It's time for Hot Cross Buns!
I've always been very afraid of making any sort of bread because the art of bread making is a bit of a mystery to me. Each year for The Great British Bake Off, Paul Hollywood demonstrates how to make various types of bread & I always watch him with part admiration & part confusion. He talks about the gluten in the flour & what that does, what's happening when the bread is left to prove (when you leave the dough to rise in a warm place before baking), how to knead bread properly, whether you use warm or cold water & he'll sometimes refer to 'enriched dough' (for the life of me I still don't know what that means!). It seems you can easily overwork dough, under work dough, not leave it long enough to prove, kill the yeast in the dough if you directly add salt... the list goes on. So you see, the thing that scares me the most about bread making is that it all feels very technical & scientific - a weird thing to say I know because all baking is science when you think about it. But to get good results with bread it seems you really do need to know what you're doing.
So when my Aunty asked me if I was going to make hot cross buns for Easter, my immediate reaction was one of fear followed quickly by a "no" (the one & only time I did try making hot cross buns... I failed miserably!). At this point my Nana mentioned that she too had tried making hot cross buns & they turned out as hard as rocks (fear is growing at this point...if my Nana didn't have any luck making them, there's no hope for me!). Then my Aunty tells us that she has a good recipe for hot cross buns, one that she has made lots of times & would therefore swear by. She offers to email it to me & I reluctantly agree.
So here I am, writing this blog having made my Aunty's hot cross bun recipe. How did they turn out? Not too bad! Not too bad at all! They are by no means perfect & they wouldn't be good enough to win the technical bake category of The Great British Bake Off. I can just hear Paul & Mary telling me that although they taste good & look like hot cross buns should look, they are a bit dense in consistency. I'm not sure why that is... over kneaded the dough...under kneaded the dough... who knows. But what I do know is that it is a recipe worth sharing because I am still very proud of how they turned out & I really like the taste. Not too spicy. And no dried fruit. Or peel.
Before I share the recipe, lets just quickly touch on the issue of dried fruit in hot cross buns. It's quite a talking point when you mention hot cross buns to people, they either love them with dried fruit or they hate them. Personally, I'm not a big fan of the fruit. While I am happy to eat a nicely warmed or toasted hot cross bun with fruit if I can slather it with butter, I much prefer plain hot cross buns without dried fruit or citrus peel. Of course these days, you can buy all sorts of 'flavoured' hot cross buns. Chocolate chip hot cross buns are quite common now & just the other day a friend of mine said she had tried sticky date & caramel hot cross buns (flash eh!)
I recon that you could experiment to your hearts content with flavours - I think this recipe would be nice with some chocolate chips so I might try adding them next time. If you do decide to do this, just add in a cup of chocolate chips or if you are a fan of the fruit, just add in a cup of dried fruit.
On to the recipe which makes 12 hot cross buns.
600g plain flour
2 tsp dried yeast
60g brown sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp mixed spice (otherwise known as all spice)
2 tsp salt
250ml milk, lukewarm
40g unsalted butter, softened
- First thing to do is ensure you'll have soft butter for later on, so remove it from the fridge, measure it, cut it into small cubes & leave it to soften.
- Next prepare your oven tray for baking the buns - you'll also use this to sit the buns in to rise before you bake them. Make sure you choose a tray large enough to hold the 12 buns, mine was roughly 30cm x 35cm. Grease the tray with some cooking oil spray & set it aside.
- In a large bowl, mix flour, yeast, sugar, spices & salt (here's where you would add in your additional ingredients like chocolate chips or fruit). NOTE: place the salt on the other side of the bowl to the yeast. On The Great British Bake Off I remember Paul Hollywood doing this & saying something about salt killing yeast.
- Warm the milk slightly on the stove or in the microwave until it is lukewarm. Add to the eggs in a separate bowl & whisk together. Pour into the flour mixture & mix to form a sticky dough. TIP: I mixed with a wooden spoon to begin with then resorted to using my hands as it was much easier to handle this way.
- Lightly dust your kitchen bench with some flour & turn out the dough. Here's when you need to roll up your sleeves & get ready for a work out! Knead the dough for 10 minutes until it becomes elastic. You can keep sprinkling a little more dough on the bench if need be to stop it sticking.
- Once you've built up a sweat from kneading the dough for 10 minutes, its time to get a bit messier & add the softened butter. Now, I'm not sure what the best way of doing this would be - I just flattened the dough slightly & then slathered the butter on the top before kneading it again. It was really messy & it took a while for the butter to be absorbed into the dough. So just stick with it - you'll need to knead the dough for a further 8 minutes until it's smooth.
- Form the dough into a cylinder shape long enough to cut it into 12 even sized pieces. Roll each piece into a ball & place them 2cm apart on your greased oven tray. Cover the top with cling wrap & place the tray somewhere warm for 2 hours until doubled in size. Now, I don't have a linen cupboard or anywhere particularly warm so I Google this & apparently room temperature is fine. I read that you can also put them in your oven if you have a light that you can switch on for a bit of additional warmth - without turning on the actual oven.
- Once the 2 hours are up, preheat your oven to 180 C. The next thing to do is to make up the water & flour mixture that you can pipe on the tops of the buns to form crosses. Simply mix together 1/2 cup of plain flour with 3-4 tablespoons of water until you have a smooth consistency. You don't want it to be too runny as it needs to stay on top of the buns when you pipe it so just add more flour or more water to get a good piping consistency. Place the mixture into a piping bag, push the mixture to the bottom & twist the top of the bag tightly before snipping off about 3mm at the end of the bag.
- Pipe a cross on each bun & then bake them for 15-20 mins until golden. Mine took 20 mins & a good way of checking whether they are cooked is to tap on the bottom of the buns & if they sound hollow, they're cooked (thanks to Mary Berry for that tip!)
- While the buns are cooking, whip up a sugar syrup which you will use to glaze the buns when they are still hot from the oven. Heat 3 tablespoons of water with 3 tablespoons of sugar on the stove, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Set aside & then brush this over the buns when they come out of the oven.
- Leave the buns to cool slightly before placing them on a cooling rack. Store in an airtight container.
Hot cross buns are best eaten still warm from the oven or warmed slightly in the microwave later on. I also like to halve hot cross buns & place them in the oven under the grill to toast slightly. Slather with butter or marg!
Have fun making these (you'll also feel very proud of yourself!) & have a wonderful Easter! x