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Although in our 24 x 7 x 365 society Hot Cross Buns are available all year round, it still seems appropriate to make an effort to make them for yourself at Easter. I must say that my previous attempts have always been disappointing in one regard. That is the crosses. Call me obsessive, but I do want them to be distinct and neat, like the ones on the buns you buy. But I had never yet achieved that.

I’d had pastry crosses that were just too chunky, and cracked apart when the buns expanded in the oven, and crosses that faded to nothing when baked. I had almost despaired of ever finding a method that would give me the finish I was looking for. Then I came across a recipe by Andrew Whitley in his book Bread Matters.  It turned out that his formula for the crosses was absolutely spot on.

I also found that the recipes by Edd Kimber, Daniel Stevens and my venerable Good Housekeeping Cooking Book contained some very useful tips. The resulting buns were, if I say so myself, rather splendid. The only thing I’d change another time would be to make them bigger, as they are rather “bijou”.

Before you Start

I followed Andew Whitley in starting with a sponge or pre-ferment, as such a rich dough can be slow to get started (yeast doesn’t really like the high life of sugar and butter and eggs and citrus). If you prefer, you could skip this stage and simply incorporate all the sponge ingredients into the initial mix.

Ingredients

Makes 16 small buns

For the SPONGE

  • 150g wholemeal spelt flour
  • 5g quick action yeast
  • 20g sugar
  • 280ml warm milk

For the Bun Dough

  • 150g strong white flour
  • 150g plain white (all purpose) flour
  • 5g fine salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons (7.5ml) mixed spice
  • 1 teaspoon (5ml) ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5ml) ground nutmeg
  • 30g caster sugar
  • Grated zest of 1 orange
  • All of the sponge
  • 50g very soft unsalted butter (melted then cooled would work)
  • 1 egg
  • 200g mixed raisins and sultanas
  • 50g chopped mixed peel (preferably whole pieces that you have chopped yourself)

For the Crosses

  • 50g plain white flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1.25ml) baking powder
  • 5g vegetable oil
  • 50g water

For the Glaze

  • 3 tablespoons caster sugar
  • 30ml water
  • 30ml milk
  • Two baking trays, roughly 30cm long, lined with baking parchment

Method

To make the sponge, mix the flour with the yeast and sugar and gradually mix in the warmed milk. Cover and leave for about an hour. It will froth up, and may then fall back a bit.

Once the sponge is under way, prepare the raisin/sultana mix. Put them in a small bowl and pour over 40g of boiling water. Stir well. Cover and leave for an hour or so.

In a large bowl, mix the strong and plain flour with the salt, spices and sugar. Add the orange zest to the bowl (you could grate it in directly) and mix roughly.

Add the sponge, the butter and the egg. Stir until all the flour has been incorporated and the mixture is more or less uniform.

Turn out onto an unfloured surface and work for 10 minutes or so, until smooth and elastic. This is a soft dough and will probably still be a little sticky even after being worked.

Drain any excess liquid from the raisins/sultanas. Pat the dough out to about 2cm thick and scatter the raisins, sultanas and chopped peel over the surface. Press them in slightly, and then roll the dough up. Then flatten the sausage out again and fold it on itself. This will have made a good start on the slightly awkward business of getting the fruit incorporated into the dough. Continue to work it until the fruit is more or less evenly mixed in.

Return the dough to the bowl, cover and leave to rise for an hour or so, until doubled in size and quite puffy.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Cut and weigh it into 16 pieces of about 73g each, putting each piece at the back of the work surface to rest as you go.

Roll each piece gently under your cupped hand on an unfloured area of the work surface to form a ball. Place about 2cm apart on a baking tray lined with baking parchment. Do not flatten them out as they will spread for themselves.

Cover loosely with a tea towel and leave to rise until they are almost touching.

Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F / Gas mark 4 (adjust for fan ovens).

Mix together the paste for the crosses, and put in a piping bag fitted with a small nozzle (number 4). Pipe a cross onto each bun. Bake straightaway for 15-20 minutes. Check after 10 minutes and turn the trays and swap shelves if they are browning unevenly.

When they are nearly ready, heat the sugar, water and milk for the glaze, and then brush this twice onto each bun as soon as they come out of the oven.

Cool on a wire rack.

Notes

As I said above, these are rather small buns. You might want to divide the dough into 14 (83g per bun) or even 12 (97g) and bake them for a little longer.

You may be wondering why I used three kinds of flour. Well the strong flour is there for the usual reasons, the spelt flour to add flavour, and the plain white flour to give the buns more of a cakey crust. You could certainly just use strong white flour if you wanted to.

Sixteen buns was rather a lot for us to eat, so I open froze some of them on a baking tray lined with baking parchment, then wrapped them in baking parchment and cling film, and put them in a freezer bag (if you wrap them unfrozen they will stick horribly). To defrost and refresh them, I put them in a cold oven set at 180C and gave them 10 minutes, then left them on a cooling rack for about an hour.

Tea Time Treats

For the first time, I have submitted this post to Tea Time Treats, a monthly on-line baking event run by Karen from Lavender and Lovage and Kate from What Kate Baked (this month’s host). The monthly challenge is based around the great British institution of Tea Time, and this month’s theme was Easter.

You Might Also Like

For something a bit more unusual on the subject of Easter, you might like to look at my post about the delicious and beautiful Italian Easter bread, Colomba Pasquale, or my Rum Plum Buns (Cross but not so Hot).