On Wednesday, I put in my last shift as acting food editor at Waitrose Kitchen (née Food Illustrated). These darling, brilliant and generous people have given me a desk to call my own (when William wasn’t trying to colonise it with his flashy second computer, laundry, proofs, books, bicycle helmet, adoring fan mail) two days a week for the past six months. It’s kept me off the streets and out of trouble during one of the coldest winters on record and for that I’m grateful. But more than that, they made me laugh twenty times a day, encircled me in their breathtakingly talented, enchantingly co-dependent, enormously cheerful embrace and taught me vocabulary that I may find difficult to transfer to any other workplace. I loved every second.
This is a big thing for me. I like my life of walking the dog then coming home to cook a bit, write a bit, my routine only disrupted by having to pitch up at the odd photo shoot to fiddle with a reluctant radish or coax a pig’s trotter into close-up ready deliciousness. I don’t really like offices, but I grew to love the pod and its inhabitants.
So Thursday was a bit funny really. It felt good to have my life back but a little sad too. Nothing banishes melancholy like baking, so I lit the fire in the kitchen and busied myself with a batch of hot cross buns. Outside, thunder rumbled and lightening crackled across the north London sky. Inside, I mixed and kneaded and shaped the dough into fat little buns as the rain ran in rivulets down the kitchen’s glass roof. I piped wobbly flour-and-water crosses on their tops. The house filled with the smell of spices and sugar and orange zest and I felt happy.
Dan’s hot cross buns
This recipe comes from my lovely, floury friend, Daniel Stevens. Until recently, he was the baker at River Cottage and his book, River Cottage Handbook No.3 Bread, is my favourite go-to guide to all things doughy. Dan’s recipe makes eight, which seemed a little modest to me (believe me, I can pretty much eat that many myself) so I doubled the quantities.
Well, I should have listened to Dan, as always. The dough bulged and undulated over the top of my KitchenAid, struggling for freedom. So I took it out and kneaded it by hand. I’m giving you Dan’s recipe for eight here. It doubles up brilliantly, but be prepared to hand-knead it if you do. Or to spend your Easter weekend picking gunk out of the head of your mixer.
250g strong white bread flour, plus extra for kneading
250g plain white flour
125ml warm water
125ml warm milk
5g powdered dried yeast (easy blend type)
1- 1 1/2 tsp ground, mixed spice
50g caster sugar
1 medium free-range egg
50g butter, softened
100g raisins, currants or sultanas, or a mixture including some candied peel
Finely grated zest of half an orange
For the crosses:
60g plain white flour
1 tbsp apricot or other jam
1 tbsp water
If you have a food mixer, combine the flours, water, milk, yeast, salt, mixed spice and sugar in h bowl ad fit the dough hook. Add the egg and butter and mix to a sticky dough. Now add the dried fruit and orange zest and knead on a slow speed until silky and smooth. You can do this by hand, but the dough will be sticky to handle. Put the dough in a warm, lightly oiled bowl, cover and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in size.
Knock back the risen dough and divide into eight equal pieces (they’ll weigh about 120g each). Shape into rounds and dust with flour. Place on a floured board, cover with plastic or linen and leave to prove for half an hour or until doubled in size.
While they’re rising, preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas mark 6. To make the crosses, whisk together the flour and water until smooth, then transfer to a plastic food bag and snip off the corner. Transfer the risen buns to a baking sheet and pipe a cross on top of each one. Bake for 15-20 minutes.
Meanwhile, melt the jam with the water in the pan. Sieve, then brush over the buns to glaze as soon as you take them from the oven. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm, cold or toasted, but always with lots of butter.