Hot Cross Buns and Busy Sundays

Soundtrack: My Favorite Murder, Episode 112

I don’t want to read your ramblings, I just want the recipe: Classic Hot Cross Buns from Donna Hay

Star Rating: Four Stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

If I have one criticism about America (yes, yes, go home if I don’t like it), it’s their approach to Easter.

In Australia and the UK the Easter long weekend really emphasizes ‘long’. We get both Good Friday and Easter Monday as paid public holidays, the weather is generally still good enough in Australia that you can go camping, or possibly to the beach, and unlike other religious-based holidays (I’m looking at you, Christmas) there is no expectation that you’d spend this time with family. The only downside is that bottle shops (liquor stores) aren’t open on Good Friday and I have been caught short going to BBQs without planning ahead. If that’s the biggest inconvenience for a day off work, I’ll take it.

In the US, Easter passes without much fanfare. They aren’t big on Easter Eggs – you can find them, but for a country which can produce novelty candy for seemingly any occasion, it’s shocking to see so little innovation in this area. I particularly miss the dark chocolate Lindt easter bunnies because I’m lactose intolerant and these are the only eggs that I can eat. Cheers to my friends and family who send them to me each year. Or carry them around the globe for me, as my Dad once did.

This is not the only food that’s missing, and why we’ve arrived at this week’s recipe.

Hot Cross Buns are fucking awesome, and you can’t find them, or can’t find good ones, here. Please note that I don’t even have a high bar for HCBs – I’m happy with a 12 pack of Coles or Woolies soft, sweet, slightly chewy, golden buns which have been lightly toasted and drowned in butter (or whatever non-dairy substitute I can find).

I made a callout to Facebook asking for a good HCB recipe and my friends (as always) delivered. There were a number of suggestions which required rubbing butter through flour and this activity is something I don’t need to spend my life doing, so they were cut from the list. I checked out the ones on but they seemed a bit… basic so those were passed over too.

Then we landed on Donna’s recipe. Now Donna is not a friend of mine, but Australians are all on first name basis with her. Donna Hay has been the doyenne of Australian culinary culture for a long time now, and her recipes are virtually foolproof. Despite my long-held fantasy of baking bread each weekend, I’m not overly familiar with using yeast so I wanted to start with a recipe that many people had already managed to not totally mess up.

Here’s something I didn’t think about. Rising dough waits for no one. I made the first part of this recipe on Sunday morning before heading off for a flying lesson. I got home to a very risen and gorgeous looking ball of dough, which I promptly turned into rolls and fit into a pan.

I had a 2 hour window for both the second rising and 30 minutes of baking, and at the halfway mark I realised that the buns were not proving at the rate I had anticipated. Thankfully resting the pan on the warm stovetop (thanks to the heated oven) sped things up and I was able to get the buns to prove to my timeline.

So how were they? Freaking delicious – so much so that I ate four for dinner that night. They were light and spiced and not too sweet, and and they made my whole apartment smell like Easter.

One word of warning – the following morning, even after being stored in an airtight container, they were already pretty stale. Apparently without a bunch of preservatives and sugar they don’t keep like the store bought ones. I highly recommend making these for a group of people and eating them almost immediately. I will salvage the leftovers by using the stale buns to make Easter bread and butter pudding next weekend, which is a pretty good consolation prize.

All up, these were pretty easy to make, but they do require time so I’m unlikely to make more than once a year. I highly recommend making them on a day when you’re pottering about the house, rather than trying to fit them in between plans. And remember – I have given you permission to eat as many of them as possible while they are hot and delicious.

Braised Halibut with Fennel and Tomatoes and Dumb Luck

Soundtrack: David Chang’s Ugly Delicious – Episode 3: Home Cooking

I don’t want to read your ramblings, I just want the recipe: Braised Halibut with Fennel and Tomato

Star Rating: Five Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Last week I got my first delivery from Imperfect Produce. They send you a box of ugly but tasty fruit and veg at a much reduced price. It helps reduce food waste by finding a home for the misshapen, scarred, irregular, discoloured, or overstocked – but perfectly good – produce that may otherwise be thrown out.

What I didn’t think about when scheduling my first delivery was that I had a very busy social week and would be out of town for a night, meaning I was unlikely to have much of a chance to cook. Understanding the irony of producing food waste as a result of trying to reduce food waste, I was committed to using all the contents of the box (apples, oranges, onion, sweet potato, beetroot, fennel, tomatoes, carrots, and avocados for reference) and so far have made some delicious roast veggies and upped my fruit intake.

What was leftover was the fennel bulb and some tomatoes that were starting to show early signs of ageing. After a weekend where I’d maybe overcompensated for running a half marathon with the liberal consumption of carbs, I was also in the mood for something light.

Enter Google. I searched for ‘fish fennel recipe’ and landed on this braised fish dish from Martha Stewart.

Simply put, just go and make this dish. It’s so simple. You simmer down the fennel and tomatoes in the braising liquid for 12-15 minutes before adding the halibut which cooks at a gentle bubble until the flesh is opaque. I substituted the white wine by adding a touch more water and some apple cider vinegar to give it acidity. The recipe says you should just serve the fish with a spoonful of the braising liquid, discarding the vegetables, but I love fennel and didn’t want to waste all that deliciousness.

Instead I put a handful of baby spinach in the bottom of a bowl, placed the halibut fillets on top and then poured over all the braising ingredients. The halibut was cooked perfectly, the lemon and vinegar gave it a clean kick, and the fennel added a brightness and texture that made the whole dish moreish.

If you want to make something that looks far more impressive than the effort required, this is your dish. I’ll be adding it to my rotation for nights I want something healthy, but I don’t want to work too hard for it.