While in my last post I extolled the joys of the five-day Easter weekend, I spent this whole week at work scrambling to get up to speed with everything. Hence, my lack of presence round here. The intention was definitely there, but the time didn’t materialise. Anyway the upshot of this is that if the food blogging world was a party, my hot cross buns would be Kate Moss, arriving scandalously late and with a fabulous rockstar on their arm, making everyone else wish they’d dared to be so louche and devil-may-care.
At least that’s what I tell myself.
As well as my seasonal buns, you can also look forward to a surprising amount of cafe reviews and a little shoutout to myself for being born upon a particular day (yesterday, if you're wondering).
To provide a bit of context, I made my initial batch of hot cross buns on Easter Sunday. I’d just flown back to Wellington from Auckland where I saw The Winter’s Tale. It was a spellbinding production, for a three hour play it flew by and stellar performances were delivered by all, despite the fact that the theatre was far from full (cough ‘economic climate’ cough). I’ll be frank, I wasn’t wildly taken with Ethan Hawke’s Hamlet (and much less taken with Julia Stiles’ Ophelia) but in The Winter’s Tale he was fabulous, playing his character like the lovechild of Bob Dylan and Captain Jack Sparrow. But Shakespearean.
Before I went up to Auckland I scoured through my Cuisine magazines and sussed out where some fun foodie shops were so I could hunt them down and possibly part company with a business card or two for my blog while spending time and money therein. The fates (and possibly stupidity) were against me as I just couldn’t find a bus to Mt Eden, where said shops were located. I can’t say it served to endear the city to me, however I did spend a happy hour or so at the art gallery taking in the delightful Yinka Shonibare exhibition.
I also met a friend at Alleluya Cafe in St Kevin's Arcade on Karangahape Road. Apparently it is the sort of place that attracts the sort of people that attracts the sort of words like "hipster" and "scene", but it wasn't intimidatingly so when I arrived on Saturday afternoon. My coffee, a long black, didn't arrive but the guy behind the counter looked so shocked - nay, crestfallen, when I told him I'd been waiting for a while that I didn't harbour any animosity, especially when it finally arrived with a complimentary biscotti and was the smoothest, mellowest black coffee I've had in forever. My friend and I shared a slice of lemon yoghurt cake, which was pleasant, and a piece of Jewish ginger cake, which was way good and still haunts my dreams a week later.
St Kevin's Arcade, K'Rd, Auckland CBD
Verdict: Ignore the sneaking suspicion that you're not cool enough to be there because the coffee is gorgeous and it was worth the plane fare for that Jewish ginger cake alone.
Back in familiar Wellington and on a Shakespeare high, I got stuck into the joyful task of making hot cross buns following Nigella’s recipe from Feast. Everything was going well until the final hurdle. I burnt the sodding things. Considering they took the better part of the afternoon I was mightily unhappy, but I could only blame myself for letting them bake for too long.
Having said that it took only a bare amount of convincing to make another batch the next day. Upon closer inspection the burnt buns were still salvageable – I cut off and discarded all the severely blackened parts, bagged the lot up and put it in the freezer, where they will one day become the base of a warm, spicy bread and butter pudding. I can’t wait. For round two I tried an Alison Holst recipe, partly because I was intrigued by her method and partly because there’s something suspiciously trustworthy about her.
Hot Cross Buns
As I said, the method is a little unusual but don’t be scared – it’s seriously easy and the finished buns have a marvellous texture.
1 cup milk
½ cup hot water
2 T sugar
4 tsps/1 sachet active dried yeast
2 cups high grade strong bread flour
100g soft butter
½ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 T mixed spice
1 T cinnarmon
1 t ground cloves
1 cup currants/sultanas
2-3 cups high grade strong bread flour
Place the first four ingredients into a large bowl, making sure that the liquid is neither too warm nor too cold before you add the yeast. Stir in the first measure of flour, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and leave in a warm place to rise. This won’t take a heck of a long time – maybe half an hour.
Meanwhile, cream the butter and sugar together, add the egg, salt, spices and dried fruit. Following a suggestion of Nigella’s I added some cardamom seeds here which worked beautifully. The spices get really diluted in the dough so don’t worry about the fact that the measurements look large. When the original mixture has doubled in size and is looking spongy, mix in the fruit mixture and the second measure of flour. Knead till it comes together in a springy ball, then form into 16-24 buns. Arrange on a paper-lined tray, cover with plastic wrap and leave to rise, which they should do significantly. Don’t leave them for too long – trust your eyes.
Alison recommends a mixture of flour, butter and water rolled into thin strips for the crosses but I found that they tended to fall off after baking. Anyway, brush the buns with milk and lay the crosses o’er them. Bake uncovered at 225 C for 10-12 minutes till browned lightly.
Well Alison, you win this time. These hot cross buns were immensely delicious, filling the kitchen, as with many kitchens across the world, with a warm, cinnamony scent, like a hug in perfume form. I flagrantly added a handful of chocolate chips to the dough and...I liked it. A lot.
Needless to say, they were at their best still warm from the oven and liberally buttered. I'm thinking this recipe is definitely a keeper and would like to make these buns in other forms - without the crosses - throughout the year, as the basic recipe is too good to keep confined to one day in April.
Speaking of one day in April, yesterday was my birthday and I gotta say, I didn’t have high expectations. I almost forgot that it was coming up – it felt as though it was a shadowy date in the vague distance as opposed to being on the immediate agenda – and I’ve had a hearty cough getting the better of me this week, not to mention the fact that I was working. Nevertheless it turned out to be one of the nicest self-anniversaries I’ve had in a long time. Everyone at work was lovely – there were balloons and flowers on my desk, a coffee appeared out of nowhere, I was taken out to lunch and a homemade banana cake replete with candles was produced at the beginning of a three hour meeting in the afternoon, all completely unexpectedly. Extended family members from home sent me a kitchen blowtorch, which I’m quite wild to use on a crème brulee pronto, I had cards sent from dad and my great-aunty, and there were text-messages a-plenty. Mum, who is in Argentina, put a video of her charming classroom singing Happy Birthday to me in Spanish and English. With all of that it’s amazing I wasn’t weeping sentimentally the whole day. In case you are wondering, I am now 23, which is hopefully still young enough to be 'interesting' as a food blogger.
After work Tim and I bought a bottle of cheap red and found this adorable middle Eastern BYO called Casablanca to quaff it in. The service was perfect, the food was cheap, plentiful and fast, and the atmosphere was delightful. It’s not very fancy, but it’s fun, and the food tastes comfortingly home-made as opposed to assembled. A small plate of complimentary bread and dips appeared after we sat down, and we were asked if we were ready for our mains to be made after we finished our starters, both nice little touches that made the dining experience that much better. I wish I’d had my camera to take a photo of my taboulleh which was particularly delicious – full of verdant, fresh parsely and juicy tomato.
18 Cambridge Tce (off Courtenay Place)
Verdict: It's not the Logan Brown but it's probably more fun (unless some kind benefactor wants to shout me dinner there and refute this opinion). The menu could charitably be described as succinct, but what's there is nicely done. I can definitely see myself returning.
From there we spent a significant amount of time at one of my favourite haunts in town, a themed bar called Alice, tucked away down an unassuming side road off Tory Street. You tunnel through a quiet, curtained corridor and emerge into a softly-lit, split level room which seeks to recreate some kind of Alice in Wonderland experience. The drinks are expensive but classy and potent, and you can make them worth your while if you get one of the cocktails for two which comes in a teapot. The bar is much lower than the floor itself which adds to the surreal effect and there are framed illustrations from the novel and distorted mirrors everywhere. I’m not describing it very well but it’s a great place to sit for hours having cosy discussions about things that seem very important at the time, which is exactly what we did.
After concluding that the only way we’d get away with sitting there any longer would be to spend a small fortune on another cocktail, we decided to hightail it out of there for a fortifying coffee. I have to say, betraying my country village background maybe, that personally there is something hugely exciting about getting a coffee or a bite to eat late at night – it makes me feel deliciously sophisticated and worldly, and of course by being so excited about it instantly renders me distinctly un-sophisticated. But there you have it. We chose to patronise Deluxe, which is apparently something of a Wellington institution. It has so far always passed me by, because it’s only fairly recently that I’ve had more of an income to spend recklessly on coffee from funky cafes.
Deluxe is hugely popular in Wellington, even at 11.00pm we had to strain to find a table. I’ll be honest, our coffee wasn’t the best I’ve ever had, but I suspect this was due to the fact that it was late at night and we’d had a couple of drinks and were therefore perhaps not a priority for quality control. Which is a shame, if this is true, but it’s better than the idea that their coffee is generally below average, yes? I’ve certainly had worse, and the delicious chocolate brownie that Tim and I shared raised our opinion of the place. We sat there for about half an hour, pretending to be hipsters as we drank our late night black coffee and chuckled over the pithy content in Vice magazine. I think I’ll definitely try Deluxe again, as 11.00pm on a Friday night is hardly condusive to a thorough, well thought critique of a café.
10 Kent Terrace (Next to the glorious Embassy Theatre)
04 801 5455
Verdict: This place probably is too cool for us, but that won't stop me returning to give it a proper scrutiny. As it is, my opinion doesn't matter since it is constantly packed with customers.
This morning Tim and I met with our friend Dr-to-be Scotty at Roxy Café. I hastily snapped some photos of what we ate, the images aren’t great but the food was. Special mention must be made about the hash browns, which were large, crunchy without and deliciously potato-ey within, and quite the nicest that I’ve had in a long time. Good friends and hash browns is a winning combination and we had a lovely morning talking smack with Scott.
Above: My French Toast with fresh fruit (and I ordered a hash brown on the side.) The toast itself was great, and generous at three pieces, although I felt that the chopped apple, pear and banana that made up the bulk of my "fresh fruit" was a little cheap, could they not have stretched to a stone fruit or something? The hash brown was fantastic.
Above: Tim and Scott ordered big breakfasts with extra hash browns. According to Tim his poached egg was perfect, and of course you already know about the hash browns at this place. Although I was comfortably full after my meal, I found myself looking wistfully at the small but intriguing lunch menu, which features some delicious sounding choices. The service was fine, I like that they brought out a carafe of water right away, and the cafe itself was a cool and airy respite from the heat of the outside world this morning.
203-205 Cuba St
Verdict: All I can think about right now is their hash browns. This place is very nice and I'd definitely like to try it out again, the pricing is pretty reasonable so this shouldn't be an issue. They get an extra star for serving butter on a little dish with the big breakfasts. This sort of behaviour is to be encouraged.
If you made it through all that then congratulations. And I mean really reading it, not just looking at the pictures. There's gold in them thar paragraphs.
Next time: While up in Auckland I bought a fabulous Italian cookbook which I've already delved into and of course you know how excited I am about my kitchen blowtorch. I forsee a creme brulee on the horizon...