hot cross buns
At this time of year my eyes are drawn to a particular bakery item in the supermarket. As the Spring sunshine starts to appear, the days become a little brighter and we’re beginning to find excuses to be outdoors instead of indoors but there’s still one reason to have a cup of tea and a mid-afternoon treat… The Hot Cross Bun. That’s not to say these spiced, glazed delights aren’t just for Easter; they can be enjoyed any day of the year (perhaps masquerading as a ‘tea cake’ but that’s another matter entirely) and absolutely should be. Religious decorations aside, having a good HCB recipe up your sleeve is a wonderful thing as it can be adapted as a loaf and it’s an easy recipe to get the kids involved in too.
The list of ingredients may look a little daunting at first but after 10 minutes of intense concentration it’s pretty straightforward. The only piece of equipment I’d say is essential is a piping bag, disposable if possible. The dough can be mixed and kneaded by hand so no mixers required. This mix makes 16 Hot Cross Buns. I’m a chef so a lot of my recipes make larger batches; in the age of frugality you can freeze the buns once they’re made or cut the mix accordingly (basically I didn’t want to halve a ‘pinch of saffron’)…
200g Whole Milk
3 Cardamom Pods (lightly crushed)
1 Cinnamon Stick
1/4 tsp Grated Nutmeg
A pinch of Saffron
20g Dry Active Yeast
50g Golden Caster Sugar (regular’s fine)
450g Strong White Flour
100g Unsalted Butter (fridge cold)
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Ground Ginger
3 Whole Eggs
50g Mixed Peel
3 tbsp Plain Flour
3 tbsp Water
1 tbsp Caster Sugar
- For the infusion, combine the milk, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg in a small saucepan and take off the heat when its about to boil. Leave this to sit for an hour and strain through your finest sieve. If the mix is at blood temperature (37ºC) add the yeast and 1 tsp of the caster sugar. 37ºC is quite important here as it’s the optimum temperature for yeast to work its magic. Any lower, it might not bring its va-va-voom; any higher and it may die. Sad face.
- Leave the infusion somewhere and grate the butter (big holes on the grater) into a bowl with the strong flour. Rub this together between your fingers until you’ve got a breadcrumb texture, then add the sugar, salt and ginger and continue briefly. Don’t worry about small lumps at this point; the yeast shall find these delightful to snack on later…
- I’d recommend removing any jewellery you might like at this point. Beat the eggs separately and add them, along with the infusion to flour mix and get your hands in there. Rub, squeeze and mix everything together until it comes together into one mass and then transfer to a floured surface to begin kneading. If you feel the dough is too sticky then flour your hands gently and keep going. After 5 minutes things should become easier and after 10 you should have a springy and smooth dough. There’s butter in there so much like brioche it should have a satisfying sheen to it.
- Put the dough into a bowl, cover it with clingfilm and place it somewhere for 2 hours until its roughly doubled in size. If it hasn’t after this amount of time you’re in trouble.
- Knock the air out of the dough and spread it out . Scatter the currants and peel over the dough and knead (yes, again) for another few minutes until the fruit is evenly distributed.
- Preheat the oven to 200ºC. Separate the mix into 16 (or 8; if you’ve cut the mix into another fraction you’re on your own) and roll into tight balls. Arrange the buns evenly on a tray, you can keep them separate if you like but I like to place them relatively close together to achieve that special “shop-bought” effect. Score the buns purposely but not too deep in a cross design and leave for 15 minutes.
- In the meantime mix plain flour and water together until you have a pipe-able paste (you may need to add more flour or water) and when ready pipe across the buns over the scoring. My tip here is to pipe long lines over multiple buns so it helps if they’re lined up; you can cut the piping later.
- Pop them into the oven for 25 minutes. Keep an eye on them at around 20 minutes and check if the oven could be turned down. If so, take it down to 180ºC. Whilst the buns are baking mix 1 tbsp caster sugar and 1 tbsp of boiling water. This is the shiny glaze…
- When the buns are ready, brush the glaze over the buns whilst hot and leave to cool.
Wait until they’re cool, and enjoy toasted with as much butter as possible. If you’re feeling particularly mischievous however, a sandwich with a scoop of vanilla ice cream is the perfect way to introduce children to the Hot Cross Bun.