Yeast, Britishness, and a Recipe for Toasted Teacakes
Jonathan Roberts for the Village Voice
I'm British, a New York transplant for over half a decade now, which sounds longer than six years, which is, in fact, the accurate number of years that I have lived here. But I think it's time to politely mention that what my adopted home city makes up for in snow, it lacks in things you toast to eat with a cup of tea.
Say what you like about my native cuisine, Britain, in my opinion, leads the world in the culinary category of things you toast and eat with a cup of tea: crumpets, pikelets, Eccles cakes, currant buns, muffins, Scotch pancakes, hot cross buns, and, especially, teacakes.
Teacakes are fruited buns, a little like a hot cross bun, but not quite as sweet. You bake them, then you slice them and toast them, and spread them with butter.
Now, at first glance, they may not seem like the kind of thing you would make, because, yeast. And I have some sympathy with that position. My entire family loves teacakes but would never, ever make one from scratch, though my sister once made pâté that took three days of processes, and my grandma regularly made her own puff pastry. Yes. Puff. Anyway. So yeast. So what?
You can totally achieve these buns.
Here's how you do it:
Dry ingredients: 1 3/4 cups flour (strong bread flour) pinch of salt pinch of cinnamon and ginger, tsp orange zest (all optional) 2/3 cup mixed dried fruits — I use sultanas, raisins, and (not traditional, but still) cranberries
"Wet" ingredients: 3/4 cup milk (plus a dab for brushing pre-baking) 1 tbsp sugar 1 tsp fast-acting dried yeast
- Heat the milk in the microwave until bath-water temperature. Add the sugar, stir, sprinkle on the yeast, and let it sit in a warm place for 10 minutes until the yeast is foamy.
- Meanwhile, put the flour in the mixer and add the pinch of salt, cinnamon, ginger, and orange zest.
- Pour in the milk mixture and stir into a dough. Knead with the dough hook for 5 mins until the dough is smooth and elastic. Add the dried fruit and mix again for a couple of minutes until the fruit is evenly distributed. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm place until doubled in size (about 45 minutes to 1 hour).
- Dump the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knock the air out of it. Cut it into 8 pieces; shape and roll them into little buns.
- Put the buns on a non-stick baking sheet, cover with a towel, and let them rise again until doubled in size (1 hour).
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Brush the buns with milk, then bake for 15 minutes until golden. Let them cool. Split them in half and toast. Serve with plenty of butter.
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