I’ve written about Hot Cross Buns before, but since then, I’ve leant much more about bread making. So my recipe has changed dramatically following more practice.
The first major insight for me was to make the dough as wet as possible. I think it is Lorraine Pascales who suggests ‘the wetter the better’ and I for one am utterly convinced this is the best way to go. When you first make the dough, it seems to be a ruined sticky mess, but keep kneading for ten minutes as vigorous as possible. If you are not feeling warm from the exercise, you’re not kneading hard enough. It’s the next lesson that seems to cast a spell on the bread, transforming from something of a lost cause to a soft and smooth dough.
Leave the dough to sit on the bench or ten minutes, uncovered and untouched; as if you were distracted and had to attend to something else. When you go back to it, the flour will have absorbed the excess moisture and the dough will be smooth and elastic. Keep kneading for another ten minutes and you’re done. I picked up on this point from Dan Lepard in his book ‘The Art of the Handmade Loaf’ and have become a complete convert.
700g strong or ‘OO’ flour
180g dried mix fruit
200ml milk, tepid
100ml tepid water plus 100ml tepid water
80g chilled butter, grated*
80g brown sugar
10g sea salt
18g dried yeast
1 tbs ground ginger
1 tbs cinnamon
2 tsp allspice
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tps allspice
zest of half orange (optional)
In a large mixing bowl, add all the dried ingredients, except the dried mix fruit. Be sure to place the salt to one side of the bowl and the yeast to the other. Add the egg, milk and 100ml of tepid water.
Mix together until all the ingredients are roughly combined. Turn the dough on to a clean bench top or work surface. Don’t flour the surface. Start to knead the dough and add a third of the final 100mls of water. Continue kneading and adding water until the dough is sticky and almost too difficult to knead. The dough should be wet
Continue kneading the dough. Don’t add any flour to the mixture. Keep kneading for at least 10 minutes. The dough will start to form a smooth consistency. Use a pastry scraper to bring the dough together if needed. Leave the dough to sit untouched for 10 minutes, after which recommence kneading and add the dried fruit. Continue to knead the dough for another 10 minutes. Take a small ball of dough and stretch it out to form transparent window. You should be able to see the shadow of your finger through the window. The more you can stretch the dough without tearing, the better. If the dough tears with the slightest tug or it does not stretch very far, keep kneading.
Wipe a clean bowl with a small amount of vegetable oil. Place the dough in the bowl, cover with cling film, and place in a warm spot to rise for at least two hours. Try to keep it out of breezy areas. The dough should easily double, if not triple in size.
Punch the air out of the dough and divide it in to twelve equal portions. Gently shape them into the familiar shape of a round bun. Place them on a lined baking tray, evenly spaced but not touching. Place the tray in a large plastic bag and return the tray to the same warm spot to prove for another hour. The buns should have risen into a small smooth bun shape.
Preheat the oven to 210°C and prepare the mixture for the white cross.
80g plain flour
40g caster sugar
2 tbs water
Combine the ingredients into a smooth paste. Pour the paste into a zip lock lunch bag and cut the corner of the bag to for a small diameter hole, approximately 0.5 cm.
Using a sharp knife or blade, score the tops of the buns in the form a cross. Pipe the cross mixture across the top of the buns in quick singular moves.
Place the buns in the oven and bake for about 20-25 minutes. While the buns are backing, prepare the sticky glaze.
Sticky Cinnamon Glaze
1 egg beaten
4 tbsp caster sugar
1 tbsp water
1 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
Whisk the ingredients together to form a smooth even mixture. Set it aside, ready to brush on to the buns with they are cooked.
When the buns are ready, they should have the familiar toasty brown colour and should sound hollow when gently taped on the bottom. Remove them from the oven and place them on a cooling rack.
Brush the sticky cinnamon glaze across the tops of the buns and let them cool completely.
*I know grating butter seems the most absurd thing to do, but it works. It’s a great way out when a recipe calls for softened butter only to realise it is as hard as rock on the fridge. As soon as you take it from the fridge, use a cheese grater and grate the butter over the dried ingredients. This way you don’t have to melt it. If you add melted butter to the mixture it can destroy the yeast.