Karē Pan (Japanese Curry Buns)

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Put your hands up for the savoury doughnut.

When I dream of doughnuts (which is more often than I care to admit), they’re filled with thick, chunky strawberry jam, vanilla custard and, only very occasionally, salted caramel sauce. I have pretty conventional doughnut needs really. So when confronted with a savoury curry-stuffed version in Japan, I was more than a little taken aback.

These ‘macho’ doughnuts are known locally as ‘karē pan’ or simply ‘curry breads’, and they’re hugely popular. Traditionally deep-fried but occasionally oven-baked, they come filled with thick curry sauce, curried vegetables or curried meat. The ‘curry’ is one of Japanese origin, the sort that’s also often served with rice and ‘katsu’ (deep-fried breaded pork cutlet) or ‘udon’ (thick noodles). Curry was supposedly introduced to the Japanese by the British (surprise surprise); the Japanese version typically contains curry powder and garam masala.

Unlike their conventional sweet cousins, curry breads are filled prior to frying; once the dough has been stuffed with curry sauce and sealed, it is egg-washed and rolled in Panko (Japanese breadcrumbs), before being left to rise. Once cooked they are texturally perfect; there’s something amazing about Panko, the King of all breadcrumbs, to whom ‘karē pan’ owe their supreme crunchiness. You should be able to find Panko in any Asian supermarket; they have a lighter, crispier texture than most other breadcrumbs, as they resist absorbing fat when fried.

To make 8-10 buns:

For the dough:
370g plain white flour
7g dried yeast (normally 1 sachet)
2 tbsp caster sugar
1.5 tsp salt
2 large eggs, beaten
160ml milk
40g butter, at room temperature

Panko breadcrumbs
An additional splash of milk (for the egg-wash)
An additional egg, beaten (also for the egg-wash)
A deep pot of vegetable/sunflower oil (for deep-frying)

For the filling:

Any sort of leftover curry will do just fine, although perhaps nothing too wet and saucy (so probably not butter chicken or lamb rogan josh). We curried some cauliflower with lots of onion, garlic and ginger. A dryer vegetable dish would be suitable – try saag aloo or aloo gobi (cauliflower). You’ll need at least 1 tablespoon of cold curry for each bun.

Prepare the dough:

1) Tip the flour into a large mixing bowl with the sugar, salt, dried yeast and softened butter. Rub the butter into the flour to combine, then add the beaten egg (remembering to reserve some for the egg-wash). Make a well in the centre of the mixture, then pour in the milk. Bring the dough together in the bowl, then turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.
2) Shape the dough into a neat ball and return it to the mixing bowl. Cover with cling film and leave to rise for at least an hour (and perhaps 90 minutes) until it has doubled in size.
3) While the dough is rising, prepare the curry filling; if you’re worried that whatever you’ve chosen still looks a little sloppy, reduce the liquid by cooking gently in a saucepan. Our cauliflower mix was already fairly dry, especially since being chilled overnight, and so all I needed to do was portion out 8 small piles, of approximately 1 large tablespoon in size. Make sure that the curry is fridge-cold before attempting to fold it into your dough.
4) Knock the dough back by pressing it down lightly with your fist. This action just expels some of the gas that’s formed within the dough, making it easier to work with.
5) Divide the dough into 8-10 pieces (8 if you want the buns fairly large – remember that the dough will also expand in the hot oil). Roll each piece into a tight ball, then leave to rest for 15 minutes under a damp cloth or sheet of plastic wrap.
6) Add a splash of milk to one beaten egg to make an egg-wash, then start shaping the buns. With a rolling pin, flatten out each ball of dough into a thin disc, then using a pastry brush or your finger, paint the edges very lightly with egg-wash. Place a small mound of curry in the centre of each circle. Gather up the edges of dough, sealing each bun into a pasty-shape (see photos below). Pinch the edges firmly to ensure they are well-sealed, then turn each bun upside-down, pressing the sealed edge directly into the work surface (so that the seam becomes the base of the bun).
7) Once all the buns have been stuffed and sealed, prepare the ‘pané’ line (get ready to coat the buns in breadcrumbs). You’ll need two similarly-sized rectangular containers – one to hold egg-wash and the other to hold the Panko – plus a large clean tray lined with baking paper.
8) Dip each bun in the egg-wash, making sure it is thoroughly and evenly coated (it can also be brushed on if you find this easier). Work with one at a time to avoid crowding the buns in the trays. Shake/brush off any excess egg-wash, then transfer to the tray of Panko, tossing thoroughly in the breadcrumbs to coat. Once well-dressed in crumbs, place the bun onto the lined baking tray. Finish coating all the stuffed buns before covering the tray lightly with cling film. Leave the buns to rise for one last time – in a warm place for about 30 minutes.
9) Heat the vegetable/sunflower oil in a deep pot to about 175°C.
10) If the buns have developed any holes along the seams then pinch them tightly closed before frying them. Carefully lift each bun off the tray and transfer to the hot oil (lower the buns gently to avoid splashing yourself with oil). Depending on the size of your pot, you might be able to fry two at a time – but take your time as overloading the pot will cause the temperature of the oil to drop. Fry the buns until golden brown on both sides – this shouldn’t take longer than 5 minutes per bun. If they’re colouring very slowly, the oil may be too cool. Likewise, if they’re browning almost immediately on contact then it’s likely that the oil is far too hot, and the doughnuts will not cook evenly throughout.
11) Remove each bun using a slotted spoon and transfer immediately to a plate/tray lined with kitchen paper to absorb any excess fat. If you’re worried that the heat has not fully penetrated the curry in the centre, then they can be baked in the oven afterwards, for about 8-10 minutes at 150°C.

Roll the dough into balls……

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Put a heaped tablespoon of cold curry into the centre of each disc…..

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Seal into a pasty/gyoza-shape…..

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Turn upside-down to hide the seam…..

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Waste Not Want Not: croissant-dough

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Our friend the croissant has undergone too many transformations to count. Over the last couple of years alone, it’s been the subject of more press attention and structural modification than any other French celebrity. It has inspired pastry hybrids (and low-brids) the world over (although not, interestingly, in France), and caused trivialities for Mr. Kanye West when he inadvertently ruffled the Association of French Bakers’ feathers for abusing the much-loved pastry on one of his recent tracks (the complaint was later uncovered as a spoof, innocently poking fun at the French and their precious culinary heritage).

I’ve yet to experience one of Ansel’s cronuts (forgive me, Cronuts™) firsthand. I’ve got respect for the old school, and have most likely eaten enough croissants to sink a ship, but would never turn down a chance to try something new (especially the September ‘fig mascarpone’ edition). I’m silently refusing to settle for less than a Cronut™ however; biding my time, waiting patiently for that trip back to Spring Street, Soho. We’re spoilt for choice here in Melbourne, currently home of the ‘dossant’, the ‘cruffin’ and even the ‘zonut’, but since I’m limiting myself to one-per-lifetime (it IS deep-fried croissant dough after all), I’m saving myself for ‘the one-and-only’.

Momofuku Milk Bar’s ‘Thanksgiving’ croissant is less of a hybrid and more of a seasonal adaptation; it’s essentially a croissant that contains the full works: turkey, cranberries, stuffing and gravy. They also prepare a kimchi and blue cheese version on a more regular basis. You may be surprised to learn that the French, with all their respect for tradition, have also been meddling. Although I never got around to trying one (I’ve put them on the Paris bucket list), Arnaud Delmontel’s honey-laminated rye croissants sound simply too good to be true. I don’t believe Gontran Cherrier sells his matcha/lemon croissants in his Parisian boutiques; as far as I know they’re strictly reserved for his Japanese clientele. I count myself lucky to have sampled one on my recent trip to Tokyo, and would almost go as far as saying that they’re better than their more traditional counterparts. Le Petit Mec in Kyoto is bravely experimenting with a mini anchovy croissant. So who knew laminated dough could be quite so versatile?

Those of you that have prepared and rolled croissant dough at home will know all too well that after the hard work is done, a handful of dough scraps and trimmings litter the table top, waiting to be transferred to the bin. I therefore present two ideas for your offcuts, both of which I witnessed in production at Gontran Cherrier, Tokyo branch. One we’ll call the ‘croissant croquant’, the other the ‘rock ‘n’ roll melon bun’. Before I begin, an apology – they’re both so tempting that it may be worth keeping a constant supply of laminated dough in the freezer. By all means use those tins of ready-to-roll stuff for either recipe too. Croissant dough takes time after all.

I’ll start with the ‘croquant’; essentially a messy pile of frozen cubes of dough offcuts, mixed with nuts and/or fruit and/or chocolate, risen and baked in either muffin tins or metal biscuit rings. You can be completely creative with these; anything goes. We’re at the height of apricot season in Melbourne at the moment (lucky us); my mind sprang to macadamia nuts next, but after seeing the price in the local store ($9.99/150g), I adapted! I roasted hazelnuts in butter until golden brown…see the full recipe below.

Apricot and Hazelnut Croissant Croquants

To make 6:

Croissant dough offcuts, cut into 1cm cubes and frozen
100g hazelnuts (skins removed)
4 small ripe apricots (3 if they’re large)
25g salted butter
2 tablespoons caster sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten (for the egg wash)

1. Prepare your cooking moulds: if using a muffin tray, make sure the cups are deepish (a cupcake tray will not suffice), and choose an aluminium version as opposed to a silicone one, which will conduct the heat more evenly, giving you the best possible bake on all sides. I used a silicone mould and ended up with beautifully crunchy tops and slightly flabby sides, which are best avoided. You could also use biscuit rings, or crumpet rings I suppose, although something deeper and smaller, say 6-8cm in diameter x 4cm-deep is preferable. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and arrange your rings, leaving a little space between each, remembering to butter them thoroughly first.
2. Heat a small frying pan over a medium heat and add the butter. Wait until it has melted before adding the skinned hazelnuts. Reduce the heat to low then watch the butter foam up around the nuts – shake the pan gently, rolling the nuts around in the foaming butter to ensure an even colour. When the butter begins to smell nutty (the ‘noisette’ stage) and the hazelnuts are nicely brown, strain the contents of the pan through a sieve, catching the butter underneath in a heat-proof receptacle. The leftover ‘beurre noisette’ could be used in a salad dressing or madeleine/financier batter, so keep it if you have the time. Leave the nuts to cool before either chopping them or crushing them lightly – the chunkier the pieces the better.
3. In a mixing bowl, toss the frozen croissant cubes with the caster sugar and hazelnut chunks. Chop the apricots into small chunks (perhaps a little smaller than 1cm), then toss these through the mix. You’ll notice I added some mini marshmallows too – an experiment that worked surprisingly well.

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4. Start to pile the mixture into your prepared muffin cups/biscuit rings. For a rough guide I threw about 13 pieces of croissant dough into each, leaving plenty of nooks and crannies in which to stuff the apricot and hazelnut pieces. Fill the moulds almost to the top, allowing a little room for expansion. The dough will expand into the crevices as opposed to up and over the edges.
5. Once all your moulds are filled, cover the croquants loosely with cling film and leave to rise for roughly 2.5 hours. The dough will take longer to expand if it is especially cold in your kitchen. DO NOT leave the croissant dough anywhere too warm (next to a radiator for example) – the butter will only melt out of the dough. You’ll know the dough is ready to bake when the layers have lifted apart (see the first photo).
6. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Gently peel back the cling film and lightly brush all exposed croissant dough with egg wash (use a soft brush and a ‘dabbing’ motion, taking care not to knock back or tear the dough). Bake in the centre of the preheated oven – they’ll need between 15 and 25 minutes, depending on your oven and style of muffin tray/moulds. I rotated the tray after 8 – at this point they were nowhere near the right colour. After another 6-8 they had developed a deep golden brown colour on top, though like I said earlier, remained a little soft around the sides. If not properly cooked and therefore ‘set’, the layers of pastry will collapse; ensure they are well browned and crispy (not burnt) before removing them and allowing the tray to cool. Don’t attempt to remove them from their moulds until they are completely cold.

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Rock ‘n’ Roll Melon Buns

Traditionally known in Japan as the ‘melonpan’, and in Hong Kong as the ‘pineapple bun’, this sweet bun made with enriched dough is encased within crunchy cookie pastry. French pastry chefs often top their choux with a small disc of sweet pastry, just to give their profiteroles an extra ‘crunch’; the same theory applies to these. The sweet covering is also what gives these buns their unusual names; even though they don’t typically contain melon or pineapple, the rippled appearance on the surface (caused by the crack of the sweet pastry), resembles that of a fresh pineapple or rock melon.

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…fresh melon buns at a Japanese bakery in Tokyo.

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…and again at Gontran Cherrier, Shinjuku.

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…a pineapple bun in Hong Kong.

Since my imitations have been given the ‘fancy’ treatment (well, croissant dough isn’t just any old dough!), we’ll call them the ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ cousins. I did come across one bakery in Tokyo that stuffed their buns with melon custard, so feel free to experiment at home…I guess if you can put it into a doughnut, then why not a melonpan too!

To make 6: (I made double the amount of sweet pastry, just so that I could try six buns with chocolate and six without)…

Enough croissant dough to roll into 6 x 60g balls
For the sweet pastry:
40g unsalted butter (at room temperature)
45g caster sugar
40g egg (lightly beaten)
100g soft flour
1g baking powder
A handful of dark/milk chocolate chips (optional)
Granulated or nib/pearl sugar (for the topping)

1. Roll your croissant dough into neat balls (of approximately 60g in weight, although you could make them larger) and freeze – make sure the dough is tightly packed and smooth.
2. Prepare the sweet pastry – rub the butter into the flour, sugar and baking powder before adding the beaten egg. Bring the dough together in your hands, but do not over-knead (overworking the pastry at this stage will make it chewy later). Add the chocolate chips to the dough if you have chosen to, then shape into a thick sausage before wrapping tightly in cling film and leaving to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

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3. Cut your chilled dough sausage into 6 pieces of equal size. Roll each piece into a ball, then remove your frozen croissant dough balls from the freezer. One by one, flatten a ball of sweet pastry in the palm of your hand and place a ball of croissant dough in the centre. Gradually push the croissant dough down into your hand, easing the pastry around it gently. Keep pushing and cupping your palm around the ball of pastry until it almost entirely covers the croissant dough. At this stage flip the ball over and simply roll it against your palm using your other free hand; this will smooth over the dough on the presentation side. Don’t worry if the pastry doesn’t entirely cover the croissant dough – as you can see, I ended up with a bit of a gap. This gap will allow the pastry to expand a little as the dough rises later on.

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4. Holding the base of each bun, dip in granulated or nib/pearl sugar before placing onto a tray lined with baking paper. Make sure each bun has a bit of room to expand on the tray (i.e. don’t sit them too close together). Cover the buns lightly with cling film before leaving them to expand.
5. Check the buns after an hour or so – croissant dough takes a fair bit of time to rise (because of all that butter weighing it down), but be warned that if left too long, the croissant dough will burst through the sweet pastry encasing it.
6. Once your oven has come up to 190°C, remove the cling film and bake the risen buns for at least 20 minutes. They should be golden brown and crunchy on top (it’s a little tricky to judge whether they’re fully baked in the middle, but I found that the level of colour on top gives a fairly good indication of ‘doneness’).

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Iced Fingers with Butterscotch and Lime

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This is a recipe I tried and tested several months ago during our stay in Japan. I wanted to introduce our Japanese hosts to something quintessentially British, and since I was heavily absorbed in the new Great British Bake Off episodes at the time (a huge thank-you goes out to whoever uploaded them all to YouTube), iced buns immediately sprang to mind. I’m not in the slightest bit ashamed to say I love that show, although I’ve since discovered the French version, ‘Le Meilleur Patissier’, which almost puts it to shame. Anyway I probably shouldn’t admit to having watched British TV whilst staying in Tokyo…..but I suppose everyone misses home sometimes.

I could have kept it simple and made traditional iced fingers, but instead spruced them up a little. The Japanese are notoriously difficult to impress, so I chose to stuff my buns with a butterscotch cream, and glaze them with a fresh lime icing; both components were straightforward enough to make, and complimented each other almost perfectly. I borrowed the butterscotch sauce recipe from the ‘Smitten Kitchen’ blog; to this I just added whipped cream.

Iced bun dough itself is usually pale, soft and only semi-sweet; it’s the filling, normally cream-based, and the white icing, which give the fingers their notorious sweetness. I seem to remember our local bakery adding glacé cherries to the cream filling too; avoid indulging in too many of these if you want to avoid actual ‘fat finger’ syndrome.

For the bun dough (enough to make 6):
250g strong white flour
25g caster sugar
20g unsalted butter, softened
1 medium egg
1 x 7g sachets instant yeast (or 15g fresh yeast)
1 tsp salt
75ml warm milk
70ml water

For the lime icing:
200g icing sugar
Zest and juice of 1 lime
2-3 tbsp water

For the butterscotch cream:
4 tablespoons butter
109g dark or light brown sugar
118ml double cream
2g sea salt
1 1/2 tsp good quality vanilla extract/paste, or 1 fresh pod, split
200ml double cream (approximately)

To prepare the butterscotch:

1. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan then add the sugar, cream (118ml) and sea salt. Whisk well until all the ingredients are thoroughly combined.
2. Bring to a gently boil and cook for approximately 5 minutes, whisking from time to time.
3. Remove the caramel from the heat and add the vanilla. Taste the caramel (careful it will be extremely hot!) and adjust the seasoning – it may be necessary to add either more salt or more vanilla. Whisk well until completely smooth and glossy, then transfer to a clean bowl/container and leave to chill in the fridge.
4. Whisk up the 200ml double cream until it forms soft peaks. Pay attention not to over-whip, as it will be folded into the cold butterscotch sauce later.
5. When the sauce is completely cold, fold the whipped cream through it gently, little by little. If you desire a strong butterscotch flavour, you may want to hold back some of the whipped cream. The final consistency should be creamy and light, but still firm enough to pipe.

To prepare the fingers:

1. Start by making the bun dough – place all the ingredients into a large mixing bowl, holding back 1/4 of the water for the moment. Stir the mixture with your hands until it resembles a rough dough, then slowly add the remaining water. Bring the dough together in the mixing bowl by kneading gently.
2. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead well for 10 minutes or until the dough is smooth, shiny and elastic. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with cling film or a clean tea towel and leave to rise for at least 1 hour.
3. Use this time to prepare the butterscotch sauce, then leave to chill.
4. The dough should have doubled in size. Turn it out gently onto the table top and divide into 6 pieces, each about 70g in weight. Roll each piece into a ball, then extend the balls into fingers about 13cm long by placing the palms of your hands flat against the work surface and rolling back and forth.
5. Place the dough fingers onto a greased baking tray, leaving a small gap of about 1cm between each. The dough will expand, filling the gaps and connecting the buns in a line. Cover the entire tray lightly with cling film to prevent the dough from drying out, then set aside for at least 40 minutes to allow the buns to rise.
6. Preheat the oven to 220°C. When the fingers are well risen transfer to the hot oven and bake for 10 minutes until lightly golden brown. Transfer the line of buns to a wire rack to cool, without separating them just yet. Leave them to cool completely before gently tearing them apart, then either cutting or breaking them down the middle.
7. Fold the whipped cream through the butterscotch sauce to finish the filling.
8. For the icing, sift the icing sugar into a large bowl and add the freshly grated lime zest. Gradually stir in the lime juice, followed by a small splash of water to form a thick paste. If it’s a little too thick, add a drop more water. You could even add more lime juice if you prefer the flavour really pronounced.
9. Pipe or spread the butterscotch cream evenly down the centre of each cooled finger. Be as generous as you like, according to your taste. Now spread the lime icing across the top of your buns, not worrying too much if it drips down the sides.

My fingers were met with complaints – according to Adam, an iced finger should be split in half directly across the top lengthways, as opposed to sandwich-style along the side. I’ll leave the decision up to you – who am I to tell you how your fingers should be stuffed and served! I suppose it depends on where you come from. Cutting them along the side however, definitely makes the icing easier.

Festive Fruity Buns

The following was an early attempt at embracing Christmas cheer, despite it fast approaching 35°C outside the kitchen window. These days see us living and working in Melbourne, Australia, where my system has not yet adapted to the backwards way of life. Spurred along by our new Parisian housemates (who are, coincidentally, making us feel very ‘at home’ in our new surroundings), I thought it high time to test out the oven with a British classic, spruced up a little by a festive twist. I of all people should know by now that the fastest way to win over a Frenchman is by feeding him. My aim was to kill two birds with one stone; enjoy some time in the kitchen with a new recipe, and woo our housemates with the fruity dough of my labour.

The following is a PH recipe (that’s Paul Hollywood, not Pierre Hermé) – he calls them Christmas buns. To be honest, the only thing mildly Christmassy about them is the inclusion of cinnamon in the filling, the smell of which always makes me feel festive, even if we do tend to use it year-round. I followed his recipe to the letter, but have made some changes, for the better in my humble opinion, to the one I include below. Firstly I would suggest adding some booze (if you can’t be extravagant at Christmas time then well, when can you?). I think the best way in which to do this subtlety would be to use a slosh to soak the fruits before making up the filling, thereby giving the buns a richer flavour and the dried fruit a moorish plumpness. I suggest using either Grand Marnier, Cointreau or perhaps Pedro Ximenez if you have a really sweet tooth.

Secondly, I think the quantity of filling could be much more generous; I’d even go as far as doubling the amount he suggests. Finally, I glazed my buns with egg-wash before baking them, just to give them a little added protection in the oven, and to ensure an even colour. I’m sure PH would not approve of my changes, and if you don’t fancy trusting them either, then you can find the original recipe in his book ‘How to Bake’. I won’t be offended. He might be though.

For the dough:
300ml whole milk
40g unsalted butter, softened
500g strong white flour
10g fine salt
10g instant yeast (I used 30g of fresh yeast)
1 egg, lightly beaten
A little extra beaten egg, for brushing the buns before baking

For the filling (double his suggested quantity, except for the butter):
25g unsalted butter, melted
150g soft brown sugar
4 tsp ground cinnamon
200g dried cranberries
200g dried apricots (chopped to roughly the size of the cranberries)
A generous glug of Cointreau/Grand Marnier/Pedro Ximenez (optional)

For the glaze:
75g apricot jam (use the cheap stuff, which melts down better and contains fewer lumps and chunks)

For the icing:
100g icing sugar
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1 tbsp water

Method:

1. Warm the milk and butter in a small saucepan until the butter melts. The mixture should not be hotter than lukewarm. If you are using fresh yeast, add this to the warm milk now and whisk gently to dissolve.
2. Add the salt and dried yeast (if using) to the flour. Add the egg to the warm milk mixture, then pour into the flour. Stir together, using either your hands or a wooden spoon, until the mixture comes together into a rough dough. It may be necessary to add a touch more flour, but don’t be too hasty; the dough should remain a little sticky during the kneading process.
3. Tip the rough dough onto a floured work surface and begin to knead. Keep working for 5-10 minutes, through the initial sticky stage until the dough starts to look glossy and smooth.
4. Transfer the silky dough to a lightly oiled mixing bowl. Cover with cling film and leave to rise until at least doubled in size – this will take approximately 1 hour, perhaps longer.
5. Line a deep-sided baking tray or roasting dish with butter and baking parchment. I used a round Victoria sponge tin which is fine too.
6. To prepare the dried fruits (if you’ve decided to steep them), heat your chosen liqueur in a small saucepan. When hot, pour over the cranberries and apricot pieces, making sure that they are completely covered, before setting aside to cool. You may want to cover this mixture with cling film just to prevent all the precious liquid evaporating away.
7. Tip the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll it out to a rectangle about 5mm thick. Tack down the edge closest to you (this will allow you to pull and tighten the dough as you roll, giving a neat swirl). Brush the surface evenly with all the melted butter, then sprinkle over the brown sugar and cinnamon. If you have soaked the dried fruits in alcohol, squeeze out any excess by hand, then sprinkle the juicy fruit pieces over the sugared dough. Reserve the drained liquid, which could even be used instead of water to thin down the apricot jam for the glaze later.
8. Roll the dough up into a tight cylinder, stuffing any fallen cranberries back into the ends with your fingers. If your cylinder is slightly uneven in shape fear not; fat sections can be stretched out gently. In the end it’s shape should resemble a Swiss roll.
9. Before cutting, make faint indentations with your knife along the surface of the dough, to help ensure that each piece is of an equal weight and thickness. Aim for 9 slices, discarding the extremities if they lack filling. Place the slices, cut side up, neatly into the prepared baking tray, leaving a little space between each piece. PH lines them up like hot cross buns, 3 x 3. I arranged my buns in a spiral pattern (see photo below).
10. Cover the dough with a tea towel and set aside to rise for at least 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 190°C.
11. At this point the dough should have risen and expanded into the little gaps that were left between the buns. They will feel light to the touch, and so gently so as not to deflate or tear the dough, brush them with a little beaten egg using a soft pastry brush.
12. Bake the buns for 20-25 minutes, or until slightly risen and golden brown in colour. Warm the apricot jam with a splash of water, then push through a sieve for a really smooth consistency. Brush the jam over the hot buns, then set them aside to cool on a wire rack. Ensure the jam is super-hot and it will spill into all the crevices, giving the buns an even and thorough glaze.
13. When the buns are completely cool, mix together the lemon icing (you could of course flavour your icing with orange if you prefer). Make sure it’s free of lumps before piping/spreading/trickling generously across the top of your buns.

Unfortunately, however much you may fancy guarding them, these buns are ideal for sharing. Neatly cut or simply torn apart, they make a perfect afternoon treat. If I were in England right now, I’d scoff them by the fire with some mulled wine. For this year though, perhaps they’ll make a nice addition to a Christmas picnic basket or BBQ. I bet you feel really sorry for me having to cope with all this Australian sunshine.

The dough has just about expanded into all the little gaps…..

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Baked, glazed, iced and ready to share, if I can bear to…..

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O Holy Crumpets!

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Nothing compares to a crumpet. I won’t say that nothing compares to a homemade crumpet, because that would be a lie. Shop-bought versions are very good, and as most of them are destined for the toaster anyway, freshness is never really an issue. I lived off crumpets for weeks at a time whilst at university (crumpets with Marmite followed by crumpets with Nutella to be more precise) – not only do they last for months in the fridge, but at less than 70p for six, I was able to save my pennies too. You could of course spend these on the butter instead (I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone to eat crumpets without it)…..Lurpak ‘slightly salted’ was our usual choice, but you could go crazy and splurge on some really good quality French stuff. But whatever the butter, as long as it melts and trickles down into all the piping hot holes…..that’s crumpet magic.

Crumpets are true Brits. We managed to find them in the supermarkets of Paris (alas no, not in the boulangeries), but they still remain elusive outside of the UK. Maybe this is what makes them so special; after all both the muffin and scone have long-since emigrated, been imitated and a little lost in translation…..some of their foreign counterparts are almost completely unrecognisable. Here, in Tokyo for example, in addition to being square (?!), scones are much denser and crunchier (the edges are usually quite crispy, which gives them a pleasant texture, but not strictly scone-like). They like to play around with the flavours and fillings too – we’ve seen chocolate chip, banana, black sesame, cheese and green tea to name just a few.

And so perhaps this is why crumpets are so cherished; it seems that no other culture completely understands them and the charm of their little bubbles. Below is a Paul Hollywood recipe, which is in fact very similar to one of Elizabeth David’s. Although many other crumpet recipes use simply one flour or the other, she advises combining strong bread flour with soft plain, and this completely makes sense. The higher gluten content of bread flour gives the batter a more robust structure and therefore the resulting crumpet a stronger honeycomb and a lighter texture. However the addition of a softer flour will prevent them being too chewy, and will ensure that soft, fondant-like interior that absorbs melting butter so well. The bicarbonate of soda acts as another raising agent and releases carbon dioxide upon contact with the hot griddle.

This is by the way, after many years of crumpet-gluttony, the first time I’ve attempted making them at home…..I can’t say I’ll be making a habit out of it, but it was good fun and tremendously satisfying watching all the bubbles pop. Mum and I took a special trip to Lakeland and Limited (any excuse) to buy the metal rings, and we cooked them on her old-fashioned scone griddle.

To make 10-12 crumpets:

175g strong white flour
175g plain flour
2 x 7g sachets instant yeast
1 tsp caster sugar
350ml warm milk
150-200ml warm water
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp salt
Sunflower oil or butter for cooking

1. Weigh the two flours into a large mixing bowl. Add the dried yeast and mix through.
2. Heat the milk to blood temperature, then add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Pour onto the flour then using a wooden spoon, beat the mixture until you have a smooth batter. Beat for a full 4 minutes to work the gluten in the strong bread flour – this is vital to increase the strength of the internal honeycomb structure.
3. Cover the batter with cling film and leave to rest for at least 20 minutes (you can leave it for up to one hour). The batter should rise quite considerably, and then begin to fall.
4. Add the bicarbonate of soda and salt and beat into the batter. Add about 3/4 of the warm water, then keep adding until the mixture is the consistency of double cream. Cover again and leave to rest for a further 20 minutes.
5. Heat a flat griddle or heavy based frying pan. Grease the insides of four metal crumpet rings with butter or oil, and the surface of the griddle too (although very lightly). Sit the rings on the griddle over a medium heat, then drop two dessertspoonfuls of crumpet batter into each ring – just enough to come almost to the top. After 4-5 minutes bubbles will appear and the surface should be showing signs of setting. Carefully turn the crumpets over in their rings and cook for a further 3 minutes upside down.
6. Remove the crumpets from the rings, which can be re-greased and set back upon the griddle for the next round. The hot crumpets can either be served immediately, or left to cool and toasted later.

Be sure not to get the griddle too hot – this will result in burnt bottoms and undercooked tops. The base should be a deep golden brown and the batter just starting to set before the flip…..

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These are ready to turn…..

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Forever my topping of choice…..

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Croissant and Caramel Pudding

This week, as part of my short internship at Gontran Cherrier, Tokyo, I was put to serious work rolling croissants and pains au chocolat. Half-way through my first batch of croissants (of about 100 I think, although I soon lost count), I was grasped by a sudden fear…..what if they don’t work? Fortunately I was not alone; one of the senior bakers was soon struck by the same concern and promptly set aside six of my efforts to rise. About four hours later (by which point it felt as though I was venturing into the thousands), I was called into the bakery. Phew, they were croissants. Not lopsided or crooked, I could banish the visions of misshapen viennoiseries from my thoughts. I finished my shift on a high and bought six to take home.

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Since everyone in our temporary Japanese/English household had the next day off work, I figured I’d try a twist on a British classic: bread and butter pudding. I’m not ashamed in the slightest to declare my love for anything Nigella; I was once ridiculed for admitting this so freely in the ‘professional kitchen’, but her recipes never fail to please. And so, to celebrate my (now slightly stale) croissant-shaped successes, I turned to ‘Domestic Goddess’ Lawson once again.

I modified the recipe a little because I couldn’t find any rum (and we’re currently living very low-budget); I added some good quality sea salt to the caramel instead.

6 stale croissants
300g caster sugar
6 tablespoons of water
375ml double cream
375ml whole milk
Two generous pinches of sea salt
6 large eggs (beaten)
6 tablespoons of rum or bourbon (optional)

1. Tear up the croissants roughly and place the pieces into a brownie tin or ovenproof serving dish.
2. Put the sugar and water into a medium-sized saucepan and stir briefly to help dissolve the sugar.
3. Set the saucepan over a medium heat and swirl until all the sugar has completely dissolved.
4. Leave the sugar to cook until caramelised (do not stir from this point onwards or it will crystallise) – leave until a deep amber colour.
5. Reduce the heat to low and add the cream and milk, standing back a little as it will splutter. Whisk the caramel until all the solid toffee has dissolved and it is completely smooth.
6. Remove from the heat and leave to cool slightly before whisking into the beaten eggs. Add the sea salt and taste the mixture, seasoning a little more if necessary.
7. Pour the salted caramel custard over the croissant pieces and leave to steep for 10 minutes. Place into a pre-heated oven (180°C) and bake for approximately 20 minutes. The pudding should be golden and crispy on top.

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A Cottage(-style) Loaf

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As kids, my brother and I ate a lot of good bread. We were spoiled rotten to be honest; not only did mum make a fresh sandwich loaf twice a week (for pack lunches), but we also lived, for most of our childhood and teenage years, next door to the village bakery. Although tiny, the couple somehow managed to churn out bread, croissants and tarts – custard, jam and lemon I seem to remember – every morning from 7am. Of course when I was much younger I didn’t appreciate all this; I just enjoyed the thrill of buying warm croissants in my pyjamas (which was very often the case).

Now that I’m older, and slightly wiser (about bread at any rate), I realise how lucky we were. I used to moan at the sight of my school lunch; my ‘homemade’ wholemeal bread never looked as appetising as my friends’ thick and fluffy ‘pre-sliced’ white Hovis. I’m ashamed to admit now, but my pack lunch would, more often than not, sit squashed at the bottom of my rucksack until homework began. How I kick myself now! These days, I can safely say, I appreciate my mum’s fresh bread more than any other.

Back to the village bakery…..the croissants were nothing like the hundreds I scoffed in Paris, but they were fresh, local (!) and a damn-site tastier than Shredded Wheat. One thing they did make very well, and that dad always used to snap up when they were really fresh (I think he secretly craved white sandwich bread too), was Cottage Loaf. Super soft, super fluffy, and generally just super simply spread with butter and Marmite (or Bovril I suppose, but I’m not getting into that family debate at present).

I love the cloud-like, slightly lop-sided shape to them, which according to some experts, may have come about as a way of saving oven space. You don’t see too many around nowadays; unfortunately so many people prefer their bread sliced and wrapped in plastic.

The following recipe was translated for me by a friend – find the original in the book available from bakery Signifiant Signifié, Tokyo: “酵母から考えるパンづくり”. I was shocked at the amount of detail the recipe states – it specifies pH, water temperature, proving temperature AND humidity level…..most of which I’ll admit I guesstimated. The translation below is the more basic, home-baker-friendly version so-to-speak! I’ve also altered the quantities; the following should make two large cottage loaves.

This recipe took three days in total – it could be rushed along a little, but if you have the time to play with, the flavour of the bread will be notably better if you use it. I made the ‘old dough’ on the first day, the final bread dough on the second, then shaped and baked on the third. As the photo above shows, my loaf turned out a little on the flat side – the two separate sections so characteristic of a traditional Cottage Loaf sunk into each other a little too much, perhaps because my dough was not quite as stiff as it should have been. The flavour, texture and crust however, were all exceptional.

1.5kg strong white bread flour
30g fine salt
45g soft brown sugar
15g malt extract
60g sourdough starter
30g ‘old dough’ (see following recipe)
150g cool milk
885g cool water
105g unsalted butter (softened)

‘Old dough’ (I’d suggest making this the day before):
250g strong white flour
5g fine salt
1.5g malt extract
1g instant yeast
165g cool water (the recipe specifies 22°C)

1. Firstly prepare the ‘old dough’ – mix all the ingredients together and knead lightly (if you’re using an electric mixer, beat on medium speed for 4 minutes).
2. Cover the dough and leave to rest for 1 hour, at approximately 26°C (80% humidity).
3. Flatten the dough out lightly using the palms of your hands (this will also expel some of the gas) – fold the dough up like a letter (it should overlap in the middle), then rotate by 90° and repeat the fold (this is just to help build dough strength).
4. Cover and leave for a further 70 minutes at 26°C (80% humidity).
5. Transfer the covered dough to the refrigerator – it can be kept at 6°C for up to 24 hours – weigh out 30g for the final recipe (I used my leftovers to make a small pizza, but you could always freeze it for another day).

Now to the final dough:

6. Mix together the milk, water, salt, sugar, malt extract and sourdough starter.
7. Turn the machine to low speed – add the flour, then the ‘old dough’ (break it apart into chunks and add it piece by piece).
8. Now add the butter, again a little at a time until it is well incorporated.
9. Mix the dough at medium speed for 2 minutes, then at high speed for a further 3.
10. Rest the dough in the mixing bowl – cover and leave for 10 minutes at 26°C (80% humidity).
11. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and flatten out to a rectangle with the palms of your hands. Fold the rectangle up like a letter (in exactly the same way as the ‘old dough’ was folded earlier, although this time do not repeat the fold).
12. Transfer the dough to a large rectangular container or mixing bowl (big enough to contain at least four times the current volume of dough) – cover and leave to rest at 21°C (80% humidity) for 18 HOURS.
13. The dough should be very active at this point – mine had risen to the top of the container and was bubbling quite dramatically! Transfer in one sticky mass to a floured work surface. Dust the surface of the dough lightly with flour, then divide into two 700g pieces and two 300g pieces (the tops and the bottoms). Shape the pieces of dough into smooth balls; the dough will be quite sticky, but be careful about how much flour you add – too much will only toughen the dough, and prevent the pieces sticking together when it comes to building the loaves. Leave the balls to rest (on the work surface is fine, just cover loosely with cling film) for 20-40 minutes at 26°C (80% humidity).
14. Now for building – carefully place the two 700g rounds onto a large tray (or two smaller trays) lined with baking parchment. Gently sit the two 300g rounds on top of the larger bases (try to place them as centrally as possible). Dip your forefingers in flour, then one loaf at a time, push your fingers directly through the centre of the top piece and down through to the larger piece below, binding the two sections together.
15. Cover the finished loaves with a tea towel or loosely with cling film, then leave to rise one final time, for approximately 60-90 minutes at 27°C (80% humidity). My loaves seemed to expand outwards as opposed to upwards (I guess because of the strange distribution of weight), and so they looked a little flat when I eventually put them into the hot oven. The initial blast of heat did the trick though, and they looked fantastic when they came out, if a little different from the perfectly proportioned shop-bought versions I’m used to seeing. The recipe states a cooking time of 50-60 minutes at 200°C – I seem to remember taking mine out after about 40 minutes, as they coloured so quickly I thought they might burn. It’s important to get that dark crust though – the flavour was UNREAL.

The dough after 18 hours at room temperature…..

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The tops and bottoms waiting patiently…..

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Light AND full of flavour…..

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