Hot Cross Buns, even if you don’t like hot cross buns.

We sell hot cross buns at work, and nobody likes them. When I made these, I brought them into work the next day because I wanted to point out to my coworkers that hot cross buns could taste good. Many were skeptical. Everyone liked them. I made them again the next day, and they were even better. Here’s how I did it.

"These remind me of clarinet practice." -my sister (these were attempt 01. The second batch I made was gorgeous, and looked just like Gesine's)

This recipe belongs to Gesine. She posted it on her blog, along with some pretty awesome trivia about hotcrossbunlore. Apparently, if you make them on Good Friday, there are a ton of delightful benefits to having done so. I’ll admit that when I read about them, I thought that must be some sort of cosmic consolation prize for having just made the driest, spiciest, most-stale-tasting mini breads ever. Hot cross buns always seemed to me a cinnamon roll, without filling and with not enough icing. What it lacked in tender, delicious bread stuffs, it made up for in tasting strongly of spices and fruit. Yay.

This nutmeg is fresh-to-death

I was wrong, though. And if you yourself have been the victim of a terrible hot cross bun, there’s still hope that you could love one, someday. Maybe tomorrow if you have some time to bake these!

Since I fancy myself an apprentice of sorts when it come to Gesine, I made these, on Good Friday, after a grueling day of working for a  grocery store when people are out shopping for a holiday meal. I found that the instructions left a bit of room for interpretation, and I learned some things after the first attempt at making them.

Freshly ground cloves contribute a good amount of spice, without inducing frown-y faces.

When I have seen hot cross buns in the past, they’ve looked a lot like dinner rolls, and they’ve tasted like dinner rolls infused with festive flavors. Just…soul-less. But Gesine’s recipe works very much like a brioche. Her instructions call for combining everything in stages into a stand mixer, and then you “mix with the dough hook until just combined.” I can’t work with instructions like this. I mess things up, really badly, when I’m not sure what to do.WHAT SPEED??? These details are important to me.

Bloomin'

I thought I needed to mix slowly, and prevent too much gluten from developing. After a long time of mixing and not achieving the right look, I turned the mixer way up, but it was just sort of too late. As a result of mixing too slowly, I spent a lot more time on these than I needed to. On top of that, and way more importantly, the dough remained pretty sticky, and scoring a little cross into each bun was painfully difficult and frustrating. The buns were delicious, but sort of flat and underwhelming in the looks department.

mixin'

The second time I made these, I had it figured out. I mixed everything together on a fairly high speed, and when I added the butter, I took it right up to about 8 on my Kitchenaid. That’s how I’d do it if it was brioche. It quickly pulled away from the bowl (in about 6-10 minutes) and while it wasn’t firm, I had a very easy time bouling it into tight individual pieces. Scoring the crosses was very easy, also. I’ll totally make these again, very soon. They were the best right out of the oven Saturday night, but everyone really enjoyed them on Easter as well.
I saved one to keep in my kitchen and prevent fires.

Oh, ps. I left out the cranberries. I love fruit-less bread.

The best thing. Ever.

This book.

I have packages mailed to my sister’s house in the suburbs, so I don’t have to worry about signing for stuff (buzzer doesn’t work) or things getting stolen sitting outside my apartment. I come here every week to babysit, and last week, I was greeted with Gesine BullockPrado‘s memoir. I read it in three days, and it only took that long because I was heartbroken by the idea of finishing it.

I had ordered the book based on how much I love her blog, and I’m really happy I did. Within this really moving story, she describes so many wonderful sounding pastries, and then at the end of each chapter, she gives a recipe. I had to google a number of German words, and some pastries to be able to follow at times, and I actually thought that made the book really enjoyable.

Basically, in about a week, I went from having this woman’s blog in the back of my mind (after someone suggesting I check it out), to having read her memoir, and waiting patiently for her cookbook (that I pre-ordered) to come in the mail. Actually, if I had been waiting patiently, I probably wouldn’t have ordered a coffee mug bearing her logo in the same week.

The book wasn’t due to come out until early April, but it got released ahead of schedule, and when I arrived at my sister’s house yesterday, there it was. The book, and the mug. Oh yes, and the mug was filled with macaroons. In the last 24 hours, I have read most of the cookbook, and have eaten every single macaroon, except for the mocha flavor (because of that whole ‘no coffee during lent’ thing). When I gave it some thought, I realized that I should have asked in the comments section of my order if they could omit the mocha. They may not have done it, but if they had, I could have eaten so many more cookies. Plus, I’ll probably order more very soon.

I have such big plans for this book. Right now I’m contemplating some rock candy with my oldest nephew, a cake for Easter, and some candies for the people I work with.

Something I’ve noticed about my weird fan-girl obsession with all things GESINE: unlike so many other food bloggers who are also amazingly talented pastry chefs slash food photographers slash their lives look like an Anthropologie catalog, Gesine’s whole schtick is a little different. She embodies most of those things (I don’t think she’s going  for the whole Anthropologie thing), but when I read her blog, I don’t find myself wanting to redesign my blog to emulate her style. She does, however, make me feel like I have a story to tell, like she has.

In high school, I was well on my way to becoming a writer. My creative writing teacher told me that I was a good writer, because I wrote. Use it, or lose it. I didn’t use it. I also worked for about a year doing pastries, being the absolute happiest version of myself. I gave that up in favor of trying to move up within a company, always telling myself it’s good practice for when I actually run a bakery some day. Maybe it is, but it feels a lot like trading down. My roommate says I’m a writer even if I’m also lower level management at a grocery store bakery. I’m also a pastry chef.

There’s a part of Gesine’s memoir where she cautions those of us thinking about baking for a living against it. After reading that book, I have never in my life been so sure that this is what I want to do.

nobody spoke, and i went into a dream

One of the first days off I spent in my new place, I spent doing a puzzle and drinking tons of coffee. Now, as I wait for Easter from the black confines of a sleepy, coffee-deprived Lent; that sunny, java-soaked July afternoon is ripe for remembering.

It started, as many happy days too, with an amazing breakfast. I toasted some croissants from work, fried some eggs and potatoes, and washed a big bowl of cherries. I used my previous roommate’s amazing coffee grinder (he was briefly staying with myself and my new roommate before moving to New York), and brewed a perfect french press. We drank orange juice from little beer glasses, and Kym crafted some flowers for the table, in like, 9 seconds.

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jammin’

Oh my goodness. I cannot stop thinking about fruit fillings. I need to start making my own jam, but that’s an adventure for another day. Recently, I was going on about how much I love making lemon curd, and I’ve been feeling he need to make some sort of filling since then.

A few days ago, I headed down to Wicker Park and got some yarn so I could start working on a blanket for my sister. It’s going to be pretty! It’s a tradition I have with my roommate that if we go to Nina, we also go to Alliance and grab some macarons, or some kind of treat. I got this little milk chocolate mousse/cake heart that was filled with passionfruit curd. It was too good!! I started looking up where I could find passionfruit for baking, and last night, I struck gold in Albany Park at Chicago Produce.

I got some puree that was frost-bitten and way in the back of the freezer. The juice thawed overnight in the fridge and I got to work in the morning.

I made a fairly small amount (for making cookies, not filling a cake), so the work was fast. Also, I’ve started getting into making gifts for people, and I think I need to learn how to properly jar these fillings. My roommate brought some lemon curd home from a NYE party hosted by a chef, and I used some to fill macarons…in March. It was wonderful, because it was jarred.

People’s scones don’t know they’re missing passionfruit curd, but trust me, they are.

Please bring me butter…peanut butter.

A long time ago, I was assigned this ridiculous orange rental car that i dubbed “the venga bus.” My boyfriend wanted badly to drive the monstrosity, so even though I had miraculously found a parking spot in front of his place, I let him take it for a spin around the block. Naturally, the spot was gone when we’d finished joyriding. We spent the next ten or so minutes driving around Roscoe Village, hunting for a place to park.

We ended up parking on a really busy road, having totally given up on finding a spot on a residential street. As we made the seemingly epic journey back to his building, a voice called out to us from the gated window of a garden apartment. Actually, the voice was in no way intended for us, but we heard it.

“You tell him, don’t bring me nothing with no butter in it!”

Nothing special there. Just a lady on the phone. Moving along.

“…No peanut butter!”

That was the beginning of what has been a long-cherished inside joke for us. Reading back over what I just wrote, I find myself giggling in very much the same way I did when I first heard that amazing woman. I also realize that it might be not at all funny to persons who weren’t there that night.

It was the gravity with which she explained exactly which kind of butter she did not want to be brought. That’s what made it so amazing. When I’ve had a few beers, that’s what makes me randomly remind my man not to bring me any peanut butter. Ever. For any reason.

The really funny thing is that lately, he’s been on a peanut butter kick. When I insisted he let me bake his birthday cake, guess what he asked for.


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namesake cake

Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, I spent many happy afternoons at the Baskin Robbins my grandparents owned. Oddly, I don’t remember eating that much ice cream. There was the occasional clown cone (my favorite!), and tons of Blow Pops that my cousins and I would grab from a cup that sat on the counter. Mostly, I remember the cakes. Chocolate jelly rolls filled with fudgy icing and mint chocolate chip ice cream, and birthday cakes adorned with lacy borders or plastic figurines of Disney characters.

When I decided to get into Pastry, my grandma gave me a wonderful offset spatula that she used at the store decades ago. I use it a lot, and I used it to make her this really cute birthday cake, which she loved. It’s a vanilla bean cake with lemon curd, and swiss meringue buttercream.

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deb’s working class french toast

My dad taught me a lot about cooking when I was very young. I learned to make pizza dough and pancake batter from scratch before I was ten. Dad usually made dinner and Mom only really cooked for my sisters and me when he was away. She’d almost always make french toast for dinner and often, my dad would complain that he felt terrible about the way we had to eat when he was on the road. Maybe my sisters missed his fancy steaks and sweet potato fries and grilled salmon, but I was always more than happy to sit in the living room, eating my absolute favorite breakfast while I watched some weeknight sitcom lineup.

Perhaps ironically, I didn’t learn to make my mom’s french toast until I was nearly out of the house. Maybe it was more magical not to know, but enlightenment has made this simple breakfast an absolute staple. For my first several attempts I would repeatedly ask my mom, how much sugar? or how much milk? It took a while to feel out the ratios and get it just right. These days, it’s second nature. I can light the burners and have my custard ready before the pan’s heated.

More than easy, this french toast in unpretentious and inexpensive. You probably have everything you need and if you don’t, just leave it out. Unless it’s eggs or bread… It’s also really generous. You’ll get a ton of food for each person. If you aren’t as hungry as I am when I make this, save the custard for the next time you are hungry (Maybe later that day? I wouldn’t keep it too long.) Make this in the mornings for the one who nudges you awake and reads your silly blog or the one who coughs up half the rent. Make it in the evenings and enjoy it while you catch up on your stories.

deb’s working class french toast
serves two

for the custard
4 eggs
1/2ish cup milk or heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (the real stuff, of course)
cinnamon

In a shallow baking dish or pie dish, use a fork to go to town on the eggs. You can also use a whisk, but I find that a fork is really the best tool for this job, since we’re working in a shallow dish and really just combining stuff.

Add the milk, sugar, and vanilla and make sure you work it in really well with the eggs, which can be a little resistant their additions but should come around. I like to put a lot of cinnamon in my french toast, but put in as much as you think you’d like. You really won’t taste it that much, which is why I go kind of heavy. You can alternately sprinkle cinnamon on your finished french toast but that’s not what Deb did…

Dip slices of bread into your custard, being sure to saturate both sides, and cook them on a griddle or saute pan that’s been preheated over a medium flame and greased. I use cheap white loaf bread (bimbo or saralee if I just got paid or I’m celebrating something. wink.) which I keep in the freezer. You can actually get awesome french toast using the still frozen slices. I have yet to find a white bread that doesn’t work. I have also never found a wheat bread that does work. That’s a warning to you. I like wheat bread, but not in my french toast.

Occasionally, I get bread from the bakery where I work, or use bread I’ve made for the french toast. When I do this, I still tend to go with simple white breads, as I feel they yield optimum nostalgia and flavor. However, anyone who is a fan of this dish will already be aware that you can get amazing french toast from fruity breads such as panettone, or fancy high fat breads such as challah and broiche. I maintain that the custard is where it’s at, and that my mom’s working class french toast is the best that I have ever had. And I can’t remember ever seeing a name brand or artisan loaf of bread in the house.

I’m not a proponent of putting butter on your french toast. Strictly syrup for me, but do what makes you happy. Thanksgiving morning, I made myself this french toast and served it with some chantilly and bits of pecan.

Daring Bakers Challenge! Cheesecake Pops

Cheesecake Pops

Okay so if there’s one thing I can’t do, it’s follow a recipe. If I don’t have an ingredient on hand, I know an easy substitution. If I think I can one-up the writer of the recipe by tweaking the technique, I do it. But that’s not how the Daring Bakers thing works. There’s approximately 46 million of us, and we all have to do the same exact recipe. And we all have to follow it to the letter. So here goes nothing.

Cheesecake PopsCheesecake Pops

So basically, this is a recipe in which you bake a cheesecake, and then you dig your hands into that beautiful cheesecake and you roll up a bunch of 2 oz balls and put them on lollipop sticks and decorate them. It was a really simple recipe (Except for following the rules. That part was rough.), but it did require a lot of time, and rolling the pops was not easy. Even though I let the cheesecake firm up over night in the fridge, it immediately melted in my hands, making it really difficult to form good looking spheres. Other than that, no problems.

Cheesecake Pops

As much as I’m going on about having the follow the recipe, this one was actually pretty lenient. We were allowed to garnish the pops any way we wanted, as long as we covered them in chocolate. I used bittersweet chocolate and graham cracker crumbs. It was pretty yummy.

Cheesecake Pops

recipe after the cut!

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