Good Friday means making hot cross buns. I love this sort of ritual food, the sort of thing you make inevitably, not just out of duty to the day or season, but because it’s good too, and you feel glad that there’s a time each year you’ll make and eat it. Ritual like this is so important to me, not really for the sake of tradition, but because it inscribes a taste for good things, makes you remember what’s well with the world.
Onto the bunnies. The ones at the back of the oven got a little dark – but so it goes, and really the recipe turned out well: sweet, light, egg-and-butter enriched dough and gentle Easter spice. Cinnamon, nutmeg and citrus, sparingly used, sing of Easter.
Plenty of good butter and a cup of a light, fragrant tea like darjeeling are imperative.
And – and! – they’re lmost more lovely toasted the next day.
Very lovely things.
I don’t normally write detailed recipes but I think with yeast and flour recipes it’s worth elaborating, because details make all the difference.
Hot cross buns
The basic dough is based on the one I use for Swedish cinnamon buns, but I feel there ought to be an egg in the mixture here, for a little extra richness and lift.
Dough: Strong white flour – 10oz; milk – 5oz; sugar – 2oz; butter – 2oz; egg – one; quick yeast – heaped tsp or standard sachet; salt – 1tsp; cinnamon – 1tsp; nutmeg – a quarter.
Crosses: Strong flour – a handful, perhaps 1-2oz; water – enough to make a paste; yeast – two-finger pinch; salt – pinch.
Filling: Raisins – handful; sultanas – handful; zest of an orange and a lemon.
Make the paste for the crosses: beat the ingredients into a paste you’ll be able to squeeze out of the cut corner of a freezer bag, or a piping bag.
Mix the dough. It’s a good idea to keep back a handful of the flour to incorporate during kneading so you don’t throw off the proportions. This dough needs to be, and will be, wet, so you have to persist in beating it with your hands like a brioche dough, and stretching it until it starts to shine and pull together. Perhaps 10 minutes of beating and stretching will do it. You might use a dough hook, but I don’t have one. Dust with of the rest of the flour, knead, shape into a tight ball and set to prove – overnight is good, and often convenient, in a cool place, or two or three hours in a warmer one.
Roll the dough out into a rectangle on a surface dusted very lightly with flour and zest the orange and lemon over evenly. Generously scatter with raisins and sultanas and roll up into a sausage. Divide into twelve equal pieces and shape them into buns. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment and set to rise in a warm place for 45mins. (I like to turn an oven on for a minute and turn it off again to make a warm, still place to prove and rise things.)
Once they’re puffy, turn on an oven to 200 degrees, and attend to your buns. Paint them with egg wash, and then pipe on crosses, keeping them as fine as poss. Slip them straight into the hot oven and bake for around 15 minutes, though they might need a little longer.
Glaze the hot buns very lightly with a simple sugar syrup made with equal quantities of sugar and water, heated until clear – perhaps a tablespoon of sugar and water will be enough. The buns should be deep gold, glossy, and smelling wonderfully of spice and zest.
An orange salad is a brightening thing, a plate of citric sunshine for cold days. I often eat orange salads with salmon and fennel – either crisp mandoline slices of Florence fennel, or, when it feels right, braised half bulbs, or, more often, fennel chopped and cooked to a pulp with the seeds and a splash of booze. It’s the sort of food that cries out for Southern French rosé or light, herby red.
The flavours of all these things are superb together, somehow provencal, suggestively courtly (there’s a great Robert May recipe below circa 1660, which works a treat, pared back a bit*), even slightly christmassy, in the sense that there are oranges, wine and spice. I like food that makes you think of other places and times; it’s so transporting, and transporting is what I want and need in snowy mid-Feb.
Anyway, this made a lovely midweek supper. I sliced some leftover trimmings of fennel I cooked earlier in the week, when I’d used only the tender insides. I fried the slices in olive oil so they took a little colour, added salt, pepper, garlic, fennel seeds and a splash of Ricard, set it alight, and left to reduce into a sprightly aromatic stew, at a gentle heat. A squeeze of orange juice at the end, or lemon, brings the whole thing to life.
I love the process of skinning oranges – cutting off the two ends to reveal the triangular points of flesh, and, following the curve of the pith, cutting down, and around. You’re left with a juicy little barrel of orange, which you slice, exposing the interlocking triangles of flesh, susceptible to dressing. You strew them in one layer on a plate, trickle on plenty of olive oil and cast over some crunchy sea salt: you want it to dissolve in little points of savour, not to deliver overall saltiness, so not too much. I like to gather the remnants of orange skin and squeeze over any extra juice. It looks beautiful unadorned though for the flavour I like some little fronds of fennel herb – which are pretty too.
I fried some well-seasoned salmon gently in olive oil, spritzed with lemon and served it just as it was, with the orange salad and stew of fennel. The salt draws a good amount of juice from the oranges and makes the brightest of dressings, a sort of light sauce to spoon over salmon and fennel. This dressing, the warm fennel and slices of cool orange make a wonderful mess with neat flavours that set salmon off very nicely. Trout is good too.
*Otherways a most excellent way to stew Salmon.
Take a rand or jole of salmon, fry it whole raw, and being fryed, stew it in a dish on a chaffing dish of coals, with some claret-wine, large mace, slic’t nutmeg, salt, wine-vinegar, slic’t orange, and some sweet butter; being stewed and the sauce thick, dish it on sippets, lay the spices on it, and some slices of oranges, garnish the dish with some stale manchet finely searsed and strewed over all.
Robert May, The Accomplisht Cook, 1660
We had a fab Sunday lunch this last weekend, not so much because of food, but everyone that kindly came. I didn’t take photos, I felt it would have spoiled things, but it wouldn’t have, and I wish I had, but the little menu I planned out is below. It will be our last proper Sunday lunch in Cambridge, so it was lovely to have Johan, Tom, Sean and Char (who has been a darling and blogged about it) here to eat and celebrate.
I was happy with the food, though as ever nothing was perfect – the potatoes a little underscuffed, the cabbage a bit carelessly stemmed &c. – but that’s the way I always feel about roast dinners; there’s always something that could be better, but still you’ve eaten something honest and good.
The little bruschettas I made for starters/canopés to pick at – little toasts really – I was qu pleased with. Some with onion and goats cheese had a good dab of oily salsa verde with lots of parsley and capers in it; others with romanesco broccoli and parmesan, were peppery, savoury, with a twang of dried chilli and felt seasonal.
The main course was all about lovely vegetables: braised fennel with Ricard, celeriac gratin with lots of nutmeg and garlic, deeply earthy black cabbage with rosemary and chilli butter, rosemary and garlic roast potatoes, stuffing pungent with sage. Disparate but perfectly lovely together. There were a couple of us not eating meat, so it had to be incidental: pork belly, braised with fennel seeds and garlic for three hours then crisped for half an hour along with the potatoes at 220. Worked a treat: fatty, fibrous, meltingly soft meat, strips of golden, salty crackling.
I haven’t made profiteroles for a long time. They’re something mum used to make for dinner parties and people cooed over. They do have a sense of celebration about them, I think, coming, as they do, a mound of dark crisp pastry and oozing cream glistening with hot chocolate sauce. But they are a faff, and doing them at the last minute so they’re not soggy, when I’m drunk, is a bit of a drag. I do love them though. They’re rich with the illusion of being light and are evocative, if a little too much in the best possible way.
Tom brought a Côte Rôtie which was darkly brambly, opulent and absolutely wonderful (Madinière 2009 Yves Cuilleron). A magnum of Joseph Perrier was sprightly and poised as ever. Other more modest wines were Brigitte Chevalier’s La Cadela 2008 from Corbieres, which is a total steal, rustic, delicate and herby, and a Cotes de Roussillon by Jonathan Hesford at Domaine Treloar, Le Ciel Vide 2008, which for me is one of the best value wines on the market, tarry, smoky, raw, autumnal forest fruits.
I bought a cauliflower from the hippy veg stall on Cambridge Sunday market, inspired by its tight, creamy curds to make a cauliflower puree. It was a lovely thing to go with roast chicken, like a feather light, silky bread sauce flavoured with bay, cloves and onion.
I couldn’t bring myself to throw away the plentiful leaves and stalks I’d snapped from around the centre of the cauliflower. (Mum always insists they go into cauliflower cheese along with the florets and she’s right, I think, it’s nonsense to discard them.) The next day – and this is the point of this post – I cooked them until very tender in a big pan of boiling water. I drained them, dressed them in garlic, pepper, dijon mustard, wine vinegar, turned them out on a plate, still steaming. I put over a good amount of extra virgin olive oil, a fistful of crunchy Maldon salt and another grind of the pepper mill.
It was one of those gourmet experiences that comes out of thrift. As I was eating the tangle of tenderly peppery, earthy winter stems, with their straightforward, punchy dressing, I was thinking, this is the sort of thing they put on the menu at the River Cafe, on grilled pugliese sourdough, the sort of thing Patience Grey might have written of, Elizabeth David judged judicious! Not because it’s complicated or clever or inventive, but because it makes something honestly wonderful out of something very simple – and satisfying because I could very easily have thrown the stems away.
It made a lovely little starter anyway.
Last year I thought I could devote myself to writing a wine blog. This year I want to go back to writing about food, too, so I’ve revived my old blog title, which I’m fonder of. I love wine – I’m looking for new jobs in wine just now, as I’m moving to London from Cambridge in the next few weeks – but the trouble is, unless I upload my notes from work, which can be rather prosaic, I just end up writing about what I drink at home in the fug of half a bottle. Invariably that will be sherry, champagne or minerally whites. That will get dull.
So this year I want to write about cooking again, I want to write about wine when I want to – there are so many things to say – but not always. I’ve just started reading Brillat-Savarin, spent the first weekend I’ve had to myself for a long time dipping into Jane Grigson and Elizabeth David, roasted a chicken with butter and tarragon and eaten it with dijon mustard and maldon salt. It’s got me going.
I also found these pictures of mum and me last summer. We lit the barbecue because it was cool, drank Tio Pepe, claret and chianti with steak, and tomato and basil salad, smoked some cigarettes. That, really, reminded me what good food and wine are all about: the lovely experience of eating and drinking, and the way it lodges a taste, the memory of combined flavours and sensations, in a particular time. I want all this to refocus me and my writing this year.