Good pics, bad pics, great buns
Do 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…
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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 .