Tuesday, April 26

chocolate & sour cherry hot cross buns

Apologies in advance: I am the reason hot cross buns are sold in January. I will buy them as soon as they're available and continue to do so until all that remains are the squashed, discounted remnants the masses of frenzied shoppers leave behind post-Easter weekend. Despite not being big on fruit peel, I love the hot cross buns' perfect balance of spice and fruit and their imperfect crosses. Yes, I realise supermarkets sell the cross-less varieties all year round, but it's not the same! And yes, I realise I could make my own at anytime of year. You have a point...

I'm a traditionalist, and have always preferred the original variety. So despite previously scoffing at those who buy fruitless or chocolate varieties, I was strangely compelled to include chocolate in my hot cross bun recipe to compliment the sour dried cherries I have finally found after so much searching. I still managed to stuff some spices into the recipe, though. How could I not?

Ingredients (makes 12 buns)

For the buns:
2 tbsps dried yeast
1/4 cup caster sugar
1 1/2 cups warm milk
4 1/4 cups plain flour
2 tsps all spice
2 tsps ground cinnamon
50 gms butter, melted
1 egg
1/4 cup caster sugar, extra
200 gms dried sour cherries
100 gms dark chocolate, chopped roughly.

For the crosses:
1/4 cup plain  flour
1/3 cup water

For the glaze:
2 tsps sugar
1 tsp powdered gelatine
1/4 cup water

Combine the yeast, sugar and milk in a bowl. Set aside for 5-10 minutes or until bubbles form on the surface.
Place the flour, dried cherries, chocolate, spices, butter, egg, extra sugar in a large bowl. Form a well, and pour in yeast mixture. Mix with a flat blade knife until a sticky dough forms. Knead on a lightly floured surface for 5 minutes or until dough feels smooth and elastic when pressed. Push in any cherries that fall out whilst kneading back into mixture - this tends to happen a lot! Place in an oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel and stand in a warm place for 30 minutes or until doubled in size.

Lightly knead the dough again, twist to divide dough in half. Half each half, and then divide each piece into thirds. Or, less confusingly, divide into twelve even pieces. Roll each into a ball. Place in a 23cm square cake tin lined with non-stick baking paper - they will be touching, but will break apart easily when baked. Cover with a clean tea towel and set aside in a warm place for 25–30 minutes or until doubled in size.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 200C. To make the crosses, place the flour in a small bowl and gradually and water, stirring, until you're able to make a smooth paste. Place in a piping bag with a small round tip, and pipe crosses onto the buns. Bake for 30 minutes or until well browned and springy to touch.

Meanwhile, for the glaze, combine the sugar, gelatine and water in a small saucepan over medium heat and stir for 2 minutes or until dissolved. Using a pastry brush, brush warm buns with the glaze and eat immediately! 

These are a little less resilient than the store-bought and preservative-pumped variety, and are best eaten within a day or two of making, but will freeze incredibly well if you need. They are wonderful toasted with or without butter, as the chocolate chunks go all melty and delicious. Alternatively, if you need a recipe to use the last of your buns, come back soon!

Recommended baking soundtrack: Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton - Skeletons Don't Have Your Back.

Monday, April 25

happy easter, internet

Yesterday I was lucky enough to celebrate Easter Sunday with my family - including my adorable almost-six-month-old nephew - and share this four-tiered creamed honey cake with them. Despite not being able to consume cake, said nephew did have his first taste of chocolate custard. Don't worry Xander, there'll be plenty more opportunities for cake...

Surprisingly, I am yet to overdose on chocolate, but I still have three two more days to accomplish that feat. 

I hope anyone reading has had a delightful Easter break so far. 

Friday, April 22

chocolate buttermilk easter cake

In terms of cuteness, Easter is surely the best holiday. Pastel colours, bunnies and chickens easily trump Santa for me. Despite all the simply gorgeous inspiration floating around, I've lately felt utterly uncreative. I feel like Easter has snuck up on me, despite having consumed many cream eggs and hot cross buns over not days, but months. I feel so many baking opportunities have passed me by...

So, wanting to make an Easter present for my co-workers, I drew ideas from both Donna Hay, and a more recent source of inspiration: Tracey Lau. Check out her blog for some absolutely wondrous photography and recipes. This cake is everything Easter is about: equal portions of cuteness and over-consumption of chocolate. My Easter baking may have come a little late, but it has arrived with great force, and I was simply smitten with the results. Isn't this the way baking should always be? 

Ingredients (makes a four-tiered cake)

For cakes:
Recipe from Donna Hay
1 cup water
120 gms butter, chopped
4 tablespoons cocoa, sifted
2 cups plain flour, sifted
1 tsp bicarbonate of (baking) soda, sifted
2 cups caster sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 tsp ground vanilla bean

For filling:
50 gms butter, at room temperature
250 gms cream cheese
1 cup icing sugar, sifted
1/4 cup cocoa, sifted

For chocolate buttercream:
500 gms butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup cocoa
2 cups icing sugar

To decorate:
350 gms fondant
Desired food colourings and sugar decorations

Preheat oven to 150C.

For your decorations, form two-thirds of the fondant into a large ball to form your rabbit's bottom, then make a small ball for it's tail. Create two rabbit feet, using a scalpel or small knife to create his toes. Colour a small amount of remaining fondant grey - form shapes for your rabbit's feet pads. Colour remaining fondant green and slice into grass blades or various lengths and widths. Allow to dry on a sheet of baking paper. 

For the cakes, place the water, butter and cocoa in a saucepan over medium heat and stir until the butter has melted. Place the flour, bicarbonate of soda and sugar in a bowl, add the cocoa mixture and whisk to combine. Add the eggs, buttermilk and vanilla and whisk to combine.

Divide mixture between 4 lightly greased 20cm round cake tins lined with non-stick baking paper. Bake for 40 minutes or until cooked when tested with a skewer. Allow to cool in the tins for 5 minutes. Turn out onto wire racks to cool completely. Stack two cooled cakes on top of eachother (with baking paper in between each layer to prevent sticking) and with a small, sharp knife, cut a semi-circular hole (about 3 cms deep and 7cm wide) into the cakes - this will form the burrow for your Easter bunny. Refrigerate until needed.

For the cream cheese filling, place the butter and cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat for 6 - 8 minutes or until pale and creamy. Add the icing sugar and cocoa and beat for a further 6 - 8 minutes or until light and fluffy. To assemble, place bottom layer (the layer that has the base of the already cut burrow) on a serving plate and thinly spread with one quarter of the frosting. Repeat with remaining layers, then use any left over frosting to fill in gaps between layers. Refrigerate for an hour. 

For chocolate buttercream, beat butter in the bowl of an electric mixer until smooth and pale. Add cocoa and beat until combined. With motor running on a low speed, gradually add icing sugar, increasing speed to high between additions. Stop when mixture is light and fluffy, but holds it's shape - you may not need all of the icing sugar. 

Remove cake from fridge and very cover very thinly in a layer of buttercream. Chill for 30 minutes. 

Once crumb coat of buttercream has cooled, coat cake and burrow liberally with buttercream - you can be messy with this part. Vertical strokes will make it look more tree-like, and remember to add rings to the top of the tree stump. Add roots around the base of tree. Insert bunny into the burrow, adding his tail and feet, using a paintbrush dipped in water to secure. Decorate tree with grass, flowers and Easter eggs as you like. 

Standing over twenty centimeters tall, this proud, four-tiered chocolate cake means business, was incredibly heavy and could serve twenty, quite honestly. But the cake itself is lovely and moist, not overly sweet, and stores incredibly well. I made my cakes a few days in advance and kept them in the fridge for three days before decorating: you would never have known. 

The original cake recipe called for two 12cm split cakes, resulting in a much smaller four tiered cake, but I have doubled all quantities. If you don't have an army of grateful coworkers or family members to consume your gorgeous cake, maybe scale it down a little. Or go overboard. It is Easter. 

Have a lovely break, readers. 

Recommended baking soundtrack: Sea Wolf - Leaves in the River.