Hot Cross Buns !

25 Mar 2014

My very first taste of a warm hot cross bun arrived during the springtime of my second year in Ireland. We were invited to a friend’s farm for an afternoon garden party. The country estate was sprawling, with a main “big house,” several stone farm buildings, and other various dwelling houses dotting the acreage. There was a charming, if a bit battered, vintage grass tennis court and a sweet little lake, which was called The Leap. Dogs and cats roamed freely with the hens, sheep, cattle and horses.

It was a beautiful sunny day and her husband had baked loads of delicious goodies to share with us. I recall that we all sat perched on colorful tartan wool blankets surrounded by blooming daffodils happily feasting upon hot cross buns, brownies, and tiny slices of Simnel cake whilst sipping copious amounts of Ceylon tea under the canopy of a (long-awaited) crayon blue Irish sky. At one point, a striking ringneck pheasant cock strutted across the field in front of us, and we all marveled in awe. I felt like I was an extra in a Merchant & Ivory film.

It is a magnificent memory to say the least, and I was again reminded of it this year when I began seeing hot cross buns in the markets for Easter. I decided I would try my hand at making a batch and perhaps swap currants and sultanas for something a little different.

hen

Hot cross buns are sweet, yeast-leavened, spiced buns made with currants or raisins, often with candied citrus fruits marked with a cross on the top. The cross can be made in a variety of ways including: of pastry; flour and water mixture; rice paper; icing; two intersecting cuts. They are traditionally eaten at Easter and are massively popular in Ireland and the UK at this time of year.

I was delighted when I stumbled upon a basic Martha Stewart recipe for these yummy yeasty hot cross buns, but I wanted to add a bit more color to the classic original so I substituted sour cherries, toasted almonds and a touch of cardamom to her instructions. The end result is still spicy and sweet, but the cherries and cardamon add a little more pizazz.

These buns can feed a gang of farmers for breakfast on Saturday morning, or make the perfect spring hostess lunch or dinner party gift.  Also, hot cross buns are fantastic for french toast if you actually have any leftover!

After all the ingredients are mixed together,

the dough is kneaded on a floured surface

to ensure cherries + almonds are distributed evenly

Using a pastry sleeve to pipe on the icing crosses is easy and makes less of a mess

I came across this sweet little tidbit while doing my research on these lovely treats: Sharing a hot cross bun with another is supposed to ensure friendship throughout the coming year, particularly if “half for you and half for me, between us two shall goodwill be” is recited at the time.

Goodwill and Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and Styling by Imen McDonnell. Assisted by Sonia Mulford Chaverri.

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Spotted Dog

19 Mar 2013

marmaladenarrow

…or Spotted Dick as my mother-in-law calls it. I can’t seem to refer to this wonderful tea bread as Spotted Dick without turning red and giggling like a teen girl, so I’ll stick with Spotted Dog. When Peggy creates this cake-like bread formed in a rectangular shape, it becomes Railway Cake, which is lovely as well…but doesn’t look as pretty as the round loaf to me. All three variations are essentially a sweet version of white Irish soda bread. In England, Spotted Dick is considered a steamed pudding with currants. In Peggy’s day, it was an absolute treat to be able to add currants or raisins to bread, something really special to savour. At the farm, here and now, we simply devour it before it gets cold. How times have changed. I love it smeared with fresh butter and marmalade (this one…. not mine).

spotteddogcloseup

Teacups

Geoffrey and I went on a hunt for Gorse over the long weekend {St. Patrick’s Day is a national holiday in Ireland so it was a 4-day weekend} We have been using this lovely flower from a dangerously prickly bush to create natural dye for our eggs at Easter for the past two years. It casts a very subtle pale yellow on the eggs, but is still pleasingly pretty to the eye. An added bonus to using this plant to dye eggs is that when you harvest the flowers, your home will become filled with the fragrance of a sandy summer beach as they give off a scent reminiscent of vintage Coppertone sun cream, aka: JOY.

gorsenarrow

Gathering Gorse followed by Spotted Dog + milky tea = a recipe for smiles.

Peggy’s Spotted Dog

Makes 1 Loaf

Ingredients

450g (1lb) plain flour

1 level tsp caster sugar

1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tsp salt

100g (3½oz) sultanas, raisins or currants

350-425ml (12-15fl oz) fresh buttermilk 

 Method

Preheat the oven to 230°C (425°F)

Sift the dry ingredients (incl. currants etc) into a large bowl and make a well in the centre.

Pour in most of the buttermilk (leaving about 60ml/2fl oz in the measuring jug).

Using one hand, bring the flour and liquid together, adding more buttermilk if necessary.

Do not knead the mixture or it will become heavy.

The dough should be soft, but not too wet and sticky.

Turn onto a floured work surface.

Pat the dough into a round about 4cm (1½in) deep and cut a deep cross in it. 

Place on a baking tray and bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, then turn down the heat to 200°C (400°F) and cook for 30 minutes more.

When cooked, the loaf will sound slightly hollow when tapped on the base and be golden in colour.

Allow to cool on a wire rack, but not too long…it’s just perfect eaten warm with butter + marmalade or jam and a cup of milky tea.

overhead

Slan Abhaile,
Imen

Photos and Styling by Imen McDonnell 2013

 

 

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A Pretty Irish Easter

23 Apr 2011

Easter is one of Ireland’s most notable holidays. There are so many special Irish traditions which have been celebrated at this time of year throughout  history. Herring funerals, cake dances and the Cludog (in essence, the roasting of eggs on a farm) are all very old rituals that are not as widely in practice today, but are, nevertheless, nostalgic. Another practice that came as a bit of a surprise to learn was the observation of a ban on alcohol on Good Friday. Let’s just say, Easter is serious business around here.

In our Irish-American blended home, we enjoy a mix of traditions.  Richard loves  the big chocolate eggs and we prepare gorgeous leg of local Irish spring lamb for Easter dinner which is a popular Irish Easter feast.

Growing up stateside, we had the illustrious Easter Bunny whom, if we were good , our parents allowed to creep into our home in the dark of night to drop in a basket filled with Peeps, a fabulous chocolate bunny, tiny chocolate eggs and loads of other goodies.  We would wake up in the morning to find a little note under the pillow, which was inscribed with a clue as to where to look for our eagerly awaited Easter Basket.  One clue would lead to another, and another, and yet another, until we joyously discovered our Easter basket treasures!

Another lovely Easter tradition in our home was dyeing eggs with little kits that were purchased at the local dime store. They included little round colourful tablets of dye (that someone inevitably always thought looked delicious), a wire egg holder for dipping and perhaps a crayon. You mixed the dye with vinegar, dipped the eggs and voila! Beautifully hued hard-boiled eggs.

In the past, I’ve kept a stock of the PAAS colouring kits and have hosted Easter egg colouring parties here on the farm for my friends and their small children. The kids coloured their own tiny basket of eggs and then got to go out and milk feed the baby calves, always a treat!

This year, our shipment from American grandma did not arrive on time so we had to be more creative. At the last minute, Ivan Varian informed me that you could use Gorse flowers to create a yellow dye. Gorse or Furze is a yellow flowering bush that grows wildly in Irish countryside hedgerows. You steep the gorse in boiling water for an hour and you will obtain a yellow hue in which to die your eggs. We also used this lovely article from Williams-Sonoma, and decided to try red cabbage {robin’s egg blue} and beetroot {salmon pink} for natural dyes as well. {Warning: when cutting Gorse, wear gloves as the stems are full of hearty thorns-Sonia cut her finger trying to harvest the Gorse from our hedge!}

A Very Happy Easter To You All!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell. Assisted by Sonia Mulford Chaverri.

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