Edited highlights: Pancakes, date loaf and Swedish foodstuffs

We like to make things in this house… well, not all the time, we can open packets and buy pre-prepared stuff with the best of them (chicken-on-a-stick, fish-in-a-box), but when we do make things from scratch we are very proud!

Exhibit A: Date loaf for school election day cake stall…

Fresh…

Exibit B: My mothers’ Day pancakes, made for me by George

so lucky…

Made with a little bit of help from this…

I may have dropped a hint by buying pancake mix the day before.

The date loaf looked good, but I didn’t taste it and hadn’t baked a second one to keep for us. I wrapped it and literally took it straight to the cake stall still warm. Someone whacked a $7 price tag on it and after I came back from doing a bread and chopped onions run for the school BBQ, the date loaf had sold! Hope whoever bought it enjoyed their afternoon tea.

This sifter belonged to my mum’s mum, Philippa. I love it. This is George doing his bit for election day school fundraising.

The last days of Autumn have brought some pretty sunsets…

Looking out my dirty old window…

We’ve had high school information nights to go to in preparation for next year and dinner out with some school families.

The best card of all!

A Mother’s day outing in the city to many favourite destinations…

Dobinson’s is one of my favourites. And is soon to open in Woden!
Oh yeah, this old chestnut…

This past week we’ve had a visit from my mum, aka Batgran, aka George’s “Naughty Granny” (naughty because she was the one who introduced a much younger George to chocolate, hot chips and video games – not all in the same day). Maybe that’s just what grannies do.

This weekend, we introduced Granny to IKEA. “They’ve got it sown up!” she said, impressed with the cafe, the grocery section, the checkouts, and the other cafe at the checkouts exit where you buy the $1 hotdogs. She came out armed with Swedish foodstuffs and confessed to buying them “because they’re Swedish”. I know what she means. Sometimes I feel like I live in Europe when I visit IKEA. It’s a nice little escape.

We had been enjoying the last of T-shirt and shorts weather (George) before being hit by an icy blast at the end of May, which saw snow in the Blue Mountains (but not in Canberra). But still, he has relented and started wearing his long pants to school this past week.

And finally last week, George got his first pet… two actually, a pair of baby guinea pigs!

We’ve been learning a LOT about Guinea pigs. Will post more about that next time.

Have a great weekend.

Election day bake

Well today is Election day and I’ll be going to our local primary school to vote and serve at the cake stall/sausage sizzle.

This time, I didn’t do the cutesy-wutesy little panda cupcakes I slaved over in 2013… ain’t got time for that these days. I’m baking a date loaf, easy and quick and something my grandmother used to make a lot. So simple, but so delicious with melting butter.

Not my grandmother’s recipe. This is from The Commonsense Cookery Book, our school cooking class bible in year 7.

Election days are exciting days, and I like to mark the occasion by supplying a cake for the school cake stall. I didn’t bake for the last federal election in 2016, but I did bake cupcakes for the one before that between Rudd and Abbot in 2013…

I was inspired by some cupcakes I saw featured on Housegoeshome blog post 5 cake stall ideas (that will walk off the table)

The post featured cute panda cupcakes from baking website Bakerella

Except Bakerella’s looked liked this…

They are still one of the most popular posts on Bakerella, originally posted in April 2012.

Eleven-year-old Spider Boy George saw a picture of my version last night and said, “I remember those!” He was five when I baked them, and I’ve never attempted them since.

Let’s recap:

Bakerella’s panda cupcakes…

My panda cupcakes…

Nailed it! Don’tcha think?

Oh goodness, it’s already so late in the morning. I’ve got to get a date loaf in the oven before my cake stall shift later.

Will let you know how it turns out!

Will you be eating an election day sausage today? Or buying something from the cake stall? I’ll probably do both.

7 Halloween cupcake recipes… an Alexcellent roundup.

Halloween is tonight but you’ve just got time to bake some last-minute cupcakes. Here are some spooky-but-cute Halloween treats from around the web if you’re needing some sweet inspiration.

1. “Broken glass” cupcakes from marthastewart.com

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The “glass” is sugar and water.

2. Reese’s Frankenstein cupcakes from yourcupofcake.com

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3. Ghost cupcakes from thecomfortofcooking.com

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7. Chilly ghosts from hellocupcakebook

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A second lot of ghosts but these were too cute to resist.

5.  Cupcake liner witch hat from thecakeblog.com

(This one involves a bit of paper craft)

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6. Skeleton cupcake from bhg.com

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7. Dotty Halloween cupcakes also from bhg.com

Simple but has quite a visual impact on a plate.

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Whether you bake or not, have a spooky and yummy Halloween!

Recipe: Apricot and oat slice

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I aways want something sweet after dinner, or sometimes in the afternoon with a cup of tea.

I found this recipe in The Biggest Loser trainer Tiffiny Hall’s book, Weightloss Warrior (How to win the battle within). It’s full of motivational advice, exercise and recipes – it’s a great book. I remember thinking that when I first read it back in 2011. But winning the battle within is damn hard and I’ve gained 10kg since then (go Alex) but that’s me, a rebel.

Anyway, there’s a recipe in Tiffiny’s book for fruity oat slice. I like to call it apricot slice as that’s the dominant fruit for me.  It is simple, healthy (well not UN-healthy) and absolutely yummy. It has no refined sugar (just lots of fruit) and it is something you could enjoy a small bit of every day. It’s not the reason I’m overweight. That would be the ice-cream with chocolate sauce, soft cheeses, etc. but that’s another story.

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Thanks Tiffiny Hall for this recipe:

Makes 16 pieces

Ingredients

240g (1 2/3 cups) mixed dried fruit (for example, apricots, figs, prunes, apple, anything) roughly chopped

150g (1 cup) sultanas

440g can crushed pineapple in natural juice

150g butter

1 teaspoon mixed spice

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

2 eggs

100g (2/3 cup) self-raising flour

150g (1 1/2 cups) rolled oats

8 dried apple rings

1 tablespoon honey

Method

Preheat oven to 170 degrees C.

Grease and line a 20 x 30cm lamington tin.

Put the dried fruit, pineapple and juice, butter and spices in a saucepan over a low heat until the butter melts. Allow to cool.

Add the eggs to the cooled fruit mixture and stir well. Add the flour and oats and mix until combined.

Spoon the mixture into the tin and decorate with dried apple rings brushed with a tablespoon of warmed honey. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes (that’s what the book says, but for me/my oven it’s always more like 25 – 30 minutes, but just keep an eye on it).

Let it cool then cut into squares.

I tend to keep them in the fridge (in a tupperware container) after the first day, because of all the fruit.

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I made another batch recently and this time added dessicated coconut and dark chocolate pieces to the mix. I also sprinkled shredded coconut on top before baking so it came out all toasty. So good.

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Enjoy!

Do you have a go-to, never-fail slice?

Edited Highlights: Sugar, blossoms, cake and colouring-in

Time to catch up on the past month with a series of snapshots that seem to be mostly food and floral.

I snuck away from my desk last Friday (working from home means I’m just sneaking away from myself) and went to local whole foods store, About Life. I ate a raspberry and coconut muffin that was delicious even though it probably didn’t have refined white sugar in it. Oh well.

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But refined white sugar is kind of my thing… so when I saw this 50’s-style sugar canister (which disappointingly only contained air) at Spider Boy’s school art show, I had to steal a photo. Maybe sugar itself will be a relic from the past one day, just like this canister. Sigh.

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Spring jonquils at my dad’s place…

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I love the way my cousin’s wife styled her kid’s birthday party table… they turned 3 and 1, two weeks apart so a combined party was the order of the day.

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I made some apple pies…

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I needed the whipped cream to mask the heavy pastry texture. Not quite enough carbs, fat or sugar in these little morsels I’m afraid.

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On a lighter and brighter note, the blossoms have blessed our street!

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And obviously I’ve drunk lots of coffee (and muffins) this month… but Spider Boy just gets water. Oh alright, sometimes he gets a hot chocolate. And chips.

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Now I’m going to let you in on a little secret… colouring-in is really big right now. You know when you see a “Zen” colouring book as free gift with That’s Life magazine, that colouring-in is a thing. And the local Dymock’s has a wall of colouring books, as does the National Gallery gift shop in Canberra. But I’ve been colouring-in (as an adult) since 1997. But back then, Barbie colouring-in books were all I could find. Now there is so much choice! It is VERY relaxing.

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Speaking of the National Gallery gift shop, if I had the money I would buy all of the books…

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Since I know I’ll never really be Parisian, or Danish, and will never find the time for handmade projects for a cute Tokyo-inspired lifestyle, I could just go for the Mammoth Book of Losers to make me feel better about my epic failure and underachievement in NOT being Parisian or Danish, or achieving that cute Tokyo-inspired lifestyle. Sigh.

This post is coming to an end but there’s time for dessert before I go…

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This cake I made last Sunday was meant to be a lime syrup cake. I had all the ingredients, except limes. I had a bottle of lemon juice in the fridge, so I used a bit of that. But then after making the cake, I RAN OUT OF SUGAR. So had no sugar to make the lemon syrup.  So it wasn’t going to be a syrup cake at all, was it? So I defrosted some left-over cream-cheese icing from the Father’s Day carrot cake I’d made, and dolloped that on. Plus some hundreds and thousands just for fun and fancy.

It all worked out in the end.

What are you enjoying this week?

Fun with puff pastry: easy apricot turnovers and mini chocolate croissants

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On Winter weekends I like to do what I can to improve my baking skills.  This particular Sunday I decided to make apricot turnovers and a few mini chocolate croissants.

If you have ready-made puff pastry in the freezer and a tin of fruit in the cupboard, you’ve got all you need for a yummy, yet simple and quick winter breakfast or dessert.

Mum accidently ate a mini chocolate croissant that I was keeping for Spider Boy’s breakfast the next day.

“It wasn’t worth the calories… but then I’m not a pastry person” Mum said when I asked her about it.

Well I AM a pastry person, and take my word for it…  warm puff pastry with fruit or chocolate is the way to go.

I have no idea of the calories. I would give up sugar (quelle horreur!) before I’d ever count a calorie – I am just not a maths person (although I can just about handle the geometry needed when working with sheets of puff pastry).

Easy apricot turnovers

Ingredients

2 sheets of frozen puff pastry

1 can apricots (or apple, cherry or whatever takes your fancy)

1 egg, beaten

a bit of sugar

a bit of butter

Method

1. Preheat oven to 180C

1. Defrost 2 sheets of puff pastry for 10 minutes at room temperature.

2. Cut each sheet of pastry into four squares.

3. Place a heaped tablespoon of fruit in the middle – not too much fruit or it will burst out when cooking. Best to leave about 2cm between the fruit and the edge of the pastry.

4. Fold over the pastry square into a triangle and pinch the edges together. Make pretty markings on the pastry with a fork (it’s like art).

6. Line a baking tray with baking paper and butter it. Brush some beaten egg over the uncooked turnovers so the finished product is golden and shiny when baked. Place a few little cuts in the pastry top to let out steam when cooking. You can sprinkle a bit of sugar over it if you wish. Leave a couple of centimetres between each pastry on the tray, otherwise they’ll join together like mine did.

7. Bake at 180C for about 15 minutes (until golden brown).

Serve warm with custard, vanilla ice cream, or whipped cream.

Makes 8 turnovers

Mini chocolate croissants

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Ingredients

1 sheet puff pastry, defrosted

a handful of choc buttons (about 20) or four tablespoons Nutella (or other chocolate spread)

1 beaten egg

a bit of sugar

Method

1. Preheat oven to 180C

2. Cut sheet of defrosted puff pastry into two rectangles, then cut each rectangle into a long triangle.

3. Place four choc buttons near base of each triangle (about 2cm away from edge).

4. Roll up triangles from base to tip, with choc buttons inside. Fashion into classic croissant shape.

5. Eat one choc button for each mini croissant you roll up. I’ve factored in one choc button sneaky nibble per croissant in my ingredients list.

6. Brush with some of the beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar if you like.

7. Bake, as per the apricot turnovers, at 180C for about 15 minutes (until golden brown).

Makes 4 mini chocolate croissants.

Warm choc-cherry coconut muffins

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The mornings are getting chillier and the days shorter, reminding me that Winter is almost here. That means muffin season! Either as a sneaky treat with hot butter and cup of tea, or something extra in the school lunchbox, muffins are a wonderful tine in the fork of my baking adventures.

I love baking muffins because of the potential for variety; you can add fruit or veggies to them to really pump up the nutrients, or combine flavours for a more decadent muffin like white chocolate and raspberry, or caramel and date.

One of my favourite flavour combinations is chocolate and cherry. I’d had The Australian Women’s Weekly Kids’ Cooking book open on my recipe stand for weeks, on the apricot and coconut muffins page. This morning I happened upon a can of cherries in the cupboard, and thought of the dessicated coconut in the fridge. Cherry, plus coconut, plus chocolate (there is always a bag of choc-bits in the cupboard) equals a Bounty bar and Cherry Ripe combo in a cake, basically!

Whenever I bake something, I have a ready-made helper in Spider Boy. Today, he got his fingers into the buttery coconut crumble topping, he had a go of folding instead of mixing (in keeping with the lumpy muffin-mix ideal) and got the choc-bit to muffin mix ratio just right.

Ingredients

415g can cherries

1/2 cup choc-bits (give or take)

2 1/4 cups self-raising flour

3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1 egg

2/3 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/3 cup cherry jam

Coconut topping

1/4 cup plain flour

1 tablespoon caster sugar

1/3 cup dessicated coconut

30g butter

Method

Muffins

1. Preheat oven to moderate. Grease a 12-hole muffin tin. Drain cherries.

2. Make coconut topping and set aside.

3. Combine flour and sugar in large bowl; use a fork to stir in cherries, then combined egg, buttermilk, oil and jam. Add in choc-bits. Mixture should look lumpy, so don’t overmix

4. Divide mixture among prepared muffin tin holes; sprinkle coconut topping over each muffin mixture. Bake, uncovered, in moderate over for about 25 minutes. Stand muffins in tin for 5 minutes; place top-side up on wire rack to cool.

Coconut topping

Combine flour, sugar and coconut in a small bowl; use fingers to rub butter into flour mixture.

Makes 12 muffins.

The proof of the pudding

They weren’t ready after 25 minutes, so I gave them another 10. The result was perfect. Or as perfect as one of my baking adventures gets.

After the extra 10 minutes baking time, they were cooked perfectly. I’d had a wedge of paper in the broken oven door (I’ve been baking that way for a few months, the spring on the door has gone but is soon to be replaced).

The muffins were moist with a golden crumbly crumble topping. The tartness of the cherry perfectly balanced the chocolatey sweetness of the choc chips.

I met my friends Lulu and Mr. M later that day, so it was nice to be able to give them 1/2 the batch of freshly made muffins. Lulu texted later that she ate hers warmed up with ice cream.

My mum said, “You could sell those”,  which is a real compliment as mum doesn’t say anything unless she really thinks it.

Recipe based on apricot and coconut muffin recipe from The Australian Women’s Weekly Kids’ Cooking.

Baking with yoghurt: Mango and vanilla yoghurt cake with white chocolate ganache

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I love cake, but in my efforts to be healthier, I’ve been thinking about ways I could reduce the fat. No butter? Yes, it is possible to make a cake without butter. But let’s not get too crazy. This cake does have some butter in it. But less than normal because today I’m substituting some of the butter for low fat yoghurt.

I don’t think about calories anymore. I am trying to shift my thinking from units of measure (I was never good at maths anyway) to good nutrition and balance. In other words, I would never let a few (hundred) pesky calories get in the way of me and my cake. But I do acknowledge that when food is lower in fat, without sacrificing texture and flavour, it’s a winning combination. Baking a cake using yoghurt is a way to achieve that.

Using yoghurt as a substitution for butter or oil in cakes is a smart and yummy way to reduce the fat content, as well as lending a lush texture and slightly tangy flavour to the cake. Plus it’s a great way to add a little bit of protein and calcium! As I’m a maniac for mango, I used a low fat mango and vanilla yoghurt. 042

Ingredients The cake bit

150g butter (softened)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup caster sugar

2 eggs

1 and a 1/2 cups low fat mango and vanilla yoghurt

2 and a 1/4 cups self-raising flour

1/4 cup milk

The white chocolate ganache bit

1/2 cup cream

360g white eating chocolate, broken into small pieces (Will make about 1 and 1/2 cups)

The mango yoghurt frosting bit

125g butter (softened) 2 and 1/2 cups icing sugar

1 and 1/2 tablespoons Mango and Madagascan Vanilla Yoghurt

Method

Cake

1. Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius /160 degrees Celsius fan-forced. Grease deep 22cm-round cake pan and line with baking paper.

2. Beat butter, sugar and vanilla extract in a bowl with electric mixer on low, until fluffy.

3. Beat in eggs one at a time

4. Fold in yoghurt

5. Sift flour into bowl and add milk gradually, stirring as you go. Add the flour and milk in two batches.

6. Dollop mixture into cake tin. Bake for 1 hour. Let cake stand in tin for 5 minutes before turning upside down on wire rack to cool.

7. Slice cake in half horizontally and spread the top of one layer with the white chocolate ganache

8. Sandwich the two halves together. While cake is baking, make the ganache and frosting.

Ganache

1. Pour cream into a small saucepan and bring to the boil.

2. Remove from heat and when bubbles have disappeared add white chocolate.

3. Stir until smooth

4. When ganache has cooled down, pour into a bowl and beat with electric mixer on medium speed.

Mango yoghurt frosting

Beat butter, icing sugar and yoghurt with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.

Spread frosting on cake with a spatula.

Serve garnished with passion fruit pulp.

Serves 12

Keep cake in fridge. 074 064 076 112

Edited highlights: chocolate pudding, snowdrops and other ordinary joys

I realise I seem to have developed a theme here in the past few weeks, namely involving snow, fake or otherwise, and chocolate. Well it IS winter!

With all the bad news reports (the bad news that is additional to the constant bad news that already happens) lately, it would be very easy to be overwhelmed by it all and think of nothing else. I know how blessed I am to have the privilege of leading my ordinary life, that is sprinkled with moments that I feel compelled to photograph and share. It’s the joy of the ordinary. And I really appreciate it.

This past week I tried my hand at a chocolate and raspberry pudding – with a few canned cherries thrown into the mix. It tasted surprisingly decadent, considering the recipe was from Diabetic Living magazine and the chocolatey flavour came from cacao and not Cadbury’s.

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Although I’m sure serving it with cream was not what Diabetic Living had in mind, but, it just elevated the choc-berry cherry goodness to new heights.

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Spider Boy, Bat Gran and I caught up with Senorita Margarita at, where else – the local chocolateria. After jogging along Bondi Beach first, obvs.

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Jogging? As if. No, it was straight into San Churro for churros as soon as we hit Bondi.

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Well, look. At least the sauce was dark chocolate. And we shared the plate.

Later in the week, Spider Boy and friends played in a cliff-top park and we wondered what bizarre weather event was happening on the horizon.

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And snowdrops are growing in the back courtyard. Like little ballerina skirts.

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Hoping you’ve found some ordinary joys in your week.

Easter 2014: in search of hot cross buns and cross ninja-bread men

There are many things I love about Easter: all the new-life symbolism, holidays, seeing family and friends, the first hint of Autumn weather, the Easter show, the Easter Sunday church service, the Easter-egg hunt and hot cross buns!

This Easter, Sydney had the special treat of hosting Prince William, Princess Catherine, baby Prince George and his cute little squishy baby cheeks. Sydney put on its finest Autumn weather for the occasion.

Here’s a couple of photos from my Good Friday walk, but unfortunately not of the royal family, who were on the other side of the harbour at the time.

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And now to the big issue of hot cross buns. Last Wednesday I was in a mad rush so had to resort to Aldi to get my hot cross buns. I knew I would be super-busy on Thursday and I didn’t know if I would get a chance to get to Baker’s Delight or any other actual bakery by Good Friday, so Aldi it was.

As I rummaged through the Aldi hot cross bun bin, I came across bag after bag of “fruitless” buns. It was proving to be a fruitless task, until I finally found one sad little bag of “fruit” buns.

“Aldi hot cross buns are better than no hot cross buns on Good Friday.” I reasoned. Aldi is great at many things (such as cheap unknown brands from a parallel universe and dishevelled shelving), but hot cross buns are not one of them. I tried a bun on Wednesday night and it was squishy, yet bizarrely brick-like. How does that happen?

On Thursday I had a serendipitous moment and found myself in a position to go into Coles, where the buns, while not the best, are superior to Aldi’s. So I submitted to the call of the Coles choc chip hot cross buns. But when I got home, my mother was waiting with a tell-tale white paper bag. Bakery hot cross buns. “They’re from C’est Ci Bon”, she said excitedly. I was grateful.  And on that note, grateful to be in a position to be comparing baked goods at all.

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C’est ci good.

The next morning, Good Friday, I offered Spider Boy a hot cross bun.  After a moment’s consideration, he said, “OK… as long as it doesn’t have those crosses on it… because they don’t taste very nice.”

He settled for his usual breakfast of “Vegemite toast with margarine – but not the butter melted.”

On Sunday as we were leaving church I asked my sister, Senorita Margarita about her buns: “Where did you get your hot cross buns? I hissed “Zumbo” she said, “a chocolate and cherry one”.

“How fantastic! Do they come in a six-pack?” I demanded. “No.” She looked incredulous. “They’re $2.50 each, I just got one!”

The closest I got to a Zumbo hot cross bun was a sneaky Zumbo hot cross bun macaron last week. It smelt like bread, specifically, hot cross bun bread. I don’t know how Mr.Zumbo does it. The inner texture was smooth, the shell was crumbly and light. It tasted like bread, sultanas, cinnamon, marzipan and citrus.

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The perfect hot cross bun. Except it was a macaron.

 

The Aldi buns remain in the freezer. “Maybe I could make a bread and butter pudding with them. How would I do that?” I asked Mum. “You’d need to make custard first” she said. Forget it. Not a custard fan. I really don’t want to make that.

So my Easter baking this weekend was the ninja-bread men from a baking set I’d bought as a stocking-filler for Spider Boy at Christmas. They weren’t hot cross buns, but they were pretty cross. That’s now our ninjas roll.

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Ninja – or zombie?

 

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Well, you’d be cross too.

The result was more ninja-crunch than ninja-bread. Perhaps more zombie than ninja. But the fun was in the cookie-cutting and decorating! Just like play-dough, only crunchy.

Happy Easter!