Pancake Tuesday, Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday. Call it what you will- it’s an annual day with it’s roots in guilt-free indulgence before the long Lenten period of abstinence prior to the Easter celebration of faith. Having grown up in Ireland it usually meant pancakes. Stacks of pan-fried, chewy batter usually soaked in cheek-puckering amounts of Jif lemon juice and liberally sprinkled with caster sugar.
Times change and I guess so do tastes. Piles of pancakes no longer ignite childhood delight. So this year I decided to try something different and was not disappointed! Hailing from Nordic regions the “Semla bun” (Semlor pl) is a spiced bread bun, predominantly filled with an unctuous almond paste, topped with whipped cream, and dusted with a snowy layer of icing sugar (because you can never have too much decadence on Fat Tuesday!)
As with the etymology of so many pastries and breads there are numerous versions and methods out there depending on how deep you dig. I went with the classic, and probably best known, Swedish version with some slight tweaks. The dough I use is my “go-to” enriched dough with the addition of the required ground cardamom. The inclusion of this spice not only gives the dough a depth to it’s sweet taste, but also a heady fragrance which whafts of indulgence.
The finished and filled buns are exceptional when eaten fresh and on the day. Should the need arise they can be kept in the fridge for a couple of days. But some words of caution here – the longer they are kept in the fridge the drier and tougher the buns will become. If you do this they’re best removed from the fridge about an hour before eating so they are allowed to come to their ideal serving at room temperature. Guess this means all the more reason to eat them all in one go?
1 cup milk
3/4 stick butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 teaspoons active yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup tepid water
4 cups strong bread flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten for bun wash
Crumbs from bun centres
3 1/2oz marzipan, cooled to fridge temperature
2 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon heavy cream
2 cups whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Icing sugar to dust
Heat the butter and milk together in a pan until until butter is melted. Remove from heat add vanilla extract and leave to cool, stirring occasionally
Combine yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar in a jug. Add tepid water, mix and leave to active for 10mins until frothy
In a bowl of stand mixer combine flour, salt, cardamom, cinnamon and whisk together to combine
To the flour mixture addd cooled milk mixture, yeast mixture and egg
Set on low to combine the ingredients. Once combined continue to form a dough and knead in mixer for 6 mins on low, or knead by hand for 10 mins
Remove from stand mixer bowl and place in an oiled bowl to proof for 45-1hr until doubled in size
Remove from bowl and on an oiled surface punch down and knock air back. Divide dough batch into 12 equal pieces and roll into balls
Set equally and well spaced on a lined baking sheet and allow to second proof for 30-45mins
Preheat oven to 400
Brush the proofed buns with egg wash and bake in oven for 10-12mins until golden
Remove from oven and allow to cool on a rack
When buns have completely cooled, use a sharp serrated knife and cut the tops from them (about 1/2 inch from top). Set aside for later
Remove the insides from the buns whilst leaving the outer shell intact and place crumb filling into a bowl
Grate in cooled marzipan and add milk and cream. Mash/ stir until a paste is formed. Depending on the amount of crumb filling used from the buns, you may need slightly more liquid- what you want is a thick, spoonable paste
Divide and spoon the marzipan crumb paste into each of the buns
Set aside when each of the buns has been filled
In a bowl add the vanilla extract to the whipping cream and whip until stiff peak stage
Fit a piping bag with a star tip nozzle, fill with the whipped cream and pipe in a circular motion to cover over the filled bun holes
Okay- I’ll come clean. I don’t actually like hot cross buns. Well- hot cross buns in the “traditional” sense. Dried fruits of sultanas, currants and raisins do absolutely nothing for me and hot cross buns I place firmly in the same category as Christmas Cake. I’ll accept them to be civil, I’ll bake them to experiment and I’ll eat them under duress. So it only seems fitting that this Easter season I come up with something a lot more palatable, even to the those of us prone to outbursts of “inyaphobia” (yes, it’s a thing I jest you not…Google it).
I can’t quite put a finger on where my malaise with dried fruit comes from. It probably has its roots, like all else culinary for me, in my childhood and my mother’s kitchen. Each festive season, whether it be Easter, Christmas or Halloween was heralded with a routine palette of sensory ticks…the flat clanging of baking trays on kitchen surfaces, the heady scent of dried fruit steeping in brandy, cold tea or whatever liquid was to hand, and the frequent blistering blasts of heat from oven. It’s the smell of the dried fruit steeping that sticks with me, permeating memory as much as clothing. Like anything in life familiarity breeds contempt, and boy did my mother like a fruit cake!
Hence my deviation from hot cross buns with their traditional sultana/mixed peel combination. Instead I give you an almost “regal” combinaton of cranberries and pear (yes, I’m aware they’re dried too but far more tolerable in my view) laced with dark chocolate studs. Chocolate makes everything better. Except fish- that’s just wrong! So best you stick to making these hot cross buns instead.
500g strong white flour
85g caster sugar
2 tsp mixed spice powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
10g fine salt
14g fast-action dried yeast
1 tbspn vanilla extract
300ml whole fat milk
1 egg, beaten
65g dried cranberries
65g dried pear, chopped into small pieces
65g dark chocolate chips
50g plain flour
80ml cold water
50g plain flour
80ml cold water
2 tbsp golden syrup
Line a baking sheet/ tray with baking parchment and set aside for later.
Combine the flour, sugar, spices, salt and yeast into a large bowl. Make sure the salt and yeast are on opposite sides of the bowl.
In a pan combine the milk, vanilla extract and butter. Heat over a medium/low heat until the butter has melted. Allow the mixture to cool until tepid.
Add 1/3 the tepid milk mixture to the dry ingredients, along with the beaten egg. and use your hands to bring the mixture together. Add in the second 1/3 of the milk mixture and continue forming a dough, taking any stray flour from the sides of the bowl.
Finally, slowly add the remaining milk until you form a soft pliable dough. Take note here as you may not need all of the milk.
Tip the dough out on to a lightly oiled work surface. Knead by hand incorporating the fruit and chocolate chips into the dough. Lightly knead for 10 minutes until silky and elastic and the dough is smooth. (This part can also be done in a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment, this usually takes about 8 minutes.)
Lightly oil a bowl and place the dough in it, covering with oiled cling film and leave to rest in a warm place for about 1½ hours or until doubled in size.
Tip the dough on to a lightly oiled surface and divide into 12 balls. (I usually do this by rolling it into a thick sausage shape, apx 40cms long. Divide into 2, then divide each half into 6 equal pieces and roll them into balls.)
Place the balls on the tray, placing them fairly close together and flattening them slightly.
Cover the baking tray with a clean polythene bag and leave for an hour until the balls have doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 170 degrees.
For the cross marking, combine the flour and water in a bowl. Mix together to make a paste and spoon into an icing bag.
When the buns have risen remove the tray from the bag, snip the end of the piping bag (making a hole about 3mm) and pipe a cross on each bun. Bake for 15-20 minutes until pale golden-brown, turning the baking trays round halfway through.
Warm the golden syrup in a pan and while the buns are still warm, brush the buns with a little syrup to glaze. Return to the wire rack and allow to cool.
Serve with fresh butter. They can be lightly warmed in an oven for tasty seasonal breakfast treat. Enjoy!