Category Archives: Buns

The most AMAZING soft bread baps

My nine year old first made these with a bit of help from her dad. We needed something for burgers so my partner looked in my Dan Lepard Short and Sweet book. I was no doubt upstairs working, but when I came down to have one I could not believe how good they were. The memory of them stayed with me for weeks. The taste was amazing and they were substantial without being heavy.

I made them again recently to house a frankfurter. I have such a weakness for frankfurters and they are of course, mostly crap. I even went to a posh restaurant recently and ordered a hot dog. I can report that it tasted no different to the ones I buy in the supermarket (I do try to buy the best quality ones but, come on, they are hardly a health food).

Note that following the recipe just as it is, these make BIG baps. They were actually a little too big for me so I cut them in half. We froze half of them and late one evening, after we’d got in after a long drive home, we fished them out. They resurrected beautifully. My partner zapped them up in the microwave and they felt fresh and warm. I had one with just butter. I can’t even begin to tell you how good the flavour is, suffice to say that my mouth is watering at the memory.

Once you’ve tasted these, you will feel so cheated every time you eat a cotton woolly bap from the supermarket. And as they’re pretty easy to make, no excuse for not doing them, and freezing some for some very deserving burgers or sausages one Saturday lunchtime. Or hot dogs.

I’d make them smaller next time, so I’d end up with more, smaller baps, and no reason why you couldn’t make them in ‘finger roll’ shapes should you wish to, for sausages shapes. Or hot dogs.

I have a pretty ferocious oven and mine were done after about 15 mins. But do look at the original recipe here and check yours after fifteen and take them to the full 25 mins if you think they need them. Other than that, I had no problems.

Hot cross buns, and Easter baking

I have never made hot cross buns, but always wanted to. A few weeks ago, I spied a recipe in Waitrose magazine for Brandy-spiced hot cross buns (on the cover of the March issue if you fancy picking up a copy). The recipe is by someone called Lily Vanilli, I must confess I’ve never heard of her but will certainly look out for her things from now on as these turned out amazingly well. My partner gave a little whimper as he ate one, warm from the oven, split and buttered.

Lily Vanilli says to soak the sultanas overnight. I did, but if you don’t have time, leaving them for a few hours will I’m sure be fine.

No recipe on the Waitrose site so I can’t link to it.

I found it made 12 buns.

for the brandy spiced sultanas

225g sultanas (I ran out and used some raisins in there too, fine)

100ml of brandy (I didn’t have brandy so used half marsala and half orange vodka)

1 star anise

quarter of a teaspoon of ground cinnamon

quarter of a teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg

Zest of one orange

2 tablespoons of plain flour

for the buns

600g white strong bread flour

50g caster sugar

7g sachet of easy blend yeast

Freshly grated nutmeg

1 teaspoon of salt

50g soft dried figs or prunes

50g soft dried apricots (see note below called Update March 2020)

250ml whole milk

80g unsalted butter

1 egg

for the crosses

50g strong white flour

60ml of water

a piping bag and a very fine, writing nozzle. I used one that was a bit too thick and ran out so some of my buns – shock horror – were uncrossed. Vanilli puts hearts on them but I’m Catholic and you know..

for the glaze

3 tablespoons of apricot jam, and you really do need 3 good tablespoons, nothing worse than a dull bun

1 teaspoon of brandy, don’t sweat it if you don’t have this

1 tablespoon of water

The very first thing to do is put the sultanas to soak. So put those ingredients: ie the sultanas, spices, zest etc, except the 2 tablespoons of flour, all together in a bowl and leave overnight or for a good few hours.

Then, when ready to start baking, strain the sultanas. Discard the liquid and the star anise; although personally I don’t see why you can’t DRINK IT the liquid. It’ll be very alcoholic though so you know, not before the school run or before the social worker calls.

Now scatter on the two tablespoons of flour and mix around. This soaks up any excess juice.

Put the milk and butter on and heat gently until the butter has melted, stir around. You need to get this to lukewarm, not hot so you may need to set it aside to cool a bit. Don’t let it get cold either. Ooh the pressure (it’s fine don’t worry).

Get a large bowl, put the strained sultanas in it and now add the flour, sugar, yeast, nutmeg, salt, figs and apricots. Mix it around, thinking of Easter eggs and having a lovely weekend.

When the milk is lukewarm, whisk in the egg and then add this milk, butter, egg mixture to your sultana, flour etc mixture. Mix it around until you get a dough.

Give it a little knead on an oiled board. Leave it for ten minutes. Give it a little knead, leave it for ten minutes, give it a little knead, leave it for ten minutes. The timings are important (Vanilli just kneads for ten minutes flat out, I don’t do this) as you’re dealing with commercial yeast. Now knead for one last time and leave it for about an hour.


Here’s a pic of the dough just before I shaped it.

Now, either gently knead it again and shape it into buns and cook it (more on this in a mo) or shape it into buns and do as I do, put it in the fridge to prove overnight. I took it out for a few hours before hand to bring to room temperature, but only because the youngest woke me up at 4am. Otherwise I had every intention of just putting them straight in the oven.

If you don’t prove overnight in the fridge, shape them into buns and place onto a greased baking tray. I got 12 out of them, it figures that you can make these fuckers as big or as small as you like. And then leave until doubled in size. God they always say this don’t they, but who remembers what size they were in the first place? I always leave for longer than 45 mins as I live in the country and it’s cold here. So use your common sense. 45 mins, an hour, maybe longer. As I said, academic as I did them in the fridge overnight with two hours to get to room temperature.

When ready to cook, preheat oven to 220C, mix together the 50g of flour and the 60ml of water and pipe a cross onto the buns.

Cook for ten mins at 220 then lower to 200 for another 10 mins. Whilst they’re cooking, mix together the jam and water and brandy.

When out of oven, immediately brush the tops with the jam mixture to make a lovely glossy top.


Here they are glistening in the morning sunshine. I really had no idea they would be so good. These are the best hot cross buns I’ve ever eaten. I hope you enjoy them! Happy Easter.

If you fancy something a bit more continental this Easter, try panettone tea cakes or colomba. Or even torrone!

Freezing note: These freeze really well. The only note I’d add is that the ‘cross’ part doesn’t survive freezing too well, it goes hard. So if you do plan to freeze these, don’t decorate the ones you plan to freeze. If you freeze excess ones and they have decoration crosses on them, then be aware of this. We ended up picking our crosses off (sorry God). The rest of the bun was still delicious!

Update March 2020

Two things I’ve found, one quite by accident, which I think makes these a bit better. One is that I soaked the sultanas as described, but, by mistake I also put the two tablespoons of flour in at the same time (you’re meant to put it in after you’ve strained the sultanas). This means you can’t drink the alcohol when you drain it but it did seem to make the sultanas extra plump and juicy! So give it a try.

The other thing is that I have reduced the dried fruit in the actual bun, from 70g (which was the original recipe) of each to just 50g of each (ie 100g in total of figs/apricots). I’ve also made these with prunes instead of dried figs (and amended the recipe) as I actually prefer them. But see how you go!

Doughnuts, but not deep fried

Hello! Doughnuts that are delicious. But not deep fried.

A new year ritual in southern Italy, is to make zeppole, or doughnuts. They are unbelievably delicious and my aunt would make them (whatever time of year I went, because I would nag her) and lay them out on dishcloths (to soak up any excess oil) – one cloth on the bottom, one on the top. As such she built up a sort of doughnut grid system after a while. I was immensely skilful because I would take them out strategically – whilst she was frying the next batch – so that the cloth didn’t sink to reveal any tell tale dips.

By the time she discovered there were gaps, it was too late. I was gone, out into the street to play ‘fazzoletto’. Innocent, greedy, slim days, when all excess calories were worked off playing outside til long after the stars were out.

My aunt would coat hers in cinnamon sugar. I’m not sure how I feel about cinnamon. It makes me feel claustrophic sometimes, all cloying and needy.

Anyway. Years ago, I bought a mini doughnut tray from Lakeland. Don’t go looking for it now though as they discontinued it some time ago; probably because it realised that, although the tray was perfectly good, the recipe that came with it produced pretty crap little cakes. They didn’t taste like doughnuts at all, just very average tasting, round little sponge cakes that weren’t even very brown.

Nevertheless, I kept the tin, and the recipe. And today, whilst my children and I were swinging in the pod chair in the garden, I had the idea of making some more.

Except this time, I thought, I’ll cook ’em and then shallow fry them for a minute or two. And what do you know. They are brilliant. I think they’d make great little accompaniments to a home made ice cream or served with chocolate ganache you can dip them into. Although, for me, nothing beats a simple doughnut simply rolled in vanilla sugar.

If you want to try these, you can get a similar-looking tray from here. (Update note: I now have two of these Judge tins and they are better than the original one I bought from Lakeland!)

This is how you make them. They are ridiculously easy and quick, so warm the oven up the moment you decide to make them.

For 12 mini doughnuts you need:

75g  plain flour
half a teaspoon of baking powder
quarter of a teaspoon of salt
55g caster sugar
60ml of milk (I used semi skimmed)
1 beaten egg
1 teaspoon of olive oil
half a teaspoon of vanilla extract

Put the oven on at 160C.

Grease the mini doughnut tray. Little fingers love doing this. Let them get on with it as it’s annoying.

Mix all the ingredients together, thoroughly, then pour into the doughnut tray. The mixture will come about three quarters of the way up.

Put in the oven. Cook for fifteen minutes. Take out the incredibly unpromising, anaemic looking doughnuts. (Test they are cooked: if you press them they should spring back.)

Heat up a frying pan with some sunflower oil.  You need only enough to coat the bottom, like a puddle’s depth. I have a cast iron frying pan (which I seasoned from scratch, because I am HARDCORE) so this retains the heat beautifully. Then  you just fry the doughnuts, about 1-2mins per side. Put on kitchen paper and as soon as you can, throw them around some vanilla sugar.

If you eat these warm, and you should as there is nothing nicer, they will probably give you rampant indigestion.

Burger/hotdog buns

The hole in my bread-making repertoire was, until yesterday, burger-bun shaped. Despite making my own sourdough, bagels, monkey bread, pizza, I hadn’t managed to make (in truth hadn’t ever really tried as I thought it was beyond me) any sort of soft roll to enclose a burger or sausage or hot dog. And any time we bought them in the supermarket, those cotton woolly rolls, I felt more annoyed with myself.

I really dislike supermarket bread.

Yesterday we had people round and we were going to make spicy butternut squash soup and sausages in a roll. So I determined to finally make my own rolls.

I remembered, a while back, Dan Lepard had written about making burger buns (the article and full recipe is here), and the response had been that they were very good. So I gave them a go.

Because we had so many people round I doubled the recipe, and I hope Dan will forgive me for reproducing it here, but I just find it easier to have everything in one place.

You need: (Dan says this makes about 6-8, I made them smaller and submarine roll shaped and got about 24 out of doubling the mixture).

275g sliced white onion
50ml sunflower oil plus extra for greasing the surface you knead on
75g low fat yoghurt (I used Greek yoghurt, as that’s what I had)
2tsp of honey (oil the spoon first so the honey just drops off)
1 medium egg
1 sachet or 7g fast-action yeast (I use Dove’s Farm)
75g wholemeal (normal, plain) flour
425g strong white bread flour
2tsp salt (I grind up Maldon sea salt)
poppy seeds

The first thing you do is put the onions, with the oil and a bit of water, into a pan and let them sweat until very soft and translucent, with all of the moisture gone. Leave to cool then tip into a large bowl (with any oil that’s still in the pan). To this add yog, honey and egg. Then add 125ml warm water and the yeast, the flours and salt. Mix together. You will very likely have to add more water – Dan suggests 50ml – it depends on how much moisture is in the onions and how you like your dough to be. I’m quite confident now with a very soft dough. But add the water bit by bit to see how you go.

Leave for 10 mins then tip it out onto an oiled surface and knead lightly for 10 seconds. Cover with a bowl or put back in the bowl and cover..and repeat this twice more – leaving it for ten mins then kneading it for ten seconds.

After the third knead, leave it covered and undisturbed for one hour.

Then take bits off it and start shaping – either large round buns, or long ones, whatever you like. Put on a baking parchment lined tray. Brush with water and sprinkle on poppy seeds (or you know, any seeds you like or no seeds). Cover and leave to rise for about 90 mins – Dan says until they’re 50% risen. In my kitchen (about 21 degrees) this timing was pretty spot on.

Put rolls into a preheated oven: 220C. Dan says 15 mins, mine were done in 10 (my oven is very hot), they’re done when they’re just “brown on top”.

They are delicious – really soft and tasty. I didn’t tell the children there was onion in the dough and they all seemed to love the rolls. And it saves having to add onions to the burger/hot dog, although you can add more if you want to. There’s really no sharp taste of onion or anything like that. That said, if you want to leave the onion out, I asked Dan and he said “the precooking of the onions sweetens them and softens the flavour, but leave them out if you like and only add in half the oil to the dough.”

Really top notch, so easy and delicious. I have frozen some for emergency burger needs.

Now, someone gave me a recipe for panettone last year: if it was you please could you let me have it again?

Colomba – one of the most delicious things I’ve ever made

Colomba, soft, orangey, classy.

Colomba means dove in Italian and it’s a traditional Easter cake. It’s much like panettone – traditional Italian Christmas cake – except it doesn’t have sultanas.

Both colomba and panettone use a biga – or sponge starter. I’ve never attempted panettone because it’s not meant to be easy. Not difficult per se, but the recipe is long and there are various stages during which you really need to concentrate. Plus you need to hang panettone upside down when it’s done (until it ‘sets’). I was almost tempted last year when I found out that Patrick at Bakery Bits had started selling the waxed paper cases you need for panettone but then my mamma’s friend bought an exceptional one back from Italy so I never bothered to make my own.

Then Patrick posted a recipe for colomba and started selling Aroma Veneziana which is rich with citrus and almond oils with a hint of vanilla. He also sells the colomba cases (I found the 750g ample big enough for the recipe below. You can make the cake in a traditional cake tin but the dove shape is traditional). So I decided to try it.

God it was delicious. One of the best things I’ve ever made. So good that I couldn’t believe I’d actually made it myself. (I’m aware Easter has passed now, but this shouldn’t put you off trying it.)

I made a few changes to Patrick’s recipe which I’ve detailed below. I actually made two colomba cakes – retardeding the proof time on my first attempt because I ran out of time (I put it in the fridge at the stage marked * below, because from start to finish this cake takes quite a long time, you really need to start it in the morning) and cooked it for 40 mins. Refrigerating it didn’t seem to affect it at all, if anything I think it was tastier. It was supremely moist – a tiny bit underdone and doughy at the very centre, but unnoticeable to all but me.  I cooked the second one for longer – probably 50 mins and it was more authentic ‘colomba’ but slightly dryer. My oven is ferocious so I cooked at more like 180/190C. Patrick’s tip of putting silver foil on top is one to be followed, as the egg white/sugar coating burns easily. In fact I covered the whole of the colomba for the middle portion of the cooking time.

Anyway, this is what you need to do.

First stage: the sponge

15g caster sugar
100g warm water
3 egg yolks (reserve two egg whites, freeze the others if you don’t know what to do with them immediately)
11g instant dried yeast
70g strong white bread flour

Mix together the sugar and water with the egg yolks; separately, mix together the yeast and flour and add this to the egg/sugar/water mixture. You get a thick batter. cover with cling film and leave for a good 30-40mins until it’s really bubbly and frothy (note: my kitchen is about 20 degrees, if yours is warmer/cooler you’ll nee to adjust the time accordingly).

Second stage: first  dough

The frothing, elastic sponge, as above.
75g warm water
45g very soft unsalted butter
6g dried yeast
210g strong white bread flour

Whisk the water into the sponge, then mix in the butter. Separately mix the flour and yeast together and add these to the sponge. You should have a thick, stick, moist batter. Cover with cling film and leave for about two hours, until doubled in volume.

Third stage: second dough

The first dough,  as above.
145g caster sugar
15g honey
3 egg yolks
grated zest of two oranges
2 teaspoons of Aroma Veneziana (this is my favourite big, I adore the smell and it gives you a hint of the good things to come).
115g very soft unsalted butter
250g strong white bread flour
5g sea salt, finely ground
150g chopped mixed peel

Take your first dough and now mix in the sugar, honey and egg yolks. It’ll look a bit unpromising and ‘separate’ – don’t panic. Add the Aroma Veneziana, the orange zest and butter, then the flour and salt. Now, Patrick didn’t add the mixed peel til later (see his original recipe, link above), but I added mine here too. Mix all together.

Now here, Patrick says to knead until you have a soft, smooth, elastic dough. My dough was sticky and a bit unmanageable so I rested it for ten minutes, then gave it a light knead, rested it for ten minutes, then gave it a light knead, rested it for ten minutes, then gave it a light knead. I did this on a lightly oiled chopping board.

Then I picked up the original recipe which says to put it in a oiled bowl and cover with cling film * and leave to rise ‘dramatically’, Patrick says until it’s about three times the original volume which takes about 3-4 hours.

(For the first colomba this * is where I refrigerated it and the next morning, took it out and let it sit all morning until it got to room temperature and then started to rise ‘dramatically’.)

When that’s done, Patrick cuts his dough in half and puts it in the case (after rolling it), one half making the ‘wings’ and one half the head to tail bit (so they overlap). I didn’t do this, I cut three pieces to fit head to tail, and two for the wings, rolled it out to flatten it put it in the case and pinched the dough together.  

I found the case was quite floppy once the dough was in it, so I sat it on a baking tray and when the time came put the whole lot in the oven.

At this stage you let it sit and rise again for about 2-3 hours, until doubled in volume, covered with a damp tea towel. Mine easily took more like three hours. 

Fourth stage: the delicious topping

2 egg whites
25g caster sugar
25g ground almonds

crushed sugar cubes
flaked almonds

Just before baking you make a paste of the topping ingredients: 2 egg whites, 25g caster sugar, 25g ground almonds and put the whole lot on top of the colomba, spread out with a pastry brush/back of spoon to make sure every bit is covered. Please don’t miss this bit – it’s the topping which really makes it. Scatter broken up sugar cubes and flaked almonds on top – I used three sugar cubes and that was plenty.

Cook for 40 mins at 200C and check if it’s done by putting a skewer in. If it’s burning put silver foil on top. Even if it looks really done – do check with the skewer, if it comes out really gunky it’s not done yet. 

I can’t even begin to tell you how great this is. Patrick says it keeps for four days in a tin, but I made my two a week ago and although one is gone, the other is still superb. But if you do have any left you can always toast it/butter it. We eat it in the morning dipped in caffe latte.

This recipe seems long – it is. But take your time and try it. It’s pretty fool proof considering the result!

Let me know how you get on…and don’t save it just for Easter!

"There are buns for tea"

A bun. This one from the first batch, thus without its top hat of crushed sugar cubes and amaretti biscuits, which I now regard as obligatory.

As regular readers will know, I don’t really like cooking with yeast. I trust it to the breadmachine – see bagels – but making dough from scratch, I don’t really like using yeast.

Which is why I’m so comfortable, and confident, with sourdough.

But recently a recipe for Panettone teacakes on the Bakery Bits blog caught my eye, or rather, the Tweet advertising them did. So I tried them. The first time, I didn’t read the recipe properly and only realised you needed white chocolate when it was too late. I had dark chocolate (I always have dark chocolate) which I thought I could substitute because I thought the recipe might use the chocolate as ‘chips’. But it doesn’t – it’s used as as lard substitute. See Dan Lepard’s original recipe here from 2007, which explains it all rather beautifully (one of the many reasons that I love Dan’s recipes is that he tells you a bit about the whole chemistry of it too, so I always learn something, beyond how to make a new bun or bread).

Anyway I left the white chocolate out in my first batch, and also didn’t have enough candied peel. And used mostly sultanas rather than raisins. And didn’t have the recommended topping. But they were still great if a little less sweet than I think they should be. The second time I made them I had all the relevant ingredients and they were strangely, slightly less soft but completely delicious. These are the new house teacakes.

But the dough makes quite a lot (about 14) and that’s too much for us. If you want, this dough freezes beautifully. A few days after first making these, when teacakes were called for (freshly baked, and buttered, they make an excellent after swimming treat I’ve discovered), I got the dough out, defrosted it, shaped it, left them to rise and they were perfetti. In fact I’ve done this a few times now, frozen the dough and then taken them out the night before they were needed to defrost, got up in the morning, shaped them and given them an hour or so’s rising and then cooked them and they’ve been delicious.

These are life-affirmingly delicious about 20 minutes out of the oven.

The Aroma Panettone is an absolute must here.

These teacakes have promoted me to constantly say “there’s buns for tea” now. If there is a word in the English language more cheering than ‘buns’, I can’t think what it is. It’s so comforting, so Enid. Ironically the  Railway Children was on today and they said, at least twice “we can have buns for tea”.

Anyway here’s what  you need to do to have buns for tea:

14g instant yeast
125g warm water
600g strong white bread flour
50g milk – any type
50g honey
25g caster sugar
75g white chocolate, melted
150g sultanas (original calls for currants, I prefer sultanas)
150g mixed candied peel
Zest of one orange
1 teaspoon of salt
3 large eggs, 3 egg yolks (yikes I know, a lot of eggs!) plus one extra egg for the egg wash although I find milk works almost as well and is less wasteful, especially if you freeze the mixture and make in batches.
2 teaspoons of Aroma Panettone

Amaretti biscuits
La Perruche sugar lumps

Measure out the flour. From the 600g, take 3 tablespoons and put that in a bowl with the yeast and water. Mix it up til it’s all dissolved. Leave it for about 15/20mins, until there is obvious bubbling. Because I whisk my mixture up, be sure the bubbles you see are the yeast working (these look more like geyser bubbles) rather than just ‘whisk’ bubbles. On a hot day you’ll see this fairly quickly. My kitchen is quite cool and it can take 20 mins plus.

Heat the milk up, then add the chocolate, sugar and honey. There isn’t much milk so you do think “how will the chocolate melt” but it does. If you get stuck you can always just very gently heat it up again, but I’ve never found the need. To this add the sultanas, peel, zest, salt and Aroma Panettone.

Separately, whisk the eggs together – the 3 whole eggs and the 3 yolks (freeze the whites, I’ve got a killer Madeleine recipe coming soon). You’re just combining them, you don’t have to whip them into a frenzy. To these add the yeast mixture and then the milk/peel mixture. Then the flour. Use a dough hook and a food mixer if you like, or do it by hand.

Just until it’s all incorporated.

Leave the dough to rest for ten minutes. Then you give it a light knead, on an oiled surface, with a 30 minute rest each time. Do this three times (so to recap, after the first mixing, leave the dough for 10 mins, then light knead, rest for thirty mins, light knead, rest for 30 mins, light knead, rest for 30 mins.

Egg-wash on, about to go into the oven

Now divide the dough up into a bun size. Patrick said 100g a piece, I find my buns are slightly smaller. Roll into a ball with your hand and place on a buttered baking tray (you’ll be cooking on this same tray so make sure it fits into your oven). Flatten to about 2cm thickness, or leave thicker if you prefer (they do rise up). Ideally don’t have them touching but if they do it really doesn’t matter – you just tear them apart when they’re cooked.

Now leave them to double in size. This takes about 30 mins in my warming drawer.

Beat the last egg and brush over the top of the teacake just as you’re ready to bake them and sprinkle over the crushed amaretti biscuits and sugar lumps. You can live without them of course but they really do add something.

Patrick recommended cooking his buns for 15 mins at 220, mine can be done in half that time (our oven is practically industrial in its heat), so set a timer and check for yourself.

These are lovely on their own or, you know, split and buttered…

Fresh out of the oven