I love hot cross buns. To me they are such a big part of Easter. The sweet spicy smell of hot cross buns as they bake on Good Friday is a memory etched on my brain and one of my fondest childhood memories. My Dad was a master baker and growing up the bakery was part of our house.
I think Easter, and Good Friday in particular, was probably the busiest time of the year for my father. Not only did he have extra bread to bake (people always stocked up on bread during public holidays as shops were not open all hours as they tend to be today) but there were also the hot cross buns to make. He must have made hundreds if not thousands each year, even though we were only a small bakery supplying our own village bakery and a few other local shops.
Unlike now, when hot cross buns are pretty much in all the supermarkets from Christmas onward, if not all year round, back then we only made them in the week or so up to Easter with the vast majority on Good Friday itself, when they are traditionally eaten. So each year my dad would work through the night in order to make enough buns. I'm not sure at what age I got to pipe the crosses on the buns but as the youngest it was my job to help with this long before I was old enough to serve in the shop. After all, with it being such a busy time it was a case of all hands on deck. Later I used to help my sister - who was an exceptional cake decorator - make and decorate chocolate Easter eggs which we also sold in the bakery. But that is a story for another day.
Now, of course, I just make enough for the family and they really are not that difficult to make although you have to allow enough time for them to rise. Homemade hot cross buns taste far superior to the ones that you can buy, unless you are lucky enough to have good artesian bakery like my father's to supply you.
- I use easy blend or fast action yeast which you just stir into the flour. Do check the use by date. Old yeast may take much longer to work or even not work at all.
- When making bread and buns, I cover my bowl with a shower cap - one of those disposable ones that you get when you stay in a hotel. You can reuse it many times so less wasteful and more environmentally friendly than using cling film every time.
- When it comes to covering the buns when they are on the tray, I used to pop them in a plastic carrier bag but now that they are not so plentiful anymore a damp, well rung out tea towel does the job. Hang it in front of the oven during baking to help speed up drying it out afterwards.
- No need to pipe each cross separately just pipe a line along each row in one direction then the other.
- I use a disposable piping bag and cut off the tip, no need for a nozzle since this is not fine piping work. If you don't have a piping bag use a polythene food bag and snip off one corner.
- I like to make a sugar syrup to glaze the buns as I can add a little extra spice to the glaze - I like them spicy but you can save time by using a little warmed golden syrup or honey if you prefer. (Warming the syrup or honey first makes it easier to brush on the buns.)
Step by step hot cross buns
Hot cross buns
for the buns
- 500 g strong bread flour (1lb 2oz/4 cups)
- 2-3 teaspoon mixed spice (pumpkin spice)
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 7 g sachet easy-blend yeast
- 60 g golden caster sugar
- 1¼ teaspoon salt
- 50 g butter, cut into cubes
- 125 g sultanas
- 50 g chopped mixed peel
- 1 egg
- 100 ml milk
- about 150ml warm water
for the crosses
- 50 g plain flour
- cold water to mixwater
for the glaze
- 25 g golden caster sugar
- 50 ml water
- ½ teaspoon mixed spice
- To make the dough, place the flour and spices into a large mixing bowl and stir in the yeast, sugar and salt. Rub in the butter with your fingertips, then stir in the sultanas and mixed peel. Make a well in the centre.
- Beat the egg with a fork until frothy, then beat in the milk. Pour into the centre of the dry ingredients and add most of the water. Mix to a soft dough, adding the remaining water if required.
- Turn out the dough and knead gently for 5 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Place in a lightly oiled bowl, turning to coat the dough in the oil. Cover and leave in a warm place to rise for about 1½ hours, or until doubled in size.
- Turn out, and lightly knead again. Divide the dough into 12 and roll each piece into a ball. Place on a greased baking sheet about 2cm apart. Cover with a damp tea towel, or slip the tray inside a carrier bag, and leave in a warm place until doubled in size which should take about 50 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 190℃/180℃ Fan/ gas mark 5.
- To make the crosses, place the flour into a small bowl and stir in enough water to mix to a soft paste. Spoon the mixture into a disposable piping bag and snip of the end. Pipe a cross on each bun.
- Bake for 20 -25 minutes until risen and golden. While the hot cross buns are baking, prepare the glaze. Place the sugar and water in a small pan and heat gently stirring until the sugar dissolves.
- Once the buns are cooked transfer to a wire rack placed over a tray or baking sheet the brush the tops with the sugar glaze.
Freeze for up to 2 month. Defrost in the refrigerator overnight and warm in the oven at 180℃/170℃ fan/gas mark 4 for 5 minutes.
I'm a bit of a purist when it comes to Hot cross buns, but if you want to vary yours occasionally you could try adding 125g dried cranberry and 50g chopped pecans instead of the sultanas and mixed peel and use cinnamon in place of mixed spice.
Now all the hard work is done it time to sit back with a cup of tea and enjoy a hot cross bun - Bliss!