One a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns

I think the reason that I enjoy making festive treats so much is that it marks the occasion. In our grown-up lives of work and responsibilities it's easy to forget the simple joy of a home-made advent calendar, a Valentine's Day post box or an Easter bonnet. When I make something so seasonal I feel that I'm not just letting the year pass by in a blur but I'm actually stopping to participate in it.

When I was at primary school Easter was a big deal. We made bonnets (crumpled tissue paper glued to a head band) and paraded around the assembly hall like show ponies. We decorated eggs with glitter and sequins and the day ended with the eggstavaganza (sorry) of egg rolling. Yes, every year we would hard boil eggs (usually adding vinegar to the water for its fabled strengthening properties), take them to the top of the hill in the playground and roll them down. After the eggs had been rolled we would tear across the grass, dodging the debris and laughing at those who had forgotten to boil their weapon. The aim was to throw your egg the furthest without it exploding in a flurry of yolk and shell. Ah, those were the days.

Unfortunately, there's no egg rolling for me this year but I have made Hot Cross Buns. At the moment these sweet little buns are available everywhere but I'm never normally tempted. The ones in the shops always look so dry. The other day I poked one in Sainsbury's and it didn't yield a millimetre. Firm and taut is all well and good for a Supermodel's thigh, but when it comes to buns you want soft and giving.

These treats are really simple to make and since most of the preparation time is leaving the yeast to do its thing you're not tied to cooker. Full of fruit and scented with spice they are delicious fresh from the oven or toasted and spread with butter over the next few days.

Hot Cross Buns
(makes 12 large buns)

25g fresh yeast or 15g dried yeast
50g caster sugar
150ml tepid water (1 part boiling and 2 parts cold)
450g strong white bread making flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 heaped tsp mixed spice
1/2 grated nutmeg (optional)
50g butter
200g mixed sultanas, currants and mixed peel
grated rind of an orange
warm milk and 1 beaten egg to make up 140ml
4 tablespoons of milk boiled with 2 tablespoons of sugar to glaze.
110g plain flour, 25g caster sugar and water to make a paste for the crosses.

  1. Cream the fresh yeast with 1 teaspoon of the sugar and dissolve in the water. If using dried yeast follow the instructions given on the packet.

  2. Sift into a large bowl the flour, salt and spices.

  3. Rub the butter into the flour as if you were making pastry.

  4. Mix in the rest of the sugar and the dried fruit. Make sure you break up any clumps of fruit before adding.

  5. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and add the yeast and the egg/milk mixture.

  6. Combine the mixture into a dough with a wooden spoon and then your hands. The dough should be pliable but not overly sticky. Add a little more warm milk or flour as appropriate.

  7. Knead the dough for around 6 minutes until it is smooth and elastic in texture. Some of the fruit may want to pop out as you do this. Simply push it back in to the dough again.

  8. Leave the dough to rest as you wash the bowl and lightly grease it. Put the ball of dough back into the bowl, cover with cling film and a clean tea towel and leave to rise somewhere warm. Because this is an enriched dough it rises more slowly than normal bread, therefore somewhere warm like an airing cupboard or in a warmed oven with the light on will help the dough rise. Leave it until it has doubled in size (about 1 hour).

  9. Once the dough has risen, turn the it onto a floured board and knead it smooth again. Pinch out any large air bubbles.

  10. Shape the dough into buns (remember that it will spread so don't go too big like my monster buns). You can do this by rolling the dough in your hand and tucking the edges under like a cushion. Mark a cross on top of the buns using a knife. Put them on a greased baking tray.

  11. Loosely cover the buns with cling film and a tea towel and then leave them in your warm place until they have spread and become puffy (about 40 minutes).

  12. In the meantime mix the flour, water and caster sugar together to make a smooth paste. It needs to be a pipeable consistency. Fill a piping bag with a small nozzle or use a freezer bag with the corner cut out.

  13. Preheat the oven to 220 degrees and pipe a cross on your buns. Put them in the oven for 15 minutes or until golden.

  14. While the buns are in the oven, boil the milk and sugar together until it becomes syrupy.

  15. Remove the buns from the oven and put them on a cooling rack. Before they become cool, paint the syrup on top until they gleam.

If you prefer, you can make a hot cross bun loaf with this dough. Instead of dividing the mixture you just put it into a loaf tin and leave out the crosses. Cook the loaf for 10-15 minutes at 200 degrees then lower the temperature to 180 degrees for a further 25-30 minutes or until firm.

Apologies for the less than inspiring photos. I made these this evening and the light in my kitchen is a yukky yukky yellow. Booooo


Dolores said...

When I make something so seasonal I feel that I'm not just letting the year pass by in a blur but I'm actually stopping to participate in it.

This statement really resonates with me... in the insanity that's every day life, it's easy to let time pass by without acknowledging it OR participating in it. Thanks for reminding me to stop and smell the buns baking. :)

marye said...

they look lovely, yellow light and all!

Antonia said...

The buns look gorgeous! I am so impressed that you made your own - I am sure they were really delicious. I cheated and bought them ready-made, I'm afraid. I have a bit of a block with bread-baking that I really must overcome. Next year, perhaps I'll follow your recipe and give them a try. Happy Easter!

jasmine said...

Participating in these foodish rituals marks time but also connects us to those who came before us and those around us.

V. nice post.


Cheryl said...

Dolores - I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels that it all gets a bit manic sometimes. We need regular baking breaks to stay sane!

Marye - Thank you!

Antonia - Happy (belated) Easter to you. Believe me, when I was willing the buns to rise at 10pm last Thursday, I was cursing myself for not getting the ones from M&S! I think yeast is more forgiving than we fear - I'm sure you'd get on very well.

Jasmine - You are so right. All my favourite recipes are ones that ground me in the past - either my own or the years before. For me, that's comfort food.

Tartelette said...

We never had an Easter traditional food beside roasted lamb but I as soon as I was of age to explore I made hot cross buns and make them ever since. I love them and I love your recipe. They are so tempting!

Joy said...

I'm glad you're making hot cross buns too - all the way across the Atlantic!