No bread is an island

...entire of itself. (With apologies to John Donne!)
I live and breathe breadmaking. I’m an evangelist who would like everyone to make his or her own bread. I want to demystify breadmaking and show it as the easy everyday craft that it is. To this end I endeavour to make my recipes as simple and as foolproof as I possibly can.

I call my blog 'No bread is an island' because every bread is connected to another bread. So a spicy fruit bun with a cross on top is a hot cross bun. This fruit dough will also make a fruit loaf - or Chelsea buns or a Swedish tea ring...
I'm also a vegan, so I have lots of vegan recipes on here - and I'm adding more all the time.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

HOT CROSS BUNS (Spicy fruit buns)

400g (or 2 mugs) strong white flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tsp each mixed spice, cinnamon and nutmeg
200g (or 1 mug) dried fruit (currants, sultanas or raisins)
1 dessertspoon fresh yeast (or 1 teaspoon dried yeast and 1/2 tsp sugar)
250ml (or 2/3rds mug) lukewarm water
2 tablespoons olive oil (optional)

When they come out of the oven, brush with a glaze made with 1 teaspoon sugar and 2 teaspoons boiling water.

1. Measure the water and stir in the fresh yeast. Place the flour, sugar, spice and dried fruit into a mixing bowl, pour in the yeast liquid, then add the olive oil.
(If using dried yeast, add to the liquid with the sugar, stir and leave for about five minutes. The liquid should foam up, when it's ready to be used. If it doesn't fob up, check the date on your yeast - it may be out of date.) 

2. Have a little water to hand to add if necessary. Remember, it is better for your dough to be wetter (slack) rather than drier (tight). Begin to mix by stirring the ingredients together with a knife, cutting through the dough as it forms. When it gets too stiff for the knife, use your hand to squeeze the mixture together. As it forms into a solid mass, keep turning it over and pressing it down to pick up the flour at the bottom of the bowl – but make sure it stays soft. Don’t be afraid to add more water to keep it soft! When all the flour has been mixed in, wipe the bowl around with the dough, turn it out onto the worktop and begin to knead.

3. Knead by flattening the dough out, folding it over and flattening it again. Knead until the dough becomes smooth – and then stop before you get fed up!

4. Divide the dough into 12 pieces and give yourself plenty of room on your worktop. Take one of the pieces in each hand and flatten them down with the palms of your hand. Keeping them pressed down, gently move them round in a circle. After a couple of circles, start to ease the pressure off. Still moving in circles, let your hands form a hollow shape. Gradually cup your hands and relax the pressure, whilst still making the circular movement. Your little finger and thumb should make contact in turn with the side of the roll as it tightens up. Ease off the pressure altogether, and you should have a couple of bun shapes! Place the buns either on greased bun trays or on oven trays lined with baking parchment.

5. If these are to be hot cross buns, press down on each one to flatten it slightly, then press a cross into it with the back of a knife. Cover with a teatowel.

6. When the buns have risen appreciably, bake at 220C, 425F or gas mark 7, for about 15 minutes. Check after about 10.

7. Whilst the buns are baking, mix 2 teaspoons of boiling water with a rounded teaspoon of sugar for a glaze (warm the jug and spoon first). When the buns are done brush them with the glaze straightaway. Place on a cooling rack.

This is the basic, no-nonsense recipe. Play around with it as you will. Both the type and amounts of the fruit, spice, and sugar are just my suggestions. Increase or decrease - or change - them as you will.

To make a deluxe version of this recipe I would:
Double the amount of fruit and use a mixture of different fruits, such as chopped apricots, cranberries, etc. I would place all the fruit - including the mixed peel - in a jam jar, cover with red wine and leave in the fridge overnight - or for a couple of days. When I come to use the fruit I would drain off the wine - which is now a dessert wine - and drink it later.
Double the amount of spice.
Add some grated orange or lemon (or both).

(Having said all that, if my daughter's around, I have to make them with chocolate chips and leave out the spice! Kids, eh?)

I would also use the undercover (cloche) method to bake these buns. 5 minutes under the cover, then about 10-12 minutes with the cover removed.

When I used to make bread and buns for the Taunton WI shop (now called Country Shops) and friends, the buns I was able to make in the baker's ovens I used to borrow were absolutely superb. I was reminded of this when I met Pat and Colin in town this afternoon (20/1/11) - they used to be among my customers. 

These days, I can't make them as good using a domestic oven. However, you can get close to it by putting them undercover for the first few minutes of baking.

Listening to Women's Hour about 30 years ago I was intrigued to hear that the crosses on sweet buns pre-dated Christianity in Britain. Not being a Christian I was quite pleased to hear that!

You'll notice there's no pastry cross on my buns. They are a total waste of time IMO! When my (baker) dad made HCBs, it was my job, every hot cross bun day (the day before Good Friday), to stamp a cross in the top of each bun with a metal cutter. 24 to a tray, several trays to the batch.

When the buns came out of the oven, I had to give each one a sugar glaze.

For my labours I was allowed to eat one bun from each batch - and one year my dad made 13 batches!

Finally, a hot cross bun recipe is the basis for half a dozen or more other fruit breads, using different techniques. Check out this post - Now you've made Hot Cross Buns.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013


Wednesday 6th Mar 2013 
Focaccia, fougasse, pain au chocolat, jam doughnuts and iced buns in this session. Peter made the fougasse:
It's difficult to spread out the holes in the fougasse properly, since the oven trays are so small! Also in the pic are 2 jam doughnuts, 2 peitit pain au chocolat and two iced buns.
And the others all made focaccia:

Sallie’s focaccia and several of her buns. Sallie comes straight from work, so by this time in the evening, she’s ravenous!
Franks half-eaten focaccia with olives and sun-dried tomatoes. Plus his sweet buns.

A s-d-tomato and rosemary version 
Ben's (I think) rosemary focaccia

As you can see, I only remembered to take some pic pretty late in the session!
The three sweet varieties of bread are all made out of the same batch of dough. 

A comment from one of my students, Paul - "I've never known 2 hours to go past so quickly." :)

Wednesday 27th Feb 2013
Freeform loaves and Chelsea buns tonight - and already, it's evident that the students are no longer beginners! I did remember to take some pics, this time:
Frank getting to grips with a plait

A batch of Chelsea buns - seems to be missing one??

Cottage loaf - the gap at the bottom means it could have been left to prove for a little longer - but we're up against the clock! :(
A coburg loaf - sorry it's a bit blurred!

Another cottage loaf - lightly singed, I'm afraid

Ben's plait, I think...

...and Frank's

Wednesday 20th Feb 2013

A 5 week course began tonight, with 6 students - 5 of them new to breadmaking - made soda bread and fancy dinner rolls tonight. The other student had attended my course in Taunton and enjoyed it so much that he persuaded several of his friends to join him tonight.

I completely forgot about taking any pics, but all the bread turned out OK!