Tuesday 26 April 2011

Hot Cross buns, one a penny, two a penny...

picture by Fotolibra

This Easter I wanted to try and make my own hot cross buns. This is a slightly spiced sweet bun made with raisins or sultanas and marked with a cross on the top. They are traditionally eaten on the Good Friday, at Easter - the cross on the bun being  a symbol of the crucifixion of Jesus.

I looked up some traditional recipes in the books and on the net, and  I decided for one I saw on the historical foods website . As usual, I left everything for the last minute. When I started separating the ingredients, typically, the two main ingredients ran out and as I was feeling too lazy to go to the shop, I took the risk and  used some substitutes (oat milk instead of the whole cow’s milk and dates instead of the raisins/sultanas). I wasn’t very sure of the amount of the ingredients in the recipe either, but I went ahead with it. The result: a very yeasty and tasteless bun, with no oomph.  Changing fundamental ingredients in some recipes can be a culinary sacrilege...
Despite the disappointment, I wasn’t going to give up. After all, I promised my family I was going to make hot cross buns this year, instead of buying them. With the right ingredients this time, I tried another recipe and with some changes, I made my buns.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have them on Good Friday, as traditional, but I am glad to say that my second attempt worked well and we all enjoyed the buns two days later. Next year, I will make sure I’ll have the ingredients organised on time for the holiday.

As for the old buns, the birds were very happy to have them. At least they didn’t go to waste.

Hope you had a great Easter!

The ingredients for the dough
the egg wash, the paste for the cross and the jam for the glaze

My hot cross buns, rustic and tasty

Traditional Hot Cross Buns
Makes 12-16 (depending on the size you choose)

This bun is delicious eaten hot and with a slab of a good butter.


200ml organic whole milk, plus a little more for glazing
3 cardamom pods, bruised
1 cinnamon stick
2 cloves
¼ tsp grated nutmeg
20g fresh yeast or 2 tbsp dried yeast
50g golden unrefined caster sugar
300g organic strong white flour (I use Doves organic)
150g organic wholemeal flour
100g organic butter at room temperature
½ tsp salt
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp cinnamon powder
2 organic free-range eggs
100g organic sun-dried raisins
50g mixed peel (optional)

For the golden crust

1 organic free-range egg
A little of the milk

For the cross

3 tbsp organic plain flour
1tbsp unrefined caster sugar

For the glaze

Apricot jam or you can also use marmalade


Heat 200ml milk gently in a pan along with the cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg until just boiling, then turn off the heat and leave to infuse for 1 hour. Bring it back up to blood temperature. Strain the milk and mix with the yeast and 1 tsp sugar.

Tip the flour into a large mixing bowl and mix in the butter. Rub in with your fingertips, or in a food mixer, until well mixed, and then add the rest of the sugar and the salt, ginger and cinnamon. Beat together the eggs.

Make a well in the middle of the flour, add the beaten eggs and the yeast mixture. Stir, adding enough milk to make a soft dough – it shouldn't look at all dry or tough. Knead for 10 minutes until smooth and elastic, then lightly grease another bowl, and put the dough into it. Cover and leave in a warm place until it has doubled in size – this will probably take a couple of hours.

Tip it out on to a floured surface and knead for a minute or so, then flatten it out and scatter over the fruit. Knead again to spread the fruit around evenly, then divide into 12-16 equal pieces and roll these into bun shapes.

Put on a lightly greased baking tray, then cover and put in a warm place to  prove until doubled in size. Score a cross into the top of each.

Pre-heat the oven to 180C and beat together the last egg with a little milk.

Mix the plain flour with a pinch of salt and enough cold water to make a stiff paste. Paint the top of each bun with egg wash, and then, using a piping bag or teaspoon, draw a thick cross on the top. Place in the oven and bake for about 25 minutes until golden. When the buns come out of the oven, brush them with the apricot jam before transferring to a rack to cool. Eat with lots of butter.

Some of the main ingredients and their healthy benefits

Cinnamon: previously mentioned here 

Cardamom (Elletaria cardamomum): In Ayuverda medicine, it is known to improve digestion and to help people suffering from stomach cramps, as it is very beneficial to relieve gas and flatulence. It has detoxifying properties and improves blood circulation to the lungs. Also according to the ayuverdas, cardamom is beneficial for those suffering from asthma or bronchitis. It can relieve acidity from the stomach. It is also used to relieve bad halitosis if you chew on their seeds. It adds a lovely flavour and aroma to dishes.

Raisin or dried grape (Vitus vinifera) contains very good amounts of antioxidants. It is also a great source of iron (necessary for the production of red blood cells), calcium, magnesium and boron (for bone health and prevention of arthritis). It contains high amounts of potassium, which regulates the balance of minerals and fluids in your body contributing to a healthy muscle function, digestion and blood pressure. According to Murray, Pizzorno and Pizzorno, ground up raisins can act as a natural preservative in foods like sodium nitrite does, but without the negative side effects. Raisin is a very good snack alternative with lots of fibre content.

The pale and tasteless buns for the birds

Till next week!

Tuesday 19 April 2011

Garlic best!

I adore garlic

Yotam Ottolenghi is one of my favourite chefs. His recipes are wholesome, creative, full of Middle Eastern flavours and, most of them, easy to make. That’s why whenever I am stuck, I go to his books or to the column he writes for The Guardian  for ideas. This week, as Nina has been on her school break, I haven’t had much time to spend in the kitchen. I had some garlic bulbs left over from the supper club so I decided to make Ottolenghi’s Caramelized Garlic Tart.

I am sorry people for being a bit slack on my updates but I promise that things are back to a normal routine.

For now, enjoy the tart. It’s soooo delish!

The ingredients
My tasty garlic tart!
Caramelized Garlic Tart by Yotam Ottolenghi
Serves 8

This tart is a great choice for a light lunch, brunch, dinner parties… anything! It’s full of protein and flavour.


375g all-butter puff pastry
3 medium heads of garlic, cloves separated and peeled
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
220ml water
¾ tbsp fine organic unrefined caster sugar (or rapadura)
1 tsp chopped rosemary
1 tsp chopped thyme, plus a few whole sprigs to finish
120g soft, creamy goat’s cheese
120g hard, mature goat’s cheese
2 free-range eggs
100ml organic double cream
100ml organic crème fraîche
salt and black pepper


Have ready a shallow, loose-bottomed, 28cm fluted tart tin. Roll out the puff pastry into a circle that will line the bottom and sides of the tin, plus a little extra. Line the tin with the pastry. Place a large circle of greaseproof paper on the bottom and fill up with baking beans. Leave to rest in the fridge for about 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C/Gas Mark 4. Place the tart case in the oven and bake blind for 20 minutes. Remove the beans and paper, then bake for a further 5-10 minutes, or until the pastry is golden. Set aside. Leave the oven on.
While the tart case is baking, make the caramelized garlic. Put the cloves in a small saucepan and cover with plenty of water. Bring to a simmer and blanch for 3 minutes, then drain well.

Dry the saucepan, return the cloves to it and add the olive oil. Fry the garlic cloves on a high heat for 2 minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar and water and bring to the boil, then simmer gently for 10 minutes.

Add the sugar, rosemary, chopped thyme and ¼ teaspoon salt. Continue simmering on a medium flame for 10 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated and the garlic cloves are coated in a dark caramel syrup. Set aside.
To assemble the tart, break both types of goat's cheese into pieces and scatter in the pastry case. Spoon the garlic cloves and syrup evenly over the cheese.

In a jug whisk together the eggs, creams, ½ teaspoon salt and some black pepper. Pour this custard over the tart filling to fill the gaps, making sure that you can still see the garlic and cheese over the surface.

Reduce the oven temperature to 160°C/Gas Mark 3 and place the tart inside. Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until the tart filling has set and the top is golden brown. Remove from the oven and leave to cool a little.

Then take out of tin, trim the pastry edge if needed, lay a few sprigs of thyme on top and serve warm (it reheats well!) with a crisp salad.

Some of the main ingredients and their health benefits

Garlic (Allium sativum): is one of nature’s first known medicines. It helps to prevent the common cold due to its antiviral properties, It lowers blood pressure and cholesterol and detoxifies the body from heavy metals. It is packed with antioxidants and contains antibacterial properties.

Egg is a fantastic and inexpensive source of protein. It contains Lecithin which helps the body to break down fat and cholesterol. Lecithin is also a source of the B vitamin-like, Choline which is necessary for the brain development, at pregnancy, and also a necessary nutrient in preventing fatty liver (Choline is an important neurotransmitter involved in many functions including memory and muscle control). It contains also Biotin, another B vitamin-like, which is very important for the digestion of fat and protein and essential for the health of hair, skin and nails.
Egg also contains an antioxidant called Glutathione which prevents the formation of free radicals. It is very rich in Omega-3 fats, which prevents diabetes, obesity and depression. Contains vitamin A and E, Folic acid and Lutein (an antioxidant in the carotenoid family that helps keep the eyes healthy and safe from oxidative stress).

Till next week!

Tuesday 12 April 2011

Gabriel's finale in Margot's Kitchen

Gabriel Vidolin - in MK's , April 2011

Last Saturday we ran the last “Margot’s Kitchen invites” with Gabriel Vidolin. I would like to thank all of you who came to my supper club. I would especially like to thank Gabriel for all the enthusiasm and energy he put into the first MK supper club. He is not only a creative and talented chef but a very generous and humble person with a great charisma. He shared some of his own experiences, gave me lots of tips and showed me lots of tricks to use in the kitchen. So, thanks Biel for your support and for being an angel!

I would also like to thank the Merry Widows wine team (Charlotte, Lynn and Keith) who presented us with the dessert wine Samling 88 and impressed our diners with their excellent wines and knowledge.

Dean and I loved hosting the diners, who really appreciated good food and created a lovely atmosphere.

I opened Margot’s Kitchen as a way of sharing my love for healthy cooking – and by that I don’t mean the sort of cooking that’s obsessed with calorie counting and strict diets. Healthy, here, means real, nourishing, rooted in tradition.

As most of you know, I am a trained Nutritional Naturopath, so of course I believe it’s important to pay attention to what you eat and drink (But to pay attention with moderation.) I believe in fresh fruits and vegetables, milk/butter and meat from grass fed animals, chickens who were allowed to roam freely (and their eggs), sustainable fish and properly prepared wholegrains – organic, if possible. I believe in cooking that plays with our senses, that is mouth watering... yummy (as Nina, my daughter, would expertly say).

In Margot’s Kitchen, we welcome culinary traditions from around the world, and the meeting of new and old.

The food cooked for the supper club was made with organic, real and sustainable ingredients and treated with real care. For those who couldn’t make it this time, I hope to see you one day here. Watch this space for future events.

The kitchen staff after the last shift
The chocolate bread!
Gabriel has kindly given me one of his recipes to be published here (as I promised). As per many requests, the chocolate bread was the chosen one.  

Chocolate bread by Gabriel Vidolin

I personally find this recipe very special, as this was the first of Gabriel’s creations, when he was only 8 years old, bless! Let the indulgence begin...


4 organic eggs
1/3 cup olive oil
3 cups sugar
3 cups flour
2 cups organic milk
1 cup raw cocoa powder (or Green & Blacks)
a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg (optional)
4 teaspoons baking powder


Mix all ingredients by hand in the order above (don’t overmix it as we don’t want a a very light batter). Pour the mixture into a cake tin or bundt (20cm diameter), place  in a cool oven, turn it to 180°C and bake it for 45-50 min.

Salted Caramel Ice cream
The amount of the ingredients given by Gabriel in this recipe was used for the supper club. So, if you are making it for a small party halve all the ingredients.


3 litres organic milk
6 egg yolks
600g sugar
200g organic butter
A pinch of sea salt


Place a pan on the stove to heat. When it starst to get hot add 500g of the caster sugar and sea salt into the pan. Let the sugar melt to a good caramel colour, almost let it burn.

Add the milk and let it boil. Take off the heat.

In a separate bowl beat the egg yolks and remaining caster sugar until pale.
Pour a little of the warm milk on the egg mixture and whisk well. Then pour the egg mixture into the pan. Put it bacj to the heat and mix it until it reaches a consistency of a thick cream. Let it cool and refrigerate it for at least 2 hours.

Then churn in an ice cream maker.

Caramelized Spiced nuts and seeds


300g pumpkin seeds
300g pecans
300g rapadura sugar (I would also try using 200g)
Cayenne pepper to taste


Melt the sugar (until it reaches 117°C). Add the nuts and the cayenne pepper. Turn off the heat. Mix until cool.

Serve the chocolate bread with the ice-cream and caramelized nuts/seeds.

Some of the main ingredients and their healthy benefits

Raw cocoa powder: contains high levels of the antioxidant flavonoid which promotes cardiovascular health (it helps to regulate heartbeat and blood pressure). It helps to repair damage caused by free radicals, and to reduce PMS symptoms. It raises levels of serotonin in the brain, acting as an antidepressant promoting a sense of well being. It also stimulates the secretion of endorphin. Contains magnesium, sulphur and essential fats like oleic acid (also found in olive oil).
Note: the chocolate I am talking here is not the commercial one. The health benefits come from the flavonols and antioxidants found in the real cocoa. Cheap brands of commercial chocolate replace the good cocoa butter with milk fats and hydrogenated oils. When buying chocolate bars try and choose the darkest ones with at least 60% cocoa. 

Till next week!


Monday 4 April 2011

The Supperb night of Margot's Kitchen Club!

The menu
Hello there! Anyone who’s been wondering where I’ve been, I am back this week to report the news from the supper club. I’ve been very busy with the organization of the events, and I’m sorry I didn’t have time to publish any recipe last week (or this week).

I’m very pleased to say that the first Margot’s Kitchen Supper Club was a great success. We had two nights of hard work but it was great fun! The diners brought a brilliant atmosphere to my lounge-turned-dining-room. And I’m very proud that the Brazilian chef Gabriel Vidolin - who I first met at Terra Madre, in Turin -, accepted my invitation to be the guest chef. He is a star: talented, young and at the same time very experienced.

On the first night, I was so nervous with excitement that I felt, for a few minutes, like the main character in the King’s speech, with the words stuck in my throat. Nothing that a sip of a wonderful Austrian red from Merry Widows couldn’t sort out. The flowers offered by my neighbour Kate, and owner of the gorgeous Achillea flower shop, plus the menu designed by Nick Bartolucci, dressed the tables wonderfully (thank you very much, Kate and Nick, for your help and support). 

Gabriel delivered the most beautiful and mouth-wateringly flavoursome dishes. I think I can safely say that the guests were happy with the evening. I, myself, was over the moon (even with the washing up keeping me busy well into the small hours).

This coming Friday and Saturday, the 8th and the 9th, we’ll run two more Margot’s Kitchen Supper Clubs featuring Gabriel Vidolin. For those disappointed that I’m not publishing a recipe this week, I promise to write in the next post one of Gabriel’s delights (with the usual nutritional run down, of course). 

amouse bouche
the lounge-turned-dining-room
Diners on day 1
a dessert to die for
and the heat was on
diners on day 1
diners on day 2
Diners at the chef's table
Gabriel chatting with some diners
 Till next week!
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