Alice Bradley and Lea Ault
Back in January one of my daughters was reading a book set during World War II. She asked me what “ration cards” were and I explained about rationing and profiteering. We agreed that profiteering was evil and rationing clearly necessary when supplies were hard to come by. Because merchant ships on their way to England were being torpedoed by German U-boats, shortages of food and other goods caused the government to issue ration cards so that it was clear how much each person had a right to buy and consume.
In early March she asked me if I thought we could have shortages because of the coronavirus and I replied confidently that of course not, we don’t have issues with supply chains. Then I went to the supermarket and someone had bought all the g*dd*m flour! As a regular baker I generally have a fairly good stock of flour and other baking necessaries but I was stunned to realize that stockpiling and hoarding had begun. Most of the people I know are terrified of carbs and gluten but clearly that’s no longer important in the face of a virus that makes everyone start baking.
A friend went to Costco and came back with a 20kg bag for us to split; I divided it into 10 plastic bags of 2kg each – it was a good 20 minutes of measuring white powder into plastic bags with a digital scale. It reminded me of something but couldn’t think what it was…..
Isolation brings us each back to our passions – those who are good at interior design are rearranging furniture and doing DIY around the house; the musicians (including me) are dusting off our instruments and sheet music; the artists, like my daughters, are covered in paint and chalk and everyone, but everyone, has crackling dry hands from all the handwashing. The bakers have it the worst, we have to wash our hands every 30 seconds and that was before the virus. I’ve always baked – witness dry hands – and now I’m giving baking tutorials to friends who are suddenly at home with teenagers whom they need to feed as cheaply as possible and most of them have some kind of supply of flour. I hope you do too, because Mom and I planned some baking for you, before there were all these weird shortages. Have you noticed there’s no ground pork either? Is everyone making wontons and gyoza? What is going on????
OK, ranting over. For the triumphant festival of Easter, for the gently damp month of April, may I present . . .
Hot Cross Buns!
¼ c. warm water
1 t. sugar
1 package quick yeast (2 ¼ t.)
1 c. milk
½ c. butter
⅓ c. sugar
1 t. salt
4 ½ c. all purpose flour
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
1 c. dried fruit – raisins, currants, candied citrus peel, etc. (Soak raisins or currants in hot water to soften, and drain well.)
Put water and sugar in a large wide bowl and stir until sugar dissolves. Sprinkle yeast on top and let sit while you assemble the other ingredients.
Melt the butter in a large glass measuring cup, about 40 seconds in the microwave. Once it’s melted add the milk and give it another 30 seconds in the microwave. The end result should be warm but not hot.
Add sugar and salt. Add this to the yeast mixture, add egg, and stir well with a whisk.
Take one cup of the flour, and mix in the cinnamon and allspice. Whisk this into the liquid mixture. Then whisk in another cup of flour. At this point you may need to switch to a wooden spoon; add another cup of flour and keep mixing. Add dried fruit now. Add more flour until the dough is shaggy and holding together, more or less. You can add up to 3 ½ c. of the flour but then start adding flour more sparingly. The two things that make tough dense bread are too much flour and too much working, so pay attention. We want soft fluffy buns.
Turn dough onto a floured countertop and knead well, 8-10 minutes. Only add as much flour as you need to keep it from sticking to the countertop and your hands. At the end you should have very little flour on the countertop and a nice smooth springy ball of dough. Put the dough into a large oiled bowl, turn it to oil it all over, and then cover with waxed paper and a tea towel and let proof for 1-2 hours. This time depends on how warm your dough is, how warm your kitchen is, how long your nap was, etc. You want that dough to double in size.
When it’s proofed, or risen, punch it down, turn it onto your countertop and divide, as evenly as you can, into 16 pieces. Shape each piece, working briefly, into a round and place on a baking sheet with a Silpat on it, or lined with parchment paper. Cover and proof again until larger and puffier, 40-60 minutes.
Oven: 400F. Brush with an egg wash (1 egg + 1 T water, beaten together) Bake in the middle of the oven, 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.
Cool on a rack before icing: Mix 1 cup of icing sugar with enough milk to make a thick yet pipable icing, put it in a sandwich bag, cut off a corner, and pipe a cross onto each bun. Or whatever shape your pagan heart desires, obviously.
If you have a standing mixer, the instructions are more or less the same, but when you’re kneading with the dough hook it should come together in 4 minutes.
If you have a bread machine (and if not, why not?) put the milk, butter, sugar and egg in and then top with the flour (3 ¾ c. only), spices, and then salt and yeast. Let run on the dough program and add your raisins and bits when it signals you to. If your machine does not have a signal, run it without the raisins but as soon as it stops kneading – 30 minutes in – remove, let rest a minute and then roll it out into a rectangle, sprinkle on your add ons, roll it up and then work it into a ball and knead by hand for a moment to evenly distribute your bits and then put it into an oiled bowl to rise (or back into the bread machine). Everything else is the same.
This dough, minus the spices and dried fruits, is a good base for a lot of bun recipes. You can make plain buns, or hamburger buns, or cinnamon buns with it. Want a simple loaf? Divide it into three, shape into three balls, place into a buttered loaf tin, rise, then brush with egg wash and bake at 350 for 25 minutes or so. Very easy, very good.
Because you asked – for cinnamon buns, make a filling of ¼ c. butter, softened, mixed with ½ c. brown sugar and 2 T. cinnamon. Roll dough into a large rectangle, spread filling on, roll up, and then cut into 12 pieces and place into a 9 x 13 rectangular pan lined with parchment paper. Or cut into 9 pieces and place in a 9 x 9 pan for larger rolls. Rise 40 minutes. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes or until quite brown on top. Drizzle with a glaze of icing sugar mixed with milk or coffee, just enough to make a smooth, thick but pourable icing. Or use that Philadelphia cream cheese frosting, that’s so good…but you can only use when serving. Don’t put it on and then think you’re going to leave these out on the counter because that stuff will spoil.
You want the gooey type of rolls? The buttery caramelly kind? Fine. Your life insurance is paid up, right? All right, listen, children: Melt ½ c. of butter with ½ c. of brown sugar and ¼ c. of honey. Let come to a boil, stir well and add 1 T. cream or milk or water. Heat and stir until it’s all well combined but not too long or it will turn into caramel. Pour into the bottom of your pan before you place the rolls on to it. Cover, rise, and bake. If you want these in the morning, refrigerate, covered, overnight, then bring out to warm up for about 20-30 minutes at room temperature before baking. Yes, you can add raisins (softened in hot water and drained first), you can add walnuts or pecans, it’s all good. WARNING: Once you’ve baked this type of cinnamon bun, as soon as it comes out of the oven, clap another pan or a plate over it and INVERT IMMEDIATELY and get it out of the pan or else it’s in there forever. Don’t burn yourself.
What else signals spring? Lemons, and cheesecake. So Mom came up with this recipe for Lemon Mousse Cheesecake. Another long-winded recipe but it’s not like you have any appointments or anything. And it’s 100% worth it.
Lemon Mousse Cheesecake
4 large eggs
4 egg yolks
1 ½ c. sugar
4 tsp finely grated lemon rind
¾ c. fresh lemon juice (this is two very large lemons or else 3-4 normal sized ones)
½ c. butter at room temperature, cut into small chunks
In a microwaveable bowl, whisk together the eggs, yolks and sugar. Then whisk in lemon rind and juice. Cover bowl and microwave for 1 ½ minutes. Whisk in the butter. Cover and microwave again for 1 minute. Stir, then repeat the microwaving. The mixture should be thick. If it isn’t, give it another 30 seconds. Whisk, then cool in the fridge until it’s almost cold.
1 c. graham wafer crumbs
2 T. sugar
4 T. melted butter
Combine crust ingredients and press into a greased 9 x 9” square pan.
12 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
1 c. icing sugar
2 t. plain gelatin powder
4 T. cold water
1 c. whipping cream – beaten until stiff
Mix gelatin and water and let sit for 10 minutes. Beat cream cheese with icing sugar until it’s smooth and fluffy. Beat in 12 oz (1 ½ c.) of the cold lemon curd. Melt the gelatin in the microwave for 20 seconds or until liquid, stir well. Let cool 2-3 minutes (not too long or it will solidify and you’ll have to melt it again) and then mix into the lemon mixture, stirring well to combine. Fold in the whipped cream.
Spread half of the mixture over the crust, drop about 4 T of the lemon curd over filling in blobs. Cover with remaining filling. Drop another 4 T of curd over the top in blobs. Swirl lemon curd using a small knife. Cover loosely, chill in the fridge overnight. Cut in squares to serve, top with berries. Maybe a little phloof of whipped cream on the side….
Honestly, I’m looking for recipes that consist of five ingredients that you throw together and bake…..let’s see what we come up with for May. All this talk for only two recipes!
Please stay well, self-isolate, wash your hands, and if you’re lucky enough to have housemates and pets, lavish love on them. “Love” = “cheesecake and other goodies”!