Note: This post has been re-photographed and re-written, and recipe tweaked: please check here.
Hot cross buns!
Given that Easter is on its way, it would only be right to do a little Easter-themed baking. I was looking on my cookbook shelf and happened to notice Nigella Lawson’s Feast, which I haven’t used in a while–but given that it’s themed around holidays and other celebrations, and that it’s English, I thought I might have a good chance of finding something. Once again, I was thankful to have my digital scale that can do metrics, as this recipe required weighing out the flour, etc., in grams. (I bought this book in England; I’m sure if you bought the US edition you wouldn’t have to worry about this!)
The first step was to infuse the milk with spices. Once again I remembered I had been meaning to buy whole cloves–no matter in the end, I just added a pinch of powder. It was an enjoyable start as the cardamom and clove aromatics filled the kitchen–only to be heightened by cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. While kneading, I had to add a little extra milk–I bet it’s because North American flour has higher gluten content than English flour (simply by virtue of having a more severe winter–the wheat is that much “harder”) so it absorbed more liquid than the recipe counted on. I just dribbled it in, so I’m not sure how much I eventually had to add. Surprisingly the recipe called for adding the candied fruit at the beginning with the other dry ingredients (I just used currants), which made it a little harder to pull together.
The yeast I was using (instant, which is what I assumed was meant by the “easy mix” yeast called for in the recipe), is a bit old–not at all close to expiration, but open for a while. I’m not sure if that’s why it had a bit of trouble rising, or it was just the weight of all those currants (it was pretty densely packed). Ultimately I resorted to my favorite trick of heating an oven to 200F, shutting it off and popping the dough in to give those yeasts a little push to get going!
I figured I’d do it right and went to all the “trouble” of the egg wash, the white icing (well, that’s sort of required–interestingly made just of flour, water, and sugar!) before putting the buns into bake, followed by a coating in a simple sugar syrup once they were taken out again and cooling. Using parchment paper meant no burnt icings, glazes, or other unpleasantness to scrub off, plus I slid the used sheet under the cooling rack to catch any spills while brushing on the final sugar glaze. They are nice and shiny and, while not perfect little buns, are quite delicious! I don’t know what “standard” hot cross buns taste like, but the heavily spiced mixture stuffed with currants seems right to me: perhaps thanks to the nursery rhyme, this has a bit of a “medieval” association for me, so the heavily scented buns seems only appropriate!
And for anyone who wants to make these for next Sunday (or whenever!), here’s the American version of the hot cross bun recipe, via NPR (and in Nigella herself’s words):
HOT CROSS BUNS
For the Dough:
· 2/3 cup milk
· 1/2 stick butter
· zest of 1 orange
· 1 clove
· 2 cardamom pods
· 3 cups bread flour
· 1 package active dry yeast (1/4 oz)
· 3/4 cup mixed dried fruit
· 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
· 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
· 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
· 1 egg
For the Egg Wash:
· 1 egg, beaten with a little milk
For the Crosses on the Buns:
· 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
· 1/2 tablespoon superfine sugar
· 2 tablespoons water
For the Sugar Glaze:
· 1 tablespoon superfine sugar
· 1 tablespoon boiling water
Heat the milk, butter, orange zest, clove and cardamom pods in a saucepan until the butter melts, then leave to infuse. I have gone rather cardamom-mad recently, but this short, aromatic infusion gives a heavenly scent to the little fruited buns later.
Measure the flour, yeast and dried fruit into a bowl and add the spices. When the infused milk has reached blood temperature take out the clove and cardamom pods, and beat in the egg. Pour this liquid into the bowl of dry ingredients.
Knead the dough either by hand or with a machine with a dough hook; if it is too dry add a little more warm milk or water. Keep kneading until you have silky elastic dough, but bear in mind that the dried fruit will stop this from being exactly satin-smooth. Form into a ball and place in a buttered bowl covered with plastic wrap, and leave to rise overnight in the fridge.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Take the dough out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature.
Punch the dough down, and knead it again until it is smooth elastic. Divide into 16 balls and shape into smooth round buns. I wouldn’t start worrying unduly about their size: just halve the dough, and keep halving until it’s in eight pieces, and use that piece of dough to make two buns. Or just keep the dough as it is, and pinch off pieces slightly larger than a ping-pong ball and hope you end up with 16 or thereabouts. Not that it matters.
Sit the buns on a parchment paper of Silpat-lined baking sheet. Make sure they are quite snug together but not touching. Using the back of an ordinary eating knife, score the tops of the buns with the imprint of a cross. Cover with a kitchen towel, and leave to prove again for about 45 minutes – they should have risen and almost joined up.
Brush the buns with the egg wash, and then mix the flour, sugar and water into a smooth, thick, paste. Using a teaspoon, dribble two lines over the bins in the indent of the cross, and then bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes.
When the hot cross buns come out of the oven, mix the sugar and boiling water together for the glaze, and brush each hot bun to make them sweet and shiny.
You could ignore my instructions to leave the dough in the fridge to rise slowly overnight and instead leave the dough to rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours in a warmish place in the kitchen, but I always find it easier to go the overnight route, plus I think it gives a better taste and texture.