed cake tin, spreading out with the back of a spoon so that it is evenly distributed and coming slightly up the sides of the tin. Chill until needed.
2. To extract the juice from the pomegranates, split one open then place in a large bowl of water. Working under the water, separate the seeds from the hard skin. Any bits of white pith should float to the top, making them easy for you to discard. Drain the seeds and sort through to remove any extra bits of pith. Repeat with the second pomegranate then place the seeds in the bowl of a mixer and blitz briefly. Strain the juice into a saucepan. Add the cornflour in water and sift in a few tbsp of icing sugar, to taste. Gently heat until you have a thick, but still drizzle-able coulis. Allow to cool completely.
3. Meanwhile, soak the gelatin leaves in a small bowl of water for 5 min. Pour the cream into a pan and bring to a simmer then remove from the heat. Squeeze any excess water out of the gelatin leaves and add to the warm cream, stirring until dissolved. Allow to cool slightly. Beat 100g of icing sugar into the cream cheese along with the clementine zest and juice. Add the gelatin cream along with 3tbsp of the pomegranate coulis and beat until smooth.
4. Pour the cream cheese mixture into the biscuit base. You are now ready to decorate- hope you have a steady hand! Starting in the very centre of the cake, use the pipette to dot tiny circles in a spiral motion all the way around the cake. I let my dots get bigger as I worked my way around. Finally, starting in the middle again, use a toothpick to pull through the dots in continuous line- try not to lift your hand up if you can help it! You should end up with a spiral of little hearts.
5. Cover the tin with cling (be careful not to touch the top of the cake!) and refrigerate for 6 hours or overnight, until set.
I hope that you were able to spend some of it with loved ones, some of it relaxing, some of it cooking and some of it eating!
I rather overdid it, partly because as a Swede celebrating Christmas in the UK, I have twice the festive fun. First there’s a traditional Swedish ‘jul’ on the 24th with a heaving smörgåsbord of ham, meatballs, spiced bread, red cabbage and Janssons temptation (a creamy potato gratin with sweet conserved sprats- odd but delicious). All washed down with plenty of beer and snaps, of course.
In Sweden this gluttony is traditionally followed by an hour of conking out in front of Donald Duck’s Christmas, broadcast every year at the same time to the delight of every Swedish child and every exhausted Swedish parent. Presents are opened when it gets dark (so about 3pm, then) and then just to add some pagan flair, everyone dances around the Christmas tree. And then if all that wasn’t enough I also got to have a proper English Christmas on the 25th with Toby’s family- a full turkey with all the trimmings, Christmas pudding, mince pies, the whole schebang. So I’m still pretty much still full. Roll on healthy eating this month!
In the meantime, here’s a recipe for a Swedish festive classic- Lucia buns. Saffron was, of course, a very expensive spice (and it still doesn’t come particularly cheap) and therefore used to flavour sweet bread in the run up to this celebratory season. But I think these buns are delicious all year round and, seeing as I have a freezer full of them, I may well be enjoying them well into Spring!
The pictures in this post are curtsy of the fantastically talented photographer, Faith Mason. You can see more of her work here. More to come from the photo shoot we did together recently, including paprika spiced chicken with apricots and a pheasant casserole!
Saffron Buns (also called Lucia Buns)
Makes about 30-35 buns
You will need:
200g unsalted butter
500ml full fat milk
3g saffron strands
1 sugar cube
50g fresh yeast
pinch of salt
125g caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten + 1 egg, beaten
1 kg plain flour + extra for kneading
handful of raisins or sultanas
1. Melt the butter over a medium heat in a large saucepan. Add the milk and heat to body temperature (you can test this by sticking your finger into the pan- it should not feel hot or cold, just wet!).
2. Bash the saffron in a pestle and mortar with the sugar cube. The cube will act as an abrasive and break up the strands into a rough powder. Add this to the butter and milk.
3. Crumble the yeast into a large bowl and add the salt, sugar and about 3 tbsp lukewarm water. Mix to dissolve the yeast. Pour the saffron, milk and butter mixture into the bowl and whisk together before adding the 2 beaten eggs.
4. Add enough of the flour, about 900g-1kg to form a dough, mixing with a substantial wooden spoon initially, then using your hands to bring the dough together. Turn the dough onto a floured work surface and knead for about 10 minutes, until you have an elastic dough. Clean out your bowl and return the dough to it, cover with a kitchen towel and leave to rise in a warmish place for 1- 1.5 hours, until doubled in size.
5. Heat the oven to 220C. Line to baking sheets with parchment or lightly grease with a flavourless oil. Tip the dough out onto your floured work surface. Knead briefly to knock out some air, then divide the dough into 2 parts. Divide each of these into 4 and then into 4 again- so you end up with 32 pieces of dough, although you may find that you want to divide some bigger pieces into two buns, depending on how accurate you are with your dough-dividing!
6. Roll each piece into a long, thin sausage. Place the sausage in front of you, vertically. Roll the top end down to the right. Roll the bottom end upwards to the left. You should end up with an ‘S’ shape. Stick a raisin into the middle of each end and place on your baking sheet. Continue with the remaining dough. Leave each baking sheet to prove for about 30 minutes before brushing lightly with the remaining beaten egg.
7. Bake in the hot oven for 10-12 minutes, until golden and baked through. Leave to cool under a tea towel- this will stop them from drying out. Enjoy with a mug of mulled wine or freeze for later.
|Produce at Faversham’s Saturday market|
|Hops and Barley|
|More Kentish hops|
|A selection of malted barley|
|The Beer Cathedral|
|A 1940s ale wife|
|Beer tasting after the tour- a tough job|
|Farm shop we stumbled upon on the road to Whitstable|
|Asparagus freshly picked|
|Seafront shack in Whitstable|
|Lunch at the Whitstable Oyster Fishery Company|
|Toby’s steak and oyster pie|
|Oyster shell recycling centre|
|Eggs, Asparagus, Hollandaise|
Adapted from Shipton Mill’s recipe, here.
You will need:
20g fresh yeast
1 heaped tbsp runny honey
450g strong white flour
230g rye flour, plus extra
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp oil
1. Bring the ale ( I used Shepherd Neame’s Master Brew Ale) to boil and leave to cool to blood temperature. Cream the yeast with the honey.
2. Sift the flours, salt and yeast in a large mixing bowl and make a well.
3. Pour the ale, yeast mixture and oil into the well and combine to make a dough.Knead the dough for around 10 minutes until it is smooth.
4. Leave to prove for around 30 minutes and in the meantime lightly grease a baking sheet.
5. Knock the dough back, cut into two and shape into round loaves. Place into bannetons (proving baskets) or onto the baking tray. Cover and prove for about 40 minutes until about double in size.
6. preheating the oven to 200 degrees C, 400 degrees 4, Gas Mark 6. Dust with a little flour
7. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes. Cool on a rack.