Ask any Brit what their taste or smell of Easter is and they will go misty eyed over the thought of a hot cross bun. Their appearance in shops (increasingly as soon as the Christmas decorations are packed away) was always a sign that spring was on the way, even if the weather wasn’t suggesting quite the same thing. They are one of the few things I always thought were better bought as the homemade ones I’d tried were never as good.
When I moved to California two years ago, my poor Mum embarked on a sideline in hot cross bun smuggling to make sure we didn’t miss out. Those smuggled buns were always a bit squished so she has been trying to track down a recipe for me for ages.
When my Mum called me, full of excitement, last week over a new recipe she’d tried I was dubious. She sent me the recipe and I made them with my son. They were so easy to make and are probably the best I’ve ever tasted. I am giving full thanks to the dreamily posh Fabulous Baker Brothers for the recipe, these gap-toothed, scruffy English brothers are the grandsons of a bakery owner and have a gorgeous food show in England. I urge you to watch it or buy their cookbook.
The conversions to ounces are mine as I know American readers are less familiar with metric measurements. That said, I urge you to use grams and a digital scale (available in my shop) as I do find that precision in baking makes a huge difference to the end result and I just don’t get that with ounces.
I used my food mixer (not food processor) with a dough hook but you could do this by hand. It will give your arms a good work out if you do!
We always split, toast and butter our buns. I now add a sprinkle of Maldon on top of the butter. I grew up with them split, toasted and then topped with mature Cheddar before being popped under the grill until the cheese was bubbling. So good.
To make (16 buns)
24oz/680g strong white bread flour
0.5oz or 2 x 7g packets fast-action dried yeast
2 teaspoons/ 10g salt
3.5oz/ 100g caster sugar
3oz/ 80g soft butter
1 tablespoon/ 15g (yes I know it sounds a lot but trust me) mixed spice (or equal parts ground cinnamon, cardamom and ginger)
6oz /175ml milk, tepid
6oz/ 175ml water, tepid
5.5oz/ 160g sultanas or raisins or a mixture of both
zest of 1 lemon and 2 oranges
For the cross
3 tablespoons/ 50g strong white bread flour
Pinch of salt and sugar
1 tablespoon butter, melted
4 tablespoon/60ml warm water
For the glaze
4 tablespoon/60ml boiling water
1 tbsp caster sugar
Pinch of mixed spice or ground ginger
You can pick up all the equipment I use through my shop.
1. Attach the dough hook to your mixer if you have one. Otherwise, flour your worktop and roll up your sleeves.
2. Put the following into the mixing bowl of your food mixer or a large mixing bowl – flour, yeast, salt, sugar, butter, spice, milk, water and egg. Mix on a medium speed or knead by hand for 10 minutes (don’t be tempted to do this for less than 10 minutes as this is what will give your bread a wonderful texture.)
3.. After 10 minutes, add the dried fruit and citrus zest and mix for another 5 minutes with the dough hook (or by hand)
4. Cover your bowl of dough with plastic wrap and leave for 45 minutes to an hour somewhere nice and warm. I left mine out in the California sun to catch some rays. Back in England, my Mum sat hers next to a radiator.
5. When your dough has doubled in size, take it out of the bowl and knead it by hand quickly. It should feel lovely and warm and squishy.
6. Shape it into a ball then cut the ball in half and each piece in half again until you have 16 equal size pieces.
7. Gently shape each piece into a ball and pop it onto a baking sheet (I didn’t bother lining mine and was fine). I left an inch or so between each one.
8. Cover the baking sheet with plastic wrap and leave for another 30 minutes or so in the same warm place you used before until they double in size.
9. Pre-heat the oven to 210C/420F
10. Combine the cross ingredients in a bowl and whisk them together until smooth. Put them in a plastic sandwich bag and cut the corner off to make a piping bag.
11. Pipe a cross on top of each bun then put them in the oven for 15 minutes to cook.
12. While they cook make the glaze by boiling all the ingredients together for 30 seconds. When the buns come out of the oven, use a pastry brush to brush the glaze over each. Eat while still warm or split and toast them. They freeze really well.