Shrove Tuesday or 'Fat Tuesday' as the Scandinavians would have it!! Whether you're planning to fast or not, a day to indulge. Countries across Scandinavia celebrate with variations of this Semla bun. Semlor are delicious sweet cardamom buns, enriched with butter and milk, then filled with a delicious honey almond paste and fresh cream. If you're a pancake traditionalist, why not try this alternative. Or if you're really planning on fasting, have both!
(Makes 14-16 buns)
Semla buns are a traditional Scandinavian treat, varying slightly across the region, but always served as part of a feast on ‘Fat Tuesday’, at the start of Lent. Much like our hot cross buns, although associated with a particular festival, they are so popular they can be found in bakeries for weeks beforehand.
For the dough:
Strong white flour 500g (or substitute for all or part white spelt flour)
Fresh yeast 25g
Sea salt 10g
Butter, cubed 60g
Caster sugar 60g
Eggs 100g (2 medium, beaten)
For the almond filling
Ground almonds 120g
Caster sugar 20g
Plus, 350g double cream, whipped with 20g icing sugar
Measure out your flour, sugar and cardamom into a large mixing bowl, then rub in crumbled yeast on one side of your bowl (for dried yeast use half the amount). Now place the salt on the other side of the bowl. Keeping your butter to one side for now, add your milk and eggs and mix with your scraper until all ingredients are combined and a rough dough has formed. Turn out onto your work surface and knead for 10 minutes or so, until you have a nicely elastic dough. Now add your butter and knead for another 5 minutes until your dough is fully developed. Form the dough into a ball and place back into your lightly floured bowl. Cover with a large plastic bag or a baking cloth and leave to rest for about an hour.
After one hour, your dough should have roughly doubled in size. De-gas your dough and divide into two, take each half and divide into 8 pieces of approximately 60g-65g each. Being careful to slap any excess gas out of each piece and, using the friction of a flour-free workbench, form each piece into a tight little ball, being careful to place the seam on the underside, before placing on a lined baking tray to prove. Ensure you leave enough space between each roll to allow it to double in size. You may need to use two baking sheets.
Cover and leave at a warm room temperature for about an hour (ideally, 22°C - 25°C), but do not place anywhere too warm. If your kitchen is a little cooler, just leave a little longer. After one hour, your rolls should be roughly double in size and will return slowly back to shape when depressed gently with a floury finger.
Preheat your oven to 200°C.
Just before baking, sprinkle a little flour over the top of each roll. Place them into your hot oven and then turn the temperature down immediately to 180°C. Bake for 10-12 minutes. The sugar content in the rolls will cause them to brown quicker than ordinary bread rolls, so do check they are not browning too quickly. If they are, you may need to turn your oven down by 10 degrees or so.
Leave your buns to cool on a wire rack and meanwhile you can prepare the almond and honey filling and whip your cream in preparation for assembly.
For the filling:
Place your ground almonds, honey, sugar and milk in a bowl and combine until you have a kneadable paste. Divide your mixture into 16 (approximately 13g each) lumps, roll into tight balls and put to one side.
Now take your cream and whisk together with a little icing sugar until you reach soft peaks, taking care not to over-whip your cream.
Once your buns have cooled, cut most of the way through your bun about one third of the way down, creating a ‘hinged lid’. Inside insert a disc of honey and almond paste made by flattening the balls you made earlier, and then spoon or pipe fresh cream on top, before gently closing the lid a little. Finish with a little sprinkled icing sugar.
And there we have it! A delicious alternative to pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. Or any day!
I'm often asked for recipes to use up that unused sourdough starter. I hate waste and, knowing many of you don't have the time to bake as regularly as you might like, inevitably there will be times when you have to discard unrefreshed starter before feeding your 'mother' in your weekly routine. With the unseasonably warm weather we've been having lately and blossom bursting out all over the garden, I was seduced into daydreaming about the summer and teas on the lawn. I found myself making up a batch of delicious lemony scones, bursting with tangy blueberries. Not exactly seasonal, I know, but I couldn't resist the bright colours of the berries on the counter of my local shop! Even the butterflies and bees have been fooled into thinking summer is on its way!
Now, scones are a very personal thing. I love them and fondly remember my mother's from my youth. I'm often drawn to them in cafes, but have learnt over the years that they frequently lead to disappointment, as I bite into one and get that familiar baking powder 'squeak'! I like my scones to be soft, light and moist. And utterly without squeak. A batch of these scones takes a matter of moments to put together - perfect for those short notice visitors or that urge for 'a little something' mid-afternoon, with a perfectly brewed cuppa.
In fact, scones freeze beautifully, unbaked, so why not whip up a double batch? Place one tray in the oven and the other in the freezer. Once frozen, you can transfer them from the tray into a freezer bag or plastic box. When you want to bake them, defrost for 45-60 mins on a baking tray at room temperature and bake as normal. Even easier, for those last minute guests!
Lemon & Blueberry Sourdough Scones
(Makes 8-9 scones)
180g plain flour
80g wholemeal flour
100g unrefreshed liquid starter (100% hydration)
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
90g golden caster sugar
Zest 1/2 lemon
75g cold butter, either cubed or grated
1 tsp vanilla extract
150g blueberries (preferably small, firm and sharp-tasting)
Preheat oven to 180C
Firstly, weigh out your flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt. If using a food processor, blitz the flour mixture with the cubed cold butter. Do not overwork. If mixing my hand, try grating your cold butter into your flour, then rubbing briefly together to get a better blended, breadcrumb-like mix. Do not worry if you still have and uneven distribution of butter, just ensure that there are no excessively large lumps. Now add your sugar, lemon zest and blueberries, mixing lightly with your hands to ensure an even distribution.
In a separate jug or bowl, weigh out your unrefreshed liquid starter and buttermilk, together with your vanilla essence. Mix thoroughly, then add your liquid to your other ingredients. Mix together, until the dough just comes together - remember, the less you handle at this stage, the lighter your scones will be.
Turn your dough out onto a lightly floured surface and use your hands to pat into a square, approximately 4cm high. Divide into 9 squares (3 x 3), cutting firmly with a dough cutter or sharp knife. Alternative, you can use your favourite cutter, to make round scones. Place on a baking tray and brush with a little beaten egg. Bake for 18-20 minutes, until golden brown.
(Alternatively, if you have no blueberries, subsitute for 100g soft sultanas, for delicious lemon and sultana scones).
When cool, serve with fresh cream and homemade lemon curd.
We make hot cross buns every year, but this year I thought I'd take a look at the tradition, where it comes from and look at a more traditional recipe to our normal fare. So, I dug out my trusty Elizabeth David English Bread and Yeast Cookery. Published in the '70s, it's a weighty tome, but a great start when you really want to get to grips with something. I was rewarded with a wonderful verse of the well known rhyme that was previously unknown to me:
One for the poker,
Two for the tongs;
Three for the dust pan,
Hot Cross Buns!
Thanks to modern technology, I lost none to the poker, tongs or dust pan. Following her guidance ,my resulting dough was stiffer than I would usually make, but no less soft and tender. I made some traditional deep crosses in the dough after proving and then piped the sweetened flour paste into the grooves. I was delighted with the results and think I'll stick with this method in future years.
As for the tradition itself, it seems it predates even medieval times. Evidence of fruit -studded loaves made to celebrate Eastre and the rites of Spring go back to pagan times. Then, as is so often the case, Christianity took over the pagan traditions. The crosses were a later addition, and were commonly cut into all manner of buns, loaves and cakes by superstitious bakers (for superstitious customers!) as a way of warding off evil spirits (that were naturally responsible for turning them mouldy). Then, during the reign of Elizabeth I, when the puritans were trying to rid England of all evidence of 'popery' as they saw it, the use of the cross was strictly limited and the practice was abandoned. However, one exception was made. At Easter, the use of the cross as a symbol was seen as appropriate and so the tradition of a little fruited loaf with a cross on continued. Traditionally, the cross was a haphazard, deep-cut marking but as time moves on we see embellishments appearing in the form of pastry or citrus peel crosses overlaying the scored cross. These days, you can see the piped cross on most modern buns. And, of course, everyone outdoes each other to come up with a new and exciting flavour not thought of before. For me, these traditional buns are an absolute delight. In fact, next year I might just try those candied peel crosses. If it ain't broke...
Hot Cross Buns
(makes 12 generous buns)
650g Strong white bread flour
60g Wholemeal flour (wheat, spelt or rye)
65g Light brown sugar (or golden caster sugar)
200g dried fruit (sultanas, raisins, currants & mixed peel)
360g whole milk, at room temperature
90g cold butter (unsalted), cubed
30g fresh yeast (or 15g dried yeast)
1 tsp mixed spice
Paste for crosses:
20g caster sugar
2 tbsp milk
2 tbsp caster sugar
Place the egg and milk in your mixing bowl, then add your flour, sugar, spice and salt. Now crumble the fresh yeast into your flour, avoiding direct contact with the salt. Using your dough attachment, mix your dough on low speed for 1-2 minutes until smooth and well combined. Turn the speed up to medium fast and mix for a further 2-3 minutes until your dough is strong and elastic. Now you have developed the gluten, you can throw in the cubes of butter a few at a time, continuing to beat the dough. When the butter is all combined and your dough is smooth once more, you can add the dried fruit and mix in.
Now cover and rest your dough for about 1 1/2 hours until doubled in size. You can then turn out your dough on a lightly floured surface. De-gas and divide into 12 equal portions (about 120g dough each). Shape each piece of dough into a ball and place on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Cover and leave to prove for a further 2 hours (if your kitchen is warm, you may need less time; if cold, you may need more).
Meanwhile, prepare your paste for the crosses. Mix the flour, sugar and water together and place in a piping bag, with either a small nozzle or prepare to cut a small hole at the end of the bag.
Preheat your oven to 220C
When your buns are proved, pipe a narrow cross on each bun. If you have placed your buns in a 3x4 grid, you may find it easier to do this by running down the entire row of buns, rather than each individual one. Place them in the oven and immediately turn your oven down to 190C. Bake for 15-20 minutes, keeping an eye that they don’t brown too quickly - if so, turn your oven down by about 10 degrees.
Whilst your buns are baking, prepare your final glaze. Mix together 2 tbsp milk with 2 tbsp caster sugar in a saucepan. Heat gently until the sugar is dissolved. Allow to cool a little before using.
When the buns are baked and golden, place on a cooling rack and brush with your milky glaze. Allow to cool, but maybe just one won’t be missed whilst they’re still warm. After all, you were the one to bake them. It’s the least you deserve. Enjoy!
With the bakery so busy at this time of year, we have to prepare ahead with as much we can before Christmas.
Today has been a big baking day, tray upon tray of mince pies, several panforte and snowy drifts of ricciarelli adorn the worktops. Sausage rolls must wait until Christmas Eve - a baking ritual here at the White Cottage. I’d be in big trouble with the family if I dared to bake them beforehand. Christmas doesn’t start until that first sausage roll is baked and eaten. I am, however, allowed to prep the stuffing for the turkey and tuck it in the freezer until its needed.
Our stuffing this year will feature fennel seeds - I adore the combination of pork and fennel - with juicy prunes for their dark, fruity stickiness and the crunch of toasted pistachios. We have a ready supply of old scraps of sourdough here, but don’t buy some especially. However, do use good quality bread - even better, make your own!
It’s so easy to make the stuffing ahead of time, taking only minutes to prepare, and beats a packet of Sage & Onion every time.
Good quality, free range pork sausage meat 1kg
Sourdough breadcrumbs 150g
Soft prunes, chopped 200g
Pistachios, roughly chopped 100g
Dried pink peppercorns 2 heaped tbsp
Fennel seeds 1 tbsp
1 egg, beaten
Zest of 1 orange
1/2 bunch fresh parsley, chopped
Salt and black pepper
A great use of any old bits of sourdough you might have lying around (or in the freezer). Don’t use fresh - best at a week old. If the bread is still quite soft, slice and leave it out for a few hours (or overnight) before blitzing into crumbs.
Simply combine all the above ingredients, excluding the meat and egg. When evenly mixed, add the final ingredients and mix thoroughly with your hands. Will keep for several days in the fridge, or freeze until ready to use.
Bake at 180°C for about 30 minutes. If you have a digital thermometer, look for a brownie core temperature of 90-92°C. This will ensure your bake is crunchy on the outside and beautifully squidgy on the inside. If you don’t have a thermometer, check the edges of your brownies are shrinking away from the sides of the tin.
Allow to cool in the tin. When cold, cut and transfer to an airtight container where they will keep for as long as you’re able to resist them.
Everybody is looking for something different in their perfect brownie. For me, these are Brownie Nirvana. My work here is done.
Our workshops are run by award-winning sourdough baker Helen Underwood.