|buttered hot cross buns|
I am never loath to continuing to practice though, so long as my willing tasters don't pelt me with the end results. So after a few weeks of baking, the best hot cross bun recipe I found was from Jane Grigson's book English Food. Julian Barnes says of Grigson in Pedant in the Kitchen
"Her authorial mode is that of a very well-informed friend who has confidence in your ability at the stove."
Perhaps that is why I like her so much. I love to read her writing and none of her recipes have either failed me or intimidated me.
The Grigson hot cross buns had a nice pillowy doughiness about them and were packed with fruit and mixed peel; they also had a good balance of my favourite fragrant pudding spices. Importantly this recipe also worked. Repeatedly. Consistency was a definite virtue and I was consistently able to produce something edible rather than cheap weaponry.
Makes about 18-18 hot cross buns
Skill level: Medium (well medium for me, might be easy for you!)
500g strong bread flour (a mixture of three quarters white flour to a quarter wholemeal)
¼ tsp salt
30g fresh yeast or equivalent of dried yeast * (see tips below on use of yeast)
60g caster sugar
150 ml milk (at room temperature)
150 ml boiling water
90g butter (at room temperature)
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground mace
a pinch of ground cardamom (optional)
a pinch of ground cloves (optional)
90 g dried fruit (I used a mixture of currants, raisins and sultanas)
60 g mixed peel
100g strong white bread flour
a pinch of salt
¼ tsp caster sugar
- First prepare your dried yeast according to instructions.
- If using fresh yeast, crumble it into a mixing bowl.
- Add 2 teaspoons of caster sugar and 125 grammes of the flour.
- Pour the milk into a measuring jug and top up with boiling water (from the kettle).
- Gradually combine the liquid with the flour, sugar and yeast mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon until a smooth batter forms Make sure that all of the lumps have disintegrated. Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel. Set aside in a draft-free place in order that the yeast can get to work. It will start to become frothy as the yeast reacts with the sugar and flour. This will take about 15 to 20 minutes depending on the ambient temperature. (Don't be tempted to let this get too warm as it will kill off the yeast).
- While the yeast is getting to work, mix the remainder of the flour and sugar with the spices.
- Dice the butter and rub into the flour mixture until the mix has "crumbed".
- Add the beaten egg and stir to combine.
- Stir the frothy yeast mixture, and then add this to the flour and egg mixture. Stir well with the wooden spoon to combine.
- Set aside for 5 minutes, covered with the tea towel. This allows the flour to fully absorb all the liquid. You can then judge at this stage whether you need a smidgen more flour or a little more liquid.
- Knead the dough for 10 minutes. (You can do this with a food mixer using the dough hooks. I tend to do 5 by machine and 5 with my own fair hands!)
- Place the kneaded dough into a large bowl. Cover with either a dampened tea towel or a lightly oiled piece of cling film. Set aside to rise. This can take anything from 1 to 12 hours, depending on how warm the ambient temperature is. (To work around the constraints of life, I quite often leave dough to prove overnight - it fits in with my lifestyle!)
- Have you prepared the baking tray(s)? Grease and line suitable baking trays.
- When the dough had risen, knock it back and begin to knead in the dried fruit and mixed peel, so that the fruit and peel are evenly distributed throughout the dough.
- Divide the dough into two roughly equal amounts. Working with each bit of dough separately, roll into a sausage shape and cut each into about 8 to 9 pieces, to form the buns. (If the buns have too much fruit poking out, I tend to reform them so that fruit is tucked inside).
- Place the buns on the lined baking tray. Give them enough room to first prove for the second time and secondly to spread in the oven. Set aside to prove again for about 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 200 C / Gas Mark 6.
- Prepare the paste for the cross, by mixing together all the cross ingredients, ensuring a smooth, thick paste. Fill a piping bag and pipe the crosses on. It doesn't matter if the crosses are less than perfect. It all adds to the charm.
- Bake for 10 to 15 minutes. Check after 5 minutes and turn them to encourage even browning if necessary.
While the buns are baking, make the bun wash by combining the water and sugar in a saucepan and warm until a thin syrup forms. Stir in the mixed spice.
- As soon as you have removed the buns from the oven, brush them with the bun wash, which gives them a lovely shiny and sticky glaze.
- * Dried or instant yeast can be substituted for fresh yeast:
- 15g fresh yeast = 6.25g dried or instant yeast
- 25g fresh yeast = 10g dried or instant yeast
- 50g fresh yeast = 21g dried or instant yeast
- If using dried yeast, dissolve in some of the liquid of the recipe, with a little sugar (according to instructions)
- If using instant yeast, sprinkle over the dry ingredients before mixing in the wet ingredients.
- Fresh yeast can be obtained from a good quality baker or from a supermarket with an in-house bakery, although you will probably have to ask for it as this is not a "shelf" item - it won't be on display.
- * The cross can be replaced by strips of marzipan or shortcrust pastry trimmings.
- While the buns are best eaten warm, they will reheat well too - this will take about 10 minutes at 160 C / Gas Mark 3.
- These are lovely toasted. Split in half, toast lightly and smother with lashings of butter.
- I like to soak the dried fruit in strong, hot tea (without the milk!). Leave them to soak for about an hour and then drain well before adding to the dough. They will plump up nicely.