How do you like your buns ,Hun?

There is something hugely comforting, I think, about cooking a particular dish at a particular time to mark a particular occasion. This Easter, being normally a shared experience with family and friends whose homes we now can’t go into, makes it even more so. Whatever our Easter traditions – hot cross buns, roast lamb, simnel cake, folar, or just a ton of chocolate, we deserve a bloody good indulgence I´d say. Forty days and forty nights used to be lenten penance, but with the added bonus of confinement its like being released from a prison sentence. So what happens when you unleash the inner cook in you? Yesterday the thespian described our kitchen as a scene of frenzied activity. I decided that Easter not being normal this year I would break with tradition and tweak. Dare I deviate  even slightly from the tried and true hot cross bun blueprint ? Trying hard not to incur the wrath of the hot cross bun traditionalists I made two very different takes on the pascal classic,one sweet ,one savoury.

First up inspired by the classic Italian Easter bread Colomba di Pasqua. Via a little bit of Ottolenghi, I Made a twist on something which  is basically a panettone, but shaped into a dove-like form. (I honestly have questioned the shape, but I suppose it’s difficult to make a bread look like a delicate bird devoid of a  shaped cake mould.) With Mr Ottolenghi´s advice I baked a some buns in spring form tin and they were not far off the traditional dove shape.If you want to get ahead and wake up to the smell of freshly baked buns on Easter morning, make and shape the dough the evening before, then pop in the fridge overnight for a slow rise. The next day, take it out of the fridge before you make the topping.


Chocolate and hazelnut “Colomba” buns
For the chocolate, use whatever cocoa percentage that you have to hand, but stay away from white chocolate because it would be too sweet.

Prep 45 min
Prove 4 hr+
Bake 40 min
Serves 8

For the dough
130g blanched hazelnuts, well toasted, 80g finely blitzed, the rest roughly chopped
330g strong white bread flour
50g caster sugar
1 tsp salt
1 sachet fast-action dried yeast
(7g)
2 eggs
125g whole milk
2 tsp orange zest

1½ tbsp marsala, or rum or sherry, or orange juice
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
100g fridge-cold butter
, cut into 1½cm dice
150g dark or milk chocolate, roughly chopped into 1cm pieces or chips
Sunflower oil or other unflavoured oil, for greasing the hands

For the topping
1 egg white (save the yolk for another use)
60g caster sugar
1 tbsp
marsala, or rum or sherry, or orange juice

Put 50g of the finely blitzed hazelnuts in the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook in place. Add half the chopped hazelnuts, all the flour, the sugar, a teaspoon of salt and the dried yeast.

In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, milk, orange zest, wine and vanilla paste, then pour into the stand mixer bowl and mix on medium-high speed for eight minutes, until you have a fairly sticky dough. Still beating on medium-high speed, add the butter a few pieces at a time, then mix for another eight minutes, until the dough comes together into a ball around the hook and is smooth, shiny and elastic. Add the chocolate and mix for just 30 seconds, until combined. With oiled hands, shape the dough into a ball, put it back in the bowl and cover tightly (I use reusable food wrap). Leave to prove somewhere warm for an hour and a half, then transfer to the fridge and leave to prove for another hour and a half.

Line the base and sides of a 23cm round springform cake tin with greaseproof paper. Remove the dough from the fridge and place on a lightly floured surface. Shape into 11 buns, each weighing around 85g, put three of them in the centre of the tin and arrange the rest evenly spaced out all around them, like the petals of a flower. Cover tightly and leave to prove again at warm room temperature for an hour to an hour and a half, until doubled in size (or, if making these ahead, put them back in the fridge and leave to prove overnight).

Heat the oven to 190C (180C fan)/390F/gas 6. About five minutes before you are ready to bake, make the topping. Put the egg white in a medium bowl with the sugar, marsala and the remaining 30g of blitzed nuts, whisk for three or four minutes, until slightly thickened and pale, then brush liberally over the buns. Sprinkle with the remaining chopped hazelnuts, bake for 20 minutes, then turn down the oven to 170C (160C fan)/350F/gas 4 and bake for another 25 minutes, rotating the pan once halfway through so the buns bake evenly.

Remove, leave to cool for a couple of minutes, then unmould on to a rack and leave to cool for another 30 minutes. These are best eaten on the day they’re baked, split in half and spread with plenty of butter. Slice and toast any leftovers the next day.

A Beautiful image of the Easter dove that hovers high in the sky, symbol of Peace and hope for a Happy Easter
Bela imagem da pomba da Páscoa que paira alto no céu, símbolo da paz e esperança para a Páscoa feliz.  

Favourite food picture of the week.Little sugar bunnies curled up inside warm hot cross buns!!  Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

My second venture took me way off piste, savoury buns.There isn’t much to link these with traditional hot cross buns. They’re made with a yeasted dough, and have crosses on top. However, the yeast is seasoned with thyme and the crosses are made from bacon,and I threw in some fennel seeds to put them buns back on course to their original spiced incarnation. On paper, it sounds horrendous. In reality, if you eat them with a fried egg or scrambled eggs in the middle, a la barefoot contessa  they’re close to genius. "A perfect breakfast sandwich in no time at all," she says. "It's also not a bad 'breakfast for dinner' option!" Tried and tested, yes to both those.

Prosciutto and parmesan hot cross buns

1 1/2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
80g flat pancetta, chopped, plus 16 extra slices for the crosses
600g wholemeal flour
1/2 cup (40g) finely grated parmesan, plus 1/4 cup (20g) extra, to scatter
1 1/2 tbs finely chopped thyme
1 tbs brown sugar
7g (about 1 sachet) dried yeast
1/2 cup (125ml) milk, lukewarm, plus extra to brush
Aioli, fried eggs & wild rocket, to serve

Heat 2 tsp oil in a frypan over medium-high heat, add pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 minutes until crisp and golden brown. Transfer to a plate.
Combine flour, parmesan, thyme, sugar and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Combine milk and 200ml lukewarm water in a jug. With the mixer on low speed, gradually add milk mixture and knead to form a soft dough (you may not need all the liquid). Add fried pancetta, remaining oil and 2 tsp salt flakes, then knead on medium-high speed for 8-10 minutes until smooth and elastic. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a clean tea towel and set aside for 45 minutes-1 hour until doubled in size.
Preheat oven to 180°C. Line an oven tray with baking paper.
Knock back dough on a lightly floured surface, divide into 8 even pieces and roll each into a ball. Place on prepared tray, leaving about 8cm between each. Brush with extra milk and scatter with extra parmesan, pressing gently to help it adhere. Set aside for 30 minutes or until rolls increase in size by about a quarter, then arrange pancetta slices on top of each bun in a cross shape, gently tucking the ends under the base. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown and pancetta is crisp. Cool slightly on tray, then transfer to a wire rack.
Serve warm or at room temperature with aioli, fried eggs and rocket.

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