Category Archives: Breads, Rolls, and Biscuits

Whole Wheat Biscuits Recipe

Whole Wheat Biscuits
Whole Wheat Biscuits

For me, one of the hallmarks of a wonderful homemade meal is a fresh batch of tender and flavorful whole wheat biscuits on the table! These are particularly good with baked beans (especially when the biscuits are slathered with molasses!) or, well, just about anything! Biscuits are a form of a quick bread so they don’t take long to whip up and, best of all, they only call for pantry staples like flour, baking powder, salt, butter, milk and sometimes a small amount of sugar.

Whole Wheat Biscuits
Whole Wheat Biscuits

My recipe calls for a combination of flours – 1 1/4 cups of all-purpose flour and 3/4 cup whole wheat flour.  I find that using all whole wheat flour does not yield the tender texture that can be achieved by blending all-purpose flour with the whole wheat. Shortening or butter can be used as the fat for biscuits; however, nothing beats butter for flavor!

Whole Wheat Biscuits
Whole Wheat Biscuits

These biscuits have a different flavor and texture than my standard white biscuits and these are made with buttermilk (or sour milk) instead of with whipping cream and whole milk (click here for the recipe for my white tea biscuits). They are two distinctly different types of biscuits. The whole wheat ones are slightly more “rustic” while the white biscuits are very refined. I tend to make the whole wheat biscuits to serve alongside a more rustic meal like beans, chili, and stews, for example. My regular “go-to” standard biscuits are the white tea biscuits and, for sure, they are the ones I use for afternoon teas because of their light, tender crumb.

Whole Wheat Biscuit
Whole Wheat Biscuit

My hints for making biscuits are –

  • Use cold ingredients. In fact, it’s a good idea to put the flour mixture in the refrigerator for about an hour or so so that it is cold to start with.
  • Use cold butter or even frozen butter which is what I use. That cold butter will give  flaky tenderness to the biscuits.  The butter can be cut into the flour mixture with a pastry cutter but my preference is to hold a grater (with large holes) over the flour and grate the butter right into the flour. Stop and give the mixture a stir after grating some butter to integrate and distribute it and then keep on grating the rest of the butter. This helps to ensure that the butter gets incorporated right into the cold flour. If you grate the butter into a separate bowl, it will tend to clump together, especially as you transfer it to the flour mixture.
  • Only mix the liquid and dry ingredients as minimally as possible and do so gently and with a fork. Over-mixing will result in over-developing the flour’s gluten and yield tough biscuits. Just mix enough that the flour is incorporated and the batter starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl.
  • Let the batter rest in the bowl for 1-2 minutes. This allows the ingredients to settle (they need to get to know each other!).
  • Turn the batter out on to a lightly floured surface. Knead the mixture 8-10 times only. Do NOT over-knead as  over-working the dough will “stir up” the gluten in the flours and will yield dense, tough biscuits. After kneading, little bits of the butter should still be visible in the dough. With biscuits, you are not “blending” ingredients but, rather, are simply barely mixing them just enough so that the dough sticks together.
  • Use a rolling pin, or simply pat the dough to about 1″ thickness.  Use desired size of biscuit cutter. A good, general size cutter for biscuits is a 2″ cutter. Flour the cutter before cutting each biscuit and cut the biscuits as close together as possible to minimize the amount of dough that will have to be gathered up and patted down again for the next cutting – remember, the goal is to minimize the amount of “working the dough” that happens . Make sure the cutter is sharp-edged and do not twist the cutter when cutting out the biscuits.  Cut straight down into the dough. Twisting the cutter while cutting the biscuits can be a cause of biscuits unevenly rising and hence spreading during the baking process – that’s when they lose their shape and go downhill to the point that they may look like a ski slope!
  • Once the first cut of biscuits is made from the dough, gather up the remaining bits and pat it down to 1″ thickness and continue to cut out remaining biscuits. Again, resist the urge to knead the dough any more than absolutely necessary to pull it together.
  • Bake the biscuits in a hot oven (450F) until they start to turn golden brown on top, about 14-16 minutes, generally.

Biscuits are best served slightly warm so make them just before the meal.

Whole Wheat Biscuits
Whole Wheat Biscuits

[Printable recipe follows at end of posting]

Whole Wheat Biscuits

Ingredients:
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup whole wheat flour
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp granulated sugar
6 tbsp cold, unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
1 cup buttermilk or sour milk*

1-2 tbsp milk for brushing tops of biscuits

Method:
Preheat oven to 450°F.  Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

In large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, salt, and sugar.

Grate cold (or frozen) butter over flour in bowl, or use a pastry cutter to cut in the butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

Make a well in the center of the ingredients. Pour milk into well in dry ingredients.  Using a fork, mix ingredients together just until flour mixture is incorporated.  Do not overmix. Mixture will be a soft, moist batter.

Let batter rest in bowl for 1-2 minutes then turn out onto a floured surface.  Knead dough 8-10 times.  Do not over-knead.

Roll or pat dough to desired thickness, about 1” thick.  Using a 2” floured round cookie cutter, cut out biscuits, re-flouring cutter before cutting out each biscuit.  Gather up remaining dough, pat down to about 1” thick and cut out biscuits.

Using a small spatula, transfer the biscuits to prepared baking sheet, placing them about 1” to 1½ “ apart. Prick tops of biscuits with fork tines and lightly brush with milk, if desired. Bake for 14-16 minutes or until lightly browned on top. Remove from oven and let cool on baking sheet for 3-4 minutes then transfer to wire rack.

Biscuits may also be placed close together in a greased baking pan with sides. Baking the biscuits in this manner will yield soft-sided biscuits.

*To sour milk, place 1 tbsp white vinegar in a measuring cup. Add enough milk to make 1 cup.  Stir. Let stand for 5 minutes to sour.

Yield:  Apx. 12-13 – 2” biscuits

Whole Wheat Biscuits
Whole Wheat Biscuits

Whole Wheat Biscuits Recipe

Yield: 12-13 - 2" biscuits

Delicious easy-to-make classic whole wheat biscuits that are tender and flavorful.

Ingredients

  • 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup whole wheat flour
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 6 tbsp cold, unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
  • 1 cup buttermilk or sour milk*
  • 1-2 tbsp milk for brushing tops of biscuits

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 450°F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Grate cold (or frozen) butter over flour in bowl, or use a pastry cutter to cut in the butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Make a well in the center of the ingredients.
  3. Pour milk into well in dry ingredients. Using a fork, mix ingredients together just until flour mixture is incorporated. Do not overmix. Mixture will be a soft, moist batter. Let batter rest in bowl for 1-2 minutes then turn out onto a floured surface. Knead dough 8-10 times. Do not over-knead.
  4. Roll or pat dough to desired thickness, about 1” thick. Using a 2” floured round cookie cutter, cut out biscuits, re-flouring cutter before cutting out each biscuit. Gather up remaining dough, pat down to about 1” thick and cut out biscuits.
  5. Using a small spatula, transfer the biscuits to prepared baking sheet, placing them about 1” to 1½ “ apart. Prick tops of biscuits with fork tines and lightly brush with milk, if desired. Bake for 14-16 minutes or until lightly browned on top. Remove from oven and let cool on baking sheet for 3-4 minutes then transfer to wire rack. Biscuits may also be placed close together in a greased baking pan with sides. Baking the biscuits in this manner will yield soft-sided biscuits.
  6. *To sour milk, place 1 tbsp white vinegar in a measuring cup. Add enough milk to make 1 cup. Stir. Let stand for 5 minutes to sour.
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You may also enjoy my tea biscuit recipe

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Whole Wheat Biscuits
Whole Wheat Biscuits

 

Whole Wheat Biscuits
Whole Wheat Biscuits

Tea Biscuits

Do you love the smell of tea biscuits baking in the oven?  It’s one of my favorite kitchen scents.

My first recollection of biscuits dates back to visiting a grandmother.  She made the best biscuits, added a good slather of peanut butter to the warm, fresh-out-of-the-oven biscuits, and served them with a tall glass of cold milk to a wee gal patiently sitting on a high stool at her elbow by the cupboard.  I suspect her biscuit recipe was just made from memory and wasn’t written or recorded anywhere.  Isn’t it funny how some foods remind us of certain people and bring back great recollections!

Biscuits are not hard to make and they require only pantry staple ingredients — essentially, flour, leavening, salt, shortening/butter, and liquid – usually dairy (i.e., milk, whipping cream, or buttermilk).  What makes biscuit recipes differ is usually the quantity of ingredients used, the type of dairy used as liquid and, sometimes, there will be some additions to the basic ingredients – for example, some recipes call for cream of tartar, a small amount of sugar, or even an egg.

I often hear people say they can’t make biscuits because they always turn out hard as bricks.  I suspect this is quite likely due to over-kneading the dough.  Biscuit dough should be kneaded as little as possible, just enough to gather up the dough and have it hold together to cut out the biscuits.  Usually, only 8-10 kneads is all that is required.

Texture of biscuit
Texture of biscuit

The dough can be rolled out with a rolling pin or simply patted to the desired thickness, which is what I do.  I find about 1″ thick dough yields a good depth of biscuit.  I use a 2″ crinkled-edge cookie cutter for mine but a straight edge cutter works just as well.

Over the years, I have tried many biscuit recipes, some yielding good results, others not so much.  As the old saying goes, if you can’t find something already suitable, develop your own so that’s what I have done to create my own biscuit recipe that has come from many kitchen testing trials to arrive at the right selection and amount of ingredients to yield the flavour and texture I was looking for.

My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Tea Biscuits

Ingredients:

2¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp sugar
4 tsp baking powder
¾ tsp salt
½ tsp cream of tartar
¼ cup cold unsalted butter
⅔ cup whipping cream
¾ cup whole milk

1-2 tbsp milk for brushing on top of biscuits

Method:

Assemble ingredients.

Tea Biscuit Ingredients
Tea Biscuit Ingredients

Preheat oven to 425°F. Line large baking sheet with parchment paper.

In large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and cream of tartar.

Using a pastry cutter, cut in the butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Make a well in the center of the ingredients.

In large measuring cup, mix together the whipping cream and milk. Pour into well in dry ingredients. Mix together just until flour mixture is incorporated. Do not overmix. Mixture will be a soft, moist batter.

Let batter stand in bowl for just a minute or so then turn out onto a floured surface. Knead dough 8-10 times, just until it holds together enough to cut out the biscuits. Do not over-knead.

Roll or pat to desired thickness – I suggest about 1” thick will yield a good depth of finished biscuit.

Using a 2” round floured cookie cutter, cut out biscuits.  Dip the cookie cutter in flour before cutting out each biscuit.

Gather up remaining dough, pat down to about 1” thick, and cut out the rest of the biscuits.

Using a small spatula, transfer the biscuits to prepared baking sheet, placing them about 2” apart. Prick tops of biscuits with fork tines and lightly brush with milk, if desired.

Bake for 14-16 minutes or until lightly browned on top.

Yield: Apx. 16 – 2” biscuits.

Tea Biscuits

Ingredients

  • 2¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp cream of tartar
  • ¼ cup cold unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup whipping cream
  • ¾ cup whole milk
  • 1-2 tbsp milk for brushing on top of biscuits

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and cream of tartar.
  3. Using a pastry cutter, cut in the butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
  4. Make a well in the center of the ingredients.
  5. In large measuring cup, mix together the whipping cream and milk. Pour into well in dry ingredients. Mix together just until flour mixture is incorporated. Do not overmix. Mixture will be a soft, moist batter.
  6. Let batter stand in bowl for just a minute or so, then turn out onto a floured surface.
  7. Knead dough 8-10 times. Do not over-knead.
  8. Roll or pat to desired thickness, about 1” thick.
  9. Using a floured 2” round cookie cutter, cut out biscuits. Dip cutter in flour before cutting out each biscuit.
  10. Gather up remaining dough, pat down to about 1” thick, and cut out biscuits.
  11. Using a small spatula, transfer the biscuits to prepared baking sheet, placing them about 2” apart. Prick tops of biscuits with fork tines and lightly brush with milk, if desired.
  12. Bake for 14-16 minutes or until lightly browned on top.
  13. Yield: Apx. 16 - 2" biscuits
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Pan Rolls

Pan Rolls
Pan Rolls

There is something so homey and cozy about homemade bread and rolls!  And, of course, the scent throughout the house of them baking makes the taste buds jump in anticipation of a hot roll, or slice of bread, fresh from the oven and slathered in melting butter.

Today, I am sharing a recipe for traditional pan rolls, so named because they are all bunched together in a baking pan as opposed to shaped individually and baked in muffin tins.  These rolls are easy to make and take a minimum amount of ingredients, all of which are commonplace.  While pan rolls don’t have the picture-perfect appearance of a roll baked in a muffin tin, they more than make up for it with their superb taste and texture.

These are also a good choice for anyone who is not so fond of crust since most of the rolls in the pan will have soft sides; only those on the outside edges of the pan will have crusts.

Pan Rolls
Pan Rolls

I do have some general tips for making successful pan rolls.

1.  Water temperature for the yeast is very important.  I find 100°F is a good general temperature to use.  If the water is too cool, the yeast won’t rise and, if it is too hot, it will kill the yeast.  A food thermometer is a handy tool to use when gauging the temperature of liquid for bread and rolls.

2.  Let the yeast rise for about 7-10 minutes, until it is nice and foamy and be sure to stir it down before adding it to the batter.

3.  The dough for this recipe is a soft dough.  Resist the urge to add too much flour as it will make dry rolls.  Only add enough flour that the dough pulls away from the sides of the mixing bowl.

4. There is no need to hand-knead this dough. Fit a stand mixer with a dough hook and let the machine do all the kneading.

5. Placing the bowl with the bread dough on a heating pad set on the low setting will provide a warm base for the dough to rise.  Make sure the dough is covered with greased plastic wrap. This makes it much easier to remove than, say, a tea towel which may stick to the dough. Snuggle a lightweight wrap in around the bowl to create a draft-free incubator for the bread to rise.

6.  Greasing your hands will facilitate the shaping of each roll.

7. Baking times are approximate.  Rolls should be a nice golden brown color on top and have a hollow sound when lightly tapped with fingers. Rotating the pan once during the baking process helps to ensure that all rolls are equally browned.

Pan Rolls

Ingredients:

¾ tbsp active dry yeast
¾ tsp sugar
½ cup warm water (100°F)

2 eggs, beaten
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup vegetable oil
1¼ cup warm water (100°F)
½ tsp salt
Apx. 4½ cups all-purpose flour

Method:

In one-cup measuring cup, stir ¾ tsp sugar into ½ cup warm water until dissolved. Sprinkle yeast over the water and quickly, but gently, stir in the yeast.

Let stand 7-10 minutes until yeast is foamy and has risen to top of cup.

Meanwhile, with whisk attachment, beat the eggs in bowl of stand mixer. Beat in the sugar, oil, warm water, and salt.

Stir down the yeast and add to liquid mixture in bowl. Stir just to mix.

Replace whisk attachment with dough hook. Add the flour gradually, a cup at a time, and beat 3-5 minutes on medium speed (I use the “6” setting on my KitchenAid mixer.), scraping the bowl often to ensure all ingredients are incorporated.

When enough flour has been added, the dough should pull away from the sides of the bowl. This is a meant to be a soft dough so be careful about adding too much additional flour. If necessary, add about 1 – 2 tablespoons at a time and only enough that the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. (Note the dough in the photos below is not yellow; the coloring is due to incandescent overhead lighting above the work station.)

Transfer dough to large greased bowl and cover with greased plastic wrap and a tea towel.

Loosely wrap a light-weight blanket around bowl. Place in warm, draft-free place to rise. A heating pad on low setting makes a warm base for the dough to rise.

DSC08597

Let dough rise until double in bulk – about 1 to 1¼ hours.

Punch down dough.

Turn dough on to lightly floured work surface. Cut off chunks of dough into 24 equal-sized pieces and form into the size and shape of an egg.

Place in greased 9”x13” pan.

Cover with greased plastic wrap and a tea towel and return to warm place to rise again until double in size, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

 

Bake in preheated 375°F oven for about 15 minutes, rotating pan once during the baking, until rolls are golden brown on the top and hollow sounding when tapped with fingers.

Transfer rolls from pan to wire rack to cool. Brush hot rolls with butter.

Yield: 24 rolls

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Rolls
Pan Rolls

Homemade White Bread

Homemade White Bread
Homemade White Bread

I love making bread from scratch.  I like working and kneading the dough, the smell of the dough as it rises, and especially as it bakes.  No commercial potpourri could ever duplicate the wonderful scent of homemade bread baking in the oven!  It just permeates the whole house and whets the appetite.  We do have an electric bread machine in the family but it’s not the same.  I find bread made in the machine is not too bad on the day it is made but, after that, I don’t care for it so much, finding it to be somewhat tough.  My preference is to make bread the old-fashioned, traditional way.

I first made bread when I was about 15.  Under the supervision of my grandmother, I produced my first batch of bread on a cold Saturday in winter.  To say that Gram was somewhat proud that day would be a huge understatement!  I grew up with homemade bread regularly being made by both my grandmother and mother so it comes rather naturally to me to make yeast breads and rolls.  They are not hard to make but there is a technique to them and they are somewhat time-consuming as the process is ongoing for a good part of a day.  Nevertheless the end result is so worth the time and effort.

Today, I am sharing my recipe for white bread along with the technique I use to make it.  I do have some tips to help achieve success in bread making.  First, the temperature of the liquids for the bread is super important.  For example, the temperature of the water for the yeast to raise should be lukewarm, generally around the 100°F point.  Any cooler, and the yeast may not rise; any hotter, and the yeast will be killed off.  Unless you are a very experienced bread maker who, from years of experience and by instinct, can judge the liquid temperature for yeast, I recommend using a candy/food thermometer to get the temperature of the water just right.  A small amount of sugar has to be added to the warm water in order to “feed” the yeast and encourage it to grow.

Some say, with today’s pasteurized milk, there is no need to scald the milk anymore.  I do still scald it because I think it provides a nice warm environment in which to place the risen yeast and it is not such a shock for the warm yeast as if it was to be mixed with cold milk.  Again, I recommend using a candy thermometer when scalding the milk to get it to the right temperature.  As well, it is important to let the scalded milk mixture cool down to about 100°F as well; otherwise, if it is too hot when the yeast is poured into it, it may kill off the yeast and the bread won’t rise properly.

You’ll find that, with my recipe, I use my Kitchen Aid mixer fitted with the dough hook to help get the dough started and to incorporate some of the flour into the dough.  I find this makes for a nice textured bread (not to mention, it takes less muscle).  Once enough flour has been added that the dough starts to leave the sides of the bowl as the dough hook moves around the bowl, remove the bowl from the mixer and turn the dough out onto a floured surface and start working in the remaining flour.  Only add as much flour to the dough as is necessary to create a smooth and elastic dough.

As for the shape of the loaves, there are a couple of options.  One is make two equally-sized balls and place them in the pan.  This will generate the shape in the top photo below.  The other is to shape the dough into an oval shape.  This will achieve a shape like the loaf in the bottom photo below and it is commonly referred to as the sandwich loaf because, mostly, the slices will all be about the same height.  This is in contrast to the two-part loaf where slices in the middle of the loaf where the two pieces are joined will be shorter.  So, the shape of the loaf is a matter of preference and is largely determined by what you are going to use the bread for.

Some bakers place the dough in the oven with the door shut and oven light on to help it rise.  My preference, however, is to create a nice, cozy little spot for the bread to rise.  I start with a heating pad turned on the lowest setting.  I place a lightweight blanket on top of the heating pad and then place the bowl with the dough in it on top of that.  I fold the blanket over and around the bowl to create a snuggly warm, draught-free spot for the bread to rise.  My heating pad’s lowest setting is barely warm but it does provide a consistent temperature for the bread to rise.  Don’t use higher settings on the heating pad as it may cause the bread to start to ‘cook’ and could interfere with the natural rising process.

Be patient when kneading the dough – it will take, on average, between 8 and 10 minutes.

White Bread

2 cups scalded milk

3 tbsp butter or shortening

½ tbsp salt

3 tbsp sugar

 

½ cup warm water

1 tsp sugar

1 tbsp dry yeast

 

4½ – 5 cups flour

 

In medium-sized saucepan, scald milk.  Remove from heat.  Add butter, sugar, and salt.  Stir until butter is melted. Let cool to 100°F.

Heat ½ cup water to 100°F point.  Stir in 1 tsp sugar.  Sprinkle yeast granules over the water and quickly stir them gently into the water.  Let stand, undisturbed, for about 10 minutes.  Stir down the yeast mixture.  Transfer to large bowl of stand mixer fitted with dough hook.

Add cooled milk mixture to yeast in bowl.  Beat on low to incorporate ingredients then increase mixer speed to high and beat until mixture is smooth.  Slowly add in flour, one cup at a time.  Add flour until the mixture begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl.

Turn dough on to floured surface and mix in enough remaining flour to make a smooth, elastic dough.  Knead 8-10 minutes until dough becomes smooth and very pliable and elastic.

Transfer dough to a large greased bowl.  Place a small amount of oil on hands and lightly grease the top and sides of the dough. Cover bowl with plastic wrap.

Place bowl in warm area, covered with a towel or light blanket.  Let rise until double in bulk, about 1½ hours or so.

Punch down dough.

Divide dough into two equal portions and shape into loaves.  Place in greased 9”x5” loaf pans.  Cover with tea towel and place in warm area to rise again for between 45 and 60 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Bake bread for 30-35 minutes until nicely browned on top and loaves sound hollow when tapped.  Immediately transfer bread from pans to wire racks to cool.  Grease tops of hot bread with butter, if desired.

Yield:  2 loaves

Homemade Bread with Strawberry Jam
Homemade Bread with Strawberry Jam

 

This blog entry is part of the Canadian Food Experience Project which began on June 7, 2013.  This month’s theme is a Canadian resolution.  My resolution for 2014 is to continue to feature locally grown and produced food in the Maritimes and on PEI, in particular, and profile the producers behind the food production.  I also resolve to continue to use local/regional foods as often as possible in the recipes I create and share on my blog.  As we project participants share our collective stories across the vastness of our Canadian landscape through our regional food experiences, we hope to bring global clarity to our Canadian culinary identity through the cadence of our concerted Canadian voice.

I am also sharing this on Home this week as well.

Thank you for visiting “the Bistro” today.

Be sure to visit my Facebook page at My Island Bistro Kitchen.  You may also wish to follow me on twitter @PEIBistro, on Pinterest at “Island Bistro Kitchen”, and on Instagram at “PEIBistro”.

Hot Cross Buns

Hot Cross Buns

“Hot Cross Buns!  Hot Cross Buns!  One ha’ penny, two ha’ penny, Hot Cross Buns!  Remember that nursery rhyme?

I didn’t grow up with Hot Cross Buns being a tradition in our home at Easter.  In fact, before I made them this morning, I had never even tasted them.  I was aware of their existence but that was about the extent of my knowledge of Hot Cross Buns.  I decided this year was the time to try them.

I did some research to see what I could find out about these buns, their origin, and their connection to Easter.  Here is what I learned.

The buns are made of a rich, sweet yeast dough with spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, and sometimes cardamom.  A mixture of raisins, currants, and/or mixed fruit are also added to the dough.  The dough is twice-raised, meaning it is risen to twice its size, punched down, and formed into individual rolls and allowed to rise again before baking.  Each bun is highly glazed with an egg and milk wash and has a cross shape outlined with an icing glaze made of icing sugar and milk.

Traditionally, the buns have been eaten on Good Friday and, for Christians, the mark of the cross on the top of each bun symbolizes the crucifixion.  There are a mixture of pagan and Christian stories and legends as well as superstitions surrounding Hot Cross Buns.   One school of thought suggests that Hot Cross Buns have their origin sometime around 1361 when an English monk was said to have made the spiced buns for distribution to the poor who were visiting a monastery in Hertfordshire in Southern England on Good Friday.  Another theory suggests that the buns were eaten by the Saxons to pay homage to Eostre (whose name means Easter), the goddess of Spring with the four marks of the cross in this theory symbolizing the four quarters of the moon.

My research also revealed some interesting superstitions surrounding Hot Cross Buns:

– The English believed that bread baked on Good Friday would protect their homes from fire and bad luck for the next year

– Sailors were reported to have taken Hot Cross Buns on voyages to guard them against shipwrecks

– Some believed the buns had medicinal properties

– Others believed that, if prepared on Good Friday, the buns would never get mouldy.

There is even a story associated with the Protestant Revolution that indicates English Protestants tried to ban the sale of the buns as they were seen to be a sign of Catholicism because they were baked from dough made for communion wafers; however, the story goes that the buns were so popular and were still being made despite threats of punishment that, in the late 1500s, the Queen is supposed to have decreed by law that the buns could be sold but only at Christmas, Easter, and at funerals.  So, lots of myths and folklore about Hot Cross Buns.  How much is fact and how much is fiction is anyone’s guess.

I went on the hunt for a Hot Cross Bun recipe.  I’m a fairly experienced bread maker so I’d consider myself a reasonably good judge of whether a recipe will work or not.  This helps tremendously when determining if a recipe is accurate and reliable or not.  For example, I found one recipe that called for 2 tablespoons of cinnamon for 3 ½ cups of flour – right away, I questioned the credibility of the recipe since that’s a lot of cinnamon for a small amount of flour and it would have been way too spicy for my liking.  I found several other recipes that called for 1 teaspoon of cinnamon for approximately the same amount of flour which is much more reasonable.  For ‘seasoned’ cooks and bakers, they can usually quickly detect if a recipe is “on the mark” or not.  For novice cooks, however, it’s not as easy and they can fall for trying recipes that are not reliable.  This causes frustration when their efforts do not turn out a positive result.  My advice is to, first, read through a recipe for the ingredients and to determine if the directions are well laid out and easy to understand and follow.  Then, find a few other recipes for the same food.  Compare how much flour, yeast, milk, spices, etc., each takes.  If you find recipes that really seem way off compared to the others or the directions are not sufficiently clear, don’t waste your time and ingredients on them.  Second, check with friends about which recipe sources they trust and try those.

So, as I indicated above, after researching several recipes, I opted to use the one provided by Joy of Baking and I was not disappointed.  Here is the hot link to the Joy of Baking’s recipe for Hot Cross Buns.  The great thing about Hot Cross Buns is that they do not take a lot of ingredients or ones that would be difficult to find.   It’s very important to make sure that the temperature of the water is accurate for the yeast to raise and, for this, I highly recommend using a food thermometer.  You will need a good, heavy-duty stand mixer with the dough hook to knead the dough to ensure that it is smooth and elastic.  While not difficult to make, Hot Cross Buns do require a significant amount of time, first to allot about 10-15 minutes for the yeast to rise and become foamy, then time to mix the ingredients and knead the dough, third to allot a couple of hours for the dough to raise the first time, then another hour or so for the buns to raise, and lastly about 15-18 minutes for the buns to bake.  This is a factor when considering any recipe as it is important to be able to set aside the necessary time for the entire process.

Mixing Dough for Hot Cross Buns

 

Hot Cross Buns Dough

 

Hot Cross Buns

I served the Hot Cross Buns warm with butter and raspberry jam.  They received the thumbs-up and delicious rating.  They made a great Easter Sunday morning breakfast treat.  Happy Easter, everyone!

 

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St. Patrick’s Day Dinner – 2012

Irish Coffee

So, St. Patrick’s Day 2012 has come and gone.  A belated Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you all.   We are all a wee bit Irish on March 17th, aren’t we – either Irish by heritage or Irish at heart!

My St. Patrick’s Day Menu this year consisted of Prince Edward Island Blue Mussels steamed in Guinness, herbs, and vegetables and served with Cows Creamery Sea-Salted butter, melted; Spirited Irish Stew served with Irish Soda Bread; Irish Cream Cheesecake; and Irish Coffee as an after-dinner drink in front of a cozy fireplace.

PEI Blue Mussels Steamed in Guinness

PEI cultivates great mussels.  Local supermarkets sell them bulk by the pound which is good because I am the only one in the household that likes them.  The key to steaming mussels is to use very little liquid and steam them just until their shells open.  If you use too much liquid, it will dilute the flavour of the mussels and they will have a very bland taste.  I have steamed these shellfish in water, beer, and in wine in the past.  However, the Guinness I used yesterday, along with the vegetables and herbs, made the mussels a very rich and delightful treat.  The mussels were infused with the Guinness and herbs but not so much that the seafood taste of these tasty morsels was lost.

So, for one serving, this is what I used:

2 Tbsp carrots, very finely chopped

2 Tbsp celery, very finely chopped

2 Tbsp. onion, finely chopped

½ tsp garlic purée

½ tsp. dried dillweed

1 – 1 ½ Tbsp butter

Melt butter in saucepan and sauté ingredients 2-3 minutes, then add:

1 cup Guinness

Bring to a boil

Add 9-10 oz. PEI mussels (about 15).

Cover pot.  Reduce heat to medium.  Steam approximately 3-5 minutes or until shells are open.  Using slotted spoon, remove mussels from liquid and transfer to plate, discarding any unopened shells.  Serve with melted butter.

PEI Blue Mussels Steamed in Guinness

 Irish Stew

Spirited Irish Stew

According to legend, traditional Irish Stew was made with cheap cuts of mutton or lamb and basic root vegetables like carrots, potatoes, onions, and turnips. Years ago, these would have been ingredients that were, no doubt, simply what would have been available in Ireland where sheep were raised for their wool and for food and, before the potato famine, potatoes were a primary Irish crop.

Over the years, Irish Stew recipes have changed according to the locale and what was available in the cook’s local area.  For example, beef is often used in North America today instead of lamb in Irish Stew and other ingredients are added to make a more flavourful, hearty stew as opposed to a broth-like dish.  Purists might argue that these changes result in a new stew recipe altogether and is something entirely different than the original Irish Stew.  Regardless what it is called, I like my version of a Spirited Irish Stew.  It has a nice rich, robust flavour and a splendid reddish-brown color that comes from the addition of tomato paste.  Using Guinness and red wine helps to tenderize the meat and also adds to the flavour of the stew.  I don’t add huge amounts of either as the intent is not to “drown” the natural flavours of the beef and veggies but rather to blend and enhance flavours.  The nice thing about Irish Stew (once you have all the veggies cut up) is that it is an all-encompassing meal with all the vegetables in one dish (no worries about getting different pots of vegetables all cooked at the same time and a real bonus of only having one pot to wash).  It really needs nothing more than a slice of warm Irish Soda Bread, fresh from the oven and slathered with butter and perhaps some homemade mustard pickles on the side.

I like to slow-cook this stew in the oven at 325ºF for a couple of hours as opposed to cooking it on the cooktop.  I find oven-cooking allows the flavours to slowly blend and the stew to become nice and thick.  Recipe follows at end of this blog posting.

Irish Soda Bread

Irish Soda Bread

Irish Soda Bread is a quick bread in which baking soda, and often baking powder, are used as the leavening agents as opposed to yeast.  My research revealed that ingredients for a basic Irish Soda Bread would include flour (often both all-purpose and whole wheat), baking soda, baking powder, salt, buttermilk, and molasses.  More elaborate breads might include raisins, currants, or nuts.  I also learned that it was not uncommon for the soda bread to be cooked on a griddle although I am not sure how the bread would have gotten baked all the way through without first getting burned on the bottom!

Soda bread dough is not kneaded like yeast breads and, in fact, it is recommended that the dough not be handled any more than is necessary for the dough to stick together.  In this respect, it is somewhat like tea biscuit dough except that it is a heavier, denser texture.

Irish Soda Bread Dough

Some recipes suggest that Irish Soda Bread should be baked in a pan or casserole dish for a softer crust or, for a more crispy hide, baked on a parchment-lined baking sheet which is how I baked mine.

Irish Soda Bread Ready for the Oven

The Irish Soda Bread recipe I used comes from Tea Time Magazine.  I found the bread was a good accompaniment for the Irish Stew but it is a dense, heavy bread and one that is probably best eaten fresh, warm from the oven, and on the day it is made.

Irish Soda Bread

 Irish Cream Cheesecake

I figured if I was going Irish on this St. Patrick’s Day, I might as well go all out and make a cheesecake that had Irish Cream Liquor in it.  I have often relied on recipes from Company’s Coming Cookbooks because I find them quite reliable, not containing ingredients I either wouldn’t have in my pantry or be able to readily source locally, and the directions are presented in a clear, easy-to-understand format.  That’s why I turned to Company’s Coming for the recipe for the Irish Cream Cheesecake.  I didn’t want a large cheesecake so I halved the recipe and used a 7” springform pan.

Irish Cream Cheesecake

I could not have been more pleased with the result.  The cheesecake had a lovely smooth texture, not over-powered by the Irish Cream Liquor but yet with a pleasing taste.  I served it simply with a dob of whipped cream, a drizzle of rich chocolate syrup, and a chocolate.  A superb and fitting finish to my St. Patrick’s Day meal!

Slice of Irish Cream Cheesecake Drizzled with Chocolate Sauce

My Island Bistro Kitchen's Spirited Irish Stew

By Barbara99 Published: March 18, 2012

  • Yield: (5-7 Servings)
  • Prep: 30 mins
  • Cook: 2 hrs 0 min
  • Ready In: 2 hrs 30 mins

A rich hearty stew with beef, a variety of vegetables, and flavoured with Guinness and red wine

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Assemble ingredients.
  2. Chop stew meat and vegetables into bite-size pieces
  3. Brown meat in 1 - 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil.
  4. Place vegetables and meat in roaster.
  5. In large bowl, combine sugar, herbs, garlic, tomato paste, beef consommé, Worcestershire Sauce, red wine, Guinness, and water. Whisk in flour until smooth. Pour over vegetables in roaster. With large spoon, stir mixture to combine. Add bayleaf.
  6. Cover roaster and place in pre-heated 325F oven. Cook for approximately 2 hours or until vegetables are fork-tender when tested.
  7. Serve with Irish Soda Bread, rolls, or French Bread.

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Oat Bran and Flaxseed Bread

It’s “Islander Day” on Prince Edward Island today.  What better way to celebrate on this cold winter day than with fresh homemade bread and the heavenly scent of baking bread wafting through the house.  Today’s offering is a healthy choice of Oat Bran and Flaxseed.  This iteration is an artisan or rustic style bread, characterized by using ingredients like oat and whole wheat flours and by “scoring” decorative cross-cuts on the top of the loaf.  This bread is good with hearty homemade soups and for bistro-style healthy sandwiches.

Oat Bran and Flaxseed Bread

By Barbara99 Published: February 20, 2012

  • Yield: 1 loaf
  • Prep: 2 hrs 45 mins
  • Cook: 20 mins
  • Ready In: 3 hrs 5 mins

An artisan-style wholesome bread that compliments homemade soups or makes a hearty sandwich.

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. In small bowl, combine 1/4 cup warm water and 1 tsp. sugar. Stir to dissolve sugar.
  2. Sprinkle dry yeast over water and let stand apx. 10 minutes until yeast has risen and is foamy.
  3. In large bowl, combine honey and 1 cup warm water. Stir together.
  4. Add yeast to honey and water mixture. Stir to combine.
  5. Add oat bran, oat flour, whole wheat flour, ground flaxseed, salt, and 1 cup of the all-purpose flour. Mix until flour is combined and dough sticks together. Gradually add remaining flour.
  6. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead 5-8 minutes until dough is smooth and elastic. Shape into a large ball.
  7. Place dough in greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap that has been sprayed with cooking oil. Place in warm, draft-free place and let rise for apx. 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
  8. Punch down risen dough. Shape into a large ball. Place on parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for apx. 45 minutes.
  9. Preheat oven to 400F degrees. If desired, using a sharp knife, make a few decorative score lines on top of the loaf. Bake bread for 20-25 minutes or until bread sounds hollow when tapped.
  10. Remove to wire wrack and allow to cool completely before slicing.

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