My friend Percy Pyckwyll, being rather more knowledgable than I about all things Lenten, tells me that you’re allowed Sundays off. My inner John Knox said no. Inner John Knoxes are wont to say no to pretty much everything. I’m not even religious damn it. This was simply about conquering one of my addictions (the other being staring at a bloomin’ screen).
So for the first four weeks it was no cake, no nothing. There were a few Rich Tea biscuits, but that was pretty much it. Then I slipped off the wagon. I slipped off the wagon quite spectacularly on the occasion of my father’s 80th, just over a week ago.
My brother and I took him to a pleasant fish restaurant in Rye. I wasn’t planing to have pudding, but then I did. A white chocolate parfait with caramel wafers and banana in caramel. It was a bit like doing smack, not that I’ve actually done smack of course, but the rush from all that sugar made me feel quite dizzy and then rather sick – with a lithp like Violet from the Just William books…
Then there was the cake sale in Leigh last Saturday in aid of the local primary school. I parted with four quid for a large lemon drizzle cake. I didn’t touch it until I got back from London that evening when I decided to start my Sabbath at sunset of the previous day, in the Jewish manner. Between sunset Saturday and sunset Sunday I managed to eat quite a lot of lemon drizzle cake. I was feeling less shriven by the day.
Then I saw Dan Lepard’s hot cross bun recipe in The Guardian. I would have passed over it save for the inclusion of cider. My dear Papa has about 150 gallons of his own organic cider in the cellar. It’s wonderful stuff. A recipe that mixed the spirit of Easter with good Sussex cider proved irresistible. I gave it a go and you can see the results above.
If anyone else decides to make these a few words of advice. Firstly when Dan says the recipe makes 12 buns he means 12 big buns. You could make 15 normal ones quite happily.
Secondly he suggests cooking them at 220ºC for 15-18 minutes. At 200ºC in a fan oven for 18 minutes mine were definitely overdone. I’d suggest dropping the temperature 10 degrees and having a good look on 15 minutes. You might even put an ovenproof dish containing water in the bottom of the oven unless you like your buns quite crispy.
Then there’s the amount of flour/water/oil he recommends for piping the crosses. Halve it. Even half the amount he suggests results in plenty left over. As an aside I also used duck rather than hen eggs – they’re great for cake and it justifies having a duck in the picture.
Lastly when he advises boiling the water, sugar and spices for the glaze “until syrupy” take that to mean “just syrupy” – the sort of sugar syrup you might use for cocktails. So when the mix gets to a rolling boil with well formed bubbles lingering, stop. If you go for syrupy, as in golden syrup, you’ll be trying to coat your buns in toffee (that could be misconstrued couldn’t it).
But even despite the slight overcooked toffee-coatedness these were really very good. The trouble is I ate six (three of them this morning for breakfast and now I feel thick again), and though they may be marked with a cross, not too sugary, and very much an Easter thing, they fall foul of my foreswearing of all-things-cake. Lucky I don’t believe in that sort of thing or I suspect I’d be facing eternity without so much as a morsel of the stuff.
Update…update…update…(hot from the oven)
As threatened I tried adjusting temperatire, timings etc. And the results were excellent. So what did I do differently? First I split the dough into 16 and not 12. Then I put them in a fan oven warming up towards 195ºC (ie 215ºC in a conventional oven) turned them after 10 minutes and checked them bang on 15 – when I pulled them out because they looked done.
I also put a pan of water on the shelf below the buns. Lastly I kept the glaze much lighter. It worked far better. On balance I’d simply say that you don’t have very much to lose by checking them a little early – it’s not a souffle for Pete’s sake… So, tomorrow my cakeless Lent ends and it’ll end with these.