Easter – an excuse for baking! by Helen May


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Helen MayI have this theory. It is not truly scientifically proven but I can convince myself there is some logic behind it. The theory is that food you make yourself is healthier (for the cook) than food bought in a supermarket. This is based on two hypothesis: if you make it, you know what is in it so you buy healthier ingredients, and eating food you have made yourself is only replacing the calories you used in the making.

For me, the first hypothesis has limited truth – I do not fill my pies with e-numbers and I do not use saturated fat in my pastry. However, as a vegaquarian (I eat fish and vegetables but no meat), I include a lot of cheese in my lasagne and wouldn’t hold back on the cream in a trifle (it’s a waste to throw away a half-used carton).

Some may say eating shop bought food is replacing the calories you used getting to the supermarket and back. However, I still have to go to the supermarket to buy the raw ingredients (apart from the herbs I grow in my garden). But one major food group I make certainly uses up calories in the creation phase: I am a prolific bread maker. My freezer includes supplies of homemade baguettes, bagels, soft rolls, pain de mie, tomato and garlic bloomer, … and fresh (frozen?) yeast.

I need to top up on crumpets and wraps and pita breads and maybe a rye loaf. Each batch of bread requires a good ten minutes of intensive kneading (by hand, no cheating with a bread machines or bread hook for me – I like to be able to feel the consistency of the dough) followed by another ten minutes of shaping for anything but a loaf. If I wasn’t climbing, it would be a good way to keep bingo-wings at bay.

Last year, I decided to use my break-baking skills with hot cross buns. I scoured the internet for recipes with bun pictures that looked good, tasty ingredients (I like a spicy, fruity bun) and not requiring specialist tools. As commonly happens, I found two recipes I liked the sound (and sight) of. To avoid any further decision making, I combined them which required some infusion of milk with cinnamon, cardamon, nutmeg, ginger and orange zest which I used to make a rich dough. After a good knead, it started to lose its stickiness and I carefully added the fruit – sultanas and mixed peel.

The kitchen was starting to smell good and I was hours away from baking as I left the dough to rise for at least an hour. Then I shaped it into buns and left for another hour. The idea of the next stage was to paint a cross out of flour and water paste. I could not get the consistency of the paste right: it either dribbled off the bun or stuck to the pastry brush. My focus is more on taste than appearance so I didn’t worry too much. I put my best attempts in the oven and filled the house with lush sweet, spicy baking aromas. The result was pretty good.

As Easter approaches this year, I have realised I didn’t bookmark the hot cross bun recipes I used last year but I will find a good approximation. However, I am not sure I will bother with the cross. And, if I don’t eat them straight out of the oven, they may not stay hot. So I will make some hot cross buns.

Before I finish, I expect some of you are thinking about diabetes. What about all those carbohydrates? How much insulin do you take? Firstly, I share: I do not eat a whole batch myself (although it could be tempting). I wouldn’t say I ration them but I try to balance them with some exercise (as well as my bingo-wing busting kneading) and replace something else I would be eating anyway – I have a bun instead of a second cheese sandwich.

As I know the weight of all the ingredients in the batch and I weigh each bun as I make it to get them, roughly, the same size, I could accurately calculate the number of carbs in each bun. I don’t. Instead, I assume the number of carbs in my homemade buns are similar to the number of carbs per bun on a packet of shop-bought buns. As long as the buns are the same size, this works close enough.

The important thing is … I enjoy my homemade hot cross buns. I enjoy the process of making them and the process of eating them. Diabetes does not change that.

For more information on cooking, eating and food shopping, go to Enjoy food.

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