Food & Drink / All Things Nice

Three recipes full of fruit and spice ready for Easter (or any other time you fancy) from baker brother Tom Herbert, of Hobbs House Bakery.


Hot Cross Buns


680g strong white flour

a big pinch of sea salt

30g fresh yeast (or 15g of dried)

70g organic golden caster sugar

80g soft butter

15g mixed spice

270ml of warm water

1 organic egg



80g sultanas

80g currants

the chopped zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange


Crossing mix

100g strong white flour

a pinch of salt

a pinch of sugar

a knob of butter

100ml water


Bun wash

1 eggcup of boiling water

2 tsp of sugar

1 pinch of mixed spice



Grease and line a high-sided baking tray with grease-proof paper. Weigh all the dough ingredients into a big mixing bowl and stir together with a wooden spoon and firm hand. Once the dough has come together turn onto a flat surface and knead for 15 minutes, until your dough is smooth and vital. Gently work in the fruit and zest then nestle your well-worked dough back into the big mixing bowl. Cover and repose in a warm place until it has doubled in size, or for 30 minutes, whichever is first.

After this, cut the dough in half, then divide and divide again until you have 16 equalish pieces. In the palm of your hand, firmly round the pieces so they stand pert on your baking tray, a finger’s width between them. Again, cover the buns and leave in a toasty place until they have doubled in size: 30, 40, 50 minutes. Heat your over to 210˚C.

Whisk together the piping mix ingredients in a jug, ensuring there are no lumps, and pour into a piping bag. Cross the buns by piping a lattice of the mix across the length and width of the tray. Bake the buns. The very moment they have golden tops and bottoms whip them out and brush with the bun wash.

Serving suggestion: eat while still warm from the oven, smothered in butter and, if you please, marmalade or jam.



Easter Biscuits


100g organic golden caster sugar

100g soft butter

1 organic egg

150g plain flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

2 tbsp milk

a tiny drop of oil of cassia or 1 tsp mixed spice

80g currants



Heat your oven to 200˚C and put greaseproof paper on a big baking tray. Beat the sugar and butter together until soft and fluffy, then add the egg and whip until fully incorporated. Fold in the flour, baking powder and spice. Gently mix the lot together whilst adding the milk (tweak your quota of milk to yield a roll-out-able dough). Lastly, knead in the currants.

On a floured table, roll your dough to about 5mm thick then stamp out your biscuits with a cutter and lay on the tray. Bake until the edges just start to turn golden and they have the tiniest bit of colour underneath (about 12 minutes) – remove immediately. Sprinkle with caster sugar while still hot, then allow to cool.



Simnel Cake

Cake batter

125g soft butter

125g organic soft brown sugar

3 small organic eggs

170g white flour

a big, three fingered pinch each of baking powder and mixed spice

a small pinch of ground cinnamon

1 tbsp golden syrup

1 shot of brandy

150g marzipan



125g sultanas

125g currants

125g glacé cherries

the chopped peel of 1 orange and 1 lemon



250g marzipan

apricot jam

1 beaten egg



Heat your oven to 150˚C. Grease and line a 7″ round cake tin. Beat the butter and sugar together until soft and fluffy then slowly meld in the eggs by whipping at speed. Once the eggs are fully incorporated, cast the flour, spices, golden syrup and brandy into the mix and beat thoroughly so that the batter you have is lump free. Gradually stir in all the fruit.

Pour half of the mixture into the tin and level it off. Cover this with 150g of marzipan, rolled out to the width of a little finger and cut to fit the tin. Add the remaining cake mix on top, smoothing it down with a slight dip in the middle, allowing for the cake to rise. Bake the cake for an hour and a half, or until a skewer comes out clean when pushed into the centre. Remove the cake from its tin and leave to cool on a wire rack.

Once cool, brush the cake with the apricot jam, then roll out two thirds of the 250g of marzipan and cut to fit the top of the cake. Make 11 faithful apostle balls with the last of the marzipan and set them around the circumference of the cake. Paint with the beaten eggs then singe the top-most bits under the grill or with a blow-torch.

Serving suggestion: eat on its own, with a cup of tea, or with a slice of mild tangy cheese (Gorwydd Caerphilly works very well). If you can’t eat it all at once this cake will last for years!

Photo by Nick Seaton.

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  • Hot cross buns and all the spicy cakes of Easter are a welcome break to the strictures of Lent (If you’ve been observing them). For me, it is the promise of new vegetables which is one of the delights of spring. Very soon we will have little artichokes, wonderful deep-fried in Italian egg-white batter, asparagus and peas. Right now though, among the continuing dark green of kale and cabbage, are the first sticks of rhubarb.

    Rhubarb, nature’s spring tonic, has the purgative powers which come from the chryosophanic acid the root contains. The leaves contain oxalic acid, which is also present in chards and give that odd metallic taste which makes spinach and wine a horrible combination. However, it should be noted that the content in rhubarb leaves is many times greater than in chards and is very toxic, so, however keen you are on nose to tail eating, desist with the rhubarb.

    Always a slightly poor relation in the fruit stakes (possibly because it’s a vegetable), rhubarb has a place in the heart of the stout Anglo Saxon, in wonderful crumbles and pies served with fluorescent yellow custard at school, or something much nicer made with egg yolks and vanilla now we’re grown up. I usually put stem ginger and syrup over the rhubarb in these dishes. Angelica is also good, as is orange – you can make a lovely rhubarb fool with cream and some dreadful orange liqueur lurking in the back of the cupboard which seemed like a good idea when you bought it in Sicily 6 years ago.

    In countries around the Baltic (of which more later), rhubarb is combined with potatoes. In the middle east it is combined with spinach. The Jews of Syria scramble eggs with it:

    Beid Ru’and

    2 garlic cloves (chopped) tbsp vegetable oil

    500g rhubarb, cut up 5-6 eggs, beaten with a fork

    ½ tsp allspice 2 tsp kosher salt

    1 tbsp fresh mint leaves, less if they are dried

    Sauté the garlic until soft. Add rhubarb, cover and cook for about 15 mins until it is soft. Pour eggs and seasonings into pan and stir until set. Serve with mint leaves over the top.

    Much further north, in the band of birch which runs around the top of the hemisphere through Canada, Russia, Latvia, Lithuania and Scandinavia, the soil is poor. But, as elsewhere, the coming of Spring requires a reviving jolt to the system. Every spring, taps are put into the trunks and the resulting highly nutritious liquid sweetened and fermented for a while, and then drunk. Here is an instructional Latvian film:

    I tried to find a local park willing to have its birch trees tapped, without success. However, a Latvian friend, newly returned, has bought bottles of it. It tastes slightly like rancid barley water. The Canadians put birch essence on pancakes already doused in maple syrup which sounds less Spartan and more enjoyable, though possibly misses the point of Spring cleansing.