Tag Archives: Apricot

Hot cross buns, or, how not to make rock cakes

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(with apologies for the photos taken on a phone)

I remember the first time I saw home made hot cross buns. A colleague in Canberra had worked as a chef in a former life, and to mark our first Easter in the nation’s capital, he brought enough hot cross buns for everyone in our graduate year.

It seemed a miraculous thing to me, the ability to pull real hot cross buns out of a home oven. I also remember the buns were moist, darkly spiced, laden with plump raisins. But more than anything I remember his assurance “they are easy to make.”

A few years later, I have learned to make things with yeast – croissants, pizza, ciabatta – and this year, I was determined to tackle hot cross buns. After all, Alan said they were easy.

My first attempt was a dismal failure. The recipe called for far too much flour compared to the amount of milk, egg and butter. The dough had the texture of scones (or American biscuit) dough. Even after adding extra milk, what came out of the oven was more like rock cakes than English buns. (this really tested my faith in Australian Gourmet Traveller)

For the second attempt, I turned to my bread bible, the River Cottage Bread Handbook.

And, almost miraculously, the buns came together just like that. And the whole Gander household (including Mr Gander’s mum and grandmother – more brownie points for me) had toasted home made hot cross buns for Easter Friday.

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The thinking person’s caramel-mocha-cookie-bites?

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What makes a cookie intellectual? Can cookies be anything other than pop culture, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer (I’m talking about the original Buffy here)? And if Dorie Greenspan describes a cookie as a thinking person’s cookie, does that mean it’s like the cookie equivalent of the thinking person’s sex symbol?

(A Google search for that phrase brings up Kevin Spacey, and I dunno about biting into a cookie that reminds me of Kevin Spacey. Time to move on.)

What, then, makes a recipe a thinking person’s recipe? Creativity? Unexpected use of flavours (or textures) that make you stop and think twice? Cos that was my reaction to the combination of coffee, apricot and chocolate in this recipe. Really? Coffee…and… apricot?

Or is the emphasis on the thinking person knowing how to save a cookie dough that was turning into molten lava?

Because that’s what happened to my cookie dough on Monday night. I had tried to convert the recipe from US measurements into metric/Aussie, and halved the recipe, and added wholegrain flour. Somewhere along the way, I must have stuffed up the ratios, because the first batch of cookie dough became a caramelised, quite delicious smelling, flat, browned, slightly burned (which accentuated the caramel mocha smell) sheet. A sheet of cookies, on my baking sheet.

It looked like a lace cookie gone rogue. On steroids.

But the smell – !

The kitchen smelled divine. There was that combination of coffee, dark caramel, and mysterious dark chocolate. The outer parts of the cookie dough sheet, in particular, had caramelised to a dark brown, lacey edge. Then there were bites of apricots – they were still moist, soft, with a burst of tangy something that cut through and lingered.

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Good things come in threes: fig jam, tart, ‘taschen

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This started with a surfeit of dried figs in the pantry. How this happened, I don’t know. One day, we woke up with dried figs coming out of our ears.

After I wrote the last sentence, it looked like a sentence that could have come from a fable in the style of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Like:

On 23 February 2013, Gander woke up with a ticklish feeling in her ear. She remembered the moment 478 years ago, when a fig was squashed underfoot in a moment of childish frenzy, and the fig, lying bleeding in the dirt, said to her “may you have figs come out of your ears from the day you become a woman.” Gander had travelled far and wide, always away from places where figs grew in the wild, or hung in garlands under heavy porticos.
[a hundred pages and centuries of history later] and that morning, Gander looked into the mirror and saw figs, nestled in garlands above and next to her earlobe, with the tips of more dried figs visible in the shadows where her nape is veiled by lustrous dark hair.

What actually happened that morning – I looked into the pantry and saw dried figs and more dried figs nestling among dried apricots. No magic realism in sight.

Fig jam

I looked at the dried figs, they looked at me. The first and only thought that occurred to me was fig jam.

Figs, dried apricots, orange juice, with cinnamon and a smidge of vanilla. No added sugar. Poached in a slow cooker with barely enough water for more than two hours. During this time, the figs and apricots were plump, infused with each others’ flavours, and then were cooked down again until the mixture is just on the verge of drying out and caramelising. Then, the mixture was blitzed in a food processor until they turn into a thick, dark, shiny and smooth paste.

This isn’t your usual jam, where the first and last thing to hit your palate is sugar. When we tasted this jam, we tasted the fruit first, and noticed their sweetness afterwards. It was sweet enough, not cloyingly sweet. What lingered and made us come back for another spoonful was the play between the flavours of figs, apricots and oranges.

Recipe at the end of the post.

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