I am a traditional girl at heart and Hot Cross Buns-made just once every year-are an Easter treat. I love the smell of them baking not to mention eating them straight from the oven smothered with butter or toasted later on. A good Hot Cross Bun should have a good volume and texture somewhere between a bread roll and fruit loaf. It should be nice and fruity, with a hint of spice, a shiny glaze and a cross on top that doesn’t fall off. I piped on the cross with a small icing bag and a thick paste of flour and water. I seem to recall that many years ago, in school domestic science lessons, we cut pastry into strips and put these into a cross shape on the top-they always fell off before home time and this piping worked much better.
I found this a tricky make starting off with a Paul Hollywood recipe and a Delia Smith recipe plus my own ideas and tips and attempted to combine them all……………….a recipe for disaster if ever there was one! Too much fruit/not enough fruit/too much kneading/not enough kneading/2 rises or 3 rises/dried yeast/easy blend yeast/oven too hot or too cool/too much salt/too little salt and countless other variables. I have to admit one batch went in the bin and couldn’t be redeemed even with toasting and liberal amounts of apricot jam. As to kneading the dough by hand or using an electric mixer with a dough hook it’s a personal choice and you get good results with both. Plus it was good to do as I was decidedly ‘cross’ after the episode with the poor ones
Why knead the dough?
· By kneading you develop the gluten in the flour. The mixture is transformed from a ‘shaggy’ looking mix to a smooth and pliable ball. This will give the bread a better, more even texture. By leaving it to ‘prove’ in a warm place the yeast develops and makes the bread rise to give a lighter end result.
· The technique for kneading is important but it is easily learnt. Use both hands-use the heal of one hand to stretch the dough away from you and then fold it back on its self. Use the other hand to keep turning it and continue stretching, folding and turning for about 8 minutes. The mixture will, quite miraculously, become soft, elastic and smooth. You will need to do this for at least 8 minutes. It is difficult to over knead but stop if it starts to feel heavy.
· It is quite tiring to do and you can use a free standing, electric mixer with a dough hook. These work well. Personally I enjoy the hand kneading, it is quite therapeutic and good exercise for your arms!
So give these a go and have a Happy Easter
HOT CROSS BUNS
200ml full fat milk
450g strong, white, bread flour
1 level tsp salt
50g mixed peel
Tsp ground cinnamon
1 ½ sachets of quick, dried yeast (this comes in 7g sachets)
For the cross:
5 tbsp. water
For the glaze:
2 tbsp. apricot jam
1. Heat up the milk and add the butter allowing it to melt. Leave to cool to ‘hand hot’. Add the beaten egg to this.
2. Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Add the mixed peel, currants, cinnamon, and yeast and stir together.
3. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour in the warm milk/butter/egg. Mix well with your hand until you have a sticky dough. Add a little more milk if necessary but be careful not to add too much. use the mixture to clean the inside of the bowl and keep going until you have a rough dough.
4. Turn it out onto a floured surface and knead until it is soft and pliable. Use both your hands-use the heal of one hand to stretch the dough away from you and then fold it back on its self. Use the other hand to make a quarter turn and continue this process of stretching, folding and turning for about 8 minutes. The fruit often ‘pings’ out so just push it back in as you go! It is difficult to over knead but you need to stop when it becomes nice and smooth. Put it back in the bowl, cover with oiled cling film (or use a large plastic proving bag-this has the advantage that you can puff it up and then you don’t need to oil it) and leave somewhere warm to ‘prove’ for about 1 hr. This means leaving it to rise-It should double in size-leave it a little longer if it hasn’t.
5. When it is ready tip it out onto the floured surface and knead a couple of times back down to its original size.
6. Working with light movements quickly form it into a sausage shape and cut it, evenly, into 12 portions. You can weigh each of these individually to make them even but I usually don’t preferring a more ‘homemade’ look! Take each one, make a ‘claw’ with your hand over it and roll it around a few times to make a smooth ball.
7. Put them onto a greased or lined baking tray-you will need 2-I use the re-usable brown baking paper which works very well. Cover with the oiled cling film again and leave to rise for about 30 minutes.
8. When risen make the cross. Mix the flour with the water adding it one tbsp. at a time to make a thick paste. Spoon it into a small piping bag with a ‘writing’ nozzle or if you are using a disposable bag just snip the end off, and pipe the cross across the top. Line them up on the work surface in rows of 4 with a small space between each one-and then you can do the lines in one ‘swoop’ and then go back in the other direction with a similar ‘swoop’! If you don’t want to do this then just use a sharp nice to cut a cross on the top instead.
9. Bake in a hot oven 200C/Gas 6 for about 20 minutes until golden. To test if they are ready knock on the base-it should sound ‘hollow’. Leave to cool a little.
To glaze: Heat up the apricot jam and push through a sieve to remove the peel etc. Brush over the tops of the buns whilst they are still warm.
These are best eaten warm from the oven with some butter but they keep quite well for a few days and can be toasted as well.