There's nothing like the aroma of baking bread - especially if someone else is making it.  I found myself at the skull lady's house a few weekends ago, and she was keen to try a sticky bun recipe that had popped into her head.

The skull lady is like that.  She likes making things up.  I'm good with white lies, but she actually enjoys tinkering with recipes.  This approach is fine with meat and vegetable dishes and I will happily take no notice of instructions for various dishes, but baking?  That's a different kettle of fish and clearly dangerous ground.

After a full day of biologising up at Waikato Uni - she is known to take pre-human fossil casts to schools, hence the name - Alison Campbell returns home, feeds the cats, walks the dog, writes the odd biology blog and experiments wildly in the culinary department.

She is particularly fond of playing with her bread maker. I have an old model of one of these - it's a 1961 model, possibly past its used-by-date, and answers to Annette.  It does a good line in basic, farmhouse bread on a regular basis.  Alison goes in for all the tricksy things, often involving foreign names and many ingredients. I can only watch on in awe and hope she throws me a crust.

The other day we were talking buns.  I don't do buns.  They are fiddly and round and I'm not sure what happens, but I lose patience and slap them together.  I even tried, valiantly, to make Hot Cross Buns this Easter.  I followed the recipe to the last full-stop and stood just right when kneading, but I knew fairly quickly that it was going to be a culinary disaster.  Not only didn't they rise, but the chickens turned their beaks up at the miserable things.  I was devastated.

Alison's buns are round.  They rise and are yum.  She even makes up her own recipe which involves a little surprise.  In the middle of each bun, she gently placed a lump of Whittaker's dark chocolate.  I'm in two minds as to whether it's better to eat these piping hot, with melty chocolate, or slightly cooler.  I need to eat a few more to be in a position to answer that. 

Check out Alison's bio blog - sci.waikato.ac.nz/bioblog/

Alison's buns
  • 2 eggs
  • one orange
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 4 tsp red cap (Surebake) yeast
  • 2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 50g butter
  • 4 cups high-grade flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • Whittaker's dark chocolate

Break the eggs into a measuring jug.  Peel the skin from the orange, (or use a zester), chop fine and add, with juice, to the jug.  Top up with warm water to make 1½ cups of liquid.

Pour into a bread maker, or into a bowl.  Add sugar, yeast and spice.

Cut the butter into small cubes and add with the flour and salt.  Set bread maker on its dough cycle (about 1½ hours) and then shape the risen dough into buns (see below).  If not using a machine, mix all the ingredients well by hand, turn dough out on to a flat surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. 

Shape into a ball, place in a bowl and cover with cling film.  Leave to prove in a warm place for an hour or two.  Line an oven tray with baking paper.

Glaze:
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup water

Heat in a saucepan for about 10 minutes.

When the dough has risen, knead quickly for a minute or two and divide into 16 equal pieces.  Shape each portion into a ball, flatten, and then insert one piece of chocolate into the middle.  Enclose with dough and make sure edges are well sealed.  Put on the baking tray with the sealed edges down. Cover with cling film and leave to rise - about an hour.

Preheat oven to 200ºC.

Place in oven for about 15 minutes or so.  Spoon glaze over buns as soon as they come out of the oven.  Transfer to a wire rack.

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