Easter Hot Cross Buns

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The April Daring Baker’s Challenge was hosted by Wolf of Wolf’s Den. She challenged us to spring into our kitchens and make Easter breads reflecting cultures around the world.

Well, what a COOL challenge this was, and very timely given it was in the lead up to Easter. Here in New Zealand we love our Hot Cross Buns (a throw back to our English roots) and in particular we love them pull-apart style – tall and bready! I found this great recipe from Foodlovers.co.nz and adapted it ever so slightly to add a bit more flavour (borrowing a trick from Nigella Lawson in steeping the milk first with orange zest, cardamom pods and a clove). I also added more explicit instructions which I would have found useful when I made them.

You’ll notice that the buns are made by hand in this recipe – no mixer in sight. Actually, I really loved the process of making the buns by hand and would do so again. But, if you’d rather pull out the mixer and dough hook, and save yourself the trouble, go for it.

Given this was my first time making Hot Cross Buns, I was absolutely thrilled at the way they turned out. I have to say… better than bought by far!! (Am I being too immodest?!). Anyway, I can absolutely recommend this fabulous recipe and, for that matter, Foodlovers.co.nz itself – it’s an excellent resource, as I’ve recently discovered. Enjoy!


EASTER HOT CROSS BUNS

Makes 12 buns

Ingredients: (Click here for unit converter)

  • 1 1/2 cups currants or raisins
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 2 cardamom pods
  • 1 whole clove
  • 1 Tbsp orange zest
  • 2 teaspoons active yeast
  • 2 teaspoons caster sugar
  • 5 cups high grade flour
  • 1/3 cup caster sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 75g butter, melted
  • 1 size 7 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 teaspoons mixed spice
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 100g mixed peel

For the topping:

  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 4 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons apricot jam
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

Method:

  1. Place the currants or sultanas in a bowl, pour over 1/2 cup boiling water (I made a strong infusion of fruit tea instead) and set aside for at least 20 minutes.
  2. Place the milk in a saucepan, along with cardamom pods, clove and the zest of one orange. On a low heat, bring the milk to scalding (just before it starts to simmer). Then turn off the heat and let the mixture steep until it reaches luke-warm temperature (by thermometer, that’s 38 degrees Celsius/100 degrees Fahrenheit).
  3. When the milk is luke-warm, take out the cardamom pods and clove. Combine the milk with the yeast and 2 teaspoons sugar in a medium sized bowl, stir, and set aside for 5 minutes. The mixture should start to foam.
  4. Place the flour, sugar and salt in a bowl, mix to combine and make a well in the centre. Pour in the milk/yeast mixture, butter and lightly beaten egg. Mix until just combined – I start by mixing it with a large wooden spoon while it’s wet, then move to using my hands, bringing it together (still in the bowl) until it’s roughly a ball of dough. Don’t worry if it’s sticky – enriched dough is actually meant to be on the sticky side.
  5. Turn dough out to a lightly floured board and knead by holding the dough with one hand and stretching it with the heel of the other hand, then folding it back on itself (you shouldn’t need to add any flour as it will become less sticky as you knead it). Repeat for a good 5 minutes (I actually kneaded and whacked the dough on the bench for at least double this time which is why I think they rose so well) until smooth and elastic. Put the dough back into the bowl it came out of.
  6. Drain the fruit well and put into a small bowl. Add the peel, cinnamon and mixed spice and mix to combine.
  7. Add the fruit mix into the bowl with the dough and gently work the fruit into the dough (doing this in the bowl helps to contain the fruit). Once all the fruit is reasonably well combined into the dough, transfer the dough back to the bench and continue to knead for a further 5 minutes (the raisins/currants will continue to annoyingly pop out as you knead; just shove them back in) or until it feels smooth and elastic; if you press a finger into it the dough should spring back a little.
  8. Place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place in a warm spot and leave for at least 30 minutes (depending on the temperature this could in fact take up to 2 hours), or until doubled in bulk and a finger pressed into it leaves a dent.
  9. Gently depress the dough with your finger tips and turn it out onto the bench and lightly knead. Now measure the dough’s weight and divide the weight by 12. Divide dough into 12 balls of equal weight. Shape each ball into a nice smooth round and place alongside each other in a greased large square cake or roasting dish. Cover lightly with greased plastic wrap (you can spray the plastic wrap with an oil spray) and sit in a warm place until doubled in size.
  10. Pre-heat oven to 200°C (400°F).
  11. For the topping: Mix together the flour and water for crosses (the mixture will be a fairly stiff glob) and place into a piping bag or plastic bag with the corner snipped. Pipe crosses on buns (it helps to pipe in each direction all the way across the buns).
  12. Place buns in oven and bake for 20 minutes or until golden and springy to touch (you may need to lay a piece of silver foil over top if they brown too quickly).
  13. Meanwhile, place the jam, water and sugar in a small saucepan and stir over medium heat for a couple of minutes until it becomes syrupy.
  14. Take the buns out of the oven and rest the tray on a cooling rack. While they’re still hot, brush them with the apricot glaze. When cool enough to handle, snip the piped crosses with scissors at the end of each bun, and prise apart the buns (I use a blunt edged metal spatula). Place individually on the cooling rack. Serve buns warm or cold with butter. Delicious!
  15. The buns are best served on the day they are made. However, they do freeze well if you have lots left over. Simply defrost them by keeping them out on the bench, then put them in the microwave for just a few seconds to warm them up slightly.

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Food Photography Info: Canon 550D (EOS Rebel T2i); Canon 50mm 1.8 lens / Natural lighting

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