July 6, 2020

The Berry Project: Hot Cross Buns

Bird-eye view of hot-cross bun spread

Hot-cross buns are a well-loved bake in my family. When I lived at home, they would start appearing in the kitchen cupboards from as early as late January (I inherited my love of them from my mother) and we’d enjoy them toasted with butter and jam for lunch or a mid-afternoon snack. One year, my mum bought so many that we had to have an intervention as we were literally eating hot-cross buns every day for weeks on end. Even as a hot-cross bun lover, there’s only so many you can take before they start becoming a little repetitive. We got through this period and my deep, unwavering affection for hot-cross buns returned and so when I spotted a hot-cross bun recipe in Mary Berry’s Baking Bible, it was one of the first recipes I wanted to try. (It can helpfully also be found online here).

For those who have been following my baking journey for a while however, might be aware of my troublesome relationship with bread – a true story of unrequited love. As much as I knead my dough, tenderly rest it and bake it at the suggested temperature, in most instances my bread ends up as a sorry-looking lump that’s doughy and inedible. I’ve always put this down to my technique but it turns out, I’ve been using a bad batch of yeast. Although it was within its expiry date, when I tested it, it was well and truly dead. Enter new packet of dry active yeast and voila, baking bread success!

Now I’ll be honest, it’s taken me three attempts to successfully make these hot-cross buns. The yeast failed to activate in the first batch so they were like small rocks that could honestly have knocked someone out (along with your teeth), the second batch were a bit too well-fired but the third batch came out beautifully. This is both an ingredient-heavy and time-consuming recipe, so definitely one to tackle when you’ve got some time on your hands or when the weather is a little gloomy. You will need; strong white flour, salt, ground mixed spice, ground cinnamon, nutmeg, fast-action yeast, caster sugar, butter, milk, water, egg, currants and chopped candied peel. Currants aren’t my favourite so I swapped these out in favour of sultanas and used mixed dried fruit instead of chopped candied peel.

I used active dry yeast so bloomed my yeast to begin with (this activates it and is ESSENTIAL to ensure your buns rise beautifully). Once bloomed, I mixed the flour, salt, spices, sugar and yeast in a large bowl. With a spoon, I made a well in the centre and and poured in the cooled butter, milk, water and egg – adding in the mixed dried fruit and sultanas to the mixture last. I don’t have a Kitchen Aid or a mixer so I mixed this by hand until it formed a shaggy dough and then tipped out onto a floured work surface. From there, I kneaded the dough for a good ten minutes until it became smooth to touch and elastic (no longer rips when pulled). With a dough scraper (honestly the most useful kitchen aid you could possibly invest in), I popped it in an oiled boil and covered for 1 and a half hours. As it’s an enriched dough, it takes a tad longer to rise than a plain dough.

Once that time has passed, you ‘knock back’ the dough and knead for a few minutes. Then you divide the dough into 12 equal pieces and shape into round buns – I did this by eye but I think I might measure out my dough in the future as I had some irregularity with my baked buns. They will look quite small but don’t be alarmed – they are left for a further 30 mins before baked. During this second rise, I preheated my oven so it was nice and hot when my hot-cross buns were ready to bake. It says to bake them for 15 minutes but I find that mine are done between 8-10 minutes so I’d recommend keeping an eye on them! When the buns are baking, dissolve the sugar and water to create a sugary glaze. While the buns are still hot, brush the glaze over the buns. I find the smell of a freshly baked hot-cross bun completely irresistible so I helped myself to one straight away – as they retain the heat from the oven for a while, the butter melts immediately which is just the perfect treat with a cup of tea!

Basket of hot cross buns with butter in the back-ground

On my third attempt at these, I added an extra step of making a flour and water mix for the crosses – I’d tried scoring them in the past but the crosses weren’t all that well defined and I didn’t love the shortcrust pastry crosses on my first attempt.

Getting to grips with bread and particularly enriched doughs has been so rewarding and something I thought was just never going to happen. Having made this recipe a number of times now, I’d be interested to try other hot-cross bun recipes to see how they compare. I’ve bookmarked Stephanie Blackwell’s recipe which has lots of dried fruit (including cranberries) and tonnes of spices – take a look here if you’re interested in giving it a go!

Four hot-cross buns in a basket with a checkered napkin

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