bread

Wholewheat Fig & Sesame Hot Cross Buns

Hot Cross Buns will forever remind me of a bakery we used to stop at on the way to school as kids. Contrary to your usual childhood nostalgia baking story, I actually never used to like them. Don't get me wrong, they smell great (seriously, give me copious amounts of cinnamon any day), but I've just never been a fan of the raisins in the dough.

This year I decided to put my own Middle Eastern twist on them, choosing to use dried figs and sesame seeds instead. I also used a mix of wheat, rye and barley malt flours which adds a lovely extra nuttiness. I suppose it's symbolic in a way, using typically Middle Eastern flavours in a very Western Christian baked good. With everything going on in the world at the moment, it's more important than ever to embrace each others cultures and traditions, and I feel like these little guys capture that pretty well.

Although my parents aren't religious, my grandmother was, and our culture and traditions are very clearly rooted in Islam. At the same time, I grew up in London, and I definitely knew way more about Christianity than I did Islam. I actually still probably do... I remember some family friends always used to ask why I didn't fast, or why we had a Christmas tree, but to me that's just who we are. We're somewhere in the middle. We grew up here and we love our British and Western traditions, but we still hold on to where we are from too. The two cultures aren't mutually exclusive, and it's totally possible to be both.

It might not be what you expect, but it works, just like these buns.

Ingredients

For the buns
250ml milk
30g unsalted butter
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
500g wholewheat bread flour (I actually used Doves Farm Malthouse Bread Flour)
1/2 tsp salt
1.5 tsp ground cardamom
1.5tsp ground cinnamon
0.5tsp mixed spice
50g caster sugar
2 tbsp sesame seeds
1 orange, zested (I used blood orange)
7g sachet fast action dried yeast
1 egg, lightly beaten
140g dried figs, roughly chopped

To finish
50g plain flour
1 egg, lightly beaten
Honey, to glaze

Recipe

1. Place the milk, vanilla extract and butter in a small saucepan and gently heat until the milk is warm and the butter has melted. Remove from the heat and set aside.
2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt, cardamom, cinnamon, sugar, orange zest and sesame seeds. Make a well in the centre and add in the yeast. Pour the milk into the well and leave for 5 minutes to let the yeast dissolve.
3. Add the beaten egg and mix together to form a rough dough. Transfer to an electric stand mixer and knead with the dough hook on a medium speed for 5-10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. If you don't have an electric mixer, knead by hand for 10-15 minutes.
4. Transfer the dough into a lightly greased bowl and cover with cling film. Leave in a warm place to rise for 1 hour, or until doubled in size. 
5. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and divide the dough into 18 equal parts with a knife. Roll each portion into a ball and place onto a lined baking tray about 3cm apart. Cover loosely with cling film and leave to rise for another hour, or until doubled in size.
6. Meanwhile, make the paste for the crosses. Place the plain flour into a small bowl and gradually add about 5-6tbsp water, one tbsp at a time, to form a thick paste. Transfer into a small piping bag and snip off the tip.
7. Once the buns have risen, preheat the oven to 190C. Brush them lightly with the beaten egg and pipe along the length and width of them all to create the famous cross pattern (I find the best way to do this is to drag the paste slightly above the buns and let it drop onto them neatly).
8. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown. Whilst they are in the oven, gently heat some honey in a small pan to loosen the consistency (or if you have runny honey, just use that as it is).
9. Remove from the oven, place onto a cooling rack, and lightly glaze with honey. Slice in half and serve toasted with a slather of butter. 

Adapted from Edd Kimber's recipe for traditional Hot Cross Buns in Waitrose Food April 2017

Halloumi, Sumac & Black Sesame Pull-Apart Bread

Baking bread really is a labour of love. It's a long, age-old process, but probably still one of the most satisfying things you can do in the kitchen. It's only right that after putting all your love into making it, your bread should be shared - but also because let's be honest who is going to chomp down all of those carbs by themselves. This pull-apart loaf from my feature for The Carton magazine's Decus in labore issue makes sharing a little bit easier for you by cutting out the knife (ironic). Get your hands on the mag here.

Recipe

Ingredients
375ml warm water
2 tsp dried yeast
2 tsp caster sugar
525g plain flour
¾ tsp salt
Olive oil, to grease
3 tbsp sumac
1 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp black sesame
80g halloumi cheese, thinly sliced
1 tbsp milk

Method

1. Combine the water, yeast and sugar in a medium-sized bowl. Set aside in a warm place for 5 minutes or until frothy.
2. In large bowl, combine the flour and salt. Make a well in the centre and pour in the yeast mixture. Combine using a wooden spoon or spatula, and then use your hands to bring the dough together.
3. Transfer the dough to a freestanding electric mixer with the dough hook attached and beat for 5-7 minutes, OR, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead by hand for 10 minutes until smooth and elastic.
4. Brush a large bowl with oil, place the dough into the bowl, and cover with cling film. Set aside in a warm, draught-free area for 45 minutes or until doubled in size.
5. Once the dough has risen, preheat the oven to 210°C. Lightly grease a 2lb loaf pan with oil.
6. Punch down the centre of the dough with your fist. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 2 minutes or until it has returned to its original size.
7. Divide the dough into 18 equal portions, and roll each into a 5cm disc. Place 6 discs at the bottom of your prepared tin.
8. Combine the sumac and olive oil together in a small bowl to form a paste, and spread one third of the mixture over the 6 discs. Place a few of the halloumi slices randomly over and in between the discs, and sprinkle with 1 tbsp black sesame seeds. Continue layering the remaining dough, 6 discs at a time, topping with the remaining sumac, halloumi and sesame. Cover with a damp tea towel and set aside in a warm, draught-free area for a further 30 minutes.
9. Brush the dough lightly with milk, and bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 30-35 minutes or until golden and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped.
10. Remove from the oven and leave the loaf to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack.
11. Serve hot or cold with an extra drizzle of olive oil. This loaf is best eaten the same day it is made.

Nordic Bakery inspired Caramelised Pecan Cinnamon Buns

The best kind of days are the ones that you spend aimlessly walking around London with your best friend. If for nothing else, because they end up inspiring you to bake something new! Last week, we ended up at the Nordic Bakery on Golden Square in Soho. Every time I walk past that beautiful bakery the smell of the freshly baked cinnamon buns pulls me in. Who needs marketing?!

I'm not the biggest fan of hot cross buns, and seeing as it is Easter Weekend, I thought that cinnamon buns would be a great alternative. I will warn you, this recipe is not for the faint hearted as it's long and there are some very specific steps to follow which, if you get wrong, could completely affect the texture of the dough. But this is definitely some of the most fun I've had baking in a while. Working with dough is so satisfying.

I was inspired by the Nordic Bakery Cookbook, but I decided to add pecans into the buns themselves, and then also caramelise some to put on top. The sticky and sweet topping works really well with the soft, layered interior of the buns. If you prefer them without the nuts, just skip those particular steps of the recipe and they will turn out just as nice.

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Ingredients

For the dough:
230ml milk
2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
50g caster sugar
515g plain flour
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt
100g unsalted butter

For the topping:
80g unsalted butter
65g caster soft light brown sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
150g pecan halves

For the filling:
50g unsalted butter
65g caster sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
80g coarsely chopped pecans
2 tablespoons milk

Recipe
Preparation time: 3 hours 30 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes

1. Firstly, you'll need to make the dough. Combine the milk and the yeast in a stand mixer until the yeast has dissolved. Add the sugar and whisk until dissolved. Then, switch to the paddle attachment of the mixer and add in half the amount of flour, mixing until the batter is smooth (you can also do this using a wooden spoon if you prefer). Cover the bowl tightly with cling film and allow it to stand at room temperature for 1 hour.

2. When ready, break the eggs into the mixture one at a time, scraping down the sides and making sure they were well incorporated after each addition. Change to the dough hook on your mixer, and then mix in the remaining flour and salt. Knead the mixture at a low speed for 1 minute, and then at a medium speed for 5 minutes.

3. Add the butter to the mixture in about 20g at a time, making sure each addition is fully incorporated. When all the butter has been added and a dough has formed, turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead a few times by hand. Shape it into a ball. 

4. Rinse and lightly oil your bowl and return the dough to it with the round side down. Then turn it over so that it is lightly covered in oil all over. Cover the bowl tightly with cling film and place in a warm place to rise for 1 hour 30 minutes.

5. Once the dough has risen, use your fists to punch it down a few times in the bowl. Cover it again and leave in a warm place to rest for 15 minutes.

6. Whilst you wait, you can make the topping. To do this, melt the butter in a saucepan over a low heat and stir in the light brown sugar, honey and vanilla extract. Then stir in the pecan halves and mix well until they are covered with the caramel sauce. Grease a 12-hole muffin tin and spread this mixture evenly between each cup. 

7. Then, make the filling. Combine the sugar and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Melt the butter and allow to cool slightly. 

8. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Using a floured rolling pin, roll it out into a large rectangle of about 9 x 18 inches. Brush the surface of the dough with the melted butter, and then sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over it evenly. Then sprinkle over the coarsely chopped pecans. 

9. Roll the dough up carefully and tightly like a swiss roll, beginning from a long edge. Using a serrated knife, cut the roll into 1.5 inch thick slices. Arrange each slice on top of the pecan topping in the previously prepared muffin tin. Cover with cling film and leave to rise at room temperature for about 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200C.

10. When ready, uncover the rolls and lightly brush them with milk using a pastry brush. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes or until puffed and a deep golden brown colour. Keep an eye on them as they burn easily.

11. Once out of the oven, you should remove the rolls from the tin immediately. Do this by carefully inverting them onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Leave them like this for 30 seconds to allow any topping to fall down, and then remove the muffin tin.

12. The rolls are best served warm, but will also taste lovely when cooled, and should keep in an air-tight container for 3-5 days.