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.

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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.

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.

spiced lamb sausage rolls

Lamb sausage rolls.
Lamb sausage rolls.

Oh Australia. Did you think I’d forgotten you?

One of the stranger quirks about being an expat is that you begin to hold national holidays even dearer to your heart than you would if you were actually living in the country. Where once you might have rolled your eyes at the prolific display of Southern Cross memorabilia and smirked at the plethora of green-and-gold boxing kangaroos, you instead find yourself looking at akubras with a certain fondness and tearfully googling the Australian flag.

It’s weird, yes. But it’s true.

Make these whenever you feel homesick.
Make these whenever you feel homesick.

I have trouble defining Australian cuisine, but there are generally a few things that come to mind: ANZAC biscuits, lamingtons, meat pies and sausage rolls. These stalwarts are often coloured by the irresistible compulsion to incorporate flavours from other cuisines – something fittingly characteristic of a nation inhabited by so many different cultures. And so we have chilli meat pies, barbecued curry prawns, pandan lamingtons and nutella pavlovas. I love it. If we are going to mend global fences, reach out to each other and live well together, I think it starts with food.

So in the spirit of Australia Day, I thought I’d make something quintessentially Aussie with a little twist. A while ago I found this wildly successful adana kebab recipe and to my delight it makes an excellent sausage roll, too. Lightly spicy, exotic yet familiar, these sausage rolls are my homage to the country I still call home.

Happy Australia Day, folks!

The familiar meets the exotic.
The familiar meets the exotic.

Spiced lamb sausage rolls
500g lamb mince
7.5g salt (about 2 tsp)
1 tsp cumin
2 tsp sumac
1 tbsp Urfa pepper flakes
2 eggs
4 tbsp breadcrumbs
1 roll (375g) puff pastry

Place the mince in a large, sturdy bowl and add the salt, cumin, sumac and pepper flakes. Mix, using your hands to knead, until the mince goes tacky and starts sticking to the side of the bowl.

Add 1 egg and the breadcrumbs, then combine well. The final mixture should be springy and slightly sticky but not wet.

Chill the mince for at least an hour.

Take out the mince and divide it into 8 portions, then shape them into logs.

Wrap the logs in the puff pastry, overlapping the fold slightly. Score three times with a sharp knife, brush with beaten egg and bake in a 200C oven for 25-30 minutes.

gluten-free lemon cookies

Lemon cookies. Just because.
Lemon cookies. Just because.

Is it cookie time again already? Well, when isn’t it?

I have a weakness for lemony desserts and lately I’ve been spending a little time indulging in the sweeter side of life. As the cooler weather sets in, traipsing through London’s streets in search of the next great party has taken a backseat to warm, intimate coffees and good conversation with friends. And how could you possibly have coffee without a little something to go on the side?

Moreish little morsels.
Moreish little morsels.

On days that start with frosty mornings and slip into rainy evenings, I like to sit on my couch with a really good book, a cup of coffee and a biscuit. The smell of lemon cookies wafts through my place, filling the air with something not unlike happiness.

Fill thy house with the scent of lemon biscuits. Go!
Fill thy house with the scent of lemon biscuits. Go!

These lemon cookies are a variation on the chocolate chip cookies I did earlier. I urge you all to bake a batch, keep warm and embrace cheerfulness. The festive season is peeking around the corner – can you feel it?

Gluten-free lemon cookies
1¼ cups almond meal
½ cup desiccated coconut
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1/3 cup caster sugar
1 egg
3 tbsp coconut oil, melted
½ tsp vanilla extract
Zest and juice of a lemon

Mix together the almond meal, coconut, baking powder, salt and sugar. Zest the lemon and mix well, making sure there are no clumps.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg until fluffy and doubled in volume, then whisk in the coconut oil, vanilla extract and lemon juice.

Add to the dry ingredients and mix until combined.

Place in the fridge and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200C. Remove the dough from the fridge and shape into flat 7cm discs. These will relax a little more than the chocolate chip cookies, so leave some room in between.

Bake for 7-10 minutes or until edges are brown. Remove and allow to cool on the tray.

These cookies should be eaten within two days. Not because they go bad or anything, but even in an airtight container they start to go soft, sticky and chewy.

gluten-free chocolate chip cookies

gluten-free chocolate chip cookies
Little treasures.

Cookies are one of life’s bite-sized little pleasures. I’m not even sure it matters, sometimes, what kind of cookie it is or even if it’s very good or elaborate or artisanal or experimental. On long days filled with an endless list of chores, on cranky days with befuddling annoyances, on rainy days with grey skies, what’s important is taking a minute to sit down with a cookie and a cup of tea and acknowledging that you deserve this.

You really do.

When was the last time you had a chocolate chip cookie?
When was the last time you had a chocolate chip cookie?

I’m all for weird and wonderful flavours and bold, daring culinary contortions, but sometimes I crave a very simple treat: a chocolate chip cookie. Not one laden with three kinds of chocolate and cocoa powder everywhere, either, like you’re biting into an entire Cadbury’s factory. Standard, plain chocolate chip. It’s the simple things that are often the best.

Ready to bake
Ready to bake

Of course, I couldn’t go very long without trying to find a gluten-free solution for my coeliac buddies, and happily I didn’t have to search very far: Sprouted Kitchen has crafted a wonderfully easy recipe that uses very few ingredients and makes delicious gluten-free chocolate chip cookies (the Minimalist Baker captures it beautifully here).

I’m not going to say that these cookies could possibly be better than regular cookies. But we both know that I’ll be thinking it, quietly, over here in the corner of my little kitchen.

Enjoy! xx

gluten free chocolate chip cookies
Everyone deserves these.

Gluten-free chocolate chip cookies
1¼ cups almond meal
½ cup desiccated coconut
¼ cup dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1/3 cup muscovado sugar
1 egg
3 tbsp coconut oil, melted
½ tsp vanilla extract

Mix together the almond meal, coconut, chocolate, baking powder, salt and sugar.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg until fluffy and doubled in volume, then whisk in the coconut oil and vanilla extract.

Add to the dry ingredients and mix until combined.

Place in the fridge and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200C. Remove the dough from the fridge and shape into 7cm discs. They don’t flatten very much during cooking, so how they go into the oven is pretty much how they’ll stay. They do relax slightly, though, so make sure you leave a little room between the discs.

Bake for 7-10 minutes or until edges are brown. Remove and allow to cool on the tray.

spinach & ricotta lasagne

Warm and comforting.
Warm and comforting.

I’m not a vegetarian.

I mean it. I love meat. I celebrate spaghetti bolognese. I adore lamb shanks. I’m devoted to roast chicken. I have been known to weep with joy over a good unsmoked rasher of back bacon, damn it. Basically, if it swims or flies or roams this earth in a non-human not-too-exotic fashion, odds are I’ll have considered eating it at one point or another.

But despite my keen interest, I don’t really eat very much of it.

I know many people who belong to the ‘if it doesn’t have meat in it, it’s not a meal’ school of thought. Often, they are rightly concerned about the nutritional balance of a vegetarian lifestyle, which can lack protein, iron and magnesium if practiced incorrectly. Sometimes they approach it from a culinary perspective, because truthfully meat will add a taste and texture no other food can quite emulate. Mostly, though, the reasons have to do with a mental state; it doesn’t feel like a real meal if it doesn’t have meat in it.

The thing is, there are plenty of compelling reasons to eat less meat: environmental sustainability, health, cost and convenience being just a few. These are all solid incentives, but surely one of the greatest motivations is vegetarian food itself; it can be so darn good. The problem is overcoming years and years of bad restaurant PR – decades of limp pasta arrabbiata and dry veggie burgers – which is not at all representative of vegetarian cuisine.

Nothing limp or dry about this.
Nothing limp or dry about this.

Me, I’m a part-time meat eater at best, and this is what I’ve learned from my casual carnivorism: if you want to eat less meat, you can’t just cook traditionally meat-based dishes and leave the meat out. You’ll always feel like something is missing, and it will be, because you crafted it with meat in mind. Instead, you have to truly celebrate vegetables. After all, what is a chicken salad without the chicken? A pile of sad-looking lettuce and a mangled tomato, that’s what. But what if you created a salad with the earthy crunch of spinach, and added sweet kernels of corn, nutty quinoa, roasted pumpkin, avocado and a scattering of pine nuts? Would you truly feel deprived?

A meal doesn’t need meat to be satisfying; to me, what matters is how you use the ingredients you choose to include. So as an enthusiastic advocate of vegetables I want to share this recipe with you; it’s delicious and filling – I think the word ‘nourishing’ would be appropriate. It warms you from the inside out, like the pasta version of a big, warm hug, and it is: a pile of vegetables, loving you back.

Make and bake. Simple and delicious!
Make and bake. Simple and delicious!

Spinach and ricotta lasagne
250g lasagne sheets
500g frozen spinach, thawed and drained
250g ricotta
Pinch of nutmeg
1 egg
1 x 125g ball of mozzarella
2 x 400g tins of canned tomatoes
1 x 400g jar of passata
1 onion
1 vegetable stock cube
Mixed herbs
Salt and pepper

Make the tomato sauce first. Chop the onion and sauté gently until translucent, then add the tomatoes, passata, stock cube and herbs. Simmer for 15 minutes and taste, adjusting the seasoning. Depending on the sharpness of the tomatoes, you might need to add ketchup or sugar.

Mix the spinach with the ricotta, egg and nutmeg. Add salt and white pepper.

Starting with a drizzle of the sauce so the lasagne sheets don’t stick to the bottom, layer the sheets, sauce and spinach mixture in an ovenproof dish.

Bake at 200C for 20 minutes, then top with the torn mozzarella ball and return to the oven for another 30 minutes.