MY COOKING revolves entirely around the seasons, and the arrival of spring is always a sign that the new kitchen year has begun. Now I look forward to another exciting year of relishing nature’s seasonal food marriages.
Easter and the welcoming of spring is one of the most exciting times in my kitchen. The days become brighter and lighter, and a collection of fantastic fresh seasonal produce arrives at the restaurant, allowing me to work with a host of new ingredients, recipes and menus.
Before Easter weekend comes, I find myself imagining a fresh, sunny weekend spent in a newly flourishing spring garden – even though the Scottish weather is never quite that reliable. I seem to get that bit more energy just by seeing the blossoms coming through on the trees and the bright daffodils standing tall in the grass. Then I know the brilliant green vegetables, the fresh seasonal seafood and fragrant fresh herbs will be soon arriving at my door.
In April many spring ingredients are at their peak, so it’s worth making the most of them as soon as they arrive. It’s the perfect time of year to get out and start sourcing all the wonderful produce in stores, so visit your local fishmonger for the freshest crab, forage for watercress, wild garlic and herbs, or plan a day out picking morels.
Easter is also a date in our calendar that means spending time together as a family, and we always have a few visitors around. My wife and the children like to adorn the house with small, delicate and colourful Easter decorations to give it that special feel of spring, using twigs and blossoms. In recent years, Easter decorations have started to become much more popular in this country, and there is a variety of decorations available in the shops. I find they really brighten things up, and it’s another one of those Easter traditions the children just love.
Even at the restaurant, I enjoy the harmony of the seasons – and not just in my food. So we make the most of the beautiful spring blooms for our flower arrangements as well, and always keep our flowers as Scottish as possible.
We love spending time in the outdoors as a family, relishing the joys of spring, and the boys just adore running around with their friends – and grandparents, for that matter – whenever they get the chance.
It’s a bit of a family tradition with us now to arrange a treasure hunt for Easter. We load up our baskets with chocolate eggs and hide them in the garden or around the house if the weather is bad. It’s such a fun way to spend the day – unless the dog manages to get to the eggs before we do. Once all the eggs have been found, the children get so much excitement from tasting their ‘hidden treasure’ – and we love just watching them.
This year we’ll be spending the Easter weekend in the countryside for a special family get-together. There will be a whole bunch of us of all ages, but I’m determined to get everyone taking part in some Easter egg treasure hunts. It’s also great to have something prepared and on hand that everyone can enjoy for a wee snack, no matter what age they are or, indeed, what time of day it is. Spicy hot cross buns epitomise the taste, sight and smell of a nostalgic Easter, and they’re perfect to enjoy morning, afternoon or evening.
You can really impress friends and family by making your own. Baking them fresh in the oven brings a delightfully spicy aroma to the whole house. And if your guests time it just right, you can all enjoy them together, fresh, fluffy and warm, straight from the oven, with melting, mouth-watering butter and seasonal home-made jams or jellies.
Hot cross buns are also just perfect if you’re celebrating with a crowd. We like to pack up a portion of them in our basket and take them out on our walk, to enjoy while we’re on our treasure hunt.
You can even try making mini hot cross buns for children. Or, if you’re really brave, it’s an easy recipe for them to help out with. It can be lots of fun for them to decorate the buns with the trademark crosses or add the finishing touches with the final brushing of the glaze.
Making hot cross buns is a good, healthy option as they are lower in calories and fat than sugar-loaded treats or cream cakes, and they come as a welcome break from all the chocolate the children – and often the adults – collect on that treasure hunt.
Hot Cross Buns
1 tbsp dried yeast
450g plain flour
50g caster sugar
50ml warm milk
150ml hot water
50g butter, melted
For the glaze
50g caster sugar
2 tbsp hot water
Stir a teaspoon of sugar into 150ml of hot water. Add the yeast, then stir and let the liquid go frothy.
In a mixing bowl, combine the flour and salt with the caster sugar and currants. Add the yeast mixture, followed by the warm milk. Add a beaten egg and the melted butter. Mix the ingredients together to form a dough.
Dust a dry and clean tabletop or surface with flour. Knead the dough on the surface for approximately five minutes, until smooth and elastic.
Place the dough back in the mixing bowl and cover with a damp cloth. Leave the bowl to sit in a dark and warm place for approximately an hour, until the dough has risen to twice its size
Preheat the oven to 220C/ gas mark 7.
Knock the dough back on to the tabletop and divide it into 12 buns. Place these on a greased baking tray, allowing enough space between each one for it to rise.
Mark a cross on the top of each bun and leave for a moment to rise again.
Place the buns in the oven and bake for 15 minutes.
While the buns are cooking, melt 50g of caster sugar with two tablespoons of hot water to form a glaze.
Remove the buns from the oven and leave to cool.
When ready, glaze the buns with the pre-prepared sugar glaze and serve with home-made butter. You can top it off with your favourite jam.
350ml whipping cream
pinch of salt
Place the cream in a mixing bowl and add the salt. Whisk the cream.
At first, this will merely become whipped cream, but if you keep whisking it will eventually turn to butter.
The butter will separate from the milk in the cream. Keep whisking until the butter is completely separated.
Place a damp muslin cloth over a bowl and place the butter on top. Leave it like this for approximately an hour, allowing the butter to drip any excess fluid into the bowl through the cloth.
Remove the butter from the cloth and shape it into butter blocks.