Friday, 5 April 2013

Date and Honey Hot Cross Buns and a trip to Redbeard Bakery, Trentham, VIC

I love Easter. Even though on this side of the world, it doesn't mark the beginning of spring, it marks the change to cooler days and even cooler nights, heading into a cold, dark winter. Although I do love summer, there's something I really like about winter. It could be that winter clothes are much cooler, you can layer up and accessorise - or it could be that we have an excuse to sit at home and watch all of our TV shows under a comforter.

I should really be laughing at our strange customs here down under, mirroring the American way of life even though it is completely at odds with our environment. Christmas trees, eggnog and full turkey roasts are not ideal foods when the mercury is pushing 40ºC (104ºF). Easter bunnies, pastel-coloured flowers, eggs and spring decorations abound when our leaves are turning red and falling off the trees. And during the warm month of October we carve small, old pumpkins leftover from the long-gone harvesting season of Autumn - Winter for Halloween.

I think why I love Easter so much here is that it is a reminder that although the days are turning cold, somewhere spring life is blooming, and it won't be too long until it is here again too. We put up out Easter decorations and turn on the heater, eating our toasty warm hot cross buns. A relic from our British past, these delicious buns are usually eaten on Good Friday (but can now be found in the supermarkets pretty much straight after New Year). In Australia, chocolate hot cross buns have become almost as popular as the traditional fruit spice ones. Regardless of the flavour, give me a warm bun with waaayyy too much butter and I will be a happy girl.

I've never made my own as Eric and I have made it an annual tradition to camp up in the spa town of Daylesford over Easter long weekend. Our two favourite campsites in the state, Firth Park and Mount Franklin are within this area, and for some reason they aren't packed over the long weekend as most other campsites are. We camp in the national parks for free and save our money to go to the mineral spas and eat out at some of the fantastic restaurants in the area. The day before we left, I got home from work to see this wonderful sight welcoming me home! What a lovely start to an Easter weekend.

rainbow sun rain melbourne victoria australia

One of our favourite places is Redbeard Bakery in Trentham, which is a little town about half an hour east of Daylesford. A very old organic sourdough bakery, they bake everything on site in their 19th century woodfired scotch oven. It is the best, and I mean the absolute best bread I have ever eaten. Just the right amount of chewy and soft, ridiculously good keeping qualities (I can keep a loaf for a week without it staling) the bread has SO much flavour. Due to their process they make traditional sourdough, that isn't hugely sour.

redbeard organic sourdough bakery cafe courtyard trentham victoria
Redbeard Cafe Courtyard
So every Easter while up in Daylesford, we drop past Trentham while visiting the local organic and biodynamic farms to pick up some fresh country produce, and have a bakery feast and take home some sourdough hot cross buns. These buns are so very very soft yet not gluggy, and filled with just the right amount of mixed fruit and a hint of spice. This year, we were quite sad as it will likely be the last time we get to eat these, as we are off to Canada at the end of the year. In fact, as you don't seem to be able to get hot cross buns in the USA, it might be the last time I buy easter buns - I might need to start making my own.

This year we had a beautiful, creamy vegetable tart with a quiche custard-like filling suspending winter veggies within the pie pastry tart shell. We also had a delicious nut and honey tart that was EXACTLY like a tart version of the Beesting cake. Filled with a honey sweetened creme patissiere, topped with a crunchy nut/sugar topping, it was no wonder Daisy couldn't stay under the table! As soon as Eric sat down she was up next to him, wanting her share!

This recipe for hot cross buns is based on the one in the Australian book BAKE by Allison Thompson. This book is great as it hits a little higher than your typical baking book, and assumes that you will make everything from scratch (which you should, as it is really very easy!). Recipes for pastries, creams, custards fill the basics section, and then the rest of the book is filled with delicious breads, brioches, croissants, tarts, pies, baked desserts, cakes, pastries, pizzas, and even a pretty big Gluten Free baking section.

Easter Hot Cross Buns
Makes 16 buns

10g instant dried yeast
300ml (10 fl oz) warm water
550g (1 lb 3 oz) plain flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
finely grated zest of two oranges
100g ( 3 1/2 oz) unsalted butter, softened
125 g (4 1/2 oz) sultanas
60g (2 oz) currants
60 g (2 oz) finely chopped dried dates

Flour paste
90g (3 oz) plain flour
30g (1 oz) caster sugar
90 ml (3 fl oz) water

Sugar syrup
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
1 1/2 tablespoons water

Place the yeast, sugar and water in the bowl of an electric mixer, and stir until dissolved. Leave for 15 minutes until the mix becomes frothy. Add the flour, salt, honey, eggs, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, orange zest and butter. Using the dough hook, mix on a low speed for 2 minutes until the ingredients are combined. Mix on medium speed for a further 5 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Add the sultanas, currants and dates to the bowl and mix on low speed until combined.

Remove the dough hook and leave the dough in the bowl, covered with cling wrap, for 1 1/2 - 2 hours, until the dough has doubled in size.

Knock back the dough and transfer to a floured benchtop. Divide the dough into 16 equal portions and roll into balls. Place the buns (making sure to leave adequate space between them for them to rise) on a tray lined with baking paper. Leave in a warm place, covered with a well floured tea towel if draughty, until risen by 1/4-1/2.

Combine the flour and sugar in a bowl for the flour paste, and gradually stir in the water until smooth. Place the mixture in a piping bag and pipe crosses on the top of the buns. Preheat the oven to 170ºC (340ºF) and bake the buns for 25 minutes until golden.

While the buns are in the oven, bring the honey and water to boil in a small saucepan. Take off the heat. When the buns come out, immediately brush them with the honey syrup and cool on a wire rack (Just slide the baking paper onto the rack!)

Serve warm, preferably on the day of baking, with a lot of butter! These also freeze beautifully in an air tight bag after they have cooled completely.

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