By Jenny McCoy — Chef Instructor, School of Pastry & Baking Arts

I have a vivid memory of a bun-related conversation with my grandmother. As she walked me home from day camp, I remarked that I wanted a bun in my hair. (I never had long hair; my mother thought a pixie haircut was “just so cute!” Naturally, long hair was all I ever longed for. That and braces.) My grandmother’s retort: “You want a bun from the bakery in your hair?” Perhaps that’s when my fascination for buns, rolls and all other warm, yeasty and sometimes sweet delights began.

hot cross buns

Springtime rolls around and out come trays of hot cross buns, adorning the display windows of European bakeries. An obsession with their soft tender crumb, fragrant spices and candied orange rind, and the strangely satisfying chewy texture of the doughy cross, is a cross I have to bear. I try to sample as many as possible — sometimes suddenly stopping my car to park when I come across a new bakery, just to compare them to the many dozens of buns I’ve enjoyed since childhood. I’ve tasted them while traveling throughout the south of England (on a tour of cathedrals, no less); I’ve sampled their Italian and Austrian counterparts on Good Friday in Florence and Vienna; and I’ve had countless rolls made by the plump-fingered Polish ladies whose bakeries I frequented while growing up on Chicago’s north side. Yet all of that abruptly came to a stop a few years ago, thanks to our dean of bread baking, Sim Cass. His recipe for hot cross buns is the absolute best I’ve ever tried. It is downright perfect, easy to execute and traditional in its roots — my kind of recipe. I’ve tweaked it ever so slightly, so I hope Chef Sim doesn’t damn me forevermore… keep reading, I’ll explain.

A few fun facts about these underappreciated buns:

Some people believe they can ward off evil spirits.

The cross is said to symbolize holiness; but, delicious as they are, I have no faith that these tasty little baked goods will save us from any harm.

The darned things have been damned!

These delectable sweets, with origins tracing back to ancient Greece, were recently banned in England from being served in schools, hospitals and other public institutions, as a means to prevent public endorsements of any one religion.

Icing evolution.                  

Traditionally, the cross decorating the buns was made from a simple paste of flour and water. Over time the cross has changed and some bakers mark their buns with a sweet frosting called fondant, which is similar to the icing used to top a cinnamon roll.

Let’s break bread, shall we?

Just as the saying goes, hot cross buns are quite commonly given as gifts during Easter, as a symbol of friendship and kindness. So regardless of your religious beliefs, you can gladly accept and enjoy them if you so choose. Just turn them 90 degrees and you’ll have an X instead of a cross — X marks the delicious spot.

hot cross buns

Hot Cross Buns
Servings: makes two dozen rolls

Ingredients:

7 cups bread flour
¼ whole nutmeg, finely grated
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground allspice
½ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¾ sticks unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 ½ cups whole milk
¼ cup honey
2 envelopes (½ ounce) instant active yeast
4 large eggs, divided
Finely grated zest of 1 orange
½ cup (2 ounces) candied citron peel, finely minced
1 ½ cups raisins
Nonstick cooking spray
1 recipe cross paste (recipe follows)
1 recipe honey syrup glaze (recipe follows)

Preparation:

  • In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, spices, sugar and salt and mix on low speed for one minute. Add the butter and continue to mix on low speed until the mixture resembles grated Parmesan cheese and absolutely no lumps or pieces of butter remain, about eight minutes. Meanwhile, warm the milk to about 100° F. Add the yeast and honey and stir to combine.
  • Switch from the paddle attachment to the dough hook. With the mixer running on low speed, slowly add the milk and yeast mixture to the dry ingredients and butter mixture in the mixer bowl. Add three of the eggs to the mixer, one at a time. Add the orange zest. Once the dough has mixed into one solid piece, mix the dough on low speed for three minutes. Increase the mixer to medium speed for four minutes until the dough is smooth. Add the candied citron and raisins to the mixer and continue to mix on medium speed for two minutes to combine. Remove the bowl from the mixer, lightly cover with plastic wrap, and let the dough rise at room temperature until doubled in size, 45 minutes to one hour.
  • Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350° F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Once the dough has risen, divide the dough into 24 equal-sized pieces (about 2 ½ ounces each or a piece the size of a racquet ball). Roll each piece into a small ball, taking care to tuck in any raisins poking out of the dough (they can burn easily in the hot oven). Arrange the rolls of dough on the baking sheet in a 4 x 6 roll grid. Lightly spray the rolls with nonstick cooking spray and lightly cover with a sheet of plastic wrap. Let the rolls rise at room temperature until increased in size by about 75%, about 45 minutes.
  • Remove the plastic wrap. Lightly beat the remaining egg in a small bowl. Brush the entire surface area of the rolls with the beaten egg. Carefully pipe a line of the cross paste across the rows of rolls in one direction, then repeat in the opposite direction to create a cross pattern.
  • Bake the rolls until a deep golden brown, rotating the tray halfway through the baking, about 35 to 45 minutes. Remove the rolls from the oven and let cool on the tray placed on a cooling rack. Immediately brush the rolls evenly with the honey syrup glaze until no glaze remains. Let cool until just warm enough to handle and serve immediately, or cool to room temperature and store in an airtight container for up to two days. To store longer, transfer the cooled rolls to a freezer bag and freeze for up to four weeks. Thaw at room temperature and microwave to warm up for a few seconds before serving.

Cross paste:

Ingredients:

1 cup bread flour
1 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil

Preparation:

  • Combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and whisk until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a pastry bag fitted with a small round piping bag and set aside at room temperature until ready to use.

Honey syrup glaze

Ingredients:

¼ cup granulated sugar
½ cup water
¼ cup honey
2 pinches of salt

Preparation:

  • Combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Let simmer for three minutes and set aside at room temperature until ready to use.

Learn to bake buns (and more!) like a pro with Chef Jenny — click here for information on ICE’s career programs.

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Chef Cara Tannenbaum’s first childhood memory of eating real chopped liver (on fresh rye bread, of course) goes back to the day her family moved to their new home on Long Island. As the years passed, healthy eating became a way of life in the Tannenbaum household and they replaced the traditional schmaltz-filled chopped liver with a vegetarian version loaded with caramelized onions, mushrooms, peas and walnuts — to add plenty of savory yumminess. As sometimes happens, the progeny eclipsed the original and vegetarian “chopped liver” has become a Passover staple in Chef Cara’s home. Try her recipe for yourself and you’ll see why.

mock chopped liver

Vegetarian Chopped Liver
Servings: makes 2 cups

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 large onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup sliced button mushrooms
1 cup fresh or frozen peas
1 cup (3 ½ ounces) walnut pieces
2 large eggs, hard-boiled
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Matzoh crackers or sliced rye bread (for serving)

Preparation:

  • Heat the oil in a medium skillet over low heat. Add the onion, season with one teaspoon of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. It will take that long to caramelize the onion and cook it to a deep color that reveals its characteristic flavor. Keep the heat low, move the slices occasionally in the pan and have patience.
  • Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms soften and release their liquid, about five minutes. Add the peas, cover the skillet and cook the mixture for an additional five minutes, or until the peas are cooked through. Overcooking the peas won’t hurt here; a dull green color will help duplicate the look of liver. Remove from the heat and cool.
  • Roughly chop the walnuts in the work bowl of a food processor. Add the cooled vegetables and process until a thick paste forms, about 45 seconds. Remove the mixture from the bowl and set it aside. Without cleaning the bowl, process the eggs until they are roughly chopped, about 10 seconds. Fold them into the vegetable mixture.
  • Season with the remaining teaspoon of salt and the pepper and chill for at least three hours or up to three days in a well-sealed container. Bring to room temperature 30 minutes before serving. Serve with matzoh crackers or freshly sliced rye bread.

Learn how to make all of our chefs’ holiday favorites — click here to browse ICE’s recreational cooking and baking courses.

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“Once you’ve tasted this Irish soda bread, you’ll never buy a loaf from the bakery again,” says ICE Chef Instructor Sarah Chaminade. Members of the ICE team, who had the chance to sample the goods, would happily concur — that this is truly the best Irish soda bread recipe. But what exactly is soda bread? According to Chef Sarah, “Some say it resembles more of a scone than bread since it doesn’t contain any yeast. You can find hundreds of different recipes — some include caraway seeds and others even add eggs. If you ask true Irish lads or lasses, they’ll tell you soda bread must have only four ingredients: flour, salt, baking soda and buttermilk.” Baked with caraway seeds, currants and even a shot of whiskey, Chef Sarah’s recipe departs from the original yet still captures the essence of this classic Irish goody. With St. Patrick’s Day around the corner, there’s no better time to master Irish soda bread. 

Irish Soda Bread

Irish Soda Bread

Ingredients:

4 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 1/2 teaspoons caraway seeds
1 cup dried currants
2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest
1/3 cup honey
1 1/2 cups buttermilk, or combine 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice for every cup of milk
1/4 cup Irish whiskey
Flour for kneading

Preparation:

  • Preheat oven to 350° F.
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix on low speed to combine. Raise the speed to medium low and add the butter, a piece or two at a time, until all of the butter has been incorporated and the mixture is crumbly. This will take 4-5 minutes.
  • Add the caraway seeds, honey, orange zest, currants and, finally, the buttermilk and whiskey. Mix until just combined.
  • Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead a few times to smooth the mixture into a round loaf and transfer to a nonstick baking sheet. Make a cross hatch design (just breaking the skin of the dough) on top of the loaf with a knife and sprinkle with a bit of flour.
  • Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the loaf is set and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Let the bread cool on a rack and serve warm or at room temperature.

Learn to bake like a pro with Chef Sarah — click here for information on ICE’s Pastry & Baking Arts program.

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Chef James Briscione recently traveled to Bahia, a state on the northeast coast of Brazil. Through daily trips to the market, tasting indigenous ingredients and getting into the kitchen with local chefs, Chef James discovered Bahian cuisine. Here’s one of Chef James’ favorite recipes from his Brazilian culinary exploration: UXUA moqueca — a rich, delicate seafood stew, with white fish, shrimp and creamy coconut milk. Balanced and delicious, this stew’s always in season.

moqueca

UXUA Moqueca
Servings: 2

Ingredients:

6 ounces shrimp
6 ounces firm, white fish (like halibut or cod)
1 green pepper, diced
1 tomato, diced
1 white onion, diced
24 fluid ounces coconut milk
3 red chilies, diced
Fresh parsley and fresh cilantro, chopped
2 tablespoons palm oil
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and pepper

moqueca

Preparation:

  • Season the shrimp and fish with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Set aside.
  • Heat palm oil in a large pot. Add the onion, tomato and peppers, cook for a minute, then add the fish and sauté well. Add the coconut milk and simmer for about three minutes. Next, add the shrimp, chili, parsley and coriander. Stir gently and cook for around 10 minutes. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
  • Reserve about 1½ cups of the cooking liquid to make the pirão (manioc cream).
  • Serve with white rice, plantain farofa (the above-pictured dish to the right of the seafood stew — see recipe below), manioc cream and pepper sauce.

Pirão or Manioc Cream

Ingredients:

1½ cups cooking liquid
¼ cup manioc flour

Preparation:

  • Place liquid in a small pot over low-medium heat.
  • While whisking constantly, gradually add manioc flour. Continue to whisk until consistency is firm and creamy like porridge.

Plantain Farofa

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons palm oil
1 tablespoon salted butter
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 small plantain, sliced
1½ cups manioc flour
Salt
Fresh parsley, chopped

Preparation:

  • Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add butter and garlic and sauté for one minute. Add the plantain and sauté for another minute.
  • While continuously stirring with a spatula, add the manioc flour. Cook until the flour is well toasted, about three minutes.
  • Season with salt and finish with the parsley.

Explore the culinary arts with Chef James – click here for information on ICE’s career programs.

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Alternative flours — like chickpea flour, banana flour and grapeseed flour — can add a nutritional kick and a tasty nuance to many everyday recipes. Though substituting your tried-and-true AP flour may seem a little intimidating at first, once you have a few recipes under your belt you can add these alternative flours to your regular cooking and baking repertoire. To help you get there, Chef Sarah Chaminade is sharing three new recipes that she developed for ICE and Direct Eats using alternative flours. First, Chef Sarah uses chickpea flour to add a sweet and creamy texture to her chickpea canapés. Then, Chef Sarah demonstrates how to make a gluten-free angel food cake using banana flour —with all of the lightness and none of the gluten. Then, she uses merlot grapeseed flour in her chocolate chip cookies to create a gluten-free and vegan take on the classic recipe. Watch the video below, and then scroll to get the recipes.

Chickpea Canapé
Servings: three to four dozen individual canapés, depending on the size of each

In Liguria, the region flanking Genoa along Italy’s northwest coast, farinata is a classic dish. Farinata is a thin chickpea cake typically cooked in a wood-burning oven. In Liguria, bake shops put signs in their windows announcing the time that the farinata will be ready and customers line up to buy it. It’s a perfect snack when eaten like a piece of pizza on waxed butcher paper. Farinata, just like pizza, can be stuffed or garnished with any vegetable, cheese or sauce.

Ingredients:

3 cups chickpea flour
5 cups chicken stock, vegetable stock or water
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon thyme, chopped
1 teaspoon rosemary, chopped
1 teaspoon oregano, chopped
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
Optional garnish: dollop of creme fraîche, crispy prosciutto or micro herbs like micro arugula

Preparation:

  • Preheat convection oven to 450 °F (or 475 °F for a conventional home oven).
  • Combine chickpea flour and water with whisk until smooth — let sit for 1 hour to allow batter to thicken slightly.
  • Stir in remaining ingredients.
  • Pour the batter onto a silicone baking mat or a baking sheet lined with parchment. Spread evenly with spatula and bake for 30-40 minutes until golden brown.
  • Use a knife or pizza cutter to cut farinata into squares (5×7 or 6×8, depending on the size you prefer) and top with optional garnish.

* Recipe adapted from Ciao Italia by Mary Ann Esposito

Gluten-Free Banana Flour Angel Food Cake
Yield: one cake

1 10-inch angel food cake pan with removable bottom
15 egg whites, room temperature (note: it’s essential that they are at room temperature!)
1 pinch of salt
½ cup plus ¾ cup coconut sugar
1½ cups banana flour
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean
* Flavor variations:
Replace vanilla with zest of one lemon, two limes or half an orange, or replace vanilla with two teaspoons of cinnamon

Preparation:

  • Preheat oven to 350 °F.
  • In a very clean, dry mixing bowl combine egg whites and salt and whip to soft peaks. Gradually add ½ cup of coconut sugar. Continue to whip egg whites to medium peaks, being careful to not over whip.
  • In a separate bowl, sift together the remaining coconut sugar and banana flour.
  • Gradually sift dry ingredients into the whipped whites, folding gently to be careful not to deflate.
  • Fold in vanilla extract and vanilla bean.
  • Pour batter into an ungreased angel food pan, spreading carefully to distribute batter evenly — do not bang the cake pan, as this will cause the batter to deflate.
  • Bake for 50 min, or until golden brown and cake springs back when lightly touched.
  • Remove from oven and invert onto a cooling rack without removing the mold.
  • Allow the cake to cool completely before unmolding.

Vegan, Gluten-Free Merlot Grapeseed Flour Chocolate Chip Cookies
Yield: one dozen cookies

2 ½ cups almond flour
¼ cup merlot grapeseed flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ cup coconut oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
½ cup agave
1 cup 72% bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Preparation:

  • Preheat oven to 325 °F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Melt the coconut oil in microwave or on stove top. In a medium bowl, combine all wet ingredients.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.
  • Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients, mixing with a rubber spatula or spoon to combine.
  • Stir in the chocolate chunks, and allow the mixture to chill in refrigerator at least 30 minutes.
  • Using a cookie scoop, scoop mixture onto your prepared baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes.
  • Let cool before enjoying. Because these cookies stay nice and moist, they taste great the next day too.

Master culinary or pastry arts with ICE’s expert chef instructors — click here for information on our career programs.

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