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Spice buns in Lent [Mar. 16th, 2015|09:45 pm]

My views on the correct time to eat hot cross buns are narrow in the extreme. It doesn't seem right that they appear in the shops as soon as Christmas is over, or even before; they should wait until Easter is within sight. But by then, of course, it is Lent, when a rich spiced dough would not be appropriate. So hot cross buns are permissible on Easter Sunday morning, and for a few days after - and that's all. Not that I observe Lent, or Easter for that matter, but I do enjoy the association of particular foods with particular seasons. So when it occurred to me that durham_rambler would probably enjoy a bun with his birthday breakfast, I didn't make hot cross buns, I made spice buns (the difference being that they are cut across the top with a single slash, not a cross).

I knew I had done this before, and that I had adapted the recipe from Elizabeth David's bread book to suit my own method, so I assumed I would have some record of what I had done. But when I tracked down the relevant post, all I had written was "a mash-up of my basic sourdough, the recipe from Elizabeth David's English Bread and Yeast Cookery and what ingredients came to hand." Moreover, those ingredients were no longer to hand. So here, for the benefit of my future self, is what I did this time:

I warmed a scant 200 ml of milk in a saucepan with 2 oz butter, then let it cool a little before I beat in 2 eggs. This was the liquid that I added to the starter, and to which I added the flour: the resultant mixture was too wet - yes, wet is good, but this was too sticky to handle, and I had to add more flour. My first thought was that I should reduce the quantity of milk, but there is a further variable, because I had just started a new bag of flour.

The flour was one third plain white, one third spelt, and one third wholemeal; the wholemeal was from a bag I had bought last summer from Lode Mill at Anglesey Abbey, and it had an unexpected crunchiness about it. This made for a good crust, but I wonder whether the flour absorbs less liquid than usual? I must have added an extra couple of ounces of white flour to my basic pound of flour.

The spices were the traditional cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves: plenty of nutmeg and cautious with the cloves. I may have been over-cautious, because the nutmeg predominated. I wondered whether I should add some sugar, didn't do it, didn't miss it. The recipe calls for 4 oz currants, which is quite a lot, and even though the dough was shedding currants all the way, they must have contributed plenty of sweetness. If I were using the recipe to make hot cross buns, I might substitute a mixture of sultanas and candied peel, but I couldn't say why that feels more appropriate.

This made a dozen good-sized buns: I see no need to adjust the quantities, but a touch less liquid requiring a touch less flour wouldn't do any harm.

ETA (1.03.2016): 180 mls milk, 2oz butter, 1 egg wasn't enough liquid this time round. I had to add a small amount of water, and the resultant buns were a bit dense. This may also be an effect of a minimal final rise (one hour from forming into buns) but I don't think so: the rise was unspectacular throughout.