Friday, April 2, 2010

Hot cross rock cakes

It's Good Friday. So naturally the appropriate thing to be making is hot cross buns (p24). I love hot cross buns - the proper fruity kind, not the silly chocolate ones, or the completely pointless 'fruitless' ones - why would anyone eat a bun that's just plain spiced dough? So boring!

This year, with the intention of making my own, I took a chance and did not buy myself any hot cross buns. I figured that having no shop-bought buns to fall back on would be extra incentive to get it right. I collected up the ingredients I needed (yay for Bin Inn, once again!), including the specific Edmonds active yeast specified in the recipe. Certain that my ingredients wouldn't let me down, I got up this morning (after a modest sleep-in) and set about making my Easter treat.

I've done a bit of baking with yeast before, but all the recipes I've previously used begin with mixing sugar and tepid water, then sprinkling on the yeast and waiting until it's frothy. This one was a little different. You begin by heating milk, then stirring in butter and sugar. Once the butter has melted, sprinkle on the yeast and wait for it to froth. According to the recipe, this should take about 15 minutes.

15 minutes later, very little sign of froth - at least not the same froth you get with yeast and water. 30 minutes and there was no change. Deciding that it must just froth less with milk than with water, I went ahead and mixed my dough.

From this point on, things just didn't seem quite right. The dough was very solid and I had trouble mixing in all the dry ingredients, though the recipe indicated a likelihood of needing to add more flour. It seemed absolutely ludicrous to first mix such a stiff dough, then try to add the fruit. But I gamely followed the recipe. It was really odd trying to mix all the fruit in. While I was kneading, fruit was scattering all over the bench with every movement I made. It just wasn't melding to the dough. Eventually, I got most of it to stick. I put the dough in a greased bowl, covered it and left it in a warm spot to rise.

It didn't. I waited a good hour and it just sat there, a hard lump of fruity dough. By now I was convinced that my hot cross bun attempt was going to be a complete disaster. I seriously considered throwing out the dough, but I was determined to see it through, whatever the result. I made 16 buns and laid them out on a baking tray as per the recipe.

The next thing to do was the crosses - just a mixture of flour and water piped on the top of each bun. Easy - except I really should have made the mixture a little more runny, because the crosses were way too thick. The other error I made was in using my piping bag with the seam on the inside. I spent a good 20 minutes trying to clean the gluey flour/water mixture off the stitching while the buns were baking. Not smart.

Anyway, I finally got the tray into the oven - which by now had been 'pre-heating' for well over an hour - and 20 minutes later brought out my tray of completely unrisen rocks. In the interest of 'seeing this through' I made the glaze and brushed it over, affecting a slight improvement in the appearance of the buns at least. Of course, by the time I was glazing the last few buns, the gelatine in the glaze had almost solidified, making the glaze into more sticky gluey mess. I should have left it on the heat while I was glazing.

End result: rock cakes. No hot cross buns should make a knocking noise when you bang them against a hard surface. They actually taste about right - spice, fruit, mixed peel: all good. It's the texture that's completely wrong.

I was convinced that I'd bought defective yeast. I was annoyed when (before I began my baking this morning) I noticed that the yeast I'd bought had a shelf-life of only a few weeks, expiring on the 24th of April. I know that yeast doesn't last forever, but you usually get a few months to use it in. At that point I merely decided that I'd need to do as many yeasty recipes as possible over the next few weeks, but as the morning progressed and my buns didn't, I convinced myself that the yeast was already useless.

When I spoke to Mum, she suggested that maybe I'd had the milk too hot at the beginning, and killed the yeast. I didn't see how that could be: I'd only followed the recipe. At Mum's suggestion, I tested the yeast with a little warm water and sugar. It frothed up nicely. So much for my 'faulty yeast' theory. It wasn't until I sat down to write this blog post that I looked again at the recipe.

Since I last looked at that recipe, some mischievous little recipe-pixies have inserted the instruction "Set aside until lukewarm" before the bit where it says to sprinkle the yeast over the milk/butter mixture. I swear it wasn't there this morning. So yep, Mum was right. From the very beginning I was working with dead yeast - because I killed it. Sad, rock-like hot cross buns? Serves me right for being a yeast-murderer.

Click here to see a more successful attempt at hot cross buns.

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