Hot Cross Buns

homemade hot cross buns
Hot cross buns: fruity, spicy, enriched dough. An antidote to the austerity of lent, apparently.

I love them. And this year I was determined to produce some really excellent homemade ones.

I read some recipes and amalgamated what seemed to be the best bits into a version of my own.

And here we have it.

Hot Cross Buns (makes 12)

600g/20 oz/4 cups strong plain flour
1 tsp instant dried yeast
1 tsp salt
50g/2 oz/¼ cup light brown sugar
50g/2 oz/¼ cup butter
1 egg
150g/5 oz/¾ cup mixed dried fruit
350ml [Ed: We should call that 330ml - makes a much easier dough]/11 fl oz/1¼ cups milk [Ed: Conversions are correct for 330ml milk]
2tsp mixed spice

A few notes on the ingredients:
  • The salt content is a little lower than expected if you look at the formula for great dough. All the hot cross bun experts seemed to err on the low side with the salt, so I did too. I'm guessing that's because this is a sweetened dough. It might also be to do with keeping the yeast more active to achieve a better rise with all that fruit and spice on board.
  • I chose light brown sugar because I like the slightly more treacly taste it imparts to baking. You could, of course, use any sugar you like/have in the cupboard.
  • The amount of milk is given by weight, not volume, so there's no need to get out a measuring jug and make extra washing up.
  • The butter was softened in the microwave for a few seconds before adding it to the mixture. This is necessary in my kitchen which is barely above zero at this time of year. Having squishably soft butter makes mixing easier.
  • I didn't bother to beat my egg. Popping it in straight from the shell is fine.
  • For 'mixed dried fruit' I used 50g currants and 100g sultanas. I didn't have any candied peel but if I did, I would have included some.
All set? Ok, so here's what to do:

As ever, combine everything in a large bowl...

hot cross bun ingredients

...and mix it together.

I've got to say, this was really wet dough and very hard to handle at first. If you hate handling claggy dough, you might try reducing the amount of milk to 330g but if you can persist at this stage, the results are excellent. The dough needs to be a little wetter than normal because the dried fruit will gradually absorb some of the liquid. [Ed: I've now tried this several more times with less milk and 330g is optimal: an easy-to-handle dough with great results]

For your amusement, let's just zoom out for a moment and look at this mixing bowl in context.

how to bake bread when you've got children

Here we have two of my children at the table with me; one colouring and one playing with playdough. No, I assure you it is playdough, despite its horrible brown appearance. I made it myself. It was seven different shades of rainbow when I first handed it to the boy but he's blended it. Sigh.

So, the dough.

It'll be sticky and hard to tackle, but tackle it you must. Tip it onto the work surface, put on CBeebies if necessary (for them, not you) and prepare to knead.

hot cross bun dough

I've altered (improved, I hope) my kneading technique since I wrote How To Knead Bread Dough but still, start there if you're struggling. I've since learnt to stretch the dough out more as I knead, making it long like this:

stretch to knead

Then I roll it back up again, give it a quarter turn and stretch again. Sorry this isn't a video, my cameraman was at work(!)

Incidentally, you can see the stickiness of the dough from all the mess on the worktop. It was one of the only times I have ever slightly wished I had a dough scraper. As it was, I used a huge knife instead. Towards the end of the knead, I scraped the worktop to bring all the dough back together. Also, firmly rolling the dough over the surface, rolling-pin style, helped to pick up the escaped bits and get it all back under control.

After about 20 minutes of kneading (yes really! After all I've said about short kneads!) it was smooth and clean, at which point I left it to rise for about 45 minutes under the upturned mixing bowl.

well kneaded dough

Later, I chopped the dough into 12 pieces and kneaded each one into a bun shape to place on the baking tray. I line my tray with a reusable silicone baking sheet but you'll know your tray: it might not be necessary.

buns on the tray

The Crosses

If you want to make crosses for your buns (more details and pictures in this post), mix about two tablespoons of plain flour with a small amount of water, to make a simple paste or dough. Some people suggest making this mixture wet enough to pipe onto the buns through a nozzle but I prefer to work with dough that can be rolled out and cut into shape.

If you're having trouble rolling your dough thin enough or stretching the pieces long enough to reach over the bun, leave it for a few minutes. Three minutes is probably enough. Leaving the dough lets the gluten relax a bit and makes it stretchier. The same tip works for pizza bases: roll them out a bit, leave them for three minutes then roll them out fully with much greater ease.

So, roll out your little strip of dough, cut it into appropriate widths then leave it for a few minutes. Come back and easily stretch the strips over the buns.

You can lay them on top of the buns without any gluing substance. They'll stick, don't worry.

crosses on buns

At this point, the dough needs to prove. I was going to say 'for 45 minutes' but in this weather, mine took ages. Several hours later I was wondering if they had grown at all.

There's a risk of the dough forming a dry crust during a long, long prove. This can hamper the rising process and cause unsightly cracking when the dough is baked. Covering it somehow would help to prevent the drying-out but that's somewhat impractical with 12 buns on a tray. I keep a clean plant mister to hand and spray the dough periodically to keep the surface moist.

During the proving stage, they are supposed to double in size. I don't think mine ever did. Around tea time, I got hungry and baked them anyway. 180oC/360F for 20 minutes, until nicely browned and hollow-sounding when you knock on their bottoms.

hot cross buns

They look pleasing enough but do you want to know how to make them shiny?

hot cross buns glaze

Dissolve 2 tbsp sugar in a small amount of water and brush it over the buns while they're still hot. That's it.

We ate ours with lashings of butter. Francesca said they were the "Best ever!" but don't take her word for it.

See also:

How To Make Crosses For Your Buns - Quickly
Troubleshoot Your Buns - Cracking

Show Me Yours!

This week, I've made a special Freshly Baked group on Flickr, to redress the balance. You get to see my baking, now, what about yours?!

Anyone can join, and it's free. You can add your photos of anything bread-baking related. I'd love to see the beautiful bread you've made using my recipes :o)

The Recipes - Now On Sale

The recipes from this blog are now in book form.

Because scrolling and baking don't go together easily, I've made my recipes into a set of no-frills recipe cards, for ease of use in the kitchen.

Some of the Freshly Baked subscribers have been test-driving the book for me and have given it the thumbs up so now I'm making it available to everyone.

Yes please! Where can I get my copy?

More?!

Don't forget to sign up for your FREE guide to Fresh Bread In 20 Minutes.

And if you have any suggestions, questions or feel like saying "Hi" please leave me a comment.

8 comments:

  1. You talk about 'strong plain flour'. Is this the same as strong bread flour or are they two different types of flour?

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    Replies
    1. It's the same. White flour that's labelled 'strong' because it has a higher protein content.

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    2. Thanks, off to Sainsbury's now - plan to make hot cross buns tomorrow, I'll let you know how they go.

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  2. I made up six Hot Cross buns and have just taken them out of the oven - they seem OK but tea-time will tell. They are all different sizes and shapes, not all uniform in colour or shape like bought ones but none the worse for that.

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  3. Had tea now, the buns turned out well, I had mine toasted with butter and strawberry jam while my wife had hers un-toasted with just butter. I got the nod of approval from t' wife which is praise indeed. I might add a little more mixed spices next time. I would, nevertheless, recommend the recipe to anyone thinking of having a go. Great success.

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    Replies
    1. Lovely! I'm so pleased to hear they were a succes. I wonder why they were all different sizes and shapes? Not that it matters - it sort of adds to the character and home-made-ness, I reckon!

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    2. I have sort of got my head around the technical skills involved in baking but not the artistic ones - must try harder on the appearance front.

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  4. Try portioning out out the dough before you do any shaping. Chop bits off and tuck them underneath! You could even weigh the buns if you were that bothered! Only when you are happy that they are all very similar sizes, then shape them. Who cares what shapes and sizes they are? They do though, bake more evenly, if they are equal.

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