I love eating food that’s in season but these days there seems to be no clear demarcation between spring, summer, autumn and winter. Fruits like strawberries are available all year round and you can even buy British tomatoes in the depths of January thanks to heated glass houses.
Even some of our baked goods have lost their seasonality. Hot cross buns seem to be a permanent feature in most supermarkets saving a few weeks leading up to Christmas when the mince pie reigns. Having them so freely available somehow dilutes the pleasure of eating hot cross buns at Easter, which is why I was pleased to come across this alternative.
I have been researching Elizabethan and early Jacobean food for a Shakespearean themed supper club I’m hosting in April. One of the most valuable sources of inspiration for this event has been Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book compiled by Hilary Spurling. It’s a fascinating account of 16th and 17th century country house cooking (rather than courtly cuisine). The recipes are homely rather than regal and Spurling provides modern translations (in more manageable quantities) so that they can easily be made in the 21st century kitchen. One such recipe is for Almond Buns, originally eaten during Lent (note the quirky 17th century spelling!):
To Make Almond Cakes
Take one peck of flower, one pound of sugar, one pound of almons, beaten & strained with as much ale as will stiffen your paste, put theirto three spoonfulls of barme, & a few annisseds, then woork it well together, then make it in little cakes, prick them thick for rising & bake them.
Spurling’s version includes ale, ground almonds and bakers yeast instead of barme. The resulting buns were incredibly light and not too sweet which could happily be served as a sweet or savoury bread (although I’d be inclined to leave them unglazed if I were serving them as the latter). As lovely as they were I had a hankering for something nuttier (and dare I say it, a touch sweeter) so this is my version of Lady Fettiplace’s almond buns. I’ve added orange zest because I think it goes really well with aniseed. The chopped nuts and almond extract accentuate the nuttiness but can be left out if you prefer (it has to be said that my family prefer the buns without the chopped nuts).
Ingredients – Makes 8 – 12 buns
- 110g Marzipan
- 450g Strong white bread flour
- 25g fresh yeast or 2 tsp dried, fast action yeast
- ½ tsp aniseed, ground or crushed
- Finely grated zest of one small orange
- 50g chopped almonds (optional)
- 300ml almond milk (or cows milk, or even golden ale if you want to stay close to the original recipe)
- ½ tsp almond extract (optional)
- 1 tbsp caster sugar
- 1½ tbsp rosewater
- 1½ tbsp caster sugar
- Place the marzipan in the freezer for at least an hour to firm up.
- Put the flour, dried yeast (if using), ground aniseed, orange zest and chopped almonds (if using) in the bowl of a food mixer or a large mixing bowl (if making by hand).
- Coarsely grate the marzipan and add it to the flour.
- Gently heat the almond milk with the almond extract and 1 tbsp caster sugar until it is lukewarm. If using fresh yeast, take a little of the almond milk then mix this with the yeast until you have a consistency of thin cream. Add this to the lukewarm almond milk then cover for 10 minutes or so until it starts to froth. Pour the yeasty almond milk into the mixing bowl then knead using a dough hook attachment for 10 minutes until you have a soft, springy dough. If you are making these by hand, combine all the ingredients in the bowl then transfer to a lightly floured board and knead for 10 minutes or so until you reach the desired consistency.
- Place in a large, lightly buttered or oiled bowl then leave somewhere warm to prove for an hour or until the dough has doubled in size. After this time, transfer the dough to a lightly oiled board and knead for a few minutes to knock the air out. Divide into eight pieces (I like large buns but if you prefer smaller buns divide the dough into 10 or 12 pieces) then shape each piece into a bun. Put the buns on a greased baking sheet, cover with a tea towel and leave to prove in a warm place for another 20 – 30 minutes while you pre-heat the oven to 190℃ (or 180℃ if using a fan assisted oven).
- Bake the buns for 15 minutes (or 10-12 minutes for smaller buns). They should be golden brown and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. If they seem underdone, return them to the oven for a few minutes more. Whilst the buns are cooking put the rosewater and caster sugar for the glaze in a microwaveable bowl. Heat on a high setting for 10 – 20 seconds or until the sugar has dissolved. As soon as the buns come out of the oven, transfer them to a wire rack and brush with the glaze. It’s worth giving them a double coating to make them extra sticky! These buns are delicious eaten with butter still warm from the oven or even toasted the following day.
If you still have a craving for a decent hot cross bun you can find a recipe here for my Earl Grey infused variety.