Monday, 27 April 2009

Sweet buns? Nope, cross ones...

One a penny, two a penny… Hot Cross Buns

Well, with Holy week and the long Easter weekend swiftly being consigned to memory as alarms across the country alerted us all that today was Back to Work, I thought I’d try to prolong the spirit of the break and blog about buns. Hot Cross Buns to be precise. Until this year I’ve been quite happy to buy my hot cross buns, as generally around Easter time the offers in the major supermarkets are unbeatable, however, a quick look at the ingredients label and some time over a hot cup of tea thinking about who is being squeezed to provide such good offers led me to think about making my own. I mean they’re only a yeast based, spiced, fruited bun so what could go wrong. Hint… they’re a yeast based, spiced, fruited sweet bun…Oh yes, in my infinite, well let’s invent a recipe confidence, I forgot to sweeten them. That said, they were definitely much fuller flavoured than shop bought, I think the freshness of the spices, and (as always) soaking the dried fruit in tea made what can be a little bland much tastier and more interesting. So it was a bit of a shame about the sugar really.

Without diverting too far onto a tangent (for once not about musical theatre! I know! I was surprised too!) I would just like to insert here a small segment on why hot cross buns shouldn’t be messed with… we do not need chocolate, or orange, or cherry or lemon meringue with marshmallow swirls type varieties on sale. This isn’t ice cream people, it’s BUNS… and important buns at that. Whilst I do understand that a retailer wants to stand apart from the crowd, and innovate wherever possible, I don’t think there’s any need for hot cross buns to be altered. Refined, made better, more like a home made offering and less mass produced and stodgy – yes. Played around with by someone whose job it is to come up with innovative developments for the sake of it – no thank you. Depending on what you read they are either a pagan or Christian tradition to mark Good Friday, and the end of Lent or Eostre even (yes I looked on Wiki... so sue me). Thinking about it myself, the buns could easily have arisen from a pagan background and been adopted by Christianity (see I’m all about the compromise, unless you’re talking about Rent remixed in which case it should be Left. Alone.) the cross signifying the crucifixion, their fruited, spiced sweetness signifying the end of the Lenten fast and the start of the Easter celebrations. Either way, I like them, I like being able to have them on Good Friday for my tea, and at other times during Lent for my breakfast. I’m clearly a traditionalist at heart as I don’t eat any sort of spiced bun for breakfast at any other time of year than Lent – I work on the basis it keeps away the cravings for chocolate.

I’m still using fresh yeast for my breads and Sainsburys are keeping me in stock at the bargain price of 16p per 50g – sadly I live nowhere near a Tesco as they’re still giving it away free of charge (perhaps Sainsbury’s could take note of this small but important difference to us home bakers). As always, I activated the yeast in a little warm water, and stirred in some honey for food. I then added this to a mix of half and half strong wholemeal bread flour and white plain flour. (I seem to have pretty much stuck to my 50:50 mix of late, and use Doves Farm Organic wholemeal flour, and a supermarket own brand plain as used alone the Doves farm makes for a heavy bread – the rolls I made earlier in the year could be used as missiles if we were ever in need – and personally I prefer slightly lighter wholemeal.) Without wishing to sound unbearably smug, I use about 400g of flour and about 25g of fresh yeast, but apart from that I sort of guessed quantities of extra ingredients, which I know doesn’t help you so I’ll take a wild stab in the dark at approximate quantities.

450g strong bread flour

1tsp salt

2tsp ground cinnamon

2tsp ground allspice

fresh yeast

150g sultanas (they just taste better than raisins so it's the law - also please note no candied peel. EVER)

110g caster sugar (Don't leave this out. It doesn't help. Or even make you feel virtuous)

50g unsalted butter

2tsp vanilla extract

250ml milk

1 egg, beaten

Paste of 80g plain flour, 2tbsp sugar, 100ml water

Glaze of 2tbsp brown sugar, 3tbsp milk, 1tbsp marmalade

Sift flour, salt and spices into a large bowl and mix in the yeast, fruit, rind and sugar. Melt butter, stir in milk and vanilla extract and heat until tepid. Whisk into egg, add to flour mixture, form a dough and knead on a floured surface for 10min until smooth and elastic. Divide into 12 buns, cover with a damp tea towel and leave in a warm place for about 90min, till doubled in size.
Mix the paste, bung it in a piping bag (or a plastic freezer bag with one corner snipped off) and pipe a cross on each bun. Bake at 180C for 10min, reduce the heat to 150C and bake for a further 15min. Lightly brush with the glaze and cool on a rack.

1 comment:

Jules said...

This post has made me chuckle. I will hold my hands up to being c%@p at making hot cross buns. I don't know where I go wrong. Next year I'll have to try your recipe!


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