Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A tale of two hot cross buns

Hot cross buns are a big thing over here in the UK, for hot cross buns to be eaten during Easter. I think they used to be baked and eaten only on Good Friday, but, with the passage of time, they're now sold (and probably eaten) throughout Lent and Easter.

My first experience with hot cross buns was through the nursery rhyme (Hot cross buns! Hot cross buns! / One ha' penny / two ha' penny / Hot cross buns!). Other than that, I don't recall ever having tried them before.

So, this Easter, I figured it was time for me to try one. Y'know. Like one of those things on my list of 100 things to do before I turn 30. Anyway, I thought I'd try one on Easter Sunday, but this proved to be a little more troublesome than expected. For one thing, there weren't too many places selling them at a reasonable price open on Sunday. For another, I didn't want to buy a bag of four or six or whatever as I didn't plan on eating that many. So, after walking through the Slow Food Market thrice, I settled on purchasing a freshly-baked organic maple pecan banana hot cross bun for £1.20 from the Manna Cakes stall. The nice English lady, upon learning that I'd not eaten one before, told me to keep it till I got home, slice it in half, toast it in the oven and spread butter (or margarine, but butter preferably) on it and eat it. This being close to 6 pm, I decided the hot cross bun tasting would only occur on Monday.

According to Slow Food, a good hot cross bun which has been baked in accordance with Slow Food principles should be:

round, 7 – 10cm in diameter, well-risen (not squarish and squashed) and highly glazed, with a cross on top (this is usually made with flour and water paste,
although strips of marzipan or cutting a cross are alternatives). The crumb
should be fairly pale, not too soft or sticky, and have a light flavour of sweet
spices and/or candied peel and dried fruit.

I'm happy to say that the Manna Cakes' hot cross bun seems to fulfill all the criteria. It tasted faintly of banana, and wasn't too sweet overall.

Round, at least 7 cm in diameter, and highly glazed

Well-risen, not too soft or sticky

Fairly pale crumb

Served just as the old lady told me, although I'm clearly still getting to grips with my rarely-used oven

After lunch, it was time to get out of the flat. My first choice neighbourhood coffee shop was closed, so I ended up at Market Coffee House, catching up on business news, and planning out the next couple of steps of my job search. The place being rather bustling, I decided to spring for a hot cross bun (£1.50) on top of my large skinny cappuccino (£2) so as to make up the "rental" for a table. It seemed the right thing to do, although perhaps not from the perspective of my waistline.

Four is my favourite number which is one of the reasons why I chose this table

The cappuccino was okay, not spectacular, but not bad either. The hot cross bun didn't seem to fulfill any of the criteria mentioned by Slow Food; it was flat, squarish, and didn't really taste of anything much other than sugar and butter.

Flat, squished, and square

While pouring over my various periodicals, I recalled why Market Coffee House wouldn't ever have been my preferred coffee hangout despite its proximity. It's just so noisy. I don't mean the chatter you get in every other food outlet. It's just that every barista just slams their coffee scoop on the counter before making a cup of coffee, so you get a constant stream of "BAM! BAM! BAM!" going on if you happen to be sitting near there. I haven't had the fortune of sitting on the other side just yet, but as those tables are for four or more, I don't think I'll ever get to see whether that side's any quieter than the side I was at.

It was fun to get into the spirit of things and try out these buns; I doubt I'll be indulging in these over the next few years though. I much prefer other kinds of confectionaries!


bellaphon said...

I'll stick to square buns and bleached white flour.I mean KFC just wouldn't taste the same with organic birds. I'm giving the coffee a go at MCH this weekend, I'm fearing the worst.

Little Miss Random said...

Heh. Such a typically male comment. Sorry it that sounds sexist, but your comment's something which I can completely see coming out of my brother's mouth, so to speak.

Market Coffee House's coffee isn't bad. It's not in the same league as Taylor Street Baristas, or Nude Espresso (which I found a little too milky), but it's certainly not the worst in the area.

Oh, and don't sit near the coffee machine! I'm not that sensitive to noise, but all the banging was really starting to get to me.