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From sticky to awesome in a few easy steps

You know what’s cool? Sponges. Your typical sea sponge barely qualifies as an animal, but its soft, spongy skeletal remains are hugely useful — so useful that we had to find a way of producing synthetic substitutes because naturally occurring sponges can’t keep up with demand. When you squeeze a sponge (I mean a synthetic one, the kind you use for dishes and bathtubs) and force air out of all the tiny tunnels, then release the sponge, they spring back open and create tiny vacuum tubes that suck up liquid and hold it. Isn’t that cool? Did you know sponges used to be used to foam egg whites in cooking before forks were in wide use?

Taking advantage of your stunned realisation that this means cakes demanding whipped egg whites preceded fork use, let me tell you about another sort of sponge. The sticky, sloppy kind:

Spongey spongey sponge sponge

Delicious. Warm milk with flour and sugar, and a little dried yeast. In the space of a few minutes, it foamed up into this thick, rich sponge. The sponge — sometimes called mother dough — is related to the idea of a sourdough starter. It’s a pre-ferment of yeast, to get the little buggers all woken up and frisky before you add them into the dough proper. The speed with which my measuring jug of milk filled with this thick, foamy yeast city was awesome — you could almost hear the blighters multiplying (bow chika wowwoooow) — and it looked so nourishing and juicy for the dough that it almost made me hungry.

Deciding that the best way of avoiding the disgrace of drinking the sponge was to set it to its intended purpose, I kneaded together a soft, fruity dough based on a favourite: Wild Yeast’s hot cross buns. I’ve made this recipe a few times and never had it come out dud, and that’s a pretty strong recommendation. The dough rose noticeably, but not heaps, until I shaped them into little torpedos. Then VOOM:

Rising tide of fruit buns

Which was fine with me.

Toasty buns

A little sugar syrup glaze while they’re still hot really sets off the crust on these babies. They’re incredibly good: the crust is very thin and soft, the crumb very fine, and just the right ratio of spices and fruits distributed through the dough.

CHOMP

Jealous? You should be. I’ve had warm, buttered, spiced fruity buns for breakfast every day for the past four days: few things could be more awesome. Except sponges, of course.

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