Friday 30 March 2018

Hot Cross Buns

Buns as tiles.
Easter is imminent. It wasn't when I started thinking about hot cross buns.

Medieval clay tiles are a favourite feature of a trip to many cathedrals. They're in countless churches, abbeys, palaces, castles and sundry other edifices in the heritage oeuvre. The ones that I know best are at the east end of Winchester Cathedral. Some are in carpets of a repeating pattern; others patches are a jumble of motifs.

Last May I learnt a bit about the process behind medieval tiles at a one-day medieval tilemaking course - run by the Company of Artisans, at Weald & Downland Museum in Sussex. I got to reproduce a historical design and make a few tiles of my own.

All through the day, the tiles made me think of food. In their unfired raw clay form, they looked like chocolate slabs. Fired and unglazed they looked like the best gingerbread. In a glossy ensemble they reminded me of batches of buns. It's since then that I've been thinking about buns and how to make them look like medieval tiles.

Winchester Cathedral tiles
from my fish-eye phase.
I'm no great baker and my experience with yeast is limited, so don't expect too much. Improving something over several attempts is something of a new experience.

I focused on the topping (which is a piped mixture of flour and water and some colouring) but in each batch I tinkered with the spices and orange rind and the balance of fruit (NB. 80s funk band?).

Here are the developmental stages that have formed a wave, torrent, barrage, parade, season and surfeit of buns: my bunsperimentation.

Touching but not close enough.
(I'm not showing you the first batch)

A repeating tile pattern, before baking - and a little too tight.

Slow piping work, copying a section of Winchester's tiles.

Browned and blobby and in need of refinement.

The final batch isn't the apotheosis of the fine art bun but it's my last before Easter and I dug a duvet cover out for presentation, so here's the peak of my medieval encaustic tile hot cross bun phase for 2018.

The ultimate (if unglazed) bun batch.

There aren't any crosses (although some designs have certain elements in fours or fives, which can have a religious significance) and a lot of the time the buns weren't warm - so perhaps they should be "not cross buns".

Excuse the crushing wit and excuse my excursion into recipe blog territory. Happy Easter and enjoy your hot and/or cross buns!

My tiles after glazing and firing by the Company of Artisans.