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Good pics, bad pics, great buns

April 10, 2012

Cranberry and Cointreau hot cross bunsDo you eat and drink while you are working? I’m writing this with a cup of tea and a warm, sticky hot cross bun smeared with butter at my elbow. Whoops, there are crumbs on the keyboard. I don’t care though as these are some of the best hot cross buns I’ve ever made.  If you celebrate Easter, I hope you are enjoying this week.  For me it’s a time of friends and family; my teens are on school holidays so I may have to make a repeat batch.  Join me and grab yourself a cuppa.  Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…

Meeta K Wollf at the workshop at Atlantis The Palm, Dubai

The sky was a bit grey and cloudy as I drove up the ramp to the apartment block but the voice answering the phone was warm and sunny.  Meeta had arrived and within minutes she appeared, wearing a bright red dress and a wide smile.  Of all the incredible contacts, networking, meetings and friendships that I’ve encountered since I started My Custard Pie, this was one of the most exciting.  We’d ‘met’ on Twitter and via Meeta’s blog What’s for lunch, Honey? and this exchange led eventually to working together on a two-day Food photography and styling workshop at Atlantis The Palm, Dubai.  We’d e-mailed, Tweeted and Skyped, I’d even met her Mum for lunch, but this was the first time in person.  There was no hanging around though; on the eve of the workshop we had prop shopping to do.Hot cross buns 2011 and 2012

In the craft shop, our eyes scanned reams of fabrics of every hue and pattern to use as backgrounds, table-cloths and improvised napkins.  Meeta said she wanted some brighter colours but laughed once she assessed the selection she’d chosen which included a lot of dark blue and green, while I gravitated to muted taupe and beige.  Our personal styles were revealed.

Developing a personal style, finding your own creativity and staying true to your instincts in photography and styling was a theme that came up a lot over the next couple of days at Atlantis.  It’s easy to get caught up by the latest trends or a certain popular look.  Finding your own voice takes time, practise and honesty but is ultimately very rewarding.

My passion for simple food with good fresh ingredients is what I try to communicate.  Adding a lot of props takes me out of my comfort zone; it’s like wearing someone else’s clothes.

Hot cross buns

There’s so much to share about the workshop that it deserves another post, but Meeta started off the sessions by comparing a bad photo with a good photo.  They were both taken by her – one over six years ago and one this year.  Time, dedication, practise, perseverance, honesty, confidence and a good eye took her from snaps on her blog to professional food photography and styling.  There had been a build up of many months of groundwork prior to the workshop and we had a wonderful couple of days in a lovely location – Nasimi – which I will expand on soon.  Meeta was as open and sunny as her blog and gave us a lot of food for thought.  It was great to get into the kitchen after it was all over for a spot of restful dough bashing.

Hot cross buns

The Fresh From the Oven challenge this month was to make hot cross buns again and a year later I’ve changed how I approached it.

For one, I didn’t follow the recipe.  Cranberries and orange juice are an irresistible combination in Christmas cranberry sauce; I’ve been a rebel and brought them out for Easter with orange zest and dried cranberries in the dough and a sticky, syrupy glaze of orange juice with a dash a Cointreau.  Try them during this Easter week (or at any time). You won’t regret it.  I’d love to know what you think of the pictures too – I had a lot of fun experimenting.  Which one makes you want to eat these buns the most?

Hot cross buns

Cranberry and Cointreau hot cross buns

Makes 12. Printable version here.


7.5g (1 1/2 teaspoons) instant dried yeast (or 15g fresh yeast)
175ml (6 fl oz) lukewarm milk
350g strong plain white bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon mixed spice, ground
1 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
1 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
50g (2oz) butter, diced
zest of a lemon, grated
zest of an orange, grated
25g (1oz) soft, light brown sugar
75g (3oz) dried cranberries
1 egg, beaten

Hot cross buns

For the glaze: Put 100g (4oz) caster sugar  in a small saucepan with 50ml fresh orange juice. Heat gently to dissolve sugar then raise the heat and bring to the boil until thickened but not brown. Leave to cool and add 15ml Cointreau.

For the crosses: approx 50g (2oz) shortcrust pastry or 1 tablespoon of plain flour mixed to a loose paste with 1 tablespoon of water.

Hot cross buns


  1. Stir the yeast into the warm milk and leave for 5 minutes (unless you are using easy-blend yeast).  Sift the flour and spices into the bowl of your mixer, add the salt and rub in the butter (I used the paddle on my KitchenAid).  Stir in the lemon and orange zest, sugar, cranberries. (If you are using easy-blend yeast, add this in now.)
  2. Add the yeast/milk mixture and egg to form a soft dough (I use the dough hook).  Knead for 10 minutes by machine or hand.  Remove the dough, wash and dry the bowl and lightly oil it, then return the dough, cover with cling film and leave in a warm place for about 2 hours or until doubled in size.
  3. Knock back the dough (removing the air), lightly knead again for a few minutes then cut it into 12 equal pieces.  Roll each piece into a ball (I do this by tucking the edges underneath) and put on a baking sheet lined with baking paper.
  4. Cover with cling film and leave to rise again in a warm place for around 30 minutes (alternatively you can put them in the fridge overnight and bring to room temperature in the morning).  Roll out the pastry and cut into even strips, brush the back of each strip with a little water and lay two pieces over each bun to form a cross.  Alternatively use a piping bag (or plastic bag with the corner cut off) with the flour and water paste to make the crosses.
  5. Bake in an oven preheated to 190C (325F) for 15-20 minutes. Make the glaze while they are cooking and brush this over the top while the buns are still warm.  Cool on a wire rack.  Serve with butter and jam.

Hot cross buns

I think I’ll try soaking the cranberries in Cointreau overnight next time for an extra orangey hit.  Did you make hot cross buns this year? As always, you can see many more buns over on The Little Loaf , who set the challenge, and the round up on Purely Food .

  1. April 10, 2012 5:08 pm

    How do I get in touch with you?

    • April 10, 2012 5:09 pm

      Hi Claire, My email is on the About page but I’ll drop you a line.

  2. April 10, 2012 5:11 pm

    I am sure Meeta is a lovely person!!

    I love all the photos and think the cranberry hot cross buns are sounding yummy!

    • April 10, 2012 6:14 pm

      She is – it was great fun.

  3. April 10, 2012 5:16 pm

    It sounds and looks as though you enjoyed a great workshop with Meeta. Those buns look inviting but sadly I will not even attempt them….gluten and all that lark…

    • April 10, 2012 6:14 pm

      I always seem to be making things you can’t eat 😦

  4. April 10, 2012 5:19 pm

    orange and cranberry… mmm deeelish!
    i think i loved this one the most

    loved the composition the lighting and colors

    • April 10, 2012 6:13 pm

      Thanks Drina – and I really appreciate the feedback on the image.

  5. April 10, 2012 5:21 pm

    Your buns look absolutely beautiful – I love this variation. It feels very festive to me – might bake up a batch of these buns at Christmas 🙂

    • April 10, 2012 6:13 pm

      Now you’re talking – could replace the crosses with stars?

  6. April 10, 2012 5:22 pm

    Lovely buns! So tempting.

    Oh, I wish I could take part in such a workshop with Meeta.



    • April 10, 2012 6:12 pm

      I wish you could too Rosa – maybe next time….because hopefully there will be a next time.

  7. zizikalandjai permalink
    April 10, 2012 5:35 pm

    Great post, Sally! I’m looking forward to reading more about the workshop.

    These hot cross buns look awesome!

  8. April 10, 2012 5:39 pm

    My first time to try hot cross buns last weekend. Happy Easter Sally! Looking forward to a next time for your food photography and styling workshop ;p

  9. April 10, 2012 5:51 pm

    Love the big photo of the buns and cranberries with the grey background. Look forward to hearing more about the workshop!

    • April 10, 2012 6:16 pm

      Thanks Amy – that’s 2 votes for that pic. I used slate as a background.

    • April 11, 2012 8:27 am

      Didi and Zizi – Just writing up the workshop post now – thanks for your interest and feedback. Much appreciated.

  10. April 10, 2012 7:34 pm

    Am I allowed to love the 2011 picture? And I like hot cross buns (2). My personal style is simple I fear – it’s all about the food! Nice buns honey…

    • April 10, 2012 9:08 pm

      I like that you love any of them!

  11. April 10, 2012 7:42 pm

    Meeta and delicious hot cross buns, all in one post – perfection. I love the cranberry twist you’ve given the recipe. They sound exceptional.

    • April 11, 2012 8:42 am

      I was really pleased with this twist – I usually like to leave the classics alone but the cranberries have a tang that raisins lack. Thanks Charlie.

  12. April 10, 2012 8:30 pm

    lovely buns Sally…washed down with lashings of tea I trust….

    • April 11, 2012 8:38 am

      …of course. I run on tea as you know Debi.

  13. April 10, 2012 9:07 pm

    They look great! I had hot cross buns for the first time this year after photographing them for a local natural foods store and have fallen in love! Buttery, sticky, delicious!

    • April 11, 2012 8:40 am

      They seem to be available all year round in England now, but they were a special annual treat when I was a child. Yes – butter is essential. Glad you’ve discovered them.

  14. April 10, 2012 10:30 pm

    What a lovely post! The big one of the buns on a slate was the one that had me reaching to eat them!

    • April 11, 2012 8:28 am

      Thanks Euan – your ‘eye’ is most welcome.

  15. Dima Sharif permalink
    April 11, 2012 8:30 am

    That picture with the cranberries is beautiful 🙂 love the contrast of colours and the background :)) The buns look mouthwatering and I cant wait to hear more about the workshop! As ever, totally enjoyed reading your post Sally

    • April 11, 2012 8:43 am

      Interesting – I’m not a fluffy chick and pastel person so the black slate was a reaction to that. Sounds like I’m not the only one! Thanks for dropping by Dima (and look forward to hearing about your travels).

  16. April 11, 2012 8:48 am

    yours look delectable. Mine didn’t look as good but tasted fab. The workshop seems like it was a lot of fun. Good job there, all of you.

  17. April 11, 2012 10:23 am

    I love what you did! They look like I need to take a bite right now 🙂

  18. April 12, 2012 12:26 am

    I didn’t make Hot Cross Buns this Easter but I think I might give these a go for this weekend’s treat. Glad that you have a good workshop. Looking forward to hearing more.

    • April 12, 2012 7:21 am

      Love to hear how your buns turn out.

  19. April 13, 2012 8:28 pm

    Hi, Sally! Fantastic food, pictures and narratives, as always! I admire your work and enjoy your blog, and I’ve nominated you for the Versatile Blogger award.
    My best wishes!

    • April 15, 2012 12:16 pm

      Really appreciate the honour Assia and fascinated by the answers you gave on your blog. Nothing personal, but I’ve decided not to participate in these awards anymore. Your kind words and the sentiments are really treasured though.

      • April 15, 2012 1:05 pm

        Hi, Sally, I understand, and thank you for your kind words. It’s a pleasure to follow your blog. Assia

  20. April 18, 2012 9:46 pm

    Thank you for taking part. Your variation sounds delicious and your photos are beautiful.

    • April 21, 2012 9:07 pm

      I get very annoyed if I ever miss a FFTO challenge – might not have made hot cross buns this year if not prompted and I’m so glad I did.

  21. April 20, 2012 2:03 am

    Magnificent looking HXBs, Sally! I didn’t make any this year, but now I wish I had.. 🙂

  22. May 7, 2012 8:05 pm

    Oh how I wish there was a workshop like that around here – I have recently got a “real” camera from my hubby and most recently a macro lens for food photography – I am still very green when it comes to taking photos but I am super eager to learn.
    Fantastic recipe! Sadly I never made any this year – Easter arrived way before I was ready.
    🙂 Mandy

  23. August 5, 2012 1:29 pm

    All of the pictures and your hard work look gorgeous:))


  1. Fresh from the oven round up – April, hot cross buns | Purely food

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