For the last three years now I have been perfecting Hot Cross Buns for Easter. It has taken me that long to get the recipe, ingredients, and technique right, and I have experienced a huge amount of disappointment, tears, and muscle burn from the constant kneading but I stand before you now, slightly dishevelled and covered in flour, with I believe the best recipe, and a few hints and tips that I hope will make your Hot Cross Bun journey a little less bumpy. And, I can promise, once you have tasted home-made, you will never buy shop-bought again... (apologies to Jonathan Warburton for the decline in sales next year...)
Having said all this, I have made a couple of substitutions today when making these up for this post, simply because of necessity. Normally I make these with orange zest, and a mixture of cranberries and sultanas, today, because of what I had in the house, they are made with lemon zest (as we had some leftovers from Gary making Lemon Chicken earlier in the week) and a mixture of sultanas and mixed peel, as that was what was in the cupboard. I guess really you can use whatever dried fruit you fancy, however I strongly recommend adding the cranberries if you get the chance. My sultanas were a little on the dry side, so I pepped them up before I started baking by soaking them in cold tea, and then draining them on a sheet of kitchen towel.
|Hot Cross Buns|
Now, I do not profess to be an expert in anything bread related, in fact I am eagerly awaiting Paul Hollywood's new series (starting 18th March BBC2) to try once and for all to master the craft, however, my Grandpa was born and bread (sorry, bad pun) a baker, and I have picked up all my hints and tips from him along the way, and they have never failed to make baking easier for me...
- 1 and a half teaspoons fast action yeast
- 625 grams strong white bread flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons mixed spice
- 45 grams unsalted butter
- 85 grams caster sugar
- the zest of one orange (or lemon!)
- 1 egg
- 275 ml tepid milk
- 125 grams dried fruit (recommend sultanas and cranberries, however use any dried fruit to suit tastes)
- 2 tablespoons plain flour
- vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon orange blossom honey (you could use any honey or golden syrup)
1. Tip: Get a head start on the yeast. Put one and a half teaspoons of dried fast action yeast into a small dish, and add a teaspoon of warm water, and a teaspoon of the milk. Mix well to form a paste and set aside. This allows the yeast to start to ferment straight away, before you add it to the dough.
2. Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl, and add the salt and mixed spice. Mix well.
3. Chop the butter into small cubes, and add to the flour. Using you fingers, rub the butter into the flour to create a fine breadcrumb like texture.
4. Add the orange zest (or lemon), the caster sugar, and the yeast. Try to add the yeast on top of the sugar. Mix them all well through the mixture.
5. Make a well in the centre of the flour. Beat the egg lightly, and add to the well. Start mixing into the flour, and gradually add the tepid milk (I tend to blast my milk in the microwave for 5-10 seconds to bring it up to temperature).
6. Mix the liquids into the flour mixture until a dough starts to form. At this point, it's time to get your hands dirty. Put down the wooden spoon, and bring the dough together with your hands, working in any dry bits of flour mixture that might be left.
7. Empty the dough out of the bowl, and onto a lightly oiled work-surface. Most recipes dictate a floured work surface, however using oil instead prevents getting additional unnecessary flour worked into the dough, and yet still prevents the dough sticking to the surface. You only need the smallest amount of oil though.
8. As you start to knead the dough, work in the mixed fruit a handful at a time.
9. Knead the dough well. This will take around 15 minutes to achieve the required texture. I tend to knead in a V shape, alternating hands, and pushing the dough out with the palm of my hand, and then pulling it back in to the centre. You need (knead - oh gosh another bread pun) to find a method and a rhythm that suits you, as it does take time. I have tried to master Paul Hollywood's method of kneading, but it just doesn't work for me like the V pattern.
10. The dough is ready when it takes on an elastic-y texture, is shiny, and when you pinch it it springs back to it's original shape. Tip: You can never over-knead bread - but you can under-knead. Make sure that your dough meets these three tests. If it doesn't, keep kneading until it does. (There is a point about 10 minutes in when you think it will never happen, but keep going, it all comes together quite quickly in the end).
11. Take a large, clean bowl, and oil it with a little vegetable oil. Place the ball of dough in the bowl, and then cover with clingfilm, also oiled on the underside. The oil prevents the dough from sticking to the clingfilm, and collapsing when it is removed.
12. Put the bowl is a warm place for the dough to prove. If you are lucky, you may have an aga to place your bowl on. If you are luckier still you may have a super new oven with a proving drawer built in. I have neither of these things. I have tried little places all over the house for years to find the best places to prove my dough. Now I turn my oven on low, and put my dough in the (turned off) grill compartment above with the door open. Works a bloomin' treat I tell you!
13. Leave the dough to prove for at least one hour, and until the dough has doubled in size. It should look a little like this... If the dough hasn't doubled, leave it to prove until it has, otherwise you will end up with hard, stodgy buns at the end.
14. Tip the dough back out onto the work surface and knock it back. Start by pressing down on the dough with the back of your fists to press the air out, then re-knead the dough for 5 minutes as before.
15. Shape the dough back into a ball, and place it back in the oiled bowl. Cover with the clingfilm again, and return to the 'warm place'. Leave to prove again for around 30 minutes, or until the dough has doubled in size again.
16. Lightly oil two baking trays, and set to one side. Take the proven dough and turn it out onto the work surface. Take a knife, and cut the dough into 12 evenly sized pieces. Shape each piece into a ball, and place on the oiled tray, 6 pieces to each tray. Leave around 1 - 2 cm between each ball, they will grow a little more and join together.
17. Loosely wrap each tray in greaseproof paper, then place in a plastic carrier bag and tie the bag tightly so no air can get to the dough. Return the trays to the warm place and leave again to rise for around 45 minutes. (There is a lot of waiting to prove in making Hot Cross Buns. Bear with them, they will be worth it I promise).
18. In a small pot, mix two tablespoons of flour with two tablespoons of water to make a smooth paste. The paste should be fluid, but thick enough to retain it's shape when piped. Transfer the paste to a piping bag. Turn your oven up to 200 degrees.
19. Take the trays out, and remove the bags and greaseproof paper. Using the flour paste, pipe crosses across each of the buns.
20. Put the buns in the oven. Bake for around 10 minutes until they are a golden brown colour all over. They should make a dull hollow sound when tapped.
21. Remove the Hot Cross Buns from the oven, and transfer from the tray to a cooling rack. Heat the honey immediately (a couple of seconds in the microwave will make it runny enough) and brush over the still hot buns with a pastry brush. Leave the buns to cool completely.
And there you have it - 12 gorgeous, sticky, sweet and fruity Hot Cross Buns, to impress your nearest and dearest. Toast them, butter them, and sit down with a large mug of tea to bask in their glory. Just be warned, they will disappear so quickly that you will be back at Step 1 again before you know it!
I am entering these Hot Cross Buns into this month's Calendar Cakes run by Rachel at Dolly Bakes, and Laura at Laura Loves Cakes - Laura is hosting this month, and you can find the full challenge here. The theme is Easter Extravaganza.