Saturday, 30 March 2013

One a penny, two a penny ...

As, (officially) a Brit living abroad, Easter gets you thinking about Hot Cross Buns. Although I managed to find a french translation for them (brioche saint), these do remain almost unknown outside the English-speaking (post 1776) world.

The Hot Cross Bun was first mentioned in writing in the UK only a few years before this (1733: 'Good Friday comes this Months, the old woman runs, With one or two a Penny hot cross Bunns', according to the OED.) However, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that they date at least to Anglo-Saxon times and are possibly connected with the goddess Eostre, from whose name Easter is derived. Some people have linked the design to the moon, as the main festival of Eostre, as well as Easter, was linked to the phases of the moon: the cross would then represent the four phases of the moon. 

So, here are my Hot Cross Buns: my first ones made ever, and a delight since I left England about 7 years ago! I can attest that my non-English colleagues at work devoured them with enthusiasm! 

For those Hot Cross Bun novices, these contain  raisins, currants and sultanas as well as cloves and orange zest. I am not going to post the recipe as there are many available online and actually, the one I used was SO good, I don't feel like sharing it! You can find it yourself!

Happy Easter to all of you, or Schöni Ostara as they say here in Zürich! I also discovered another delicacy for Easter from this neck of the woods which I will post a picture of soon!

Friday, 29 March 2013

Brown Bread in the Ring

Just a couple of pics of my first attempt at a brown loaf! I must say it tastes delicious!!

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Easter Bunnies Sprüngli Style

It can't have escaped your notice (unless, like me you have spent the last 10 days in the Far East) but Easter is coming very soon! My personal contribution to Easter will be revealed tomorrow, but for now I want to show you what Sprüngli, here in Zürich has been up to. They are changing their window display daily: yesterday sponge rabbits and today icing sugar pictures on top of cakes. They are quite original!

Friday, 22 March 2013

Hong Kong Interlude

I haven't done any baking at all this week, since I have been on a business trip to China for my day job!  Although you can find European cakes and pastries of the highest quality, and European bread (not commenting on the quality) here, local specialities in the shape of baked goods are few and far between. Most cake shops stock very sweet and creamy versions of European standards, adapted for the Asian palate. One notable exception, in Hong Kong is the Macau Egg Custard Tart. These are really the same as the Portuguese 'pastel de nata' since Macau (a Chinese Special Administrative Region), close to Hong Kong, used to be a Portuguese colony.
I will leave you with a few pictures all taken in Hong Kong and see you when I return to Europe next week.
A Hong Kong cake shop

The Peninsula Hotel location of the best afternoon tea in town, apparently 

Macau egg custard tarts

Tuesday, 12 March 2013


OK, I am sorry that you had to wait a couple of days before the news about the macarons, but actually you have to leave them for 24 hours after filling them before you can eat them.

I am not going to write extensively about how to make macarons and how to get the perfect macaron, for two reasons:

1. I don't know yet, as I have only made two batches
2. Gigabytes of internet server space is clogged up with such data

But, I will tell you that making macarons is the best way to learn about them and I can confirm that they are HARD!!!

The main problem I encountered was cracking. I need to experiment with where I position them in my oven since it was the oven that caused several of my macarons to crack. I know this because they were in the same part of the oven in every batch that I baked. (I ended up baking my two attempts in a total of 4 batches.) I already experimented during these batches with position in the oven and also timing: I think my first batch was undercooked and the final one overcooked which means that the next one will be just right!

The other thing I learned and cannot stress enough is the importance of allowing macarons to mature. After you have baked the shells, leave them in the fridge for a while and then after filling them leave them in the fridge for at least 24 hours. During this time an amazing alchemy takes place and faults such as hollow shells can even correct themselves, I kid you not.

I made two different types of macarons. Firstly, a dusky pink batch which I filled with buttercream, into which I had added and whisked in some fresh raspberries: this gave a really nice sweet but slightly tart filling. The second batch were chocolate flavoured and coloured, with a buttercream flavoured with nutella in the middle. I really like the tart fillings for macarons and always go for those, and would like to experiment with more types. However, I also love salty caramel as a filling and will be trying that one too.

I was really lucky that all my macarons developed the distinctive 'foot' which you read about and although I noticed many many faults with my first attempt, my audience (my best friend, whose birthday it was and my colleagues at work the next day) was very impressed.

'You made these yourself? Many I know have tried but all have failed!' (Swedish colleague)
'They were honestly the best I've ever had ...' (French best friend)
'You should sell these. When are you making some more?' (British colleague)

I will leave you with pictures of the macarons themselves, but watch this space as I think I will be making many, many more!

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Le grand jour!

It's been a really busy week and so little time for baking, but now the weekend has arrived, it's time to pick one of the things of my future bakes list and go for it. So, Ladies and Gentlemen, today will the the day that I attempt, for the very first time ... (drum roll) ... les macarons! Roll over Sprüngli; roll over Ladurée, there's a new bueb in town!

Pop back later and see how it went!

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Success at last (I think!)

So, the next chapter in my search for a recipe for soft baps. After the disappointment of the last ones, I did a google search for 'soft white baps / rolls' and ended up coming across a recipe by Dan Lepard from the UK's Guardian newspaper. I also found the same recipe repeated on a food blog by a British expat, who was missing soft white baps while living abroad. I won't repeat the recipe here as it's available on at least two other websites. but will tell you about my experiences and, of course, post pictures.
It is a very long and convoluted recipe which, like all bread, involves a fair share of waiting around doing nothing, but again, if you are having a quiet day at home, it would be easy to plan them into your day. There were two things which were a bit different from all the other bread recipes I had seen, in that you started off by making a sponge, to which after three hours proving, you add the rest of the ingredients to make the dough, and, apart from 30 seconds of brief action, there is no kneading!
The dough itself was very wet during the proving and kneading stages which was a little off-putting, but the blogger mentioned this and so I didn't lose heart.
The recipe was supposed to make 9 rolls and called for about 700g of flour, which seemed a bit of a waste if it didn't turn out. Also, I couldn't manage to eat 9 rolls on my own in a week without putting on serious amounts of weight, so I halved the recipe and made 6 small rolls. At least, I thought they would be small: at the final proving stage they grew into monsters and ended up joining together as batch rolls.
Once in the oven, they went a beautiful golden brown colour and I realised that I had forgotten to compensate for my rather hot fan oven. So, I watched them like a hawk and after 20 minutes they looked OK so I took them out.
My initial reaction was one of disappointment. The top of the rolls was very hard and crusty. However, the recipe said I should let them cool completely on the baking sheet. I also covered them with a cloth since, I had heard that that helped to make rolls soften as they were cooling. Halfway through the cooling process, I couldn't resist, so I peeked under the cloth and poked one again and ... deep breath ... they were soft! I picked one up and even though it was still warm, it felt soft and light, just like a proper soft bap. Success at last!

Sponge ingredients: flour, water, cornflour and fresh yeast

Spong before rising. It grew to twice the size

Ingredients for the dough: water, milk, flour, butter, sugar, cornflour, salt

Finished buns before final prove

Batch rolls after final prove

Et voilà!

Friday, 1 March 2013

Baps (Part three)

So the baps turned out to be really nice  bread rolls, but not the light and fluffy things I had anticipated. They would make great burger buns or sandwhich buns but they were not what I wanted. However, I immediately googled 'light and fluffy baps' and found something very promising. Watch this space for Baps (Part four).