Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Recipe road test: Hot cross buns from Matthew Evans' The Real Food Companion

This entry is inspired by the spirit of all the things that are good about Easter – chocolate eggs, fish on Good Friday and, of course, hot cross buns.

To bring to fruition this Easter inspiration I delved into my collection of cook books trying to find a suitable recipe.  That’s when I came across this gem, in Matthew EvansThe Real Food Companion.

The Real Food Companion by Matthew Evans

A chef cum food critic, now small farm holder Evans’ food philosophy is that you should cook by the seasons and use geography as your guide, that it is about quality over quantity and that we should all understand the how, the why and the where of the food we eat. 

In some ways there’s no wonder or surprise to that fact that he fled the big smoke for the abundant green pastures of Tasmania – home to some of Australia’s best produce.

The man has at least three books under his belt, including two cookbooks: the aforementioned The Real Food Companion as well as Winter on the Farm, he has regular columns in ABC’s delicious. and SBS’ Feast magazine, and has presented two seasons of his own show The Gourmet Farmer.

It is hard to not be taken in by his passion for slow, ethical food: food that is sourced locally and cooked with tenderness and respect.  Ethical eating is one of the focal points of The Real Food Companion, and Evans’ passion is contagious.

This is probably not the best choice of recipe to showcase the beauty of Real Food and all it has to offer.  But I elected to use this particular hot cross bun recipe because I liked the twist of using marzipan to make the crosses on the top of the buns, as opposed to just a flour and water paste which is used in most other recipes.  When the buns were cooked the marzipan added a crunchy and nutty dimension that was truly delightful.

Hot cross buns in The Real Food Companion
I think it would be possible to play with the proportions and mix of fruit and spices to suit your preferences.  This recipe calls for orange peel and sultanas that have been soaked overnight in brandy.  In hindsight I wish I had taken the time to soak the fruit to imbue them with some boozy goodness.  Maybe next time.  

Spice wise the recipe calls for ground cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg.  But you could use mixed spice, cardamom, star anise or even some ground ginger.  The possibilities are endless: for instance, I’ve seen many bakeries around Canberra selling choc-chip hot cross buns.

The surprising thing about this recipe? How easy it was, although it is important to keep in mind that making hot cross buns is like making bread, which means there’s lots of resting and rising and kneading and waiting.  But the results are worth it.

If I were to do this over? I wouldn’t omit the warm honey glaze (I have been sans pastry brush since the recent move). The warm honey would have given the buns a glossy sheen, just like a starlet on the cover of a women's magazine. I'd also take more time and care shaping the rolls to ensure they are more uniform in size and shape.

My hot tip? Serve them warm with lashings of butter or jam and a warming cup of tea.

My attempt at Matthew Evans' hot cross buns recipe

A really rewarding recipe, which was easy to follow and produced good results (just ask M!).   Perhaps next Easter I’ll give it another go!

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