Tuesday 14 March 2017

Rock buns

Recently, in between test batches of soda bread, I thought of another lovely thing from the Irish bakery - one which I haven’t had in many years, not since pre-gluten-free: rock buns! In case you’ve never had one, they are a simple homey sort of pastry, crusty on the outside but a bit softer beneath, fluffier than a cookie but firmer and less flaky than a scone, and named (presumably) for their rough craggy appearance. The particulars of their appearance and even the formula are also pretty forgiving. Rock buns, then, are a natural candidate for something to easily make gluten-free. So much so, that when I had the thought to make them, I wondered why I’d never done them before. Almost immediately, the answer became clear.

Back when I first began creating my own recipes, I liked to aim especially for the most challenging and impressive things - gorgeous loaves with elegantly airy cross-sections and perfectly crackly crust; in short, things that, upon looking at them and tasting them, would make one think there’s no way it could be GF. Rock buns, on the other hand, look much the same whether they are made with wheat flour or some other kind: rough and plain, not much to look at. Most recipes for the buns include something to the effect of instructing the baker to put the dough on a baking sheet in “rough heaps.” My first several years of baking GF, I’d had quite enough of rough heaps, rock buns or no. 

But, as time has passed and gluten-free is no longer so commonly assumed to mean frumpy, lumpy baked goods, I’ve become much more OK with making such a humble treat. Sure, it’s plain-looking and a bit crumbly, but that’s how it’s meant to be, and it’s tasty just the way it is. All it needs is a cup of tea. 

Irish Rock Buns
Makes 12 buns

30 g oat flour
70 g sorghum flour, divided (see instructions), I recommend Nu Life Market 
70 g pearled sorghum flour (see Note below)
20 g almond flour
1 tsp double-acting baking powder (I use Bob’s Red Mill)
Scant ¼ tsp salt
Pinch of ginger powder (optional)
70 g butter
80 g sugar
70 g currants or raisins
75 g (about cup) milk
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Note: Pearled sorghum flour is analogous to white rice flour, in that the outer part of the grain has been polished off before the inside is ground into flour. This flour has different textural and water-absorption properties to those of regular whole-grain sorghum flour. I tried this recipe with several combinations of whole sorghum flour, pearled sorghum flour, and/or potato starch; using half pearled sorghum and half potato starch produces buns that are whiter than these, which was the track I initially started on, but we liked the flavor of the 50/50 mix of whole and pearled sorghum (and no starch) that appears above. If you cannot get the pearled sorghum, I recommend using potato starch in its place, as I think using whole sorghum flour for all of it would give too much whole-grain flavor and texture for this sweet cake.

Combine the oat flour, 10 grams of the sorghum flour, and milk in a microwave-safe bowl and set aside. In another bowl, whisk the remaining flour, salt, and baking powder (and ginger if using). Cut the butter into small pieces and lightly rub it into this flour mixture with your fingertips until the mixture looks crumbly - it’s OK if there are some larger bits of butter. Then stir in the sugar followed by the currants/raisins. 
Microwave the milk mixture for 30-45 seconds until cooked stiff, stirring a couple times in the process. Put the hot mixture into the bowl of a mixer and beat to cool down a little, then beat in the egg. When these are well combined, add the dry mixture. Chill the dough for around 2 hours (this ensures all the flour is fully hydrated for best texture), then use a fork to scoop the dough onto a baking sheet - do not smooth them or shape them too much, simply plop the dough onto the sheet in 12 mounds. Bake at 400ºF/200ºC for 14-16 mins, until golden. 

Enjoy with hot tea! Leftovers will keep for days covered at room temperature, though they will become more cakey and lose their crusty outside.

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