I promised you some treats to make with the family this month, and thinking of what to choose took me back to my own childhood. We spent many family holidays in Frinton on Sea in Essex where the sea was always chilly and the wind often equally so, and when I remember swimming in the sea, the picture that always comes quickly to mind is of my blue, mottled, shivering knees.
(Here I am with my brother, Peter – can’t you just feel that whistling wind?!)
In spite of not only the cold but also the jellyfish stings, my memories are happy ones and that’s largely because there was always a treat waiting when we came out of the sea. My mother would buy iced buns from the local baker and have them standing by as we came up the beach, and I’ve never forgotten the joy of being greeted by her, holding a paper bag in one hand and a mug of tea, which had been brewed on a primus stove, in the other. The sweet taste of that bun always made up for the discomfort of the icy swim.
When you have the time, kneading dough is one of the greatest pleasures in cooking – and a terrific way to get out any frustrations. Children love it – an excuse to get their hands sticky and messy, and with a delicious result at the end of it – and it’s a wonderful way to begin to learn the magic of science: to watch that dough rising as if by magic through the power of yeast is very special.
Simple and delicious, these old-fashioned buns are great as a treat with their topping of icing, or, if you reduce the amount of sugar in the dough to 25g and leave off the icing, they work well with hot dogs and other savoury fillings. There’s nothing quite like home-made bread – especially if you eat it warm from the oven.
- 500g plain flour
- Pinch of salt
- 50g butter
- 75g caster sugar
- 1 x 7g sachet fast action dried yeast
- 2 medium eggs, lightly beaten
- 225ml milk
- 1 packet Jane Asher vanilla icing mix
- Pink food colouring
- Mix the flour and salt together in a large bowl. Rub in the butter until there are no large lumps left, then stir in the sugar and dried yeast. Make a well in the centre. Warm the milk in a pan or in the microwave until tepid, then pour it into the mixing bowl, together with the beaten egg.
- Stir the mixture with a wooden spoon until it begins to come together into a sticky, very soft dough. Continue to work it with the spoon, adding a little extra flour as necessary until you can turn it out onto the work surface lightly dusted with flour. Knead it with your hands for ten minutes or so until the dough is elastic and springy.
- Put the dough into a lightly oiled bowl and cover with oiled food wrap or a damp cloth. Put in a warm place until almost doubled in size – this can take up to a couple of hours.
- Lightly oil a large baking tray. Turn the dough out again onto the floured surface and divide into 12, kneading each lightly and rolling into a sausage shape. Place the buns spaced apart in two rows on the baking tray and cover loosely with oiled food wrap and put in a warm place for half an hour or so to rise again.
- Pre-heat the oven to 220C, (205C fan-assisted, 410F, gas mark 7).
- When the buns have risen again, bake them for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 190C (175C fan-assisted, 375F, gas mark 5) and bake for a further 2-3 minutes. The buns will rise further as they cook, and will be touching each other and browned on top when ready. Allow to cool for a couple of minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.
- Once the buns are completely cold, make up some glace icing as directed on the packet. Break the buns apart and spread the icing over them with a palette knife. Ice half of them, then add a few drops of pink food colouring to the rest of the icing and spread over the remaining buns. Leave to set for half an hour or so before eating.