Apricot and Cardamom Hot Cross Buns

Apricot and Cardamom Hot Cross Buns

Two days into my time back in England and the English spring time hasn’t let me down at all. The skies are blue, the sun is warm. Everywhere is just so green. So many shades of green I haven’t seen for a long time. Beautiful bright greens, fresh buds swollen and ready to burst with delicate leaves, translucent in the sunlight like stained glass windows. I’d forgot just how beautiful blossom is, exploding pink and white over trees, petals littering the ground like confetti. A few yellow daffodils still nod their trumpet heads in the breeze.

Today I even saw little baby lambs gambolling around a field, could you get anymore Eastery than that?! Later I filled the kitchen with the wonderful spiced smell of Hot Cross Buns. My perfect dream of springtime is complete!

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Easter isn’t Easter without a Hot Cross Bun or two. Much like Mince Pies at Christmas, they’re something I have to get my fill of in the run up to Easter every year, finishing off with one warm, toasted and running with yellow melted butter on Good Friday morning.

Theres something very special about seeing a tray of these, still warm from the oven, criss crossed with their white lines, gleaming and tempting from the apricot glaze.

This recipe produces beautifully light, fluffy Hot Cross Buns. The triple rise takes some time, but it’s worth the wait. The key is that first rise without the fruits and spices as both can impede the rise. They’re far better than ones bought in a shop and, I must admit, better than the ones I made last year. Although I loved them dearly they were rather on the heavy side.

Apricot and Cardamom Hot Cross Buns

Apricot and Cinnamon Hot Cross Buns

I’ve tweaked the flavours a little for this year’s buns, adding in fragrant cardamom and chunks of dried apricot. I’ve made them with the original spice combination too, they’re delicious both ways.

I do love the cardamom though, it adds a wonderfully aromatic spice to the buns, lifting and freshening them. The taste is subtle, rather than over powering. It’s more of a hint than an in-your-face whack, but its a really delicious hint. Dried apricots make a lovely addition to the dried fruit.

Apricot and Cardamom Hot Cross Buns

Have some ready to toast on Good Friday, spilt open and covered in lashings of butter.

Apricot and Cardamom Hot Cross Buns

(adapted from Paul Hollywood)

Makes 16

Ingredients 

for the buns 

300ml full fat milk

50g butter

500g strong white bread flour

1 teaspoon salt

75g caster sugar

7g sachet of instant dried yeast

1 egg’

100g dried apricots, chopped

60g sultanas

6 cardamom pods

1/2 teaspoon all spice

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

zest 1/2 an orange

for the cross

75g plain flour

for the glaze

3 tablespoons apricot jam

Method

In a small pan, heat the milk until boiling. Take off the heat and add the butter, let it melt in the heat of the milk. Leave the milk to cool until it reaches hand temperature.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, salt and yeast. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, pour in the milk and then the egg.

Using a wooden spoon, mix all the ingredients together with a wooden spoon.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes until smooth and elastic.

Place in a well oiled boil, cover with oiled cling film and allow to rise for about an hour until doubled in size.

While the dough rises, chop the dried apricots into small pieces about the same size as the sultanas.

Spilt open the cardamom pods and scrap out the seeds. Discard the pods.

While the dough is still in the bowl, add the apricots, sultanas, cardamom seeds, all spice, cinnamon and orange zest. Knead into the dough until evenly distributed. Cover again and leave to rise for another hour.

Once doubled in size, divide the dough into 16 pieces. I weighed each one to about 75g for evenly sized buns. Roll them into balls on a lightly floured surface.

Arrange on a baking tray lined with grease proof paper, allowing space for the buns to rise.

Lay cling film lightly over the top of the buns and leave to rise for another hour.

Heat the oven to 220C/fan 200C.

While the oven heats, make the paste for the crosses.

Mix the flour with about 5 tablespoons of water, adding the water in slowly, until you have a  thick paste.

Put it in a piping bag fitted with a small round nozzle, and carefully pipe lines across the rows of cakes. Pipe the other way to make the crosses.

Bake for about 20 minutes in the centre of the oven until golden brown.

Heat up the apricot jam. Spread over the buns while they are still warm.

Leave to cool completely.

 

Chocolate Mini Egg Cupcakes

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One week left until Easter and my Easter baking is well and truly underway. My promise to myself to move away from chocolate recipes is failing entirely, but then so many delicious Easter recipes are chocolatey, its so hard to say no!

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I’m letting myself off the excess chocolate consumption this year anyway. This year i’m actually home in the UK for Easter!

I arrived in yesterday after what felt like the longest flight I’ve ever taken, and i’m up bright and early with jet lag, writing this while my family sleeps.

 Its 4 years since I was last home for Easter. I always seem to visit home in the wintertime, when things are cold and grey. I’m already excited by the sight of green grass, blossom filled trees and spring flowers. Equally exciting are the supermarkets filled with Easter products. This year I won’t have to take a solitary, wistful wander around M&S to stock up on my Hot Crossed Buns and Easter treats. Is it a bit sad that I always look forward to a wander around the supermarket when I get home?

Of all the Easter chocolate treats, one of my favourites have got to be mini eggs. Their baby toned candy colours, and speckled sugar shells, are utterly synonymous with spring. Easter cannot be Easter without at least a handful of these.

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These little chocolate cakes hide a wonderfully gooey centre. Wrapped in a rich chocolate sponge is a sweet, mini egg cream cheese centre. The mini egg shells dissolve into the cream cheese mixture as the cakes bake leaving the centre tasting of mini eggs. Some of the chocolate centres stay as little chocolate chunks, but others partly melt into the surrounding cake, making it extra gooey, verging on fondant if you eat them warm.

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They’re topped with a chocolate cream cheese buttercream. It’s rich, silky and delicious. Of course, they need to be topped with even more Mini Eggs if you are really to call them Mini Egg Cupcakes.

Chocolate Mini-Egg Cupcakes

(Makes 10 medium cupcakes)

Ingredients

for the cakes

120g butter

130g caster sugar

2 medium eggs

100g self-raising flour

20g cocoa powder

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

60ml milk

for the cream cheese filling

80g full fat cream cheese (low fat products will become too runny when you beat them)

80g mini eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon milk

20g icing sugar

for the icing

100g full fat cream cheese

120g unsalted butter

100g icing sugar

20g cocoa powder

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Method

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and pale.

Beat in the flour and eggs, then fold in the cocoa powder.

Next, add the milk and vanilla and mix carefully until combined.

Set to one side and make up your cream cheese centre.

Beat the cream cheese until smooth. Be careful not to over beat.

Put the mini eggs in a strong ziploc bag. Cover with a tea towel, then bash them with a rolling pin until you have lots of little shards of mini egg. The sugar coating can rip the bag, which is why we cover the bag with a tea towel first.

Once broken, stir your mini egg crumbs into the cream cheese, along with the vanilla extract, icing sugar and a teaspoon of milk to thin the mixture slightly.

Line a cupcake tin with papers. Spoon about a teaspoon of cake mixture into the bottom of the papers, ensuring you spread it out to cover the bottom. Next put in a teaspoon of the cream cheese mixture, trying to keep it in the centre of the cakes. Finally, top up with the rest of the cake mixture.

Bake for about 15 minutes, or until firm to the touch. You can test with an inserted skewer, but be aware that the cream cheese centre will stay soft.

Cool completely.

To make the cream cheese butter cream, beat the butter and cream cheese together until soft. Sift in the cocoa powder and icing sugar and mix until well combined. Stir through the vanilla extract.

Pipe or spread on top of your cupcakes. Top with more mini eggs.

Going Native: Teepees on Lantau Island

When you think of Hong Kong, what do you see?

Sky scrapers? Buildings? Bee hive like apartment buildings, warrens of walkways overflowing with a  constant rush of people? You’re probably not thinking of beautiful long white beaches. I’d suggest you’re defiantly not thinking of a great camping destination, and I’d place money on the fact you’ve never considered a teepee as potential Hong Kong accommodation.

Hong Kong, however, can really surprise you. Just when you think you know Hong Kong, it throws out another angle you never knew was there. This, i’d suggest, is why people find it so hard to leave Hong Kong, why Hong Kong has a huge population of long term ex-pats who came to Hong Kong ‘just for a year’.

Cheung Sha beach, is one such surprise. A beautiful stretch of white, clean sand stretched out under the Lantau hills. Deserted in the early evening, we wandered along, footprints in the damp sand, the lowering sun turing the sky golden, silhouetting the island’s peaks.

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 Palm Beach is the home of a very unusual camp site right on this stunning beach. At palm beach you can embrace your inner Pocahontas and camp out in teepees.

Sat on a rare patch of grass, the teepees look right down onto the beach. A world away from the city.

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We stayed in one of the 12ft teepees, big enough to sleep two. All the other teepees were occupied by families, the children running barefoot in their pyjamas around the grass. The air is filled with the smokey smell of barbecues. It feels like childhood summer holidays.

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Lying inside, looking up at the bamboo wigwam and the painted canvas is surreal. Its a surprisingly comfortable place to sleep, it doesn’t get damp or sticky like modern style tents. With the canvas flap pulled across the doorway for the night, the teepees are cosy and snug.

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Just few minutes walk down the beach is The Stoep, a South African and Mediterranean restaurant on the beach.

Opening right onto the quiet sands, strung with fairy lights, you could easily be miles away from Hong Kong. It feels more like a beach in Thailand, it feels like being on holiday.

Lantau is roamed all over with cattle and buffalo. Here the cattle wander casually along the beach, coming right up to the tables on the sand. Did you ever think of Hong Kong as a place where you could share your dinner with a cow?

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The sunset over the water, the sky turning a deep blue. We sat for hours, getting very comfortable, drinking far too much wine.

The atmosphere is relaxed, laid back. The staff are friendly; this is the type of place where people ask your name and remember it.

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For dinner we shared a plate of meat. Chicken breast, lamb chop, juicy steak and boerewors, South African sausage. Meaty and spicy, the sausage was my favourite part of the meal. As we ate, sizzling plates of meat were taken out to other tables, making me want to try more of the South African specialities. Alongside the meat we had roast potatoes, a huge plate of garlic bread and a thick, salty feta spread.

The food is homey and comforting.

For desert, Malva pudding, a light and sticky steamed caramel cake, and a rich, fiery chilli chocolate cake.

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 If you want to see a very different side to Hong Kong, take the slow ferry to Lantau island. Sit at the back on the open deck and watch the view change from sky scrapers to mountains. Get yourself to Cheung Sha beach for a weekend, or just a day. Remember to take cash. The Stoep is cash only, the nearest cash point will be a 45 minute bus ride away.

This is a real break from city life.

Lemon, Raspberry and Mascarpone Cupcakes

lemon cupcakes

Last week Rooby, one of my oldest friends, came out to visit. In direct contrast to this week’s rain and gloom, Hong Kong treated us to a wonderful blue sky week. I had a brilliant time showing Rooby my city, being a tourist again, remembering why I love this place so much.

We went up The Peak, rode the star ferry, drank Tsing Tao at the highest bar in the world, and we ate, and ate, and ate.

rooby visit collage

One of my favourite nights, however, was a night we just stayed in. It’s so good to just do normal things with friends you don’t get to see very often. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the notion that you need to do special things, to make the most of your limited time together. Sometimes I forget that the best times with friends are often the simple times, just being together, talking about old memories, laughing over old jokes and making new ones together. Few people make me laugh quite like Rooby.

We cooked Nandos chicken at home, always our venue of choice back in England, and we baked these little cupcakes.

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Like springtime in a cake, these lemon and raspberry cupcakes are wonderfully fresh and light. The perfectly suited the weather we were having that week.

The lemon sponge is bursting with fresh and freeze dried raspberries, the fresh fruit giving the cakes wonderful colour and texture, the freeze dried giving extra, intense raspberry flavour.

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While they’re still warm from the oven, we drizzle over a lemon syrup, giving an extra citrus hit, and giving these cakes a delicious stickiness, like mini lemon drizzle cakes, keeping them beautifully moist inside.

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They’re topped with a smooth, soft mascarpone topping. It’s unexpectedly light, unlike a buttercream, or a cream cheese frosting. Its sweet, but not overly so, and it works beautifully with the tang of the lemon.

As you bite into these cupcakes, you’re hit with a sensation of summer, memories of eating outside, thoughts of sunshine.

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Lemon, Raspberry and Mascarpone Cupcakes

Ingredients

(makes 8 medium cupcakes)

for the cupcakes

120g butter

120g caster sugar

2 medium eggs

120g self raising flour

juice and zest of 1 lemon

4 tablespoons milk

60g fresh raspberries

3 teaspoons freeze dried raspberries

for the lemon syrup

juice of 1 lemon

3 tablespoons icing sugar

for the mascarpone icing

400g marscarpone

180g icing sugar

zest of 1 lemon

additional fresh or freeze dried raspberries, to decorate (optional)

Method

Preheat the oven to 180c/350F.

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Mix in the eggs and flour.

Fold in the lemon zest and lemon juice.

Add the milk.

Finally, carefully stir in the fresh and freeze dried raspberries, being careful not to break up the raspberries too much.

Divide the mixture between 8 cupcake cases. My cupcake cases are medium sized, if you wanted to make larger cupcakes in muffin liner papers, you’ll end up with fewer cupcakes and may need to bake the cakes for a few additional minutes.

Bake for about 18 minutes, or until the cupcakes are firm to the touch and an inserted skewer comes out clean. Once baked, allow to cool on a wire rack.

While the cupcakes are baking, make your lemon syrup. Stir together the juice of one lemon, with 3 tablespoons of icing sugar. Heat over a low heat until the sugar is completely dissolved.

Spoon about a teaspoon or two of the syrup over each cupcake while they are still warm from the oven. Allow to cool completely.

Once cool, make your mascarpone icing.

Beat the mascarpone until just smooth.

Sift in the icing sugar and beat until just combined. Fold in the lemon zest.

Chill in the fridge for about 30 minutes, then pipe or spread onto your cupcakes.

Finish the cupcakes with more fresh, or freeze dried, raspberries.

Spilt Pea and Bacon Soup

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We’ve been having a spot of bad weather in Hong Kong. When I say bad, I mean terrible. Sunday night we saw rain so heavy, and hail stones so big, that a shopping centre roof completely collapsed. The water coming through cascaded in torrents down the staircases and escalators. The videos are scary to watch, if you saw them in an apocalyptic movie they wouldn’t look out of place. The skies are rolling with thunder pretty much non stop, and if the downpours we’re experiencing are the originally forecast ‘showers’, then the dictionary needs a little re-writing.

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This is a soup for wet, miserable days.

It’s hearty, its warming, and, most importantly, contains bacon. I’m a firm believer that there are few things in life that can’t be improved with bacon.

The soup starts by roasting a whole bulb of garlic until its deliciously soft and subtly tasty. This forms a wonderful base flavour to the soup, making it smell tempting and taste comforting.

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Onions are fried with smoked bacon. The bacon gives everything a salty, smoky, deep taste.

Spilt peas and potato make everything thick and creamy, whilst still being healthy and light.

The soup gets extra flavour from dried rosemary and thyme, flavours that speak to me of roast dinners, homey cooking. The herbs sit beautifully against the smokey bacon.

I left it quite chunky when I blended it. Of course, you can choose how smooth you want it, but I really like coming across little chunks of potato, or strips of bacon that didn’t get blitzed.

I’m going to finish by saying that I have the greatest new found respect for food photographers who can take a bowl of soup and make it look sexy. How on earth do they do that? Don’t ask me, i’m clueless.Perhaps using a black bowl on a gloomy evening was a bad idea. Oh well.

Spilt Pea and Bacon Soup

(Serves 4)

Ingredients 

1 bulb garlic

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, finely diced

4 rashes smoked back bacon, chopped into small pieces

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried rosemary

200g spilt peas

800 ml chicken stock

1 medium potato (approx 150g)

1/4 teaspoon salt

black pepper

2 rashes smoked streaky bacon to garnish (optional)

Method

First, roast your bulb of garlic.

Preheat the oven to 220C.

Chop the top off the bulb of garlic to expose the garlic cloves.

Place onto a square of tin foil. Drizzle over about half a teaspoon of olive oil. Wrap the garlic bulb up in the foil to make a parcel.

Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes, until the garlic is soft.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining olive oil in a large pan. Add the onion and begin to soften. After about 2 minutes, add the bacon. Cook until the onion is softened and the bacon is cooked through and coloured.

Next, add the roasted garlic. First, pour the olive oil from the tin foil into your onion and bacon mixture. Now unwrap the cloves and squeeze in the garlic. Mix together and continue to cook for a further 2 or 3 minutes.

Add in your dried thyme and rosemary. Stir into the onion and bacon mixture.

Pour in your spilt peas and stock.

Chop your potato into small chunks and add to the pan along with the salt.

Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for about 40 minutes, or until the spilt peas are tender.

Turn off the heat and blend to a rough, chunky texture.

Add a little water to take the soup to your desired constancy and warm through.

Top with more bacon, cut into little pieces and fried until crispy.

Check the seasoning and add freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Serve with warm fresh bread and lashings of butter.