Hot cross buns. The name for these Easter treats always anthropomorphizes them in my eyes: rather than being crossed for religious reasons, I always imagine them as hot and bothered: a flustered little addition to any baking repertoire. Luckily making these lovely seasonal buns is anything but bothersome. A simple enriched dough of flour, sugar, butter and egg is stirred through with mixed spice and additions of your choice – typically raisins, sultanas and candied peel, although chopped dried dates, apricots, cherries or even chocolate are all delicious alternatives – before being quickly kneaded, left to rise then divided into perfect little pillows and marked with a cross.
This month I’m hosting the Fresh From the Oven challenge and I’ve decided to task anyone who wants to get involved with making spiced buns. With Easter just a few days away and the shelf-life of a homemade hot cross buns a little less than 48 hours, now couldn’t be a more perfect time to get baking. But don’t worry if you’ve been hugely organized and already baked a batch for your freezer – there are some suggestions below for alternatives to your standard hot cross bun, and the more diverse and imaginative the entries the better!
Speaking of buns in the oven, and as it’s 1st April, what’s the worst trick you’ve ever played on someone for April Fool’s Day? When I was little my brother and I used to scheme up ideas of changing the time on the clock in our kitchen, waking our parents up in the middle of the night or exchanging the pot of sugar for one filled with salt. So when I got to university, I naturally thought it would be fun to extend this low level, entirely harmless enjoyment of practical jokes to my newly acquired nearest and dearest, Carniverous Boyfriend.
It’s hard to imagine now after seven years together what our relationship was like after six weeks, but my twenty year old self obviously thought it would be hilarious to text him on April Fool’s Day with the news that ‘I’m pregnant…’ I quickly followed up with a second text ‘…with triplets!’ which I thought made it pretty clear that I was joking, but apparently on receipt of the first message he put his phone down, left the room and spent several traumatized minutes wondering how he should feel and what on earth he was going to do with this unexpected and slightly scary news. Oops.
Anyway, back to a less controversial bun in the oven . . . If you haven’t made hot cross buns before, you’re in for a treat. The crumb is soft and light, rich with spice and packed with plump juicy fruit while the crust is golden and delicious, glazed with a sticky sweet syrup to give its trademark shine. Everyone seems to have a signature recipe, but read enough and you’ll realise that they’re pretty much all slight variations on a theme.
The recipe below is my own – I like my buns to have a natural so include a whole heap of dried fruit rather than using any sugar, and I use a 50/50 ratio of strong white and wholemeal flavour for added bite. I’ve stolen an idea from The Boy Who Bakes of brushing the tops with golden syrup rather than making my own syrup as it’s infinitely easier, but other than that it’s a pretty standard bun. Read on for the recipe, or if you fancy something a little more adventurous, why not try one of these alternatives:
Hot Cross Buns
Makes 13 medium sized buns (or a baker’s dozen)
For the buns
225g strong white flour
225g wholemeal flour
7g dried yeast
50g light brown sugar (optional, I don’t include this)
2 tsp mixed spice
½ tsp ground cinnamon
50g unsalted butter
250ml full fat milk
Zest of half an orange
1 large free range egg
85g mixed peel
For the crosses & glaze
50g plain flour
2 tbsp golden syrup
Mix the flours, yeast, salt, sugar (if using) and spices together in a large bowl.
In a small pan, melt the butter then remove from the heat and stir in the milk. Add the orange zest then beat in the egg.
Make a well in the flour mixture and pour in your tepid milk mixture, bringing together to form a soft dough.
Knead on a lightly floured work surface for about five minutes or until stretchy and elastic. You could also do this in a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook on low speed for about five minutes.
Once your dough is almost ready, flatten it out and sprinkle over the raisins, sultanas and mixed peel. Push them into the dough, then continue to knead for a couple of minutes more until fully incorporated. Shape the dough into a ball and put in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with a tea towel and set aside to prove until doubled in size, about one hour.
Tip the risen dough onto a lightly floured surface and flatten slightly. Divide into thirteen pieces of about 80g (a baker’s dozen), shape each one into a round and place on a baking tray lined with parchment, about 2cm apart. Cover with a tea towel and set aside to prove for a further 40 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. To make the crosses, mix the flour with about 4 tbsp water or until a thick paste forms. Fill a piping bag fitted with a small nozzle (or cut the corner off a sandwich bag).
Slash the tops of each bun with a cross then pipe the flour paste into each cross. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a lovely golden colour.
Gently heat the golden syrup in a small pan. Remove the buns from the oven and brush all over with sticky syrup. Allow to cool slightly before serving.
To enter this month’s challenge, all you need to do is visit Purely Food HERE for all the details.