A happy Easter to all of you... and what a disaster it has been weatherwise! After coming back from a long-awaited holiday in the Alsace, glorious sunshine and finally being able to leave the house without having to wrap the kids up in interminable layers of clothing, we were badly hit by five days of continuous cold and wetness. In my pre-parenthood days, I would almost have welcomed such unfortunate circumstances, spending my days reading book after book after book, enjoying leisurely meals with friends, watching movies or even reading a newspaper back to front with your (five) morning coffees.
Not so now. While the eldest is pretty much self-sufficient in her little den in the attic, spending hours worshipping the Jonas Brothers or trawling around facebook or twitter or whereever else it might be hip to surf these days, the two little toads need pretty much constant entertaining - they do enjoy a play in the garden despite a drizzle but there comes a point when there isn't any dry clothing left to be put on them and you are stuck in the house. Since we don't like to put them in front of the TV, I try and keep them busy with arts and crafts... egg dyeing, blowing out eggs and decorating them for the Easter brunch we're having tomorrow, making bunny ears - and baking.
When I announced yesterday that we were going to bake hot-cross buns, I was met with an "oh no, they're disgusting!" emanating from my 5-year-old... he clearly had had a taste of them at school and hadn't been too impressed - none of my children like dried fruit all that much, so we decided to make them all chocolatey. Easter baking is always a great opportunity to use up any chocolate santas, reindeers etc, whereas the first Christmas cookies of the season always have some Easter bunnies in them ;-) I wouldn't say they're the best cakes I've ever made, but if you want to stick to the theme of Easter and dread the traditional ones, these hot-cross buns are something you want to try. And they kept us occupied for an entire afternoon, with lots of dancing and prancing in the kitchen while we were waiting for the dough to rise three times before they could finally shape them... a fun-filled afternoon!
Chocolate hot-cross buns
For the starter:
1 large egg (whisked)
15 g fresh yeast*
225 ml handwarm water
1 tsp caster sugar
60 g strong bread flour
For the final dough:
450 g strong white bread flour
1 tsp salt
25 g cocoa powder
85 g unsalted butter (finely diced or grated)
80 g caster sugar
150 g chopped chocolate
For the decoration and glaze:
4 tbsp flour
4 tbsp water
35 g brown sugar
70 ml milk
To make the starter, dissolve the yeast in the water - make sure it's not too hot, or it'll kill the yeast. Handwarm is just fine. Add the beaten egg, sugar and flour (you should have 290g liquid alltogether, add some more water, if required), beat until well combined and cover with a wet towel, placing in your oven with just the light on. Rest for 30 minutes, until the starter becomes bubbly.
Place all the remaining in a large mixing bowl or food processor, knead into a smooth dough until it comes off the sides of the bowl. Place in a greased bowl, cover with a moist tea towel and leave to rise in the oven (just the oven light on) for 1 hour.
Place dough on a lightly floured work surface and knead the dough through, form into a ball and return to the bowl and the oven. Rest for another hour.
Place dough onto a lightly floured surface, divide into 12 equal pieces. Roll between the palms of your hand to form a smooth ball, flatten slightly into buns and place on a baking tray lined with a silicone mat. Cover with grease-proof paper, leave to rise for 30 minutes. Cut a cross into the buns with a sharp knife (serrated works best for me), about 2 cm deep. Leave to rise for another hour.
Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to 240C and work the flour and water into a smooth paste, fill into a piping bag. Dissolve the brown sugar in the milk.
Just before baking, pipe the flour-water mixture into the cross-shaped incisions in the buns, place in the oven and bake for 12-15 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Immediately after removing from the oven, brush the buns with the milk & sugar mix.
Leave to cool on a wire rack.
* Buy at health food shops (Demeter being the most common brand) or behind the bakery counter at your Sainsbury's if you live in the UK.