After such a long winter and a very chilly and rather snowy spring for many of you, I hope the sun comes out and spreads a little spring warmth at last.
I also hope you can enjoy a piece of cake or something tasty over the holidays!
Last year I vowed I would try to make my own hot cross buns in the future, as they are not available in Germany. The traditional English bun for Good Friday is one of my favourites – a spiced teacake, with juicy sultanas or raisins toasted and spread with plenty of butter. (The alternative to a crumpet for afternoon tea!) Since my Man of Many Talents is not particularly keen on raisins etc, I pondered on what I could substitute them with… Apparently several large UK stores sell them with chunks of Belgian chocolate, so chocolate chips it was! I made up the whole dough with the spices and then halved it, adding sultanas to one half and chocolate chips to the other. They were both delicious and there is no looking back; home made are definitely much better!
My recipe is based on one from the BBC Food website, but I made a few slight changes.
For the crosses: 75g (2 1/2 oz) flour, 2 tsps sugar and 4 tbsps water (or a little more)
For the glaze: 2 tbsps apricot (or similar) jam, warmed
First bring the milk to the boil, remove from heat and stir in butter, until it has melted. Leave to cool. Then sift together the flour, salt, yeast and sugar. When the milk is hand warm, use a wooden spoon to stir it into the flour mixture with the beaten egg. With your hands, form into a dough and on a floured surface knead for 5-10 minutes. Place dough in a clean bowl and drizzle a little oil over it. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in size. (1-2 hours)
Punch down the dough, and knead in the mixed spices and orange/lemon zest. Now add the sultanas or chocolate chips and knead well. Divide the dough into 16 pieces and place on a baking tray lined with parchment. Cover with a tea towel again and leave to rise for another hour or so.
Meanwhile mix the flour, sugar and water for the crosses. The consistency required is a thick paste, but thin enough to pipe with a piping bag and a thin nozzle. Preheat the oven to 200°C.
Once the buns have risen again, pipe the paste over the tops in a cross and bake for 20 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from oven and immediately glaze with the warmed jam, using a pastry brush, then leave to cool a little.
They taste fabulous while still warm, with a little butter. But they were also delicious cold, and they are good toasted with butter the next day too!
(They also freeze well)
If you love language and you love plants, then you’ll love this book. RHS Latin for Gardeners by Lorraine Harrison explains all those tricky-to-pronounce botanical words attached to our dear plants, herbs and flowers.
The book itself – a hardback – has a lovely cover and is nicely bound… it looks pretty on your bookshelf! It is perfect as a reference book and for the odd dip into while drinking a cup of coffee. The main body of the book is an alphabetical list of botanical terms, each explained, with a pronunciation guide too. Here’s an example:
Spiral-shaped; applied to twining plants, as in Hedera helix
Now, I never knew “helix” meant that, but it makes sense….
I also never knew that the “novi-belgii” in Aster novi-belgii means “connected with New York”.
Or that the “bonariensis” in Verbena bonariensis means “from Buenos Aries”!
Or that “saccharata” in Pulmonaria saccharata means “sweet or sugared/as if dusted with sugar”.
And the list of discovery goes on!
I was pleasantly surprised how many I had guessed correctly, such as Cymbalaria muralis (“growing on walls”), and the information hidden within these words delivers excellent guidelines for planting… if a plant is from Buenos Aries it will like heat and sunshine, right?
A bonus is the pages in between the list… a few plants are profiled, with notes on how they got their name or certain associations and uses. And some famous plant hunters are also given a page or two, with examples of the plants they discovered on various continents.
This is the ideal gift for a keen gardener, and absolutely perfect for anyone fascinated by botanical plant names. It is already a favourite of mine, and the gardening season hasn’t even begun!
Words from Chapter One of “The Little Grey Men” by B.B., a wonderful old children’s book set in the heart of the English countryside…
“It was one of those days at the tail end of the winter when spring, in some subtle way, announced its presence.”
“The hedges were still purple and bristly, the fields bleached and bitten, full of quarrelling starling flocks; but there was no doubt about it, the winter was virtually over and done with for another seven months.”
“The great tide was on the turn, to creep so slowly at first and then to rise ever higher to culminate in the glorious flood, the top of the tide, at midsummer.”
“Think of it! All that power, all those millions of leaves, those extra inches to be added to bushes, trees, and flowers. It was all there under the earth, though you would never have guessed it.”