Then old Mrs. Rabbit took a basket and her umbrella, and went through the wood to the baker's. She bought a loaf of brown bread and five currant buns.
The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Beatrix Potter
I love that Easter rolls around slightly unexpectedly at about this time each year. These four consecutive days off, arriving just as the nights are getting longer and the afternoons warmer, always manage sneak up on me and take me a little by surprise. Without the more formal traditions that Christmas brings (in my family, at least) it always ends up being a very welcome time to relax and regroup. And, of course, cook. The longer evenings and lack of fixed routine lend themselves to proving dough, to slow cooking and to afternoons spent trawling through my cookery books.
Though I don't have any food traditions set in stone (no Christmas gingerbread, or plum pudding), there are certainly things I look forward to. I often cook some spring lamb - a shoulder roasted with herbs and garlic has served us well in the past few years - and, inevitably, consume an indecent amount of chocolate. Fruity buns, with their pagan/Christian crosses, are also compulsory at Easter. I like them toasted, with cheese and Vegemite.
I have also taken to cooking some rabbit to celebrate the season as well - there's a slightly perverse part of me that that quite enjoys serving up some Easter bunny. However, once I settled on The Tale of Peter Rabbit, and Mrs Rabbit's currant buns, for my Easter post, I just couldn't bring myself to write a rabbit pie post too. My affection for Peter Rabbit clearly far outstrips what I feel for the Easter bunny. I'm therefore going to stop short of giving you a recipe for Mr McGregor's dream pie (with Peter inside). Instead, I'm going to let Peter enjoy his mother's currant buns, served with a spoonful of camomile tea. And, as an alternative to rabbit pie, do join me tomorrow, when I'll be taking you into Farmer McGregor's vegetable patch.
ps. Having never made my own hot cross buns before, I turned to the king of sweet dough (in my book, anyway), Dan Lepard, for a recipe. A bit of tweaking of his brilliant recipe and I had a very special batch of currant/hot cross buns. And, for those of you questioning the cider in the dough, it's gorgeous - I'm already planning a cider, cheese and chutney bread, inspired by my success here.
Hot Cross Buns
150ml apple cider (at room temperature)
7g fast-action yeast
75g rye flour
150ml double cream
4tsp mixed spice (yes - they're really spicy)
400g strong white flour
75g plain flour
25ml sunflower oil
1tsp mixed spice
1. Tip the cider, yeast and rye flour into the icing bowl. Stir and allow them to bubble away for 30 minutes while you put your feet up and enjoy the rest of the bottle of cider over ice.
2. Put the cream, spice, eggs and honey in a small saucepan and place them over a low heat. You don't want to turn this into a custard (or partially scrambled eggs in milk), so keep the heat low, and take it off as soon as it's warm. Pour it into the cider mix, and then add the currants.
3. Sieve in the flour, cornflour and salt, then mix the ingredients together by hand. Once the mixture has become a sticky dough, cover with a tea towel and leave for ten minutes.
4. Turn the dough out onto your bench (grease it with a little flavourless vegetable oil first, so it doesn't stick) and knead for 10-20 seconds - yes, seconds - until the dough becomes noticeably smoother. This really won't take long at all, so don't over knead it. Place the dough back in the bowl, cover with cling film this time, and leave to prove for an hour.
5. Once the dough has visibly risen (it doesn't need to double in size here), weigh it, divide the weight by twelve and split the dough into evenly weighted balls. Roll the balls on the bench under a clawed hand until smooth, then place on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. Put them about a centimetre away from each other - you want them to join up while they prove, so that you end up tearing them apart after they're baked.
6. To give them a kick start, place them for five minutes in an oven set to 50C, just to warm them through. Once warm, remove the buns from the oven, cover the tray with cling film and leave the buns to prove until they've doubled in size.
7. When the buns are approaching the end of their prove, turn up the heat in your oven to 220C. Beat the flour, oil and water together in a bowl, and scoop the mixture into a disposable piping bag. Once the buns have proved, remove the cling film, snip the end off the piping bag and squeeze a line of the paste in a cross pattern over the buns. They should be joined up, so you can easily run from one end to the other. Transfer to the oven for 15-18 minutes, until browned.
8. In the small saucepan, heat the sugar, water and mixed spice for the glaze. Once bubbling and reduced in volume by half, remove from the heat. Remove the buns from the oven, allow them to cool for a couple of minutes and paint the syrup over the top of the buns. Serve warm, or toasted the next day.