Tag Archives: enriched dough


It seems like a very long time since I said I would bake a kougelhopf to try out my new bundt tin.  It is.  I’ve been well and truly side-tracked by things like half-term and a chronic attack of I-really-can’t-be-bothereditis.  I think the rain brought this on, and the fact that I bought a new face cream that’s advertised by Helen Mirren (I don’t have anything against her at all, it’s just that she’s quite a bit older than me and I hadn’t quite prepared myself for moving up the skin cream age bracket just yet).  I also had a moment where I seriously considered buying some of that caffeine shampoo that’s advertised to the forty-something woman in a whisper.  No wonder the sofa and back-to-back episodes of Home and Away seemed more appealing than a day in the kitchen.

Anyway, I did eventually make a kougelhopf.  Well, I tried to.  I didn’t end up with a proper one, just a heavy, ring-shaped cake/bread kind of thing.   It did get eaten though, and I haven’t been put off having a second go (although not just yet).

I know where I went wrong.  I’ve attempted several enriched dough breads/cakes for Let’s Bake the Books and I’ve had more failures than successes.  I made three batches of hot cross buns, for example, and none of them turned out tasting like hot cross buns should.  I had better luck with a brioche Christmas garland and, to be honest, by the time I’d tackled a savarin (for the second time), I thought enriched dough would no longer pose any problems.

A kougelhopf you say?  I could make one with my eyes closed.

I could have made a successful kougelhopf (I hope), but I was lacking in two key ingredients. Time and patience (actually, I don’t think I can honestly blame lack of time – I’m sure, if I was more organised, I’d have plenty.  It was lack of patience that did it).

I used a recipe from Edd Kimber’s Patisserie Made Simple.  The bundt tin I was using was a small one.  I agonised for a few minutes about whether I should make half the recipe, two-thirds, three-quarters… I decided that the best thing to do would be to go with half.  It was the easiest mathematically and my maths has never been great.  Maths combined with complicated dough making and I’d be done for.

Edd Kimber’s Kougelhopf recipe is a two-dayer.  On day one, I made the dough.

First, I activated my yeast – the recipe uses fast-action dried yeast – I do have some but, to be honest, I’ve had my best enriched dough results when I’ve used the stuff you have to activate first.  I dissolved my yeast in some milk with a bit of sugar and left if to bloom.  Bloom it did. Here it is.

In the meantime, I heated some raisins in a pan with a mixture of rum and water until the liquid had been absorbed.  These would go into the dough once it had been mixed.

I added my yeast to a combination of plain and strong white bread flour, caster sugar and salt and mixed in the KitchenAid with the dough hook.  I added eggs and mixed – the recipe doesn’t give you the option of hand mixing (which I never do, but always feel that I should – good on you Edd Kimber for going straight to the food mixer).

This stage of the kneading process, says the recipe, should take at least ten minutes from when the dough first forms, and that it’s ready when it is smooth and elastic.  I’m never quite sure when I get to that smooth and elastic stage. I think my mixture could have done with a bit more kneading but I was a bit pushed for time, so I stopped at the prescribed ten minutes.   I kept the KitchenAid running as I added room temperature butter a little bit at a time and then kneaded as per the recipe for another fifteen minutes.

This time, the test for whether the dough had been kneaded enough was that it shouldn’t stick to the side of the bowl.  I had a bit of a problem here.  The dough would leave the side of the bowl and stick around the dough hook, but then it would migrate back into the bowl, sit there on the side for a while, then cling to the dough hook again.  This kept happening.  I had no idea whether the dough was ready or not.

I added raisins and orange zest to the dough, gave it another short mix, put it into a greased bowl, covered the bowl with clingfilm, and put it into the fridge to rise slowly overnight.  Day one complete.

The first step on Day Two was to grease my bundt tin and sprinkle almonds into the bottom. Easy.   Then I was supposed to take the dough from the fridge, give it a quick press, form it into a round, make a hole in the middle and put it into the tin.

I took my dough out of the fridge and found that a thick skin had formed on the top.  Should I have pressed the clingfilm onto the surface of the dough to stop this?  This is what you have to do with custard.  I checked the recipe.  It wasn’t particularly clear, but it hadn’t said anything about the dough developing an elephant hide overnight.  I took it out of the fridge.  It was too cold to do anything with.  I couldn’t press it, I couldn’t make it into a round, or make a hole in the middle of it.  I think I should have let the dough come up to room temperature, or at least warm up a little bit.  As I’ve said though, I didn’t display much patience with my kougelhopf dough and I fought it into the tin, skin and all, and flung it into a warm place to prove.

Now, the recipe says that the dough should double in size, and that this should take about two hours.  You can tell when it’s ready when you press it with a lightly floured finger and the dough springs back slowly.  I forgot to put flour on my finger so, when I did the test, I came away with a very sticky dough-covered finger and I wasn’t sure whether the spring back had been slow enough.  It was slow enough for me, I decided.  It had to be because, if it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be able to put it into the oven before I had to leave for school pick-up and that would mean that it would be another few hours before I’d have the chance to bake it.

I put the kougelhopf into the oven at 160° fan for thirty minutes (the recipe says thirty-five, but I was concerned that, since I was only baking half of the recipe, my cooking time would, perhaps, be shorter.  The top of the kougelhopf was also turning from the golden brown it should be to dark brown).

I left the cake in the tin for five minutes and then turned it onto a wire rack.  Some of it stayed in the bundt tin, but I did manage to get it out stick it onto the top of the cake (sort of).  I was supposed to brush melted butter over the kougelhopf, but I hadn’t read this bit of the recipe, so I dotted some unmelted butter around the top and had a quick look around the kitchen drawers for my pastry brush.  I didn’t find it (although I did find a pair of scissors that I’d been looking for for weeks),  so I used a knife to spread the butter around a bit and, once the kougelhopf had cooled down, I dusted it with icing sugar (which covered up my multitude of mistakes).

As I said, what I ended up with wasn’t a kougelhopf.  It hadn’t risen half as much as the one in the picture in Patisserie Made Simple, and the dough was dense and chewy (although not inedible).  The poor thing suffered from lack of love and attention on my part.  I think the moral of the kougelhopf is that it should only be attempted where time isn’t an issue and, if you think it’s passed the “is the dough kneaded enough?” and the “has the dough proved enough?” tests give it a few more minutes, just to make sure.



Savarin – a second attempt

I’m very behind in my attempts to bake the technical challenges from the Great British Bake Off. It finished last week and I’m still stuck in Tudor week.  I’ve decided not to attempt the jumbles. I know it would take me hours of shouting and swearing to get my biscuit dough into knots, and knots that tasted of throat sweets at that.  No thanks.

On to the savarin then.  I have tried to make a savarin before, a chocolate and almond liqueur one.  It was a disaster.  Worse even than my Battenberg.  I had to throw it into the bin.  Even the birds wouldn’t touch it.   I wasn’t feeling very confident about making another, but I thought I should at least give it a try.

I used the recipe from the Great British Bake Off website , although it’s also available at BBC Food.  Both recipes are accompanied by pictures of beautiful savarins.  They’re filled with cream and elegantly decorated with fresh fruit and caramel shards. The Bake Off version even has a little chocolate disc with the word “savarin” on it, just in case there’s any confusion.  I was a bit pressed for time, and I wasn’t really in the mood for fancy piping and caramel, so I made mine plain and served it with cream.   Unsurprisingly, I didn’t make a chocolate disc that said “savarin” either.Savarin

It’s a poor cousin to the beautiful Bake Off creations, I know, but it all came out of the tin in one piece, it was cooked and it tasted beautiful.  Who needs caramel shards and a chocolate label?

The first step in the recipe was to put plain flour, sugar, instant yeast and salt into a bowl, and then mix in eggs and milk.  I’d decided to use dried active yeast rather than instant so I had to activate it first which I did by mixing my yeast with warm milk and sugar (taken from the recipe amounts).  There were two reasons for my yeast choice.  First, I’ve had better results in making enriched dough when I’ve used dried yeast and, second, the recipe called for 10g.  I only had 7g sachets of instant yeast and I didn’t want to have to use two.  I left my yeast, milk and sugar mixture by the radiator for twenty minutes to bubble up and, once I had bubbles, I mixed it in with the flour, sugar and salt and added the rest of the milk and eggs.

The recipe tells you to beat the mixture for five minutes until you get a thick, sticky batter.  So here’s a question. Was I supposed to beat with a beater, or a dough hook?  Was I making a cake mixture or a dough?  A bread, or a cake? I know my previous savarin experience wasn’t great, but I checked that recipe (which came from the Great British Bake Off Big Book of Baking) and used the dough hook.  My thick, sticky batter looked like this.

savarin batter

The next step was to add butter.  As per the recipe, my butter was at room temperature and in cubes.  I added them slowly.  It took ages.  When, at last, I had a mixture that could pass as smooth, elastic and shiny as required by the recipe, I folded in orange and lemon zest, covered the bowl with clingfilm and left it by the radiator to rise.

While my savarin mixture sat by the radiator, I made a syrup from water, caster sugar, lemon juice and lemoncello – (the recipe uses Grand Marnier, but we hadn’t got any).  I also did my usual chores,  the ironing, catching up on a bit of Home and Away… My savarin was rising for a more than an hour.

When I went back to it, I poured the mixture into a greased ring cake tin, re-covered it and put it back by the radiator.  The recipe says that it should stay there for 45 minutes.  I had a school pick-up and junior tennis before I could get back to baking.  It took a lot longer than 45 minutes.

Back in baking mode, I put the savarin into the oven at 160° fan for 25 minutes (checking after 20).  The dough had split at the bottom (Google says that this could be a sign that the mixture was under-proved) , but it was golden brown and sounded cooked when I tapped it.

baked savarin

I left it to cool in the tin for a few minutes, then, with my heart in my mouth (this is where my earlier attempt started to go pear-shaped) I very carefully loosened the sides with a palette knife and turned it out of the tin.  It came out in one piece.  I did a very small victory dance around the kitchen, poured half of the lemoncello syrup into the cake tin, and put the savarin back in to soak it up.  I put the rest of the syrup into a roasting tray and turned the savarin over so that it could soak up the rest of the syrup from the bottom.

As I said, I didn’t fill it with cream, but I did whip up some double cream with icing sugar and vanilla paste, and served the savarin with a generous dollop.



It tasted lovely.  I was so pleased.  The dough was rich and sweet and had soaked up the syrup really well (although a couple of my tasters thought that there was a bit more syrup at the bottom than the top).  I don’t think I’ll ever be an expert in all things enriched-dough, but I am getting better.  I’ll definitely try this sort of thing again.  I may even make a bit more of an effort in the presentation.  Chocolate labels though?  I doubt it.

Pain au raisin; a step too far

It was a bank holiday.  I’d allowed myself to indulge in the romantic notion of a leisurely breakfast of proper coffee, delectable homemade pastries and grown up conversation.  A discussion about the pros and cons of staying in or leaving the EU perhaps.  OK, that may be a bit too grown up for a bank holiday breakfast, just something a little bit more mature than, “I am dragon, Raah!” would do.

I should know by now.  Romance and tricky baking simply do not mix.  These flaccid, flabby, floppy – think I’d better stop with the f-words now – things are my attempt at pain au raisin.

pain au raisin resizeActually, they don’t look that bad.  Just nothing like pain au raisin. I was nearer tears with these than I have been since I made the disastrous dark chocolate savarin.  Serves me right for dreaming about perfect pastries.

I’d decided to use a combination of books; James Martin’s Sweet for the crème pâtissière filling (I don’t think I’m quite experienced enough yet to call it crème pat) and the dough, and Edd Kimber’s Patisserie Made Simple for the assembly.

I started with the crème pâtissière which, I’m pleased to say worked really well, even though half of my vanilla seeds fell onto the floor whilst in transit across the kitchen (they still made it into the custard – far too expensive to waste – and, as my mom always says, a bit of dirt won’t hurt).

I boiled full fat milk with the vanilla, whisked eggs yolks and sugar together, and then added some cornflour.   The next step was to pour the milk onto the egg mixture.  I was nervous about this because the last time I made a custard with cornflour, there were lumps in it that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a rock garden.  I added the milk slowly this time, and made sure that the mixture was smooth before I added more.  I’m not sure whether this is the right thing to do, but it worked for me.  I put everything back into my saucepan and stirred until the mixture started to thicken.  A lovely smooth crème pâtissière.   I sprinkled icing sugar over the surface, covered it with clingfilm and put it into the fridge.  Things were looking good.

I moved onto the dough, a laminated enriched yeast dough no less; a yeasty puff pastry.  I knew it was going to be tricky, but my confidence with enriched dough has increased lately after my Christmas garland and banana and Nutella bread so I was willing to give it a go.

My first problem was with the yeast.  James Martin uses fresh yeast.  I couldn’t find any so was using dried.  Now, the recipe says that you should put the yeast into cold water and whisk it until it’s dissolved.  Do you do the same for dried yeast, or do you need to activate it first?  The instructions on the tin say that you should reactivate dried yeast before using it by mixing it with sugar and warm water, but it also says that, if the recipe calls for fresh yeast, simply replace it with half the quantity of dried yeast.  Confusing.  I pondered over my tin of yeast for a few minutes, then decided to follow the recipe and whisked the yeast into cold water.  Just one of the reasons why my pastries may have failed.

I put my yeast and water into a mixture of strong flour, sugar and salt and then added cold water and mixed to a soft dough in the KitchenAid.  I kneaded the dough for five minutes in the machine until it felt pretty stretchy and then rolled it out into a rectangle – well, a sort of rectangle. It was, in truth, more like an oval, but rolling dough that was so elastic was tricky, and neatness has never been one of my strongest points.

Next came the butter.  James Martin takes 500g of butter and bashes it with a rolling-pin until it’s a 1cm thick 60cmx30cm rectangle.  I was making half the quantity so, I took a block of butter, cut it into thirds, and went over the joins with a rolling-pin.  I had a sort of rectangle, that was sort of 1cm thick.  butter resizeI put my sort of butter rectangle in the middle of my sort of dough rectangle, folded one side of the dough over the butter, did the same with the other side, pinched the open ends together, and then folded the whole thing in half lengthways.  I turned the dough through 90° and folded again.  The butter was starting to soften and the dough starting to stick, so I put it into the fridge for a while, did a bit of ironing and then went through the folding process a couple more times.  I wrapped the dough in clingfilm and put it into the fridge overnight (well, actually, it was in there for two nights – another reason perhaps why my pain au raisin weren’t great).

To assemble the pastries, I turned to Edd Kimber’s book, Patisserie Made Simple.  I rolled out the dough to another sort of rectangle, spread my crème pâtissière over the top, and sprinkled the whole thing with raisins, which I’d soaked in boiling water.  Then I tried rolling it up.  I couldn’t.  Butter was seeping out of the dough making it stick on the work top.  Custard was seeping out of the sides of my roll making everything slippery.  I eventually managed a couple of turns, and cut the roll into slices.  I put them onto greased baking sheets and left them to prove.  There were no pain au raisin swirls, just lumps of custard-oozing dough.  Oh dear.

proving resize

James Martin leaves his pastries to prove for 30 minutes at room temperature before baking.  Edd Kimber leaves his pain au raisin for two to three hours.  I went with 30 minutes, mainly because I’d followed James Martin’s dough recipe so thought I’d stick with him for the proving times. There’s also no way that I’d have been able to wait another three hours for breakfast.

I baked the pastries – I can’t quite bring myself to call them pain au raisin – for 20 minutes at 180° fan, and you’ve seen what I ended up with.pain au raisin resizeThe custard was good, but the dough was dreadful.  Floppy, damp, heavy,  I can’t think of anything good to say about it, other than it wasn’t quite inedible.  It’s going to be a very, very long time before I even think about homemade pastries for breakfast again.



James Martin’s banana and Nutella marbled cake

banana and Nutella marbled cake

It’s World Nutella Day today so, to celebrate, I (a) bought the first jar since my student days (a very long, long time ago) and, (b) made banana and Nutella marbled cake from James Martin’s Sweet.  Cake is a bit of a misnomer here because, in fact, it’s made from two types of dough sandwiched together with Nutella and banana, and twisted to create a marble effect. Banana and Nutella marbled bread then?

The dough is enriched yeast dough.  One half is flavoured with cocoa powder and the other left plain.  I have attempted to make enriched chocolate dough before, for a dark chocolate savarin, and the result was catastrophic.  My husband’s birthday cake ended up in chunks on the patio for the birds, who turned up their beaks at it and headed quickly back to the bird feeder.  I was a bit more confident this time.  I’ve had better results on the enriched dough front recently and, I trusted James Martin a little bit more than Martha from the 2014 Great British Bake Off whose recipe I used for the savarin – sorry Martha.

There’s a lot of proving time in this recipe – four hours or overnight in the fridge, and then another two once the bread has been shaped.  I went for the overnight in the fridge option.

I mixed strong white flour, caster sugar, salt and easy-bake yeast in the KitchenAid and added warm milk and an egg.  The recipe says that the mixture should form a sticky dough.  Sticky it definitely was.  I’m glad I used the KitchenAid for the kneading.  I wouldn’t have had a chance if I’d tried by hand.   After a five-minute knead, I slowly added softened butter – I’d read the recipe carefully this time, so didn’t throw it in all at once as I did when I made brioche. Once the butter was in,  I turned the dough out and did knead it by hand until it wasn’t sticky any more.

To make the chocolate flavoured dough, the recipe says that you add a couple of teaspoons of water to 15g of cocoa powder, and work the cocoa into the dough.  I wasn’t sure what to do here.  The water didn’t seem to make much difference to the cocoa.  I think I was expecting to get some sort of paste.  To get the cocoa into the dough, I sprinkled it, bit by bit, onto the top of the dough and kneaded it in.  This seemed to work, although it did take some kneading, and I did seem to create pockets of cocoa powder which burst through the dough at some points. I’m still not sure whether I should have had a cocoa paste, rather than slightly damp powder, but I did end up with a cocoa coloured dough, so I don’t think I went that far wrong.

Here’s  the dough after a night in the fridge.

plain and chocolate dough


To make the cake, I rolled the chocolate dough into a rough long thin rectangle – the recipe says it should be 50x15cm, spread Nutella over the top, and covered the Nutella with slices of banana.  The plain dough went on top, so I had a very long, thin Nutella and banana sandwich. The next step was to cut the sandwich in half length-ways and give each half a couple of twists. This I managed with minimal spillage of Nutella and banana – well done me.

The first piece went around the edge of a 23cm springform tin, and the second into the middle. I covered the tin with clingfilm, cranked up the kitchen radiator, and left the dough to prove for a couple of hours – time for a basket of ironing and a few episodes of Home and Away.

After the second prove, the bread went into the oven at 160° fan for 35 minutes initially. It didn’t look done, so I gave it another five before I took it out.  Now, James Martin says that the cake/bread is cooked when the base sounds hollow when you tap it.  All very well to say this. Checking that the base of something sounds hollow when it’s in a hot springform tin and the base is covered with parchment is a pretty tricky operation, especially when you’re wearing oven gloves.  Anyway, I managed it, and found that the bottom still looked pretty soggy and was nowhere near making a hollow sound when tapped.  It went back into the oven for another ten minutes just on the base of the tin.  When I took it out again, i still wasn’t sure.  Would bread that’s stuffed with banana slices that are oozing out all over the place ever be anything less than soggy?  I got a second opinion from Jon – he thought it looked OK, so I glazed the top with sugar syrup and let it cool.  Here is the finished cake.

banana and Nutella marbled cake

It’s not as shiny as the photo in Sweet but it’s not too dissimilar.  Here’s what it looked like inside.

sliceTaste-wise, I’m really not sure about this one.  We initially thought that it was undercooked because it felt pretty soggy when we prodded it.  Then we decided that the sogginess came from the banana rather than the dough.   I just don’t know.  I don’t know whether it isn’t cooked properly, or whether I’m just not too keen.  For me it’s hmm…, rather than mmm….  On the upside, there’s three-quarters of a jar of Nutella in the house now, and I do think that my enriched doughs are improving slowly.  Now I just have to learn to bake them properly.

Christmas garland – sweet dough, sweet success

I have a new book; James Martin’s Sweet.  A friend bought it for my birthday.  It’s signed and everything.  How exciting.  There are some delicious looking puds and cakes in Sweet, and the photos are amazing.  We’re so close to Christmas that there was only one thing to try, the Candied Fruit Christmas Garland; a brioche filled with rum-soaked candied fruit.


I’ve been trying to produce a decent enriched dough since I tried to make hot cross buns at Easter.  They weren’t quite right, neither were my iced fingers, or the stollen I made last week. The chocolate savarin I attempted for my husband’s birthday ended up in the bin.  Would I get better results with James Martin than with Mary Berry, Delia Smith, or Martha from the Great British Bake Off 2014?

According to James, brioche dough is really simple to make.  Really simple eh? – we’ll see.  In the recipe, the top tip is to use fresh yeast.  Well, Tesco only does easy-bake and I couldn’t find any in Marks.  After my unsuccessful hunt around Leamington Spa for candied peel last week,  I couldn’t face the possibility of another fruitless search, so I decided to risk the recipe with dried yeast.  Not the greatest start.

I don’t have a great deal of experience in using anything other than easy-bake yeast.  I know you have to activate it in liquid and sugar before putting into the dough mix.  I read the instructions carefully, then got into a bit of a state about whether it’s OK to use milk rather than water to activate the yeast if that’s the liquid that’s going into the recipe.  Google said that, yes I could, and Google must be right, so I mixed the yeast with warm milk and a bit of sugar, put it on top of the radiator and hovered over it for any signs of froth.

To make the dough, I mixed strong flour, salt and sugar.  When my yeast looked like this


I added it to the flour mixture along with some eggs and mixed it in the KitchenAid with the dough hook.  The aim was to end up with a soft, smooth dough.  The recipe said that this would take around five minutes.  Once I had my soft, smooth dough, I added some softened butter.  At the top of the recipe, James Martin emphasises the importance of adding the butter to the mixture slowly. There’s even a picture of him adding small cubes a few at a time. What did I do?  I added my butter in two large lumps.  Things were not looking at all good for my Christmas garland.  Next time, I will read the recipe and I will look at the pictures.  Promise.

The butter was in and the KitchenAid was on, so I kept going, although I feared that my brioche had little chance of working.   I kept the KitchenAid on until the butter had been incorporated and the dough was soft, then I tipped it out onto a floured board.  My mixture was more like a cake batter than dough.  I was supposed to knead the mixture until it was smooth.  I pulled it about a bit, I don’t think I could truthfully call it kneading, put the dough into a clean bowl, covered it with clingfilm and left it by the radiator to rise.

To make the brioche into a Christmas garland, I had to fill it with rum-soaked fruit and bake it in a ring cake tin.  I greased my tin with Cake Release and soaked orange and lemon zest, sultanas and chopped candied fruit in rum for twenty minutes (the recipe says use spiced rum. I sneaked a bit of my husband’s Angostura Trinidad and Tobago premium stuff. it’s probably not supposed to be used to make cakes, but hey-ho).  For the fruit, I used glacé cherries, chopped whole mixed peel and glacé pears.  There’s still no candied fruit in Leamington Spa as far as I know, but both Delia and James  recommend the same online supplier (Country Fruits) so I am now well stocked for the festive season.  I scattered some of the soaked fruit around the base of the tin.  The rest, I would use to fill the brioche. Easy.

I tipped my dough onto a floured board, actually, scraped is probably a more accurate word.  I gave it a bit of a squeeze to knock the air out and flattened it into a rectangle.  I scattered the rest of the fruit onto the top.doughwithfruitI just about managed to roll it up into a sausage shape, but I couldn’t twist the dough into a circle as per the recipe, it was just too wet.  The only thing I could do was to, somehow, get the mixture into the tin.  This I did with a palette knife and a fish slice.  Most of it did, thankfully, end up in the tin.  I’m not sure how.


I covered the tin with clingfilm and, again put it by the radiator for one and a half hours.  I baked it for 30 minutes at 170° fan and held my breath as I turned out what was sure to be a complete mess of a brioche garland.  Another sweet dough disaster…

finalversion…or, perhaps not.  True, a few piece of fruit had stuck to the tin, but it was definitely a garland and, more surprisingly, it was definitely a brioche.  It smelled so delicious that I stood over it for five minutes wafting the warm rum, fruit and just-baked scent up my nose.  Fabulous.

In Sweet, James Martin decorates the garland with royal icing and glacé fruit.  I’m not too keen on royal icing, so I just used a sugar syrup.  I have to say that, despite the dried yeast, the lumps of butter, and the slightly unorthodox way of getting it into the tin, the Christmas garland was great.  I can’t believe I’ve actually managed to make something with enriched dough that tastes exactly as it should.  There’s definitely much more to come from Sweet.

Hot cross buns: Mary Berry or Marks and Spencer?

It’s Easter, so I had to make hot cross buns.  Well, I had to try at least.  I wasn’t really in great baking frame of mind to be honest.  My little girl – she’s 21 months – had been singing Wheels on the Bus at top volume all night and, just as she decided to go to sleep and I was drifting off, I was whacked around the head by a stegosaurus.  Hard.

Wheels on the Bus continued through breakfast with my son joining in in close and loud disharmony. It was only after nearly breaking my neck twice (marbles in the hallway and a collision with a knee-high articulated lorry that almost got kicked into the middle of next week in frustration) that I managed to get the children off to nursery.  Perhaps some savage kneading was just what I needed.

I decided to use the recipe from Mary Berry’s Baking Bible.  The first step was to mix strong white flour, salt, mixed spice, ground cinnamon, grated nutmeg, a sachet of fast-action yeast, and caster sugar.  The recipe then tells you to make a well in the centre and add some melted and cooled butter, tepid milk, tepid water and a large beaten egg and, following these,  currants and chopped candied peel. I followed the recipe and, as with other Mary Berry recipes (I really should have learned by now), I ended up with a really wet dough.  I had to add quite a lot more flour so that I could work with it.

Kneading the dough wasn’t the therapeutic experience I’d hoped for.  It was a nightmare.  At least half of the currants in the mixture ended up on the floor, and most of the others just popped out of the dough.  I ended up kneading the mixture for 15 minutes, and then poking errant currants into the mixture with my fingers.  Mary Berry would have been shocked.  I’m not sure whether I’d done enough kneading, but I was so fed up I went onto the next step and put the dough into an oiled boil, covered it with oiled cling film and left it to rise.

Now, the recipe says that the mixture should double in size, and that this will take about an hour and a half in a warm room (since it is an enriched dough, it will take longer to rise than plain dough).  So, how warm is a warm room?  Would 20 degrees be classed as warm? Did I need to turn up the heating?  I don’t think that my kitchen (which is usually about 20 degrees) was warm enough.  I had to give the dough an extra 30 minutes rising time and, even then, I’m not sure that it had grown to twice its original size.

I kneaded the dough for a couple of minutes as per the recipe and made 12 buns out of it, cutting a cross in the middle of each one.  I put them onto oiled baking trays and, again, covered them with oiled cling film.  300I left them to rise until doubled in size. The recipe said that this would take about 30 minutes.  I had to give them an hour.

For the crosses, Mary suggests either, leaving the buns as they are, or making up a bit of shortcrust pastry to put on the top before baking.   The Great British Bake Off, Big Book of Baking uses a flour and water mix to pipe a cross onto the top of the buns.  I did four of each.

I baked the buns for 15 minutes at 200 degrees fan and, once I’d taken them out, I glazed them with a sugar and water mixture. This is what they looked like.307

My verdict on the crosses was that the piped dough crosses looked the best, but tasted awful.  Some of the pastry crosses had broken on baking, but tasted much better.  The buns themselves didn’t taste like hot cross buns at all.  They were doughy and just didn’t taste right.

I suspected that my mistakes had been in the rising and proving of the dough. I couldn’t find much to help me in the Baking Bible so I had a look in Leith’s Cookery Bible. This is a vast and decidedly unsexy cookbook (it doesn’t have very many pictures, and none of them include soft focus vintage tea cups or flowers), but it’s really useful for trouble shooting.  According to the Cookery Bible “warm” means 24 degrees.  The dough should be left until it is double in size and remains indented when pressed lightly with a finger.  So, it was as I suspected, I needed to increase the temperature and wait longer for my dough to rise.  Another interesting thing I found out from the Cookery Bible is that, fruit and/or nuts are usually added to dough after the first rising stage.

I mulled these points over for a couple of days and then decided to make another batch of buns.  This time, they would definitely rival my M&S buns.  In the second batch I did things a little bit differently:

  • I used the KitchenAid to mix and knead the dough – the children were at home, so the quicker and cleaner I could do things the better.
  • I added the butter and egg to the mixture in one go, but mixed the milk and water together and added it gradually until the dough formed.  I ended up using around two thirds of the liquid stated in the recipe.
  • I cranked up the kitchen radiator and made sure that the mixture had doubled in size (and my finger left an indent in the dough) before I made the buns.  This took about two hours.
  • I added the currants and mixed peel after the dough had risen.  It still wasn’t easy, and I ended up poking a fair few currants into the dough again once I’d finished kneading.

Once the dough had risen, I made the buns.  I was a bit haphazard here, since I had to drop everything to rescue my daughter, who was being fed raw garlic by her big brother.  I did everything else as quickly as I could, and ended up with buns that tasted… wait for it… the same as the last batch. They were edible, but they certainly didn’t taste like hot cross buns.  I felt terrible.  I was an inattentive mother who would have to carry on buying her hot cross buns from M&S.  I’m going to have to make a chocolate cake next week,  just to cheer myself up.339