To put it simply, the answer to the question above is, in the vast majority of cases, ‘no’.
Gene Quinn over at his IP Watchdog blog wrote a nice piece on this topic back in February, explaining why most recipes are not patentable in the US (see The Law of Recipes: Are Recipes Patentable?). In that country, the primary barrier to patenting of recipes is obviousness, i.e. lack of inventive step.
While a new recipe for baking a cake, or making a cocktail, might be technically ‘new’ (i.e. pass the novelty test) because the particular combination and/or quantities of ingredients have never before been published, it will almost certainly be a variation on one or more existing recipes. Under the US law of obviousness, you cannot invent something patentable just by trying various different combinations of known elements in a recipe until you have something that you swear is better than mum’s (or mom’s) version!
RECIPES AND AUSTRALIAN PATENT LAWIn Australia, there is a more fundamental problem than inventiveness. Section 50 of the Patents Act 1990 expressly states that:
(1) The Commissioner may refuse to accept a request and specification relating to a standard patent, or to grant a standard patent:
(b) on the ground that the specification claims as an invention:
(i) a substance that is capable of being used as food or medicine (whether for human beings or animals and whether for internal or external use) and is a mere mixture of known ingredients; or
(ii) a process producing such a substance by mere admixture.
Section 2.9.7 of the Australian Patent Examiner’s Manual provides some additional guidance on how this exclusion is interpreted:
The term "capable of being used as a food" includes mixtures which may require cooking or other preparation before they are edible. Mixtures falling within this term may include ingredients which, of themselves, are not foodstuffs, e.g. baking powder, colouring matter or other additives, so long as the mixture as a whole is capable of being used as a food.
"Mixtures" may embrace not only powders or granules, either loosely or in compacted form (e.g. a tablet or pill), but also mixtures of liquids or gases and includes also suspensions and solutions.
So, in general, you cannot have a patent in Australia for processes involving mixing and/or cooking known ingredients to produce edible results. In other words, a recipe is not typically patentable.
An exception will arise, however, when there is something distinctly new and unexpected about the results achieved. As the Manual goes on to say:
By "mere mixture of known ingredients" is meant a mixture exhibiting only the aggregate of the known properties of the ingredients. Not only must the ingredients be known, but the property which makes the ingredients useful for the purpose of the invention must also be known.
If the result achieved by the invention is more than might be expected from a mere mixture (i.e. synergism), the invention is patentable.
Notably, this is exactly the same sort of thing that would also usually qualify an invention as non-obvious in the US. For example, the use of a particular ingredient in a particular quantity might surprisingly increase the shelf-life of the end product, or it might result in more efficient absorption of nutritional ingredients by the body, or achieve some other such functional benefit.
So, while the statutory provisions in the two countries may be different, the end result is much the same: unless you developed it in a lab, rather than a kitchen, you probably cannot have a patent for your invention!
So, with the obligatory patent discussion out of the way, here is my recipe for hot cross buns.
PATENTOLOGY’S UNPATENTED HOT CROSS BUNSThe recipe has been developed using a bread machine for the initial mixing, kneading and rising stages. I certainly recommend this, because it takes a lot of the hard work out of the process, and produces a more consistent result. And I am pretty lazy when it comes to such things (I use the same ‘cheat’ for pizza dough). If you are the kind of person who is accustomed to doing your own kneading by hand, you should also be able to adapt the recipe to suit.
My early efforts followed a recipe in the bread machine manual pretty closely. But this involved powdered milk, to which I am ideologically opposed! So I hunted around the internet looking at various recipes (they all vary), and noting some of the common features, and after a little trial and error came up with a working hybrid which includes, contains or comprises (pardon the patentese) real milk and a whole egg.
One thing that I have done intentionally is to ensure that all of the ingredients are measured by weight (approximate equivalent volume measures are also supplied). You can literally put the bread machine pan onto a digital scale, and just add the ingredients in the order listed, which minimises the amount of cleaning up to be done at the end.
I make no apologies for the mixed peel. You can replace this with alternative dried fruit (chopped dried apricots might work) if it is not your thing, but I take no responsibility for the results!
Using fresh yeastThe recipe seems to work better with fresh live yeast. This is sold in good delicatessens, and comes in a compressed ‘block’ of a crumbly consistency.
If you can get fresh yeast, and would like to give it a try, it is pretty simple. The rule of thumb is that the required weight of fresh yeast is about three times the equivalent active dry yeast.
So crumble up about 21 g of yeast (the closest I can get with my scale is the nearest 5 g, but this does not seem to be a problem) and dissolve it in 40 g (2 tbsp) of tepid water (not hot – body temperature is ideal). Make sure it is well mixed – you do not want clumps of yeast in the dough!
You need to reduce the milk by the same amount, i.e. to 300 g. Then pour the yeast/water blend over the other ingredients immediately before activating the machine.
- milk 340 g (340 ml)
- 1 beaten egg
- oil (e.g. grapeseed or a mild olive oil) 30 g (2 tbsp)
- salt 10 g (2 tsp)
- brown sugar 50 g (3 tbsp)
- bread flour (strong baker’s flour, 12% protein) 600 g (4 metric cups)
- Ground mixed spice 15 g (1 tbsp)
- dry yeast 7 g (typically one sachet, approx. 2¼ tsp)
At around 22 minutes in to the kneading cycles (my machine provides a helpful ‘beep’) add the fruit:
- sultanas 190 g
- mixed peel 40 g
SHAPINGWhen dough is ready, divide into the desired number of pieces and shape into rounds. The recipe makes 12 large buns, 18 medium buns (roughly the size of commercial buns) or 24 small buns. I find the dough to be tacky, but not overly sticky, so it can be worked without using additional flour to prevent sticking.
Arrange rounds on a baking tray/sheet, either lightly greased or (preferably) on a sheet of baking paper. Then cover loosely with plastic/cling wrap, and place in a warm location to rise for about 20-30 minutes, or longer if desired. The distance between rounds should be 1-2 cm, depending on the size of the buns – they should roughly double in size, and just come into contact with each other at closest points, which allows crosses to be applied as a ‘grid’ without spillage!
Now wait again…
CROSSES AND BAKINGFor crosses, mix:
- water 3 tbsp
- plain flour 3 tbsp
Apply the batter to the buns in a grid pattern, using an icing syringe or piping bag or (at a pinch) using a plastic bag (eg a freezer bag) with a corner cut off. You may need to experiment to get the desired width and consistency of crosses! The quantity is not critical, so just add water or flour, as required, if batter is too runny or too thick. With experience, you will not need to measure – just spoon some flour into a bowl, add water and blend, adjusting ingredients as required.
Preheat your oven to around 180-190 C (these are fan-forced temperatures – 10-20 C higher temperature may be required for non-forced ovens). Bake buns for 15-20 minutes. Keep an eye on the buns for the last few minutes, too ensure that they do not become too brown!
Remove buns from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly. When applying glaze, you can place the wire rack over the baking paper and baking tray/sheet to catch the drips and make cleaning up easier.
GLAZINGFor the glaze, blend:
- icing sugar, sifted ½ cup
- ground allspice and/or mixed spice ½ - 1 teaspoon (to taste)
- ground cinnamon ¼ - ½ teaspoon (to taste)
Serve fresh while still warm, or cool and store in an airtight container to be served cold, or reheated when required. Do not refrigerate (unless you want hot cross cannonballs)!
REHEATINGPreferred reheating methods vary. You can microwave, or heat on a tray or wrapped in foil in the oven. Whatever method you use for store-bought buns should work for these. My preferred method is as follows:
- Wrap buns to be reheated snugly in a ‘tray’ made from aluminium foil, so that bases and sides are covered, but tops remain exposed.
- Preheat oven to around 180 C.
- Heat wrapped buns in oven for about 15 minutes, or until heated and browned to your liking.
SERVINGI like to serve buns with a good-quality French salted cultured butter (e.g. Lescure or Beurre D’Isigny). Of course there are plenty of cheaper products, but after going to all this trouble to make the buns, why settle for anything but the best?!
Happy Easter, everyone!