Today is Good Friday, and although I am not the slightest bit religious I do like to take the opportunity to incorporate food traditions into my life at any opportunity, so that means Hot Cross Buns today.
But there’s another reason for me wanting to make the fruity little buns, and that is because I have been craving them for several months (and buying at least one pack a week from the supermarket to eat spread thickly with salted butter – I have never been so pleased that the supermarkets started selling them on boxing day!). I have been craving them along with salt and vinegar crisps, and boiled egg and salad cream sandwiches, but this is not my usual greediness. I also hate the thought of eating curry, garlic or spiced foods; have gone through periods of sickness; and am putting on weight especially (although unfortunately not exclusively) around my stomach. Can you guess where this is going?
Last July on Andrew’s 40th birthday trip to Rome, we celebrated his birthday with a glass of champagne and chatted about our future, and out of that (slightly drunken) discussion came a decision to try to start our own little family. We didn’t imagine such immediate success, and that in November a positive pregnancy test would mean we’d be meeting our little bun sometime in July this year!
I found out I was pregnant at just 4 weeks, on the weekend that the renovation work started in our kitchen. My first symptoms were an extremely sensitive sense of smell, which is just brilliant when you have plaster dust, paint and dirt everywhere (and a cat who wants nothing more than to wee into the puddles of rubble); an overwhelming sense of fatigue; and suddenly insane hormones running riot, leaving me in tears for no good reason (and some very good reasons, such as the kitchen work being delayed yet again as we edged closer to Christmas).
Then the nausea started, and although I think I got off lightly, the sudden sweeps of sickness which overtook me randomly (on the tube, sitting watching television, typing at my desk) were unpleasant.
Then came the sudden desire to eat different items of food: made all the more challenging because our kitchen still did not exist and we were stuck with nothing more than a toaster and a microwave to make dinner.
I deeply regretted the craving for MacDonalds. I suddenly wanted a Filet O Fish and nothing else would do (probably the last time I ate one was when I was 15). I managed one bite of the dry, tasteless, grey fish burger before chucking it in the bin. My craving for a Gregg’s sausage roll was more successful, although our decision to get petrol on the way turned the 5 minute drive to Palmers Green into an epic 1.5 hour journey of doom through a Tesco garage via the North Circular.
I began to dream of runny-yolked eggs, and my first meal cooked in the kitchen of buttery sourdough toast topped with a poached egg was one of the nicest things I have ever eaten (I made the decision to eat runny eggs as I trust the Clarence Court ones I always buy, but I don’t eat runny eggs without knowing their provenance).
At 9 weeks we saw our baby for the first time on a scan, paid for privately so that we could share the news with our parents at Christmas. Until then nothing had really felt real (despite the cravings, nausea and tiredness) and I was so stunned by the little image on screen and sound of the baby’s heartbeat that I started giggling and could not stop for ages (which made conducting the ultrasound a challenge for the doctor!).
My 12 week scan came around at closer to 14 weeks, which gave us another glimpse of our baby, and we recently had our 20 week scan (again running late at 22 weeks), where we found out we are expecting a boy, and watched him kick his legs, wave his hands and put his thumb into his mouth for a comforting suck. As I feel him shuffle, kick and dream in my tummy, which expands to accommodate him, it feels more real every day, and we can’t wait to meet our little boy.
625g strong white flour, 1tsp salt, 3tsp mixed spice, 50g salted butter, 85g golden caster sugar, 7g sachet fast action yeast, 1 egg, 275ml warm milk, 150g sultanas, 3tbsp plain flour, 2tbsp golden syrup
I used this recipe from the BBC as a guide but made my own tweaks as follows, using my trusty KitchenAid freestanding mixer to make quick work of the buns.
Put the flour, salt and spices in the bowl and gently rub in the butter. Mix in the caster sugar (white is fine but I fancied some golden to provide a hint of caramel) and yeast until well combined.
Beat the egg into the warm milk and mix that into your dry ingredients, and then let the dough attachment of your KitchenAid do the work and knead the dough until smooth. Add your sultanas and knead gently for a further five minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Then remove the dough from the bowl, smooth some softened butter into the bowl and put the dough back in (this is to stop the dough from sticking). Cover with a clean tea towel and leave the dough to rise in a warm place for one hour, then give the dough a quick knead and leave to prove for a further 30 minutes. Mine barely rose so don’t be too concerned if you don’t end up with a fluffy pillow of spiced dough.
Take the dough out of the bowl and split into 12 equal buns. Shape into rounds and place on a buttered baking tray. Cover loosely with clingfilm and allow to rest again for 60 minutes. Again, mine only rose a little but I wasn’t too concerned – it is cold after all!
Pre-heat your oven to 220 degrees fan / gas mark 7.
Mix your plain flour with a couple of teaspoons of water until you have a thick paste, which you can either use to pipe crosses onto your buns or B-A-B-Y D-U-M-V-I-L-L-E if you want to make an announcement like me!
Bake the buns in the oven for around 12 minutes until golden brown, then brush them with warmed golden syrup (20 seconds in the microwave will do it) for a deliciously sticky glaze.
Serve warm with salted butter and a cup of tea. I ate one this morning and felt the baby bounce about inside me (I might have overdone the golden syrup and woken up my boy), which was the perfect start to my Easter weekend.