I know you can buy perfectly good hot cross buns from Woolworths* or any bakery at this time of year. But sometimes you just want the satisfaction of making holiday treats yourself. Especially as chocolate is available (and consumed) all year-round, for me hot cross buns are really the true treat of the season.
I have decided that this is the year I perfect my bread-making skills (being something of a weak point of mine), so I felt that hot cross buns were a way to ease into bread while still maintaining enough sugar to remain in my baking comfort-zone.
*(they’re too good, really!)
I actually tried 2 other hot cross bun recipes before cobbling together this recipe from the components of several others. The big difference between the recipe methods was that some required you to create a ‘starter sponge’. Not a difficult task, but certainly a new concept to me entirely. It made the difference between dense, scone-like buns and fluffy, soft buns perfect for sharing with family and friends.
- 2 level teaspoons of dried yeast OR 20g fresh yeast
- 100ml warm water
- 55g plain flour
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 egg, beaten
- 455g plain flour, and more to knead
- 85g caster sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 3 heaped teaspoons of mixed spices (I used 2 of cinnamon, 1/2 tsp cloves and 1/2 tsp nutmeg, plus 1/4 tsp of all spice)
- 85g butter, melted
- 120ml milk
- 255g mixed dried fruit (whatever you have)
- 1 cup of good black tea (I used T2 French Earl Gray)
- 2 tablespoons (approximately) of apricot jam
- 2 tablespoons plain flour
- 2 tablespoons water
Firstly, put together your starter sponge. Put the water in a small bowl. Add the egg, yeast, flour and sugar then mix well and cover the bowl. Leave to sit in a warm, draught-free place for about half an hour or longer if it is not puffy by then (see photos above – the second photo shows the puffy starter sponge ready for use).
Now place your dried fruit in another small bowl and cover with the boiling tea. Make sure your tea has brewed long enough to impart plenty of flavour. This will make the fruit plump and flavoursome. Cover and pop it somewhere out of the way for around 20 minutes.
While the fruit and sponge sit and grow, place the dry ingredients for the dough (flour, spices, sugar, salt, baking powder) into a bowl and mix together. Drain your fruit well and sit aside.
Once the starter sponge is ready, add the milk and butter to the dry dough ingredients. Mix until it begins to come together, then add in the starter sponge and mix well.
The dough will be indredibly sticky at this point. Flour your bench very well and knead the dough until it is soft and springy. It will take in about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of plain flour during kneading. Once you are happy with the dough consistency, flatten it out into a rough rectangle, sprinkle the fruit over the top and knead it in briefly, until evenly distributed.
Once soft enough to handle, place it in a clean, greased bowl and cover with glad-wrap. Place it in a warm, druaght-free spot and allow it to rise until it has doubled in size, this should take about an hour.
Check the dough after an hour. If it is nice and puffy, take it out, briefly knock it back to knead a little and then replace in the bowl to sit for a further half an hour.
Once the dough has risen again, knock it back just enough so that you can work with it and divide the dough into 12 even pieces. Roll the pieces into balls and spread them out in a greased 30 x 20cm pan with nice deep sides. Cover the pan and set aside for half an hour in that lovely warm, draught-free spot.
While they rise, heat your oven to 200° and mix together the flour and water to make a thin paste for the crosses. Once you’re happy with the consistency (just thin enough to flow smoothly), spoon the paste into a zip-lock sandwich bag and snip off a very small corner. Pipe crosses onto the hot cross buns and be generous, you may need to go over them two or three times.
When you’re happy with the crosses, pop the buns in for 20 – 25 minutes. If they’re browning too quickly, cover with foil and reduce the heat to 180°c.
When they’re done, brush them with warmed apricot jam (or whatever jam you have) and leave to cool on a board for at least 10 minutes, by which time they will be cooled enough to eat.
I like to enjoy these by slathering butter onto the freshly cut bun straight from the oven. If you’re not lucky enough to enjoy it straight from the oven or, hopefully, have some to enjoy later that day, these are great briefly grilled and topped with smooth peanut butter. It’s a family habit and one that I highly recommend.
To my mind, there’s not much that can’t be improved with the addition of peanut butter.