chocolate hot cross muffy buns

chocolate hot cross muffy buns
These little darlings combine three of my favourite things: holidays, baking and ridiculous portmanteaus.

Somehow it doesn’t really feel like Easter until I’ve had hot cross buns. That particular blend of cinnamon and mixed spice wafting through the house and the snug pleasure of knowing you get to crawl out of a warm bed and dive into a buttery hot cross bun with a cup of steaming coffee… oh, friends. I wish this for you.

I’ve written before about my long-standing prejudice against raisins, so for me, it has to be chocolate and spice. I did use dark chocolate in this batch, but I used milk chocolate in another batch that never made it in front of the camera, and I have to say that even though I’m an eternal dark chocolate fan, the milk works better in this recipe and gives them some balance.

Chocolate hot cross buns
It’s not Easter until you’ve had a chocolate hot cross muffy bun.

Sensible folk could quite rightly wonder why these buns ended up in a muffin tin, and ok, I admit it wasn’t something I actually planned. But I’ve been reading a bit about getting the right rise out of breads, and one of the points made on a few baking blogs is that a wide container that doesn’t support the sides will result in a flatter (though no less lovely) loaf. I wanted high-rise, and it seemed like my baking tray was going to be too large, so the muffin tray stepped in to save the day.

Afterwards, my sister named them muffy buns and we laughed ourselves silly. And really, I can’t think of a better way to welcome Easter in the door.

Happy Easter, everyone!

chocolate chip hot cross buns
Still warm from the oven.

Chocolate hot cross buns (makes 12, adapted from BBC Good Food)
For the buns:
400g plain flour
1 x 7g sachet of fast-action dried yeast
65g caster sugar
1 tsp salt
1½ tsp mixed spice
1½ tsp cinnamon
250ml warm milk
50g melted butter
1 medium egg
100g chocolate chips (see note above)

For the crosses:
50g flour
1 tsp sugar
4-5 tbsp water

For the glaze:
1 tbsp apricot jam

Put the flour, spices and sugar into a large mixing bowl, and make a well in the centre. Add the yeast to one side of the bowl and the salt to the other.

Pour the milk, egg and butter into the centre of the well and begin mixing. It will form a strongly sticky dough. Keep kneading the dough for ten minutes.

Add the chocolate chips and knead them in until worked through.

Cut the dough into twelve equal portions. Lightly score the tops in a cross shape and place into an oiled container. Cover with cling film.

Leave to rise until doubled in size. In my cool kitchen this took about 2 hours.

Make the paste for the crosses. Spoon into a piping bag (I used a plastic ziplock) and pipe over the buns into the cross shape.

Transfer to a well-greased muffin tray and bake at 200C for 20 minutes.

When they come out of the oven, mix the apricot jam with a tiny bit of hot water, then brush over the top of the buns.

prawn & pea orzo

Orzo with prawns and peas
Orzo with prawns and peas

Goodness. Is anyone else feeling the chill lately?

During the rickets-inducing darkened winter months, I feel it’s almost mandatory to switch over to comfort food. After all, after trudging through the biting wind on icy pavements, I think even the most determined salad enthusiast would be hard-pressed to be happy to come home to a chilled bowl of leaves.

Instead, it’s time to embrace winter food. Piping hot soups. Steaming piles of pasta. Plates of deep, rich stew and rivulets of gravy running down mountains of mash.

Getting cosy with winter food is a definite bright spot in the otherwise grey, chilly days.

Comforting. Easy. Delicious.
Comforting. Easy. Delicious.

Winter food is all about creamy comfort, and one of the best places to find it is in a bowl of silky orzo. Cooking orzo risotto-style has become all the rage, which is a total blessing for the time-poor. If you’re in the mood for a risotto and you can’t possibly face stirring at the stove for an hour, orzo is your friend.

I love this recipe for many reasons – it’s filling without being heavy, it’s fast and it’s super easy. Most of all, it’s completely delicious. The succulent prawns and juicy peas invoke memories of sunshine bright enough to sustain us through a freezing winter.

 

Prawn and pea orzo (serves 2)
1 onion, diced
1½ cups orzo
1 cup peas
1 tbsp tomato paste
2½ cups fish stock
1 tsp smoked paprika
12 prawns
3 cloves garlic, minced
Chopped parsley to serve
Lemon juice

Slowly fry the onion in vegetable oil with some salt, so it begins to soften. After three minutes, add the orzo and coat in the oil.

Add the tomato paste, paprika and stock, stirring. It takes around 12 minutes to cook orzo this way.

At the 8-minute mark, add the frozen peas.

At this point you can also heat some oil in a frying pan, ready to toss the prawns in. They are very quick – place them on one side for one minute, then add the garlic and toss the prawns so the other side cooks. They need around two minutes in total, depending on the size. Take them off the heat and set them aside.

Test if the orzo is done. It should be toothsome but yielding, just like normal pasta. Serve the orzo with the prawns and top with a handful of chopped parsley and a squeeze of lemon juice.

snickerdoodles

snickerdoodle cookie
Snickerdoodles: fun to say, even better to eat.

Go on, say it.

I’m not sure who came up with the word ‘snickerdoodle’, but I can’t even type it without smiling. Even if you weren’t dealing with a whole lot of cinnamon-y puffiness, with delightful sugary sand dissolving on your tongue, with a crumbly biscuitty texture, I think the word ‘snickerdoodle’ would still bring a smile to your face. And when all is said and done, isn’t that exactly what a cookie is supposed to do?

I came across this recipe while looking for a new cookie to bake. Chocolate cookies, Nutella cupcakes, lemon crinkle biscuits, shortbread, and then I flicked past a cookie that was rolled in cinnamon sugar. That looks like doughnut in biscuit form, I thought.

Then: hey, that looks like a doughnut in biscuit form!

snickerdoodles
The smell of these little cookies baking is amazing.

What could be more fun than tossing a biscuit in cinnamon sugar? I have many memories of sitting at Donut King with my mum, watching them make doughnuts (the heavy kind, before Krispy Kreme came around and made it super easy to eat 1,000 calories in a single airy mouthful). She would drink coffee and we’d split a doughnut as I watched the machine plop dense circles of dough into boiling oil. The best bit was always when they’d take the fresh doughnut and toss it into a tray of cinnamon sugar, and it would emerge from its bath perfectly covered in a sandy coat of loveliness.

This is exactly what I thought of as I made snickerdoodles for the first time.

This is not a crisp, crunchy cookie that you can eat when you’re cranky and need something biteable upon which to take out your grievances. This is a pillowy, soft, crumbly cookie that holds it together only long enough to make it to your mouth, where it dissolves into a puddle of comfort. These cookies are cinnamon hugs.

snickerdoodle cookies
Simple to make and delicious to eat.

snickerdoodles (makes 32 cookies)
For the cookies:
1 cup (230g) unsalted butter
1 and 1/3 cups (267g) caster sugar
1 large egg
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups (375g) white flour
2 tsps cream of tartar
1 tsp baking soda
2½ tsps cinnamon
½ tsp salt

For the coating:
¼ cup (50g) caster sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 190C.

Make the coating by mixing ¼ cup of caster sugar with 1 tsp cinnamon.

In a large bowl, cream 230g butter for 1 minute, then add 1 1/3 cups of sugar. Cream until fluffy, then add 1 large egg and 2 tsps vanilla extract and mix.

In a sieve over a bowl, place the 3 cups of flour, 2 tsps cream of tartar, 1 tsp baking soda, 2½ tsps cinnamon and ½ tsp salt. Sift a third of the dry ingredients into the wet, then mix, and then mix another third, then the final third. The dough should be very thick.

Once combined, take a heaped teaspoon of the dough and roll into a ball. Toss in the cinnamon sugar coating then place on a baking tray. As it cooks, it relaxes into a normal cookie-shaped puddle, so you need about 7.5-10cm between the balls.

Bake at 190C for 11 minutes. As an optional step, you can press on the warm cookies with a fork to help them flatten out.

kale & quinoa salad

kale, quinoa and salmon salad
kale, quinoa and salmon salad

Remember when you were growing up, and a salad was eternally comprised of a sad, round tomato, circles of cucumber and wads of damp iceberg lettuce, drowning in a sea of sharp, vinegary dressing? Oh, that salad. Sometimes it was accompanied by a ring of pungent onion, or a lonely olive that was also wondering why it was there. They weren’t particularly bad or good, they were just something that had to be heroically endured to get to the good stuff, like pizza and chicken and lasagne.

salmon on kale and quinoa salad
grilled salmon is a delicious indulgence

I’m not sure when it all started changing, but Australia probably owes a great debt to its multicultural history. Greek salad. Caesar salad. Someone heard a rumour of this amazing stuff called tabbouleh, others murmured words like panzanella and fattoush and niçoise.

And thus salads were set free, and we were all a lot happier for it.

kale and quinoa salad
Say yes to salads.

I love using kale as an alternative to salad leaves, because it feels so much more substantial than biting into lettuce (although don’t get me wrong, I also love lettuce). Quinoa is often a feature in my salads, not just because it’s excellent for my gluten-free friends, but also because it lends a brilliant texture, holds dressing well and gives the salad a certain heft.

And if you need something else to convince you, let me just say that the grilled salmon is a deliciously indulgent affair that means you’ll never have to dread eating a salad for dinner ever again. I promise.

Kale and quinoa salad with grilled salmon (serves 2)
For the salad:
1 x salmon fillet, grilled (try honey soy salmon)
100g kale
150g quinoa
5 baby radishes, sliced
100g plum of cherry tomatoes

For the dressing:
250g low-fat Greek yoghurt
Juice of a lemon
1 tbsp honey

Rinse the quinoa well and cook until just tender. This is quite often a much shorter cooking time than they suggest on the packet, so check it at 5 minutes.

Steam the kale (if your pot is big enough, you can steam it above the quinoa) and dry using a clean teacloth or a salad spinner.

Slice the radishes and tomatoes.

Combine all the salad ingredients and make the dressing by stirring the juice of a lemon into a cup of yoghurt, then sweetening with the honey.

shakshuka

shakshuka - for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Shakshuka – for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Breakfast is a great meal. Roll out of bed, spend the first few minutes of each day yawning, stretching, and then you can get to thinking about cheerful items like freshly-brewed coffee, fruit, cereal and the all-important question of what breakfast spread you’ll have. Is it a Nutella morning? Will there be peanut butter in my life today? And surely every day is a Vegemite day…

(Between you and me, sometimes toast is the only reason I get out of bed.)

Weekend breakfasts are especially joyful, because eggs get involved. I’m a huge fan of including eggs in breakfast, and while the full English is a force to be reckoned with, I think the Israelis have it down pat. Imagine kickstarting the day with spiced tomatoes and peppers, eggs with runny yolks and custardy whites, creamy hummus and sharp olives and crusty bread. Yes.

shakshuka
Versatile. Simple. Nutritious. What’s not to love?

 

Shakshuka is thought to have originated in Tunisia, and is popular throughout the Middle East and in Israel, where it is commonly eaten for breakfast. In its simplest form, the dish is made by poaching eggs in a sauce made from tomatoes, onions and peppers. Other versions include harissa, cumin, salty cheeses like feta, or a spicy sausage like merguez.

It’s a perfect breakfast dish, but also works well at lunch and dinner. The meal scales really well and it’s incredibly easy to prepare. And as if you needed another reason to love shakshuka, the dish is low in fat, high in vitamin C and lycopene, and is said to be an excellent hangover cure.

Plus, there’s something immensely, greedily satisfying about plunging your pitta into the heart of the pan, and watching the golden-yellow yolk mingle with the fiery sauce. Oh, you so want to make this.

These delicious Queen Green olives are the perfect accompaniment.
These delicious Queen Green olives are the perfect accompaniment.

Shakshuka (serves 2)
For the tomato sauce
1 onion, finely sliced
2 red or yellow capsicums, sliced
2 x 400g cans tomatoes
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
½ tsp chilli flakes
Pinch sumac

To serve
2 eggs
Parsley
Feta (optional)

The sauce can be made well in advance. Fry the onion in a little olive oil, adding salt to stop it from burning. After a minute, add the peppers and fry for three minutes.

Add the rest of the sauce ingredients and simmer over medium-high heat for 10 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then simmer for another 10 minutes.

To make the shakshuka on a stovetop, put the (warm) sauce into a frypan and make two wells for the eggs. Crack the eggs into the wells and simmer for 5-7 minutes, depending on how runny you like your eggs.

To make the shakshuka in an oven, put the (warm) sauce into an ovenproof dish like a shallow pie dish, and make two wells for the eggs. Crack the eggs into the wells and bake in a 180C oven for 10-15 minutes, checking it at 7 minutes.

Top with parsley and cheese, and serve with pitta bread, olives and hummus or tahini.

spelt spaghetti with zucchini

A piping hot plate of pasta... what could be better?
A piping hot plate of pasta… what could be better?

I have a slightly alarming ability to consume vast quantities of pasta. I love every second of the dance; twirling golden strands into thick ropes around your fork, feeling the pile unravel in your mouth, the moreish, al dente bite against your teeth and the explosion of juicy flavours. Oh, God. It’s deeply satisfying, and I never want it to be over.

But the passionate love affair burns brightly until every last morsel is gone, and then I’m left bereft and alone, faced with the inevitable post-consumptive regret that is pasta bloat.

spelt and zucchini
Simple, tasty and on the table in ten minutes.

I mean, it’s definitely worth it. After all, what’s a little digestive discord in the grand symphony of the perfect pasta dish? If the measure of love is what you’re willing to sacrifice, pasta and I would make a Mills and Boon novel blush.

But recently I discovered something wonderful, life-affirming and joyful, so naturally I must share it with you. It’s spelt, it’s delicious, and it’s much kinder to your digestive system.

Spelt pasta loves you back.

 

This ancient grain is a species of wheat, but has a different molecular structure to the common modern classifications and thus is digested differently. It’s not safe for coeliacs, mind, because it still has gluten. But those with wheat sensitivity often find that they can tolerate spelt – excellent news for the wheat-challenged amongst us!

Spelt is high in fibre and a great source of complex carbohydrates as well as providing a wide range of nutrients like vitamin B2, niacin, copper, iron, zinc and magnesium, all of which contribute to the healthy function of the body’s nervous, cardiovascular and immune systems. And for what it’s worth, in my very non-clinical trial I found that pasta bloat was not a problem with spelt.

Spelt is kind of wonderful.
Spelt is kind of wonderful.

Spelt pasta has a gentle nutty flavour and a smoother texture than wholemeal pasta, so it’s a perfect option for those who dislike the grainy mouthfeel of brown pasta. Cooked here with subtle strands of zucchini and lit up with lemon, garlic and chilli, it makes a fantastic ten-minute supper. Dive in – twirl away – enjoy!

Spelt spaghetti with zucchini (serves two)
200g spelt spaghetti
1 medium zucchini
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp Chiu Chow chilli oil or chilli flakes
Zest of a lemon
1 tbsp olive oil
Parsley, to garnish

Put the spelt on to boil but be careful not to overcook it. You want to stop it before it’s quite done as it does keep cooking when you drain it and again in the pan later.

Meanwhile, shave the zucchini into strips using a vegetable peeler.

Reserve one cup of the spelt cooking liquid and then drain the pasta.

In a pan, heat the olive oil and zest the lemon into the oil.

Gently fry the garlic over a medium heat without letting it colour. You can add salt to stop the garlic from browning.

Add the chilli oil and half the cooking liquid.

Add the zucchini and heat through, then add the pasta and toss well. If it looks a little dry, add some more of the cooking liquid so it forms a creamy sauce.

Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve hot.

lemon & ricotta cupcakes

Little pots of sunshine.
Little pots of sunshine.

When life gives you lemons…

… say ‘thank you’. Because you’re about to make something wonderful.

My favourite flavour of dessert is lemon, every time. There’s something bright and rather astonishing about it that’s always refreshing, and when that sharpness is tempered by something smooth and silky like yoghurt or cream… my goodness. All bets are off.

Lemon and ricotta: a truly spectacular combination.
Lemon and ricotta: a truly spectacular combination.

I’m not the only one who’s wild about this particular combination; lemon and ricotta is totally a thing. There are cookies, there are cakes, there’s pasta and pancakes and crepes and ravioli. There’s a whole world out there going nuts for lemon and cheese, and it’s spectacular.

I don’t know why I’m so late to the party, but I’m glad I came.

Spring is nearly here.
Spring is nearly here.

These adorable little cupcakes make me think of spring, of warm sunshine yet to reach its full heat, of little parties in the garden and afternoon tea with friends. They’re sweet, they’re tart, they’re incredibly exciting, and you must have them immediately.

Lemon and ricotta cupcakes
For the cupcakes:
200g plain flour
1½ tsp baking powder
1 large egg
150g caster sugar
120g butter, melted
150g ricotta
1 lemon (juice and zest)
1 tsp vanilla essence
For the icing:
125g icing sugar
Juice of 1 lemon

Sift the flour and baking powder together, then set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the sugar and the egg together, then whisk in the butter, ricotta, lemon juice and zest, and vanilla essence.

Add the flour and whisk until the mixture is smooth and creamy.

Spoon the batter into 12 cupcake cases and bake at 180C for 25 minutes. Remove and allow to cool on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, make the icing by mixing sugar and the lemon juice together until it forms a thick paste. Spread on the cupcakes. The icing will set firm and dry to the touch.

Little darlings.
Little darlings.

not quite florentines

Not quite a florentine. Perhaps a londontine.
Not quite a florentine. Perhaps a londontine.

Sometimes things don’t quite go to plan.

I had this idea in my head that I couldn’t let go. A florentine, but not exactly. Something gluten-free and nutty, something biscuit-sized and circular, something delicate held together with a caramel cage and strands of chocolate.

That was the idea in my head. Of course, in execution it was maybe a little more Pro Hart than Raymond Blanc.

I feel Pro Hart would have approved.
I feel Pro Hart would have approved.

What happened? Well, I’ve never made caramel before. Several recipes advise that you make it, then put it into cold water to stop it from cooking. I dutifully followed instructions, waiting for it to turn the requisite dark gold colour and plunged the base of the saucepan into cold water. And then promptly panicked when the caramel started to set and I hadn’t even gotten around to drizzling it over the nuts.

(Will I spoil the story if I tell you you can actually re-liquify caramel by heating it? – naturally, something I found out the hard way.)

 

Beautiful neat circles, waiting to be adorned.
Beautiful neat circles, waiting to be adorned.

After the panic had cleared, my beautiful Londontine dream lay in golden puddles rather than wispy cobwebs. The whisk was firmly stuck to the bottom of the saucepan with caramel and a distinct air of permanence. Shards of caramel pointed threateningly towards the ceiling. I had sugar strands on my face.

Oh, what a mess.
Oh, what a mess.

My inner perfectionist could have cried. But I had this wonderful, valuable conversation with my bestie this weekend, where she reminded me that it doesn’t do to take everything so seriously all the time. ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff, Kahmen,’ she said, and she’s right. I cook because I love to create, and share, and it fills me with a sense of joy and fulfilment and happiness. And sometimes recipes don’t quite do what you want them to. But that’s perfectly ok; in fact, sometimes it takes you somewhere just as good anyway.

Glorious mess.
Glorious mess.

With that in mind, the not-quite-Florentines are going to work with me tomorrow, and I’ll stand by them in their misshapen glory and all. What a beautiful London weekend it’s been!

Not quite a florentine. Perhaps a londontine.
A little messier than I envisaged, but still beautiful.

Not quite florentines
500g mixed nuts, lightly roasted
25g dried cranberries (optional)
300g sugar
6 tbsp water
100g dark chocolate

Line a large area with baking paper.

Arrange the nuts and fruit in circles – use a glass to get a good shape. Make sure they’re only in one layer, otherwise they won’t take the caramel and they’ll fall when you lift it.

Make sure the nuts are in a single layer.
Make sure the nuts are in a single layer.

To make the caramel: place the sugar and water in a saucepan with a light-coloured heavy base. Swirl a few times to roughly combine. Place over a high heat until the edges start to bubble. It’s very important that you don’t touch the sugar or water with your hands at all, because it’s extremely hot.

Swirl the pan a few times to make sure the sugar melts properly and take care that it doesn’t burn. When it begins to colour, slow the heat down until it’s a dark amber, then remove from heat.

Dip the base of the pan briefly into cold water, then remove. If this cools the caramel too much and it becomes hard, just return to heat until it liquifies again.

Too light, and it'll just be sweet. Too dark and it'll taste burnt.
Too light, and it’ll just be sweet. Too dark and it’ll taste burnt.

Working quickly, use a whisk to drizzle strands of caramel over the nut rounds. Make sure you connect each nut in the round, otherwise it’ll fall apart when you lift it.

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over boiling water and drizzle over the rounds. Allow to cool and set, then carefully lift from the paper with a knife.

hazelnut chocolate chip cookie pizza

There's just more to love about a cookie pizza.
There’s just more to love about a cookie pizza.

Cronuts. Duffins. Dagels. Bruffins. I’m not sure what it is about hybrid bakery products that I find so amusing, but whenever I see them – the cheeky yet artful blending of the best of two beloved classics and some reckless portmanteau assigned – I giggle like a schoolgirl. Sure, they’re classics for a reason… but weren’t rules made to be broken?

With that in mind, let me introduce you to the pizzcuit.

chocolate chip pizza cookie
The latest bakery hybrid.

 

The pizzcuit is a rather delightful combination of glorious crumbly cookie and the harmonious shape of a pizza. Baked in a large circle and cut into slices, the pizzcuit is a family cookie. And by that I mean it’s sweet and nutty and special and made for sharing.

There’s a cup of oats in this cookie, which makes the edges chewy and a little crisp, and the centre stays fudgy and moreish. I haven’t strayed too far from the original recipe except to choose hazelnuts over walnuts and a different type of dark sugar – and I’ll admit it took me two goes to get this right!

So here’s what I learned:

  • Be careful about how you chop your chocolate. Too fine and you don’t get those satisfying chocolate chunks; too large and the cookie won’t hold together properly. 1cm chunks is as large as you should go.
  • Use a pizza tray or the bottom of a cake mould. It’s possible to shape a perfect circle with your hands, but it won’t stay perfect for long when it goes in the oven. This cookie spreads at least a good 2cm in every direction.
  • It’s super hard to resist eating a warm cookie, so you should definitely split the dough into 2 batches and make smaller pizzas so you can dive in right away and still have something to show the guests the next day. Or you can make one large pizza cookie and feel smug about your self-control, don’t mind me.
Anyone for a slice?
Anyone for a slice?

Hazelnut chocolate chip cookie pizza
¾ cup flour
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp baking soda
6 tbsps butter
1/3 cup muscovado sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup oats
¾ cup dark chocolate, chopped
½ cup hazelnuts

Sift the flour, salt and baking soda together in a large bowl.

In a saucepan, melt the butter on low. Remove from heat and stir in the sugars.

When slightly cool, whisk in the egg and vanilla.

Pour into the flour mixture and combine with a wooden spoon.

Stir in the oats, dark chocolate and nuts

Spoon the batter onto a pizza tray lined with baking paper, then shape into a neat circle. Bake for 20 minutes at 190C, allow to cool for 5 minutes on the tray and then slide onto wire rack to cool for another 10 minutes.

Cut into slices and serve with glasses of (almond) milk.