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Hot Cross Buns

Staying at home this year for Easter (yay!), I wanted to cook some traditional Easter dishes. And apart from Easter eggs, something that cries ‘Easter!’ for me are hot cross buns.

hot cross buns

I came across Paul Hollywood’s recipe online and then saw him make them on The Great British Bake Off’s Easter Masterclass (still available to watch on BBC’s iPlayer for those of you in the UK). All the online positive comments easily swayed me, as well as the addition of a couple of different ingredients which I was curious about.

By the way, did you know the buns and their distinctive crosses come from pagan traditions rather than Christian? The word ‘Easter’ comes from the goddess Eostre who was worshipped by the Saxons. To celebrate the arrival of spring, they made her bun offerings, marked with crosses to represent the four seasons. Enter the Christians, and they realised it was better to reinterpret the pagan Easter festivities rather than try to eliminate them. Thus the buns’ crosses came to symbolise Jesus’ crucifixion.

In the end I was very happy with my first attempt at baking hot cross buns. I used to bake bread quite a bit, but my last few efforts didn’t turn out that well so I stopped making it and became a bit afraid of any recipe involving yeast. Now was the perfect time to conquer my fear!

You need to allow a lot of time for proving (you leave the dough three times, each time for an hour, to rise), so making hot cross buns is for when you’re home all day or afternoon, and probably isn’t a great recipe to try with kids. I also made the mistake of not reading the ingredients list carefully enough. Milk: check; butter: check; strong bread flour: add to the shopping list… yeast: check… but as I started to make them I realised Paul Hollywood specifies fast-action or easy-blend yeast, which I didn’t have. What the heck, I thought, let’s see if the yeast I have works without dissolving it in liquid first. I followed the recipe and let the dough stand for its first hour of rising, but it didn’t rise. Ok, of course, Paul Hollywood knows what he’s talking about. Take two!

To activate my normal dried yeast, I took 3 tablespoons of the milk before I heated it and put it aside. I also took 5g from the 75g of caster sugar and put it in the bowl with the yeast. Once the rest of the milk was heated, I added the cold milk and enough hot milk to the yeast and sugar to dissolve them. I left the yeast mixture for 15 minutes to do its stuff and was thankful it was frothy when I came back. I then added the frothy yeast to the dry ingredients when I added the milk and continued as the recipe states. This time my dough rose!

The original recipe has an apricot jam glaze, but many of the people reviewing it said they preferred a simple sugar glaze. I went with the sugar glaze.

Another common comment by people who’ve made Paul’s hot cross buns is that there’s a lack of spice. When I think of hot cross buns I can almost smell the warmth of spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. I followed Paul’s recipe and only included 1 teaspoon of cinnamon. While hubby pointed out that this amount of cinnamon balances well with the other flavours, it doesn’t give you the heady aroma of spices. Next time I’d add some more cinnamon, plus some nutmeg and a little cloves.

Paul’s different ingredients of orange zest and chopped apple really do add to the flavour without actually being obviously noticeable. I was surprised not to come across pieces of apple (I chopped them into 1cm squares more or less) which probably was a good thing. The amount of candied peel is also on the safe side. Hubby is a huge fan so could have had more, while I don’t like it and the amount was fine for me.

I’m always afraid of dried fruit like sultanas and raisins drying out when they’re cooking, so I soaked the sultanas in hot water for 30 mins before adding them. They did come out lovely and plump.

Anyway, I’ve made you read far too much. Get baking your one a penny, two a penny…

HOT CROSS BUNS

Prep time: 30 mins (plus 3 x 1 hour of proving)
Cook time: 12-15 mins
Makes 16 buns
Freezable

300ml full-fat milk
50g butter
500g strong bread flour
1 tsp salt
75g caster sugar
7g sachet fast-action or easy-blend yeast
1 egg, beaten
75g sultanas
50g mixed peel
zest 1 orange
1 apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped
1 tsp ground cinnamon

For the cross
75g plain flour
water

For the glaze
25g caster sugar
25ml water

In a small saucepan, bring the milk to the boil. Remove from the heat and add the butter. Leave to cool until it reaches a temperature you can put your hand into.

Put the flour, salt, sugar and yeast into a bowl (keeping the salt away from the yeast). Make a well in the centre. Pour in the warm milk and butter mixture, then add the egg. Using a wooden spoon, mix well.

Use your hands to bring the dough together then tip onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for about 5 minutes until smooth and elastic (Paul suggests holding the dough with one hand and stretching it with the heel of the other hand, then folding it back on itself).

Put the dough in a clean and lightly oiled bowl. Cover with oiled cling film (to stop the dough drying out) and leave to rise in a warm place for 1 hour or until doubled in size.

Keeping the dough in the bowl, add the sultanas, mixed peel, orange zest, apple and cinnamon. Knead into the dough, making sure everything is well distributed (this isn’t as easy as it sounds!). Cover and leave to rise for another hour or until doubled in size.

Divide the dough into 16 even pieces (Paul actually says 15 pieces, but I have an issue with odd number when baking, and to weigh each piece so they cook evenly). Roll each piece into a smooth ball on a lightly floured work surface (Paul suggests cupping your hand over the ball and using a circular motion, first slow then fast, to create an even ball).

Arrange the buns on two baking trays lined with baking paper, leaving some space for the dough to expand. Cover (but don’t wrap) with more oiled cling film, or a clean tea towel, and let them prove for another hour.

Heat your oven to 220C (200C fan).

Mix the flour for the cross with about 5 tbsp water to make a paste, adding the water 1 tbsp at a time to achieve a thick paste. Spoon into a piping bag with a small nozzle. Pipe a line along each row of buns, then repeat in the other direction to create crosses (Paul suggests starting piping on the baking tray, moving over the buns and finishing on the baking tray so your crosses go all the way across your buns).

Bake for 12-15 minutes on the middle shelf of the oven, until golden brown.

Gently heat the sugar and water for the glaze either in a small saucepan or in the microwave.  While the buns are still warm, brush over the sugar syrup over the top of the buns and leave to cool.

Variations:

  • add some more spice such as nutmeg and cloves (even ginger) for a more traditional spiced bun
  • glaze the warm buns with warmed and sieved apricot jam (Paul’s suggestion), or honey or golden syrup
  • add some different dried fruit such as cranberries, cherries or dates
  • add 100g of broken up chocolate for more decadent buns

How do you eat your hot cross buns? Toasted? Anything on top?

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