An Easter treat, these spicy, fruity yeasted buns are usually in the shops from oh, just after Christmas, but as usual home-made are better if you can spare the time. As so many of us are self-isolating thanks to coronavirus, making them is a pleasant way of whiling away an afternoon, and probably the only way to get your mitts on them with the supermarket shelves being so empty.
Of course, you may be hanging onto your bread flour to actually make bread right now, in which case this is a good recipe to tuck into your back pocket until happier times.
I’ve read reams of recipes and experimented with several. This one owes something to Elizabeth David and something to the Guardian’s Felicity Cloake, both legends in their own teatimes. I like my hot cross buns traditional in flavour but packed with plenty of both dried fruit and spice. Feel free to go off piste if you want to be more adventurous or are using up lurkers in your cupboard but hopefully this will give you some guidelines.
I tried two different finishing glazes. I’ve opted for the second in the recipe below. Cloake’s mixes 1 tbsp of caster sugar with 1 tbsp of boiling water. It gives a good shine but leaves the buns sticky.
David’s requires you to boil 2 tbsp milk with 2 tbsp of caster sugar then paint on a double coat. She says it will not become tacky ‘provided the dough was well matured and baked at the right moment’. It provided the promised mirror glaze and though mine were a bit sticky, they did dry out more overnight. Perhaps a question of letting it dry more between coats or splashing it on less liberally? Not a question I can answer, sorry, because I don’t have enough spare flour to trial a third batch.
Hot Cross Buns
450g strong white bread flour
7g fast action yeast (15g dried active yeast, 30g fresh yeast)
1 tspn salt
About 200ml milk
60g soft light brown sugar
60g softened butter
2 tspn mixed spice
3 eggs (1 is for the glaze)
150g currants (or raisins or sultanas, beggars can’t be choosers at the moment)
50g mixed peel
3 tbsp plain flour
2 tbsp milk + 2 tbsp castor sugar, for 2nd glaze
Put the flour in a large bowl and heat in a low oven for five minutes. Warm the milk to blood heat, and if you’re using dried active or fresh yeast, spoon some into a small bowl and sprinkle over the yeast. Whisk and leave to froth. If using fast action yeast, add it with the other dry ingredients in the next step.
Add the salt, sugar and spices to the flour. Add the butter, cut into small pieces. Rub it in quickly between thumb and fingers, then add two of the eggs, one at a time. It’ll look clumpy but it’s important not to add all the liquid straight away because you may not need all the milk.
Add the liquid yeast mixture, if using, and mix through. Stir in the milk, a little at a time, until you have a soft but not too liquid dough. Scatter over the dried fruit and mix until evenly distributed. (Some recipes add them after the first rise but I find it easier to incorporate them at this point.)
Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes. It will be sticky but persevere (or use a food mixer fitted with a dough hook on a low speed for about eight minutes) until the dough is smooth and elastic. Place in a clean, lightly oiled bowl, cover and set aside somewhere warm until doubled in size, around two hours, depending on the warmth of your kitchen.
Turn onto a lightly oiled surface and knead briefly, then divide into 16 equal pieces and form into bun shapes. (Some recipes tell you to score a deep cross in them. I can’t see the point of letting all the air out.)
Place on lined baking trays, cover with lightly oiled clingfilm or similar, and put somewhere warm until again doubled in size. Mine took about an hour.
Heat the oven to 190C/170C fan/375F/Gas Mark 5. Beat the remaining egg with a tiny splash of milk and glaze the top of each bun. Mix the plain flour with enough water to make a thick paste and using a piping bag paint a cross on top of each one. Bake for around 20-25 minutes until golden.
Bring the milk for the second glaze to a boil and dissolve the sugar in it. Give the buns two successive coatings while they’re still hot. Cool on a rack.
I like them split, toasted on the inner side, and spread with plenty of butter, although I noticed that Suffolk’s Pump Street Bakery cafe stuffs them with crispy bacon. Just a thought.