Not-cross-buns, 2016

Continuing a fine tradition in our house of subverting pre-existing festivals for our own purposes, I’ve made not-cross-buns, using the excellent recipe on Anne Else’s blog.

This year I’ve made DNA buns.

DNA buns

DNA buns

Buns from previous years:

In 2015 I made PI buns.

Pi buns, 2015

Pi buns, 2015

In 2014, I made fruity Star fleet insignia buns, and fruitless Harry Potter scar buns.

Fruity Starfleet insignia not-cross-buns, 2014

Fruity Starfleet insignia not-cross-buns, 2014

Harry Potter not-cross-buns, 2014

Harry Potter not-cross-buns, 2014

In 2013, I had a go at making Deathly Hallows buns.

Deathly Hallows Buns, 2013

Deathly Hallows Buns, 2013

In 2012, I made Darwin Fish buns.

Darwin Fish Buns, 2012

Darwin Fish Buns, 2012

In 2011, I did not make buns. I have no idea why not, but perhaps we were away from home on Good Friday. And in the years before that, I’ve made Eye of Sauron buns, Flying Spaghetti Monster buns, and Atheist-A buns.

With best wishes for a relaxing and peaceful weekend.

Not-cross-buns, 2014

As has become traditional in our house, I have made not-cross-buns for Easter. This year I’ve changed recipes. I used a recipe from Anne Else’s blog, Something Else to Eat, which Anne says comes to her from her friend Ali, who has used an Alison Holst recipe, but modified it a little. I modified the recipe a little too – I added a teaspoon of coffee powder and a teaspoon of cocoa to the spice mix, to give the buns a darker colour, and instead of using mixed dried fruit, I used a mix of raisins, currants and glace peel.

I made the designs on top using a paste of flour, icing sugar and water (about 2 tablespoons of flour, 1 tablespoon of icing sugar, and enough water to get a firmish paste). And I made a caster sugar and water glaze rather than using a brown sugar or golden syrup glaze. Because recipes are just a suggestion, after all…

As for this year’s designs:

By request from the younger busy bees, Harry Potter scar buns. These buns are fruitless, to cater for the people in my house who don’t care for dried fruit.

Harry Potter not-cross-buns

Harry Potter not-cross-buns

Fruity Starfleet insignia buns.

Fruity Starfleet insignia not-cross-buns

Fruity Starfleet insignia not-cross-buns

Served with lashings of butter and coffee.

Coffee and buns

Coffee and buns

These are the best not-cross-buns I have made so far. The recipe from Anne-Ali-Alison is excellent. The buns had a lovely texture, not too dense, not too fluffy, and the flavour was great. They were also quite easy to make – a lot less time consuming than some other bun recipes I have used.

I hope that you’re having a restful Easter.

The not-cross-buns I’ve made in previous years:
2013 – Deathly Hallows
2012 – Darwin Fish
2010 – the Eye of Sauron
2009 – Flying Spaghetti Monster buns
2008 – Atheist “A” buns

Hot atheist buns – 2013 edition

In the fine spirit of adapting festivals to suit your own needs, today I made some buns for Easter.

Deathly Hallows Buns

Deathly Hallows Buns

Deathly Hallows buns. Some with fruit and some without, to suit the varying tastes of the godless in our house.

I used this recipe: Hot atheist buns – the recipe – on paper.

Earlier posts in this (nearly) annual series:
2012 – Darwin fish buns
2010 – Eye of Sauron buns
2009 – Flying Spaghetti Monster buns
2008 – Atheist “A” buns

Hot atheist buns – the recipe – on paper

Most years, when Easter comes around (on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the Northern Hemisphere spring equinox), I make Hot Atheist Buns, because although I am not a Christian, I do like the food.

Darwin Fish Buns

Darwin Fish Buns

I’ve been using a recipe from a Melbourne blogger, but this year, the blog has disappeared. A friend who uses the same recipe from the same blog contacted me to see if I happened to have a copy of the recipe. And I do! Because even though teh interweb is a wondrous beast, sometimes, inexplicably, it breaks, and then paper is a jolly good backup. Also, my paper copy has my notes on it, with the changes I have made in the recipe so that it works better for my tastes.

So herewith my version of the recipe for Hot Cross Atheist Buns.

Mix 1 tablespoon active dry yeast, 2 teaspoons of sugar and 1 and 1/2 cups of lukewarm milk. Set aside for a few minutes, until the mixture starts to foam.

Sift 4 and 1/2 cups of plain flour and some spices. The original recipe recommends 2 and 1/2 teaspoons of mixed spice, and 2 and 1/2 teaspoons of cinnamon, but I prefer to use a mix of ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon and allspice, with maybe a little mace if I happen to have some. I tend to go lighter on the ginger, and heavier on nutmeg and cinnamon, because the younger atheists in this household aren’t fond of ginger. I use about 4 teaspoons of spices altogether.

Add 1/4 cup of white sugar and 1/4 cup of brown sugar and mix through the flour. The original recipe suggests 1/2 cup of caster sugar, but I like to substitute some brown sugar, so that the buns have a richer colour. I have tried using all brown sugar, but that made the buns a bit too sickly sweet for my taste.

Melt 50gm butter, and beat one egg. Add to the milk and yeast mix, and then add all the liquids to the flour mix. Use a knife to mix the wet and dry ingredients together until a sticky dough forms.

Knead the dough on a well floured surface for about 8 minutes, until it is elastic. Then knead in 1/4 cup mixed glace peel, and 2 cups of mixed dried fruit. I use a combination of sultanas, raisins and currants, in roughly equal proportions.

Put the fruity dough into a large oiled bowl, cover it with a tea towel, and leave it to stand in a warm place for about an hour, or until it has doubled in size.

At this stage, you should prepare your baking tin. The recipe recommends baking the buns in a 23cm square tin, but I tend to make free-form buns. Either is fine. If you use a square tin, grease it, and then line it with baking paper. If you are making free standing buns, then line a sponge roll tray with baking paper.

Divide the risen dough into 16 pieces, and roll into balls.

Place the balls evenly in the square tin, or in close formation on the sponge roll tray, so that they will end up touching each other. Set aside to rise again for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200°C. To make crosses, or other symbols, combine 1/4 cup of plain flour, and 2 tablespoons of water to make a paste. Use an icing bag, or a plastic bag with the corner cut off, to pipe crosses, or other symbols, onto the buns. Bake them for 35 minutes until they are well browned and springy to touch.

Start preparing a glaze for the buns about 5 minutes before they come out of the oven. Place 1/4 cup of caster sugar and 2 tablespoons of water in a small saucepan. Stir over low heat until the sugar is dissolved, then add 1 teaspoon powdered of gelatine, dissolved in 1 extra tablespoon of water. Cook for one minute.

Take the buns out of the oven, and brush the warm glaze over them while they are hot.

Sometimes I don’t bother with the glaze, because it’s very sticky. I also tend to cut down on the sugar in the dough, because I prefer slightly less sweet buns. And as I do with my Christmas cake, I often add a heaped teaspoon of powdered coffee, dissolved in a tiny bit of water, to round out the flavour and improve the colour.

Eat with lashings of butter.

In previous years I have made Darwin Fish Buns, Eye of Sauron Buns, Atheist “A” Buns, and Flying Spaghetti Monster Buns. I’m not quite sure what buns I will make this year. We shall see..

Celebrating Christmas with fabulous food

Cross posted

Just in time for Christmas, the NZ Listener served up a dose of food guilt and You Must Diet and food is not for fun and LOSE WEIGHT NOW! To be fair to The Listener, the article avoids saying that fat people are unhealthy (if you are sceptical about this claim, check this story about the non-link between fat and health in the New York Times). However, The Listener story does have an underlying theme of making people feel bad about food, and it tacitly claims that losing weight is just a matter of sufficient willpower. This is despite the magazine having previously run stories on the myths of weight loss (see my summary of the story here), and willpower (long story short – it can be done, but only with huge effort, unless there are structural supports around you).

Whatever. And what a way to cast a pall of nagging tut-tut-tut over a celebration.

So in the spirit of simply enjoying good food and good company, I offer you our Christmas Day menu.

We started the day with Bucks Fizz – champagne version for the adults, lemonade version for the children, although those children who wanted to do so were invited to try some of the former.

Bucks Fizz

Bucks Fizz

For breakfast, we had warmed croissants stuffed with our butcher’s secret recipe homecured bacon, and lightly stewed peaches, still warm from the pan, all drizzled with maple syrup.

Bacon, croissants, peaches and maple syrup

Bacon, croissants, peaches and maple syrup

I made a superb bacon quiche for lunch. I would show you a picture, but we ate it all before I thought about taking a photo. Likewise with the pre-dinner nibbles, alas. Or perhaps not so alas, because the homemade pate, blue cheese, chippies, and homemade hummus were delicious.

This was the main part of dinner.

Brown paper parcel

Brown paper parcel

It’s a whole leg of lamb, studded with cloves of garlic, then rubbed with lemon juice and olive oil, then placed on a bed of freshly cut oregano, and wrapped in baking paper and brown paper. I cooked it long and slow, for about three hours, and I rested it for half an hour before serving it. It was meltingly tender, and flavoursome. The recipe comes from Ruth Pretty.

I accompanied the lamb with asparagus drizzled with lemon infused olive oil, a medley of green beans, broad beans and peas with melted mint butter, and herby Jersey Benny potatoes (best potatoes ever).

Lamb, potatoes, asparagus, legume medley

Lamb, potatoes, asparagus, legume medley

Yummy yummy yummy.

And then there was dessert.

Dessert table

Dessert table

From left to right, fresh cherries, a berry medley, marscapone apricot tart, whipped cream, yoghurt, a strawberry pavlova, and lemon semi-freddo. The pavlova was excellent, crisp on the outside, and soft marshmallow without a hint of chewiness in the middle. The lemon semi-freddo was good too, creamy and tart, and not at all icy. I was very pleased with the way it turned out.

Just in case anyone was still hungry, we finished off with Christmas cake. Lurid Christmas cake.

Bright star cake

Bright star cake

I hope that you ate some wonderful food over the festive season too. Feel free to share.

Lemon glazed blueberry muffins

My choir had an intensive workshop last Saturday, so I took along some blueberry muffins to share with everyone. They were very well received (that means they were all eaten), and people asked me for the recipe. The only problem is…. I don’t actually have a recipe. I’ve used various recipes for blueberry muffins in the past, but found them all a bit stodgy and cakey, so for the past few months I’ve been trying to develop my own. I think I’ve almost gotten it right now, or at least, right enough to share.

First of all, preheat your oven to 200 degrees, or maybe just a bit more. Then prepare the blueberries. In my case, this means getting them out of the freezer and defrosting them. They need to be thoroughly defrosted. Then drain them, so that you don’t have lots of extra fluid going into the mix. I use about 1 and 2/3 cup of frozen berries, which yields about a cup of defrosted and drained berries.

I use a basic muffin base of 1 and 1/2 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of baking soda and 2 teaspoons of cream of tartar. You could use 1 and 1/2 cups of self raising flour and omit the rising agents, or you could use 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder instead of using baking soda and cream of tartar. I tend to use the baking soda and cream of tartar mix for fruity muffins, and baking powder for chocolatey or savoury muffins.

Sift the flour and rising agents and add 1/2 cup of sugar.

Set the dry ingredients aside, and prepare the wet ingredients. First melt 50grams of butter, and set it aside to cool a little. Then beat together 1 egg, 1 cup of plain yoghurt, and 1/2 cup of milk.

Next, prepare the grated rind of one lemon, and set it ready for use.

Blueberry muffin ingredients

At this stage, you should have a bowl of dry ingredients, and the wet ingredients, including the blueberries, all ready for use. The last thing to do is to prepare your muffin pans. Use a standard 12 cup muffin pan. I used to use paper muffin pan liners, but eventually I decided that they made the muffins too moist, so these days I use my metal pans, thoroughly greased. I use a canola cooking spray to grease them, but butter smeared over each cup works just as well.

From now on, you will want to work very quickly. Beat the lemon rind through the yoghurt and egg mix, and then pour it into the dry ingredients. Mix it through, but while you still have flour showing, add the melted butter, and mix again. Then just before the last bits of dry flour disappear, sprinkle the blueberries over the top, and fold them through. The trick for getting a lovely light muffin is not to mix too much. If you overmix them, they get chewy. This is where your mix will go awry if the blueberries are still a bit icy. The cold will make mixing difficult, so you will need to do more of it, and your muffins will be so chewy that they will bounce back at you if you drop them on the floor (this is the voice of bitter experience speaking here). I also find that blueberries are quite fragile, so they break apart and turn into a smudgey mess if you mix them too much (also the voice of experience).

Spoon the batter into the muffin pans, and put them into the oven for 12 minutes.

Lemon glaze

While the muffins are baking, prepare the lemon glaze. Juice the lemon you have used for lemon rind, and put the lemon juice into a cup with 6tsp of sugar (extra). Leave the cup sitting on the bench while you wait for the muffins to cook.

The muffins will take about 12 or 13 minutes to cook. They should feel springy on top when they are done. Take them out of the oven, and let them rest for a minute. Then lever them out carefully. Because these are fruity muffins, they can come apart easily if you have ended up with several large chunks of fruit touching the metal of the pan. However I find that I can usually get them out intact if I take it slowly.

Put the muffins on a drying rack. Then straightaway, while they are still hot, glaze them with the lemon and sugar mix. Put a teaspoon of mix onto the top of each muffin, using the back of the spoon to spread the mix. The juice will run off the sides, so it pays to put something underneath the drying rack to collect the drips. I use a very old metal baking pan. Then leave the muffins to dry.

Lemon glazed blueberry muffins

This muffin mix is very light. I think that you could add another 1/4 cup of flour (add more rising agents: 1/4 tsp baking soda and 1/2 tsp more cream of tarter, or 1/4 tsp more baking powder should do the trick). Or you could cut the milk down a little, to 1/3 of a cup.

You could also use this base for other fruity muffins. I’ve been experimenting with rhubarb recently. When I’ve got that recipe about right, I’ll share it too.

How to eat a Choco-ade

First of all, you buy a packet or two of Choco-ade biscuits.

Two packets of Choco-ade biscuits

Then you select one.

One Choco-ade biscuit

(Description: round biscuit with fluted shortcake edges, topped with chocolate)

You nibble away the shortcake edges, so that just the bottom layer of shortcake is left under the topping.

Nibbled Choco-ade biscuit

(Description: base of Choco-ade biscuit, showing shortcake, hints of jam under it, and edges of chocolate topping)

Then you lick off the jammy filling, and eat the circle of chocolate.

Chocolate and jam from the Choco-ade biscuit

(Description: round of chocolate with bits of jam on it)

I can’t show you the eaten biscuit, because, well, it’s eaten.

The last step: you think carefully about whether or not you should eat another one. You need to be careful about this, because eating two at once is really half a Choco-ade too much, as you know from previous experience.

You haven’t been able to go through this process for twenty years! But thanks to Griffin’s and one woman who campaigned for the return of Choco-ades, now you can. Amber Johnson, I am very grateful to you.


Griffin’s has done a stunning job on the relaunch of Choco-ade biscuits. There were big stories in the major daily newspapers on Monday morning, and a segment on a popular news show on TV3 on Monday evening. The first batch of the biscuits is being auctioned on Trade-Me (NZ’s on-line auction site), with the proceeds going to Amber Johnson’s chosen charity, Plunket. The biscuits weren’t in my local supermarket on Monday, but they were there by Tuesday, and apparently they are available all over the country now, so Griffin’s got the logistics right too. It’s all very well done feel good stuff. Also, the biscuits taste delicious.

But buried in the story in the NZ Herald is a clue about what’s really going on.

Mrs Johnson has been involved in the production, flying up to Auckland to take part in a taste test at Griffin’s Papakura factory.

She was keen to make sure the new biscuit is as close to the original as possible, especially as they are now manufactured by machines, not handmade as they were in the 1980s.

They were dropped because they were too expensive to make, and now they’re back because they can be made by machine. No doubt Amber Johnson’s campaign came along at the right time, and helped to persuade Griffin’s that there was a market for the biscuits. But ultimately, it was about the economics of making them.

And the price? At my supermarket, $5.29 for a pack of 12. Ouch.