Hot Cross Buns (Secular Edition)

Hot x buns retouched

I love food traditions, and despite being a dyed-in-the-wool atheist I enjoy the edible perks of Eastertime. Since we head into winter after Easter in the southern hemisphere, hot cross buns are a genuinely ‘season-appropriate’ thing to get stuck into eating too much of, since everything else is tied in with the coming of spring and new life. And something to do with Christianity. Hot cross buns are warm, spicy, dried-fruity and rich, which are quite wintry, comforting and snuggly characteristics to me.

I think that a good hot cross bun should be loaded with fruit, but not really dry, wizened fruit that gets all burnt if it is poking out of the dough. I also like them to have plenty of spicy flavour and a tender, fluffy, lightly chewy texture. Baking them in a pan instead of individually is a must, because then they have a crusty top and a softer base so when you cut your bun in half, you get two different eating experiences.  They also get a cute little square-ish shape which looks really quaint and traditional. Despite being a godless peasant I still put the crosses on the buns because the contrast of the pale lines against the dark crust looks so striking. Maybe mine could technically be addition symbols, as in: ‘I’ll have one + another one for straight after’.

My recipe differs from typical ones in a few ways. I developed it using my Enriched Dough recipe as a starting point but it is now very different. I soak the dried fruit in apple juice to sweeten it a bit and make the sultanas and currants plump. This stops them from going shrivelled and hard and burning if they are exposed, and adds moistness to the dough. I also use grated apple to add moistness, sweetness and flavour.  But I don’t add peel, because I think that the invention of candied peel was a huge, terrible mistake and a scourge upon the earth. Adding malt extract gives a little more rich, deep flavour overall and complements the warmth of the spices. I mix the spices into the fats to begin with, so that the fats absorb the flavour of the spices and carry them. I have no basis or explanation for this so you will just have to have faith. Faith in science, I mean.

Hot Cross Buns

  • Servings: 12
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 150g Sultanas
  • 100g Currants
  • 250ml Apple juice
  • 10g Dry active yeast
  • 1 tsp White sugar
  • 150ml Milk
  • 100g Unsalted butter, softened
  • 75g Brown sugar
  • 1 Egg
  • 25g / 1 Tbsp Malt extract
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 1 Tbsp Cinnamon
  • 1 Tbsp Mixed spice
  • 1 tsp Cardamom, ground
  • 1 tsp Nutmeg, ground or grated
  • ½ tsp Allspice, ground
  • 550g Strong flour + extra
  • 50g Cornflour
  • 1 Apple, cored and grated

For the crosses:

  • 75g / ½ C Flour
  • 80-90ml Water

For the glaze:

  • 30g Brown sugar
  • 30ml Water

Method:

  • Put the sultanas and currants into a bowl and cover with apple juice. Leave to soak.
  • Warm the milk to no more than 37°C. Sprinkle in the yeast and the white sugar. Leave it to go foamy.
  • Into the bowl of a stand mixer, put the butter, malt extract and brown sugar. Use the paddle attachment to cream them together (you can also do it manually or using a handheld beater).
  • Add the egg and beat until the mixture has come together again.
  • Add the spices and beat the mixture again for a period of about 5 minutes, to allow the fat of the butter and the egg to absorb the flavours of the spices.
  • Pour the fruit into a sieve and tap it and shake it to let the excess apple juice drain.
  • Add the flour, milk/yeast mixture, salt, grated apple, drained fruit and yeast mixture to the stand mixer bowl (or a regular large bowl if kneading by hand).
  • Set your stand mixer kneading, using a dough hook attachment. If you are hand-kneading your dough, mix the ingredients until they have just come together and turn the mixture out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic. It is quite a wet, sticky dough but it should be firm enough to form a mass and hold together; if it does not, add a little more flour until it does.
  • Once your dough is well-kneaded, place it into a greased bowl and cover it with cling film. Put it in a warm place to rise until it has doubled in size. It pays to visualise how much bigger it will look when roughly doubled in case you forget how big it initially was. You may find that it takes longer than usual to rise; it is a very enriched dough and this seems to hinder the yeast a bit.
  • Once the dough has risen, punch it down and take it out of the bowl, turning it out onto a lightly floured surface. Giving it a light knead will help it to become less gooey and more manageable.
  • Weigh your dough and divide the total weight by 12. Portion out the dough and form it into balls by rolling it against your work surface with a flat hand and bringing your fingers in around it as you roll.
  • Lay out your dough balls on a greased Swiss roll pan or similar kind of rectangular tray. This recipe makes enough dough to fill out a 20cm x 30cm Swiss roll pan.
  • Leave the formed tray of dough to rise again. This is the rising that will trap the air that will remain in your hot cross buns and make them light and fluffy, so be gentle and try not to mess them around.
  • Once the dough has proved* and the tray is well filled-out with risen dough,  you can prepare and pipe your crosses. I use a piping bag with a Wilton size 10 round nozzle tip. Just add enough water to make a thick yet pipe-able paste. You don’t want it to be too runny or else you’ll end up with all sorts of weird symbols being dribbled over your buns. We just want to stick to crucifixes for this holiday.
  • Bake the buns at 190°C, until the crusts are dark, golden brown. To know more accurately if they are cooked, you can use a probe thermometer to check if the core is 92°C.
  • While the buns are baking, make up your glaze and have it prepared and ready to use.
  • When you are satisfied that your tray of buns is cooked, Take them out and put the tray on a cooling rack. Brush the buns with glaze. The glaze soaks into the buns a bit, so keep your remaining glaze in case you want to add more later. You can turn them out of the tray once they have cooled a little and the glaze is fairly set.

*The general rule for proofing is that if you can make a dimple in it with a finger and it pops back again, or if it is roughly double in size, it is ready for the oven.

Merry Easter to all of you!

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