Afternoon delight: Hot cross buns are the star of the show in Skye Gyngell's Easter tea

Sunday 23 October 2011 08:39

I see my life as punctuated by food. My memories as a child and growing up revolve around the food I ate on my birthday, the first cherries and mangoes that appeared just before Christmas at home in Australia, and passiona, a sickly concoction of fizzy passion fruit and too much sugar that we were allowed to drink on Saturday afternoons after a swim at Bondi beach with my father.

Easter and Christmas celebrations are still remembered in terms of what was eaten – Christmas when we'd eat tinned asparagus, gluggy potato salad and cold ham. Easter with Cadbury's eggs and hot cross buns which were available at the school tuck shop – often stale and dry.

However, despite my early experiences, I still love these Easter treats. Plump currants encased by sweet dough, marked by a cross and finally brushed with sugared water. These days, I don't like milk chocolate but love dark, smoky and bitter chocolate. Here is a recipe for possibly the richest, warm chocolate drink possible and my own take on hot cross buns, to be served with apricot butter. Fruit butters are delicious with toasted bread – use any dried fruit that takes your fancy. It keeps well in the fridge for a week or two.

Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627,

Apricot butter

250g/8oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
200g/7oz plump dried apricots (or any other dried fruit such as figs or prunes or a combination)
1 tbsp icing sugar

Start by placing the apricots in warm water – allow to soften and swell in the water for 15 minutes, then drain and remove. Pat dry and chop half of the apricots into small rough pieces. Place the other half in a food processor along with the butter and icing sugar and purée until soft and creamy. Combine with the apricot pieces.

Using a spatula, remove and spoon on to a generous piece of parchment paper, shape into a sausage shape and wrap the parchment paper around. Chill in the refrigerator for at least half an hour before using. Spread on the toasted buns just before serving.

Hot cross buns

Makes about 12 buns 30g/1oz fresh yeast

275ml/9fl oz milk at room temperature
450g/141/2oz plain flour
85g/31/4oz unsalted butter, room temperature
90g/31/2oz caster sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ground allspice
A pinch of salt
2 large eggs
80g/3oz sultanas
80g/3oz currants
80g/3oz chopped homemade candied peel
Flour and water to make a paste

To glaze

1 egg yolk
A little tepid water
1 tsp sugar

Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas7. Dissolve the yeast in the milk. Place the flour in a bowl and rub in the butter until it is the consistency of rough breadcrumbs. Add the sugar, all the spices and a pinch of salt. Mix together well.

Whisk the eggs and add to the milk. Make a well in the centre of the flour, add the yeast and liquid and mix. Leave for 5 minutes and then work to a soft dough. Add the sultanas, currants and peel and knead until the dough appears glossy.

Cover the dough with a clean cloth and sit it in a warm place until it doubles in volume. Knock back the dough by kneading for a further 2-3 minutes. Rest for 10 minutes then shape into little buns – approximately 30g each. Place on a baking tray.

Beat the egg yolk, water and sugar together to make the glaze. Mix the flour and water together until it is quite solid, then roll out on a floured surface until it is an 1/8 inch thick, slice into ribbons and lay to form a cross on the top of the buns.

Brush with the glaze and bake on the middle shelf of the oven for five minutes. Reduce the heat to 180C and bake for a further 10 minutes or until golden brown.

Bitter rich hot chocolate

It is important to use the best chocolate you can afford. At work we use two different chocolates – one known as Valrhona and the other Amedei – both 70 per cent cocoa and considered to be the best cooking chocolate in the world. Valrhona is the more readily available of the two, but if both are difficult to find look for a chocolate that contains the highest per cent of cocoa possible.

You will only be able to drink this in the smallest possible quantities as it is almost thick enough to stand a spoon up in. It is a drink worthy for a celebration. In Angelina's Tea Room in Paris they serve it in a little teapot from which you pour the thick chocolate slowly into a cup and spoon over the cream just before drinking.

Serves 4

200g/7oz dark chocolate
400ml/14fl oz whole milk
150ml/1/4pt double cream, room temperature
3 tbsp caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Chop the chocolate into small rough pieces and place in a steel or ceramic bowl along with the milk. Set over a saucepan of simmering water – making sure that the base of the bowl sits above the water – you are in fact steaming the chocolate.

Allow the chocolate to melt into the milk without stirring, this will take 5 minutes or so. Once it has almost completely melted, stir gently to combine, ensuring there are no lumps. Turn off the heat and allow to sit while you whip the cream.

Place the cream in a bowl along with the sugar and vanilla and whisk until thick and soft – be sure not to overwhisk as it will ruin the texture. Pour the chocolate into four pretty glasses and spoon over the billowing cream. Serve at once before it cools and becomes impossibly thick.

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