Hot cross buns
Updated: Tue, 9 March, 2021
Traditionally baked for Good Friday and sold two for a penny as the old song goes, hot cross buns are what the English Easter is about. Happy Easter!
Easter is not as rich in cakes and bakes as Christmas. There is Simnel cake which comes in two versions, one leavened with yeast and the other more redolent of Christmas fruitcake, both with lavish marzipan decorations. There are Easter Sedgemoor biscuits studded with raisins and delicately iced.
There are foreign confections like colomba the dove cake from Italy, a counterpart to Christmas panettone. The Greeks bake koulourakia, fragrant biscuits flavoured with mahlep or the intricate, challah-like bread baked with boiled whole eggs nesting in the dough. There is Russian kulich copied on panettone and Scandinavian pulla bread. And there are chocolate eggs everywhere.
Hot cross buns are my favourite Easter bakes. I could not imagine an Easter Sunday breakfast other than one or two warm, lightly toasted hot cross buns, spread with cold butter. They are the festive equivalent of tea cakes or raisin buns that you can have all year round, but heavily spiced, hence 'hot', and marked with a piped pastry cross symbolically for Easter.
Hot cross buns myths and traditions
Of course the tradition of a spring holiday goes back to pre-Christian festivals, celebrating rebirth of nature after long winter. Whether they baked crossed buns as some sources maintain, in representation of four phases of the moon, is quite probable as offering of bread would have at some point replace blood sacrifice to gods.
As interesting is a more recent belief, that hot cross buns baked on Good Friday would not go mouldy for the whole year. Even more, it was supposed to have holy properties and cure all illnesses that would befall on the family if fed to the sick one. I completely encourage you put the magical freshness to the test but maybe not the cure-all capability.
The ultimate hot cross bun recipe
My hot cross buns recipe is based on Dan Lepard's from Baking with Passion, except I use milk instead of water and milk powder. Whoever has milk powder in the cupboard? I never do. I also significantly upped the raisin content since it is the 'never too many raisins' principle we live by in my house.
The apricots are a nice touch though they do tend to disintegrate when mixed in energetically. Whichever your favourite dried fruit mix is - use it. I would not object to cranberries or currants in my buns, personally, either.
How to make hot cross buns
The process is, as usual for yeasted dough, three-stage. The sponge or ferment is mixed and rises first, then the main dough does the same and ditto for shaped buns on a baking tray.
Piping the crosses takes place just before the buns go into the oven: it is perfectly possible just to dribble the crossing mix onto the buns with a spoon but prepare for a very rustic effect. A piping bag is tedious, but neat.
If you're an enthusiastic hot cross bunny, you might want to compare this recipe with my other, wholemeal hot cross buns one. Without taking sides I'll say both are well worth trying!
hot cross bunsServings: 16 bunsTime: 3 hours
Rating: (1 reviews)
- For the sponge:
- 12g fresh or 5g instant yeast
- 150ml warm water
- 150g strong bread flour
- For the main dough:
- 500g strong bread flour
- 170ml warm milk
- 75g caster sugar
- 9g fine sea salt
- 65g butter, softened
- 1 egg at room temperature
- 3 tsp mixed spice
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 120g raisins
- 35g dried apricots, chopped
- 60g citrus peel, chopped
- For the cross piping paste:
- 4 tbsp. plain flour
- 1 tbsp. caster sugar
- 4 tbsp. cold water
- For the glaze:
- 75g sugar
- 40ml water
- 1 tbsp. lemon juice
1. To make the sponge, dissolve the yeast in warm water and mix into the flour. Cover and leave in a warm place for an hour or so.
2. Add all the main dough ingredients except the dried fruit and peel to the sponge and mix in a standing mixer with the dough hook attachment, or knead by hand. This will take about 10 minutes in the mixer and 25-30 minutes by hand – the dough needs to become stretchy, elastic and bouncing off the sides of the bowl or not sticking to your hands any longer.
3. Add the dried fruit and peel and knead or mix gently in – if you’re doing everything in the mixer, it is still best to turn the dough out onto a work surface and knead by hand to make sure the fruit is not crushed but evenly distributed. Shape it into a ball and return to the bowl, cover and leave to double in volume, about 1 hour.
4. Prepare two baking sheets lined with parchment. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 16 pieces (each around 80-85g). Shape neatly into balls and place on the baking sheets, close together but not touching. Cover with a damp towel and leave for 45 minutes until considerably expanded and touching one another.
5. Preheat the oven to 240C/475F/gas 9. Make the piping paste by mixing the flour and sugar with water, add more water if needed – the paste has to be quite soft to be piped. Put it into a piping bag or a small plastic bag with a tiny hole cut in a corner.
6. Pipe crosses onto the buns, slide the trays into the oven and turn the heat immediately down to 180C/350F/gas 4. Bake for 30-35 minutes until deep golden brown. Transfer to the wire rack, still on the parchment.
7. Mix the sugar with water for the glaze and bring to the boil. Brush the glaze all over the buns generously until it’s all used up. Let the buns cool before pulling them apart.