Easter Recipe – Chocolate & Spice Hot Cross Buns

Chocolate and Spice Hot Cross Buns

If you’re considering doing a spot of baking this Bank Holiday weekend how about a modern twist on a traditional Easter snack?

These delicious Hot Cross Buns make an “eggstra-special” Easter treat for young and old a like!

hot cross buns

Recipe from BBC Good Food:


  • zest and juice 1 large orange
  • sunflower oil, for greasing

For the dough and crosses

  • 225ml semi-skimmed milk
  • 50g unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
  • 1 large free range egg
  • 450g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 2 tsp fast-action yeast
  • 50g golden caster sugar

For the flavouring and glaze

  • 140g raisins
  • 100g chocolate, 70% cocoa solids
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 4 tbsp golden caster sugar
  • 100g plain flour



  1. Make the dough first. Heat the milk in a pan until steaming. Remove from the heat, and drop in the butter. After a couple of mins, beat in the egg and half the orange zest. The liquid should be just warm for step 2.
  2. Mix the strong flour, yeast, 1 tsp salt and the sugar in a large bowl, then tip in the liquid and stir to make a soft dough without dry patches. Flour the work surface and your hands, then knead the dough for 5-10 mins until smooth and elastic. Use a stand mixer or processor if you like. Oil a large bowl, sit the dough inside it, then cover with oiled cling film. Rise in a warm place for about 1 hr or until doubled in size.
  3. Put the raisins and half the orange juice in a small pan or covered bowl, and either simmer for a few mins or microwave on High for 1 min until hot. Cool completely. Break the chocolate into a food processor with the cinnamon and 2 tbsp sugar, then pulse until very finely chopped. Mix in the rest of the zest. If you don’t have a processor, chop it by hand or grate it, then mix with the other ingredients.
  4. Turn the risen dough onto a floured surface and press it out to a large rectangle, a little bigger than A4 paper. Scatter it evenly with the chocolate mix and the raisins, which should have absorbed all of the juice (drain them if not). Roll the dough up around the filling, then knead it well for a few mins until the chocolate and fruit are evenly spread. Some raisins and chocolate will try to escape, but keep kneading them back in.
  5. Grease then line a large baking sheet with baking parchment. Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces. Shape into buns by pinching each ball of dough into a purse shape, concentrating on making the underneath of the ball (which will be the top) as smooth as you can. Put the buns, smooth-side up, onto the baking sheet, leaving room for rising. Cover loosely with oiled cling film and prove in a warm place for 30-45 mins or until the dough has risen and doesn’t spring back quickly when prodded gently.
  6. Heat oven to 190C/170C fan/gas 5. To make the paste for the crosses, gradually stir 6-7 tbsp water into the plain flour to make a smooth, thick paste, then put in a food bag and snip off the end to about 5mm. Pipe the crosses, then bake for 20-25 mins until the buns are risen and dark golden brown.
  7. Mix the rest of the orange juice with the remaining sugar and let it dissolve. Brush the syrup over the buns while they are hot, then leave to cool. Eat on the day of baking, or toast the next day.

Buying Your Chickens: Which Breed is Best for Beginners?

Did you know there are well over 100 breeds of chicken being bred in the UK? Each breed has its’ own characteristics, attributes, purpose, and personality. The question is how do you choose a breed that suits your lifestyle and needs?

Chicken breeds break down into three categories – chickens for meat, chickens for eggs, and chickens that are dual purpose. The majority of beginners want chickens that will produce eggs and are easy to look after.

Here are the top things to look for in any breed of chicken:

  • Is your chosen breed friendly and easy to tame?
  • Is this breed easy to care for?
  • Is this breed quite common? You’ll find it easier to get help and advice if your breed is well known.
  • If you want to keep chickens for eggs – is this breed known for high egg production?
  • If you want to keep chickens for meat – is this breed known as a good table bird?
  • If you want to keep chickens as pets – is this breed known for being docile and having a good personality?

Our top chicken breeds for beginners


This breed ticks all the boxes as they’re pretty, practical, and produce great eggs. Not only are they incredibly friendly and placid but they’re also great layers so you won’t be short of eggs.

If you’re looking for a chicken breed to enhance your outdoor space then you’ll be pleased to hear that the Wyandotte comes in 14 different possible plumage variations in the UK.


Whether you choose the large fowl or the bantam Orpington you’ll find you’ve got a great pet – especially for children. They’re not always great layers so if you’re looking for high egg production then this breed isn’t for you.

You’ll also need to make sure that your chicken house pop hole is large enough for the large fowl variety and consider keeping them separately if you have mixed breeds as the Orpington can be subject to bullying.


This is the most common hybrid breed of chicken and people will recognise Warrens as a classic brown hen – seen here in the popular Mercedes-Benz advert.

They’re friendly, docile, and love human interaction making them the perfect pets for adults and children alike. Originally bred for battery egg production they really are laying machines so you’ll never need to buy eggs again!

Silkie bantam

If you’re not worried about egg production and you want a pretty pet then this breed is ideal. Silkies are small, incredibly tame, and have great personalities. They also have some unique features with black skin and bones and five toes rather than four.

They are also great mothers so if you’re looking to start breeding and want a broody hen to sit on eggs then get yourself a few Silkies.


If the Orpington isn’t quite big enough then the Brahma is even bigger! They might not lay a lot of eggs but they are one of the friendliest breeds of chicken. They’re great if you have children but standing at up to 30 inches tall they might be a bit big to sit on your lap!

As with the Orpington you’ll need to make sure your chicken house can accommodate these gentle giants – you might even want to consider a bespoke design.

Free Range Friday – Pancakes!


Here at Jim Vyse Arks we love pancakes and we thought we’d share the secrets of a perfect pancake so you can continue tucking in after Pancake Day has finished.

As well as loving pancakes we also love The Happy Egg Company – who are sponsors of the British Hen Welfare Trust’s Free Range Friday Campaign.

Here are The Happy Egg Company talking about perfect pancakes and their cracking contraption that will help you make them:

Top chicken breeds for coloured eggs

When people first start keeping chickens they usually choose breeds that they can easily source and are fairly cheap to buy. Hybrid breeds are a popular choice and often people will pick the same breed as the person who inspired them to keep chickens in the first place has.

However, as any poultry keeper will tell you, chicken keeping is an addictive hobby and it probably won’t be long before you’re looking to add to your flock!

Your average breed of chicken will lay brown eggs, ranging from a pale tan right through to a dark brown. But there are many other colours, in fact depending on the breeds you keep you could have a whole rainbow of eggs.

So, here are the best breeds of chicken if you want coloured eggs:

Ameraucana – blue eggs

You can now get the brilliant blue eggs that this bird lays in your local Tesco, but where’s the fun in that?

The Ameraucana is one of only three breeds that lay blue eggs (Cream Legbar and Araucana are the others) but blue egg laying chickens are reasonably popular so you shouldn’t have trouble finding them.

The breed was first developed in the 1970s in America and is an attractive breed with a “beard”. They’ll lay around 250 eggs per year so you’ll never run out of blue eggs!



Andalusian – white eggs

If you’re looking for pearly white eggs then the striking looking Andalusian is the breed for you.

Originating from Spain this breed is calm and active, so they prefer to free range and are good foragers.

They’ll lay around 160 eggs per year and usually continue to lay through the winter and blue-bred White hens are said to lay the biggest eggs.


Olive Egger – green eggs

This is more of a variety of chicken than a breed that were developed when birds containing the “blue egg gene” were crossed with a “brown egg gene” bird.

Olive Eggers produce green eggs that can range from having more of a blue tinge to more of a brown tinge as a result of the crossed colours. The birds themselves are bearded and don’t look dissimilar to the Araucana, Ameraucana, and Easter Egger which has led to some confusion among even the most expert chicken keepers.


Black Copper Maran – chocolate brown eggs

For a truly dark brown egg the Black Copper Maran is an ideal choice.

The breed is active, likes to forage, and prefers to free range or have a larger enclosure. They are also good in colder climates and a hardy breed so they’re perfect if you’re new to keeping chickens.

Their chocolate brown eggs are so popular that some unscrupulous breeders will sell birds called “Black Copper Marans” but if they don’t produce dark brown eggs they aren’t from a pure strain of the breed.


Plymouth Rock – pink eggs

If you want a hen that will lay you eggs with a pinky tinge then the Plymouth Rock is a great bird.

They’re one of the oldest and most popular breeds of chicken so you shouldn’t find it hard to purchase a few. They come in a variety of colours and should continue to lay throughout the winter, although production will slow down.


Breed of the Month: Silver Appleyard

This month’s duck breed of the month is the pretty Silver Appleyard, a reasonably rare but brilliant all-purpose duck. Their silver, white, dark green, and claret plumage makes them one of the most attractive and distinctive breeds of duck available.

the_silver_appleyard-12The Silver Appleyard originates from the UK and is named after their first breeder, a Mr Reginald Appleyard who was known as a writer and breeder of domestic waterfowl.

He first developed the breed in the 1930s with the aim of producing the perfect all-round utility duck that would make good eating and also be a prolific layer. They became popular as a pet, exhibition bird, and as “gourmet roasting ducks”.

The breed was made available to the American public in the 1980s but never really gained much support. A 2000 census in the United States found that there were only 128 breeding Silver Appleyards in North America, with only 5 breeders keeping the breed.

The modern Silver Appleyard is a “heavy” variety of duck, weighing between 6-8lbs when fully grown, but is unfortunately not as dual purpose as it once was.

Sadly good utility stock birds are now hard to find, although they are still one of the better large breeds of duck if you want a large number of eggs. The Silver Appleyard produces roughly 250 large white eggs per year.

They are known to be easy to keep, docile, and friendly. Silver Appleyard’s prefer to free range, although they tend to stay close to their duck house so they don’t need acres of land to be happy.

How to freeze extra eggs

Egg yolk ice cubes!

Egg yolk ice cubes!

Last week we looked at ways of using up extra chicken or duck eggs with some delicious recipes and batch cooking ideas. But what if you just can’t eat that many eggs?

Well many poultry keepers opt to freeze extra eggs so that when egg production slows down during the autumn and winter months they don’t have to resort to shop bought eggs.

Here’s our guide to the different ways you can freeze eggs and how to use the frozen eggs in your cooking:

P.s: always remember to label your eggs with how many eggs are in the container and the date you froze them on.

Whole eggs

If you freeze a raw whole egg it will explode, making a real mess of your freezer and no one wants the job of cleaning frozen egg up!

The best way to freeze whole eggs is to crack them in a bowl, beat until just blended, and then put them into a suitable container in your freezer.

We’ve found it’s best not to freeze whole hard boiled eggs as the whites become watery and tough when frozen.

Egg whites

Crack and separate the eggs one at a time into a bowl making sure no yolks get in. then simply pour into freezer containers and pop in the freezer. If you want a faster defrosting time and easier measurement freeze each egg white in an ice cube tray first before putting in a container together.

Egg yolks

Yolks require a bit more preparation before you can freeze them because their gelatinous properties make them almost impossible to use if you freeze untreated yolks.

If you’re going to be using your yolks for baking or desserts add 1 ½ teaspoons of sugar or corn syrup per ¼ cup of yolks (this is roughly four egg yolks). Then beat lightly and freeze.

If you’re going to be using your yolks for savoury recipes then add 1/8 teaspoon of salt per ¼ cup of yolks before beating lightly and freezing.

Remember to add to the label whether you’ve made sweet or savoury yolks otherwise you might get a nasty surprise when you use them!

Hard boiled eggs

As we said above freezing whole hard boiled eggs doesn’t really work but you can freeze hard boiled egg yolks.

Simply hard boil your yolks, let them stand in the water for about 12 minutes once boiled, then drain well and freeze.

How to use frozen eggs

As with all frozen products you’ll need to make sure your eggs are fully defrosted overnight in the fridge before using.

Thawed egg whites will beat better after sitting at room temperature for around 30 minutes and you should only use frozen eggs in dishes that are going to be cooked thoroughly.

The substitution amounts for fresh and frozen eggs are as follows:

  • 2 tablespoons of frozen egg white for 1 large fresh egg white
  • 1 tablespoon of frozen egg yolk for 1 large fresh egg yolk
  • 3 tablespoons of frozen whole egg for 1 large fresh egg


How to use up your extra chicken eggs

extra_eggsProbably the main reason that people start keeping chickens (or ducks) is so they can have their own eggs. There’s certainly something incredibly satisfying about sitting down to a meal knowing that your hens’ own eggs went into making it.

The number of chickens you keep is entirely up to you and obviously the more chickens you have the more eggs they’ll lay. A hybrid breed, such as the Warren, can lay up to 320 eggs a year so you’ll need plenty of recipes in your arsenal if you’re going to make the most of them!

This week we’re going to look at some delicious recipes to use up those extra eggs:

Get eating those eggs!                                                

The easiest way to use up extra eggs is to find new ways of cooking them so you’ll want to eat them more often. Eggs don’t just have to be scrambled, boiled, poached, or fried.

Take a look at the top 10 egg recipes from The Guardian to give you some new ideas for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Plus, there’s a few tasty treats in the list – perfect for afternoon tea!

Why not introduce a weekly egg based breakfast or brunch? As well as all the usual recipes you could try French toast, breakfast muffins, waffles, or omelettes. Invite friends and family round if you really want to make a dent in your excess egg stash.

Learn new cookery skills

If there’s an ingredient you use all the time why not try making it yourself instead of buying it from the supermarket?

For example, in my household egg noodles are a favourite so I’ll be using this recipe to batch cook them next time I have extra eggs. All you need is eggs (obviously), flour, and salt. It looks like it might be a bit of a challenge but it’s always good to learn a new skill in the kitchen.

Donate them to someone in need

If you really can’t face eating all those eggs yourself why not see if your local charity kitchen could use them?

Hostels and homeless shelters often run on donations from the public and have to feed large numbers of people on a very tight budget. A few boxes or a tray of eggs could be a very welcome addition to their menu.

Next week we’ll be looking at how to freeze eggs and how to use frozen eggs so you can make your excess eggs last even longer!

What to do with duck eggs

Last week we looked at different duck pond designs to keep your webbed footed friends happy. This week we’re exploring the things you can do with all of those delicious duck eggs.

duck-eggsIf you’ve haven’t had duck eggs before and you’ve never cooked with them you’re probably thinking that they’re exactly the same as chicken eggs. Well although you can use them mostly in the same way as chicken eggs there are some differences that change the way you cook with them.

When you first start cooking with duck eggs you’ll probably find the shells harder to crack and the yolks brighter and more orange in comparison to chicken eggs. And of course, duck eggs are bigger as well!

Generally duck eggs also contain more protein, fat, saturated fat, calories, vitamins, minerals, and dietary cholesterol than chicken eggs. You’ll need to be aware of this if you’re on a strict calorie controlled diet or there is a history of heart disease in your family.

Many people find duck eggs to be richer in comparison to chicken eggs so if you’re scrambling or making an omelette you might find you’ll need to use fewer eggs.

Cooking with duck eggs

The long and short of cooking with duck eggs is that you can use them in any recipe that you’d use a chicken egg in. Generally you can substitute one duck egg for one chicken egg but if you’re using especially large eggs you might want to reduce the number you’re using.

Many bakers report that duck eggs make for a richer sponge and moister brownies – perfect if you need to store them or you’re making them ahead of time for a special event.

If you’re going to boil a duck egg you’ll need to practice the timing if you want the perfect soft boiled egg. 3 ½ to 4 minutes is the optimum time for delicious eggy goodness according to our Marketing Manager!

Storing duck eggs

Duck keepers have reported that duck egg stay fresh for longer than chicken eggs, due to their thicker shells, however they don’t last long enough in this house to test that theory!

You can store duck eggs in exactly the same way as chicken eggs, although they might not fit in egg boxes design for chicken eggs.

Some recipe suggestions

Here are some duck egg recipes that we think look delicious:

Practical uses for egg shells

Last week we looked at beautiful baskets to collect your eggs in. This week it’s all about recycling and the things you can do with the empty egg shells.

EggshellsIn this day and age people are a lot more knowledge about how they can help the environment. Reduce, reuse, recycle is a term often heard and can certainly be applied to chicken keeping.

In fact, keeping chickens is a step in the right direction if you want to do your bit for the environment. Chicken manure is great for the garden and they’ll keep the bugs down without you needing to use harsh chemical pesticides.

They’ll provide you with eggs so you won’t need to buy plastic packaged eggs at the supermarket and, if you’re that way inclined, you could also keep birds for meat instead of buying it.

But what about all of those egg shells? Well, there are plenty of things you can do with them so they don’t just end up tossed in the bin…

Give them back to the chickens

Egg shells are a great source of calcium for your chickens and will help future eggs have strong shells.

Simply rinse the shells, leave them to dry, and then crush them with a rolling pin or pestle and mortar.

Store the crushed shells in an airtight container and leave a bowl out for your chickens so they can help themselves.

Put them in the compost bin

This might sound like throwing them away but actually adding a few shells to your compost bin will add some much needed calcium carbonate to your potting soil.

Seed starter cups

If you’re an avid gardener then repurpose your used egg shells and turn them into seed starter cups.

Once the seedlings are big enough to go outside you can just plant the whole thing in the pot or ground.

Keep pests at bay

As well as feeding crushed egg shells to your hens you can also place a ring of crushed shells around the bottom of your plants to keep slugs and snails away.

Crushed egg shell can also help prevent blossom end rot in plants such as tomatoes and cucumbers.

“Eggcellent” decorations

Decorative eggs don’t have to be kept especially for Easter – a decorated egg can look pretty at any time of year.

Simply “blow out” your eggs and then decorate them in the colours/pattern of your choice.

Crackin’ jelly surprise

Another use for blown out eggs is to use them as a jelly mould. It can be fiddly to fill eggs with jelly mixture but the look on your friends and families faces when they peel back the shell to reveal jelly is worth it!

Next week it’s back to chicken keeping tips and we’ll be looking at how to keep the peace in the chicken house when you have multiple cockerels.