Oh now, this is a little something I just knew I had to blog about, way back last July when I finally launched my blog. As it happens, never mind the recipe (although it is a great one) the whole genre is one I’m eager to share with you. Yeasted breads, both sweet and savoury, are something I do most often when baking, as there simply is no substitute for proper homemade bread. When it was brought to my attention that despite the regularity of bread appearing on my kitchen table, it did not appear on my blog, I knew the time had come. My I introduce you to a little seasonal sweet yeasted treat, called the Hot Cross Bun. Happy Easter to you all!
Two or three Easters ago, I was thoroughly disappointed by Nigella’s recipe for Hot Cross Buns (hereafter to be referred to as HXBs) from her book Feast. Bread making has been a gradual progress for me – I dabbled donkey’s years ago as a child with a McDougall’s packet mix but never really “got into it” until perhaps the last couple of years. It is a living and breathing thing which relies on a certain amount of instinct and “feel” for the dough beneath your hands, it’s almost an intimate experience. How does one acquire this experience?! Just by doing it! And I do mean that – get out there, grab any recipe you like then just give it a go. Then again. And again. And again. Make a note or two on what you’d change next time, what went well, what went wrong and just bake – you’ll soon acquire the feel for this mysterious beast called yeast and be churning out hot, crusty loaves faster than Mr Warburton (except better).
Anyway, back to this Nigella recipe. It might have been my lack of practice but it might have been the recipe, and I have heard bad reports from it since, but it just didn’t rise. They didn’t puff on baking. The burnt before browning. All in all, I’d created indelible hockey pucks that my poor family ate one of each, out of sheer pity when they saw my crest fallen face. Today, I am sharing a recipe that was given to me that has revolutionised my Easters from an Australian foodie buddy Selena Jayne. I believe she’d discovered it in a magazine and modified it for her own tastes. I did the same and am here to save you from ushering forth with burnt rocks like I did, on that fateful Easter a few years back! Here’s what I do.
I like to use more orange than the recipe stated as given to me – the HXBs of my childhood (bought not baked) had a distinct orange perfume I just can’t get enough of in sweet yeasted doughs. And I soak my sultanas in it before starting to bake, to get even last little bit of sweet citrus into my buns. My next deviation is to do my preferred method for making the dough – essentially dry ingredients in one bowl, wet in another. I never pre-soak my yeast (and I always used fast action dried) in whatever liquid the recipe calls for. I use it quick enough to know its active and honestly, it just mean you’re waiting even longer for your buns! Just bung it in with the flour, it’ll be grand!
Once the ingredients are combined and kneaded for 5-10 minutes (and I always use my KitchenAid, never by hand with these liquid, sticky and batter-like doughs), here comes your first tea break as you leave it covered to “prove” (prove that the yeast is alive by seeing the dough rise), release carbon dioxide bubbles and make your dough soft, full of air and double in volume. Just leave it in a warm spot – today, it was so hot, by my big window was the place to be. Normally it’s on top of my washing machine.
Now it’s time to divide the dough – I make them small as this dough really does take off with its second rise and bake and the first time, they ended up the size of saucers! Not that is necessarily a bad thing…
Once you’re just about to bake, you pipe over a water and flour paste to give the traditional “cross” of a HXB then here comes my top, top tip for a super soft bake – chuck a fistful of ice cubes in a tray sitting in the bottom of your oven (I do not recommend throwing ice directly onto the floor of any oven!) then gently deposit your baking tin or tray and shut the door quick. Do not open until you can smell the buns from the other side of the room. This is as close to a steam oven as an impoverished student will come for quite some time! But check out the results it yields.
- 1 cup sultanas
- Zest and juice of an orange
- 2 cups strong bread flour (approx 250g)
- 30g frozen then grated butter
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 tsp ground mixed spice
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 7g dried yeast
- 2 tbsp caster sugar
- ¾cup milk
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1/4 cup self raising flour
- 1 tbsp caster sugar
- Pop the sultanas, zest and juice in the bowl of your stand mixer and leave whilst you prep everything else.
- Warm the milk until just warm to the touch.
- Whisk all the dry ingredients together then stir in the butter.
- Stir the flour mix into the sultanas in the stand mixer bowl.
- Beat the egg into the warm milk then pour in combining to a soft sticky dough with a flexible spatula – add a little more milk if needed or a spoon of flour if too sticky. I can’t stress enough how you need it to be soft and sticky – get it right here and your buns will be a success.
- Knead for 10 minutes until the sticky batter has become smooth and cleans the sides of the bowl.
- Gather into a ball, grease the bowl and cover with cling until it has risen at least to double the size.
- Gently tip out into a floured surface and knead until the air is released then form into a long sausage shape about 2 inches in diameter.
- Cut into equal sized portions – I like to cut in half, then half again and again and so on until have a collection dough balls which are all of even size (this dough grows a lot when proved and baked – make them small or you’ll end up with supersized HXBs!).
- Form into balls with floured hands and pop into a floured baking tin at least 20 x 30 cm in size Cover with oiled clingfilm and leave to prove again until doubled in size – they should be just touching after this rise (they will join up on baking).
- Mix the self raising flour with 2 tbsp of cold water until a thick but flowable paste is achieved – pop in a small piping bag or a food bag – cut the corner off whichever you use to have about a 3mm diameter opening to squeeze your dough paste out of.
- Pipe lines at right angles to form the “crosses” on your buns – its easiest to do in one long line is you’ve lined your buns up in your tin rather than putting them in haphazardly
- Bake in a preheated oven at 180°C for 20-25 minutes until browned, well risen and joined up at the sides. I like to put some ice cubes in a tray at the bottom of the oven as I put the buns in to create steam and help with the rise.
- If glazing (I must admit I prefer an unglazed HXB) mix the caster sugar with 1 tbsp boiling water then brush over the hot buns. Cool to room temp in the tin and then split in half and slather with good, cold salted butter. Heavenly eating.