Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen: Hot Cross Buns

Welcome back to my casual series, “Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen.” Last time we got sticky making pita bread. Today, we’re making cardamom-laced hot cross buns in celebration of springtime and a four-day weekend over Easter. 

Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen #7: Hot Cross Buns

This recipe comes from The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook‘s section titled “Short and Sweet: Quick Breads and Holiday Breads”. This includes classics like banana bread but also special occasion breads like Stollen, a bread for Día de los Muertos, and these hot cross buns. The chapter’s introduction notes that the holiday breads are “recipes passed from generation to generation, often scribbled on note cards…rooted in old traditions and sure to inspire new ones)” (232). Well, I didn’t grow up eating hot cross buns, but they are abundant in UK shops around Easter-time and F and I both enjoy them as an afternoon treat with coffee or tea, so I decided to try my hand at homemade ones.

Hello, my beauties!

The hot cross bun recipe looked pretty straightforward: it uses an enriched dough with egg and milk, as well as some sugar and both raisins and currants. The bonus ingredient is cardamom, which adds a lovely scent and flavor to the buns. You could leave the cardamom out if you’re not a fan, but I would recommend keeping it in.

You don’t need to know much about bread-making to create these hot cross buns. The dough gets mixed until the gluten is developed — this always gives me a good arm workout, as we don’t have a stand mixer — and then rested for an hour. To form the little round buns, you’ll need to practice your boule-making technique of folding, pinching, and tension-building. I found this less fussy than making sourdough bread: the dense hot cross bun dough is easier to work with than looser sourdough bread dough.

After lining up the little buns on a baking tray, you rest them for another hour before you brush them with egg wash (I could’ve been more generous with my egg washing) and bake them for 30 minutes. (Use the non-convection setting on your oven.) Unfortunately, I thought I’d started my timer when the buns went in the oven, but realized after perhaps 10-15 minutes that my timer had been inadvertently paused! I therefore had to estimate how long the buns had been in and may have overdone them by a few minutes. Despite that, the hot cross buns turned out really well, sweetened just a bit by the icing crosses (I left out the cardamom — pure laziness) and delicious with salted butter. The whole process took about four hours (not including cooling time). F approved and we were both happy!

How do you like your hot cross buns – with butter? Jam? Marmalade?Have you ever made them yourself?

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Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen: Pita

Welcome back to my casual series, “Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen.” Just over a week ago we had a first go at making New Yorker Rye. This time, we’re off to the Middle East to make some homemade pita to go along with this deconstructed baba ganouj

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Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen #6: Pita

This recipe comes from The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook‘s section titled “Slightly Elevated: Leavened Flatbreads”. The breads in this section still count as flatbreads — think naan, injera, focaccia — but use some sort of fermentation (time, yeast, yogurt) to create a bit of rise. Since I wanted to make this deconstructed baba ganouj, it seemed like the right time to try my hand at homemade pita, called khubz (“bread”) in Arabic, according to the recipe’s introduction. 

Pita stack! Some puffed, some didn't.

Pita stack! Some puffed, some didn’t.

Pita requires the basic bread-making ingredients of yeast, white and whole wheat water, flour, salt, and olive oil. I dutifully followed the instructions to combine ingredients and mix them for a while, but even after I mixed the dough for 10 minutes until my hands started cramping up (a stand mixer is on my wish list!), the pita dough was still very wet and sticky. I wasn’t sure if the gluten was fully developed, by my hands were tired so I started the rise. And wow, does this pita dough rise! After just an hour, the dough almost reached the top of the bowl it was rising in.

After rising, I had to pull the dough out of the bowl and divide it into 16 pieces, rolling each into a ball. The dough was still very sticky at this point, so I used my bench knife to cut it and generously floured my hands to roll the dough into balls. After a ten-minute rest, it was time to bake. Baking pita is definitely a two-person job: I was glad F could help take the baking tray in and out of the oven and flip the baking pitas while I rolled/flattened each dough ball into a flat, oblong.

From what I’ve read previously and from what this recipe says, pitas should puff in the oven to form that classic pocket you can stuff fillings into. Suffice it to say the minority of our pitas puffed in the oven. I’m not sure if that was because I flattened them too vigorously or what, but some ended up with pockets and some didn’t. The pitas tasted great: soft and tender, and delicious with the baba ganouj I made. However, I can’t say that homemade pita will enter my regular bread-making rotation, due to the stickiness of the dough and requirement of two people during the baking portion of the process (I could’ve done it on my own, but it would’ve taken twice as long). It was a fun and tasty adventure, nonetheless!

Have you ever made your own pita before? How did it go? Leave a comment below!

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Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen: New Yorker Rye

Welcome back to my casual series, “Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen.” Last time we had some fun pressing tortillas and making refried beans from the cookbook. This time, we’re headed to New York City to make some classic New Yorker Rye bread. Here’s how it went.

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Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen #5: New Yorker Rye

This recipe comes from The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook‘s section titled “The Dark, Crusty Loaf: Lean Breads and Rolls”. These include some classic breads made using pâte fermentée, a pre-fermented dough that, according to the book, “provides a simple way to use less yeast, give fermentation more time, and achieve consistent and delicious results” (119). All you have to do is remember to mix up the pâte fermentée the night before you want to bake. Oh, and also make the right amount of it, which I failed to do since the New Yorker Rye recipe called for doubling it…

Pate fermente & beginnings of dough

Pâte fermentée & beginnings of dough

My pâte fermentée mistake meant I had to settle for making one loaf and halve the amounts in the recipe, which ideally should work but is not always as reliable as people think. I crossed my fingers. The recipe called for baking the rye loaf free-form on a pizza stone (don’t have one) with a pan of water in the oven to create steam. But since F and I started making sourdough bread in January, we’ve been using our Römertopf (clay pot with a lid) to steam the bread for half the oven time and then uncover it so it can develop a crust. I decided I’d try that technique with Hot Bread Kitchen’s rye, knowing I might be taking a gamble.

Overall, making the New Yorker Rye went pretty well. My left forearm and wrist got a good workout mixing the dough in a bowl, since I don’t have a stand mixer to do the work for me. The dough didn’t rise a huge amount, even after I gave it an extra half hour, but I decided to press on with the shaping. Rye flour is much denser than white flour, so I figured the rise would not be as dramatic as breads with a majority of white flour (this bread is about 50-50 bread flour and rye flour). Folding the dough into a boule shape was my favorite part. After forming the boule into a batard shape (aka a log), I tipped it into our proving basket for the final rise.

The loaf might have been a bit too long, as it smushed up a bit in the Römertopf, which may have led to the cracking you can see in the picture. I baked the bread for 15 minutes with the lid on and then 23 minutes with the lid off — it came out a nice color with a nice crust, but too salty. F and I both loved the taste, but next time I’ll use less salt and remember to double the pâte fermentée so we can have two loaves! I’ll also try baking it freeform as the book suggests, since the rye flour is dense enough that the dough holds its shape quite well.

What’s your preferred bread-making technique? Closed pot? Baking dish with water to make steam in the oven? SOURDOUGh? Leave a comment below!

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Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen: Tortillas

Welcome back to my ever-more-infrequent series, “Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen.” So far, we’ve been to Albania, South Asia, and Morocco to make some of their traditional breads. This installment takes us to Mexico and Central America to make tortillas from scratch. A couple of years ago, Janira and I spent an evening getting in touch with her Guatemalan roots and trying to make tortillas. However, I think we used standard cornmeal rather than masa harina, which meant that our tortilla dough was really sticky and didn’t hold together well. We got there in the end, but it wasn’t easy… Here’s how it went when I made tortillas from The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook.

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Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen #4: Tortillas

This recipe comes from the “Masa y Mas (Tortillas and more)” section of The Hot Bread Kitchen CookbookSure, you can buy tortillas in the store, but let me tell you that fresh ones taste way better. In order for tortillas to work, you need masa harina, which has “slaked lime” in it; this helps the dough hold together (look it up — it’s science!). All you need in addition to the masa harina is water. Combine, mix, let sit for half an hour, then roll out the tortillas — simple as that.

Rolling the balls of dough into tortillas takes some practice; you need two pieces of plastic wrap and ideally a tortilla press. Since I am new to the art of tortilla-making, I obviously don’t have a tortilla press; the book recommends using a heavy pot or pan to flatten the balls of dough. My pan wasn’t quite heavy enough so F suggested I use a rolling pin — with lots of pressure — to get the tortillas as thin as possible. That worked well. I rolled and cooked the tortillas one at a time — each tortilla only needs a couple of minutes in a hot skillet before it’s done and ready to eat! My tortillas turned out a little crispier than anticipated, but they were soft on the inside and tasted fantastic.

It’s hard to make tortillas without going all the way and enjoying them as tacos. The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook includes a number of recipes for taco, tostada, and carnitas fixings. I decided to make their refried beans to act as a protein base for our tacos. It was a really easy recipe and it came together quickly: dice some onion, sauté it with oregano and garlic, puree some black beans (I used canned ones), add the beans to the onion, simmer until thick. No need to go back to canned refried beans — like the tortillas, these tasted much better when freshly made.

Have you ever made tortillas from scratch? What do you like to use TORTILLAS for?

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Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen: Albanian Cheese Triangles

I know I’m behind on my goal of two Hot Bread Kitchen recipes per month. I tried making their monkey bread last weekend but something went wrong with the rising (or lack thereof), as I couldn’t find active dry yeast in the shops here in London — only quick/instant yeast is sold. Anyway, after that failure I ordered some active dry yeast from Amazon and decided to try a non-yeasted recipe this weekend: Albanian Cheese Triangles.

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Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen #3: Albanian Cheese Triangles

This recipe comes from the “Filled Doughs” section of The Hot Bread Kitchen CookbookWho doesn’t love a good filled dough? I’d always thought filled doughs take ages to make: you have to make the dough, then the filling, then get the filling into the dough before cooking. Albanian cheese triangles (called byrek according to the book), however, sounded delicious and not too complicated to whip up for an easy Sunday dinner. The ingredient list was short and didn’t require and hard-to-find ingredients, plus the filling was cold, which would save on prep time.

It took 40 minutes to make and roll up these savory pockets of goodness. The dough is thin and stretchy and it takes some practice to roll it into triangles around the filling, but I mostly got there in the end. The 45 minutes that the triangles spend in the oven gave me time to prepare a nice salad to enjoy with the byrek.

I popped my triangles in the fridge for the day and baked them just before dinnertime. They turned out golden and flaky, with a light crunch to contrast the creamy filling. No soggy bottoms here! Albanian cheese triangles were surprisingly simple to make and would make great appetizers or nibbles at a brunch or dinner party. It would be adjust the size of the triangles depending on the occasion, and F pointed out that you could use any number of different fillings to complement the neutral crust. I’ll definitely make them again.

Have you ever heard of byrek? Does your culture have a similar filled dough recipe?

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Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen: Chapati

Welcome to the second installment of my new series, “Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen!” You can read about my first bread adventure here.

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Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen #2: Whole Wheat Chapati

I returned to the kitchen last weekend for my second “multi-ethnic” bread-making adventure from The Hot Bread Kitchen CookbookI’d been planning to make rich and complex paratha, but my time and energy were in short supply, so I settled on the simpler chapati, a classic South Asian flatbread. I’d helped make chapati while facilitating a cooking class at work last fall; also, many of my Bengali and Indian students and co-workers make it regularly.

Chapati requires just three ingredients: whole wheat flour, boiled water, and salt. What could be easier than that? As the cookbook mentions, mixing flour with hot water cooks the flour so that the flatbreads stay tender and pliable, even the next day. I recalled that you can actually buy special “chapati flour,” which is very finely ground. I used regular whole wheat flour for mine and it worked fine, although I may try using chapati flour next time to see if it changes the bread’s texture at all.

My chapati turned out well. The recipe was so simple and the whole process took just under an hour, from initial mixing to 12 cooked flatbreads. I made them in parallel with F making chicken curry from Simply Delicious. The chapati were (was?) tender, soft, and great for scooping up chicken pieces in the curry.

I took some leftover chapati to work the next day for my Bengali co-workers to sample — they were generous in their praise and told me it tasted like the “real thing.” An Indian co-worker recommended using a little less salt next time and drizzling leftover chapati with olive oil before packing and reheating them for lunch. I’ll try that next time — and yes, there will definitely be a next time for these quick and delicious flatbreads.

Have you ever made chapati? Post your tips and tricks in the comments.

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Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen: M’smen

Hello and Happy New Year! Long time no blog… I lost a bit of energy and motivation for it last fall, but now it’s a new year and I have a new project that I hope to blog about regularly. Read on to find out more…

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As the holiday season approached last year, I stumbled upon a review of some new cookbooks, one of which caught my eye: The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook. The review explained that Hot Bread Kitchen is a social enterprise in New York City, helping migrant women share bread-making skills from their cultures while providing them with training and jobs. As some of you may know, working with migrant women is a passion of mine (as well as my job!). The fact that the cookbook included bread recipes from around the world had me sold. I sent the link to F, hinting that I might like the book for Christmas. He willingly obliged.

So, armed with a beautiful cookbook made up of a plethora of “multi-ethnic” (their words) bread recipes as well as extensive tips and techniques, I have made a 2016 intention to try two new bread recipes per month from the book. That’s roughly every other weekend, so it should be manageable. As I make my way through breads of the world, I will write short posts about my experience with the recipes (I will not post the recipes themselves). I hope you’ll join me on my bread-making adventures: “Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen.”

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Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen #1: M’smen

The first section of The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook is titled “Primordial Bread: Unleavened Flatbreads.” I have tried my hand at flatbreads before and make naan pretty often. I like the general simplicity of flatbreads — they don’t usually need much resting time and cook quickly in a hot pan on the stovetop. For my maiden foray into The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook, I decided to cook the very first recipe in the book: m’smen, a Moroccan flatbread.

The only ingredient for m’smen that I didn’t already have at home was semolina, which was easy to find at our local greengrocer or big Tesco. The other ingredients were plain (all-purpose) flour, salt, water, neutral oil, and salted butter.

Making m‘smen required a few stages of dough shaping and resting before cooking, so the whole process took me almost two hours. I started around 11am with a vigorous 6-minute arm workout of mixing the dough by hand (must get a stand mixer one of these days!), before dividing the dough into 12 balls and setting them on oiled baking sheets to rest for half an hour. I left to do some errands and ended up out longer than expected, so the dough actually rested for almost an hour.

Next, the recipe called for more oiled workspace (I guess my hands were well-hydrated by the end of the process?) to stretch each dough ball out, sprinkle it with butter/oil and semolina, then fold it over onto itself to create a neat little pocket:

post-stretching & folding

post-stretching & folding

Finally, each pocket must be stretched and cooked in a hot skillet for a couple of minutes on each side. The author of the recipe recommends drizzling hot m’smen with honey and having alongside mint tea. F and I did share the first bread with honey — yum — and reheated the rest in the evening to serve alongside falafel and yogurt sauce and Moroccan carrot salad. Once the m’smen cooled down, they were a combination of crunchy and chewy, with a pleasant flavor and a hint of sweetness.

cooking the m'smen

cooking the m’smen

I enjoyed the process of making m’smen. It was a relatively involved recipe with a lot of hands-on time, but the flatbreads turned out delicate and delicious — worth the time investment. The dough was quite sticky and very stretchy; it helped to keep my hands oiled. I’ll definitely make m’smen again and may freeze some to use as an alternative to sandwich bread.

Have you ever heard of “m’smen”? Have you every made it yourself?

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