Isn’t the Spring weather lovely? It seems to have arrived in a hurry, one week we were experiencing the normal mix of rain/sun/snow that comes with March and the next the temperatures had soared to Summer levels. More than once I have lost track of time and found myself beyond supper time with no meal started.
I have found some time in the quiet early afternoons for some seasonal baking. Without a doubt this is the time of year for sweet, spiced, fruity teacakes. Crisply toasted and buttered they are hard to beat. Even if it is ice cream weather!
For years I have tried recipes for teacakes (and hot cross buns) which came out solid and unyielding. Last year I decided I would find a way to make soft and light buns or give up all together. I read a lot of recipes and tried a few different techniques and finally I think I have figured out a method which works for me. The basic recipe is pretty common – a rich sweet bread dough with butter, egg and milk as well as spice and fruit although quantities vary.
The first main difference is that I started to rub in the butter. If you’ve never done this before, here’s the trick: you drop cold cubes of butter into your sieved dry ingredients. You then pick up the butter and flour between your thumb and forefinger and rub them together (the same kind of rub as when you make a sign for money) letting the mix fall back into the bowl from a height. After a couple of minutes repeating this you should have a sandy looking mix with no visible butter remaining. This method incorporates air into the mixture and it’s what I use to get light scones as well. If you don’t want to rub in then melting your butter and adding it when it has cooled a bit with the wet ingredients is the alternative.
The second change I made was to add the fruit after the first prove. This makes a huge difference as the fruit will take moisture out of your dough while it proves and it is this which has given me such solid teacakes in the past. Instead you add the fruit before the second prove along with the sugar and gently press it into the dough being careful not to break the skin of the dough. I still have some practice to do on this and as you can see in the picture below my fruit broke free, ripping through the skin and plopping out on the counter. If you go gently you will be able to make neat buns without any rips or ruptures which will spread during cooking.
450g Plain Flour
2 tsp ground mixed spice
45g unsalted butter, cold and cubed
7g dried fast action
260 ml tepid milk (if you’re going to heat it: I heat just half then mix with remaining cold as always gets too hot otherwise)
5g golden syrup
1 egg, lightly beaten
90g dried fruit (sultanas and currants or even mixed fruit if you like some peel)
For the glaze:
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tsp sugar
Preheat oven to 180°C
Makes a baker’s dozen
- Add the yeast to the tepid milk and stir to mix it in. Set to one side while it gets busy.
- Sieve the flour and spice into a large mixing bowl.
- Add the butter and rub into the flour lifting up your hands so lots of air is incorporated.
- Make a well in the centre of the flour and add the milk, golden syrup and egg. Use a knife to bring the dough together and then knead for 5 – 10 minutes until you have a silky and elastic dough. If it is a little wet, add scant sprinklings of flour until it feels right. If it is a little dry, wet your hands to knead until it feels right. (If using a KitchenAid or similar knead with the dough hook for 10 minutes).
- Oil a mixing bowl, add the dough and cover with a damp tea towel (I prefer not to use clingfilm due to the PVC). Set your dough in a warm (not hot) spot to rise until it has doubled in size (about an hour).
- Once doubled in size very gently knock back and press the sugar and fruit into the dough being careful not to push it all the way through.
- Roll into one big ball and divide into rolls. You want them to be about palm sized and slightly flattened. There should be enough for 13 teacakes if not a couple more.
- Set the teacakes on the baking tray and cover with a dry tea towel to rise a second time by 1 and 1/2 times (about 10 – 20 minutes).
- Beat the sugar into the egg and brush over each teacake.
- Bake for 20 minutes (turning the tray after 15 if your oven cooks unevenly) test them by tapping the base which should sound hollow.
- Cool on a rack (or slather with butter and eat straight away!)