Buttery buns
Hot buttered buns. I make no jokes here

An abomination is occurring in my house every morning. An offence against nature and the natural order of things so terrible that I can’t stay silent any more. I have to stand up and raise my voice in protest. “No,” I cry. “This cannot – must not – be allowed to continue. THIS MUST END NOW.”

You see, my housemate is eating toasted hot cross buns for breakfast. And it’s not even Lent! Pancake Day hasn’t happened yet. And he is eating hot cross buns. It’s completely seasonally inappropriate.

I’ve thought about the best way to tackle this violation of traditional eating habits. The most obvious thing to do is hide the hot cross buns every time he buys them. But I’m worried he might not believe me when I explain that we’re the victims of a very targeted burglar and, instead, will start thinking I’m eating the hot cross buns (which I’m not, because it’s not Good Friday).

I’ve considered pointing out that the year-round availability of hot cross buns is part of capitalism’s exploitation of our cultural traditions, rendering them empty and meaningless so we’re left living lives that are nothing more than treadmills of consumption in which desire can always be reliably sated, just a along as you have the funds. But I suspect he will laugh, and then start eating a Creme Egg in defiance. Maybe hunt down some advent calendars to snack on in between meals. That’s what I do.

My best course of action is to be sneaky. I will start regularly baking a different type of bun, one that isn’t tied to a particular date and festival. Out of sheer politeness he will be forced to eat the buns I keep baking him and the out-of-time hot cross bun will be no more.

Buns buns buns
That's some nice buns you have there

This takes me back to a baking class I went to last year with Richard Bertinet. It was organised by Lurpak Slow Churned Butter as a way of persuading people that their butter is particularly excellent by teaching them to bake things that are nice spread with butter. It’s the sort of cunning contrivance I admire (see my above plan to stop my housemate eating hot cross buns). On the lesson plan were Earl Grey and pistachio scones (which were wonderful), chocolate crumpets (I shamed myself by making some particularly bad crumpets) and spiced tea buns.

The buns were our opportunity to learn Richard Bertinet’s idiosyncratic method of kneading dough. Richard demonstrated the correct stance, approaching the dough with a wide-armed, loose-limbed scooping motion. He caught the dough up, slapped it down and folded it over, like a gorilla making hospital corners out of duvets. Within minutes he had a supple dough that looked invitingly strokeable. It seemed simple. So I stepped up to the bench.

Reader, there was dough everywhere. The glossy, elastic lump I’d been handed quickly de-evolved into a sticky, cauliflower-eared mess. After a few minutes in which I very nearly got the dough to separate back into its constituent parts, Richard took over again and pulled the buns back from disaster. I’ve been practicing the folding technique since then and I think I’ve almost got it, although I’ve had to spend some time stood on chairs scraping dough off the tops of cupboards.

This is the recipe for the buns we made at the class. It’s by Richard Bertinet and is reproduced with the permission of Lurpak Slow Churned Butter.

Spiced tea buns
Makes 10 large or 20 small

480g strong bread flour
20g dark rye flour
20g fresh yeast or 2 tsp dried yeast
1 tbsp good quality honey
200g milk at room temperature
100g Lurpak Unsalted Butter
2 eggs
100g walnuts
200g dried cranberries (I used barberries as that was what I had in the cupboard)
70g caster sugar
1 tsp mixed spice
Pinch of ground cinnamon
2 pods cardamom, crushed
Pinch of salt
Lurpak Slow Churned Butter for serving

1 Preheat your oven to 180°C/fan oven 160°C/gas mark 4.

2 Place 230g of the bread flour and the rye flour into a bowl. Crumble in the yeast. Add the honey and milk and mix to a thick batter. Leave to rest for 30 minutes.

3 Add the remaining flour, 1 egg and the butter and work the dough by stretching it and folding it over onto itself for about 10 minutes until soft and supple. Do not add flour or oil the work surface as it will alter the recipe quantities.

4 Crush the walnuts and mix into the dough with the cranberries, sugar and spices. Rest for about 1 hour until the dough has doubled in volume.

5 Divide the dough into 10 (or 20) equal pieces. Mould into balls and place on a baking tray. Prove for 1 hour until the buns have risen to nearly double in size. Beat the remaining egg in a cup with a pinch of salt. Brush over the top of the buns. Bake for 15–20 minutes until golden brown.

6 To serve, cut the tea buns in half. Toast and generously spread with Lurpak Slow Churned Butter. 

Tagged with: BakingBritishBunsCakes

Rhubarb victoria sponge
Back off. This cake is all mine.

One of the best things I watched this year (and it will remain one of the best things I watch all year) was The Daughters of Jerusalem, one of the Father Brown mysteries brought to life in non-specific period glory by the BBC. I’m a sucker for murder mysteries generally. If a TV show has a picturesque setting, at least 3 gruesome deaths and the murders are all solved by either a foreigner, an aristocrat, an old lady or John Nettles, then I am on my sofa and I am agog. But what made this episode of Father Brown particularly special was the death of Mrs Bunyon.


(I can’t believe I’ve just written a warning about spoilers to a month old episode of Father Brown, but people do get antsy about this sort of thing. So if you’re planning to binge on bucolic murder DVDs, read no further.)


Mrs Bunyon is killed in the torpid heat of the WI tent at the summer fete. The prizes for the best jams, cakes and scones have all been handed out. But Mrs Bunyon has not won. If an apoplectic Mrs Bunyon is to be believed, victory has been stolen from her by an upstart baker. Cross words are exchanged. Angry fingers are pointed. But calm is restored by the swift deployment of tea and cake. Unluckily for Mrs Bunyon, her piece of Victoria sponge has been spread with poison. She dies, writhing in agony, in front of the villagers.

It’s brilliant. It’s the most perfect piece of English gothic I’ve seen in a long time, and I’ve watched all 100 episodes of  Midsomer Murders. The camp horror of a public poisoning combined with the bourgeois ordinariness of a Victoria sponge makes me want to cover the writers in kisses. I love the way they take the romanticised gentility of the English countryside and fill it with bloody grotesques that wouldn’t be out of place in an 18th century pot-boiler. The leap from The Castle of Otranto to Kembleford and Badger’s Drift is a small one.

Of course, the big mystery is why no one in that WI tent snootily explains that it’s not a Victoria sponge cake, it’s a Victoria sandwich. Just as heretical is this recipe for Victoria sponge cake with roast rhubarb. For a start, a traditional sandwich is raspberry jam only in the middle. It should be dusted with caster sugar rather than icing sugar, and the layer of forced rhubarb is a disqualifying offence. Not the sort of thing that will win prizes in a WI bake off. But not bad for afternoon tea.

Victoria sponge cake with roast rhubarb
Serves 8

Roast rhubarb:
200g forced rhubarb
1 tbsp caster sugar
Juice of 1/2 orange

Victoria sponge:
200g salted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
200g caster sugar
4 medium eggs, beaten
200g self-raising flour

150ml double or whipping cream
A few spoonfuls of rhubarb jam
Icing sugar

1 Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/180°C/fan oven 160°C. Trim the rhubarb and slice into equal lengths. Around an inch long is good. Put them in a small roasting tin. Sprinkle over the caster sugar. Pour over the orange juice. Roast for 20 minutes or until the rhubarb is soft but not coming apart. You should be able to just insert a skewer into the rhubarb. Leave it to cool in its syrup.

2 Butter 2 (20cm) round sandwich tins and line the bases with baking parchment. Beat the butter and caster sugar together until they are pale and creamy. Beat in the eggs a little dribble at a time. Sift in the flour. Fold in with a flexible spatula until the batter is well mixed. Divide between the cake tins and level the tops off with the spatula.

Bake for around 30 minutes or until the cakes are golden, risen and a skewer inserted anywhere in the cake comes out clean. Let the cakes cool for 5 minutes in the tin, then gently turn out onto a wire rack. Let them cool completely, paper side down.

4 When you’re ready to assemble the cake, whip the cream until it stands in soft peaks. Peel the paper off the cakes and put the cake you like least on the bottom, paper side up (but without the paper, obviously). Spoon the cream over the cake. Don’t take it right to the edge, it will smooth out a bit when the other toppings and cake are piled on.

5 Spoon the jam over the cream. Don’t try to spread it, just evenly space out the blobs of jam. Lay the rhubarb pieces on top of the jam. Place the remaining cake, paper side down (reminding you to take the paper off) and very, very gently press down. Don’t push too hard or you will end up with the filling spilling out and forming a neat moat around the cake. Dust the top with icing sugar to serve.

If you want to bake ahead, bake the cakes the day before and keep them in an airtight tin. Assemble it an hour or less before serving. It’s best eaten on the same day.

Tagged with: BakingBritishCakesRhubarb