Confession: I’m a hot cross bun addict. I know this isn’t particularly individual – in fact the opposite would be wildly more interesting, because there aren’t many folks who don’t enjoy a fruity, spice-laden parcel of bread. But I take enjoyment of The Bun’s golden goodness to the next level each and every year. While most complain that commercial bakers bring out this seasonal treat blasphemously early (which they do and they need not appear on New Year’s Day), I unabashedly tuck in at least a month before April. I’ve been known to spend entire weekends hopping from bakery to bakery in the lead up to Easter, on a quest for the best buns going round – six separate stops is not unusual. I also believe the ‘ye olde’ bun superstitions to be true (slash any excuse will do) and hold all of my loved ones to breaking hot crossed bread with me on Good Friday, to guarantee our friendship for the year ahead. Suffice it to say, I’ve eaten a few buns in my time and consider myself something of a connoisseur.
Something I’m reasonably new to, however, is baking my own hot cross buns. I took on the challenge for the first time a couple of years ago and found plating up freshly baked buns straight from the oven incomparably rewarding. It takes time; you’ll want to set aside at least half a day. But that’s part of the fun – making the dough and letting it rise gently over several hours, selecting the fruit and spice types (and the amount) to include, having your house filled with those fruit toast aromas and in my case, sipping a drink or two while I wait (which is what I like to call ‘boozed and baked’). Finally, you’ll find devouring your creation with a generous slick of salted butter worth every minute of kneading and waiting. Here, I’ll share with you what I’ve learned in my time as a fledgling home baker, plus the pro tips I’ve picked up along the way:
1. Do a trial run of your buns before you plan to show them off and share them round. Like most cooking efforts, tasting and adjusting is the best way to achieve the desired finish.
2. Soak your fruit overnight. This is really important to ensure not-at-all dry buns.
3. Use quality ingredients. Good white flour, butter, spices and fruit will take your buns up a notch.
4. Please, pick up the right utensils. In my first attempt I went rogue with the cross, painting it on with whatever was around. The result? A sticky mess, a lot of frustration, and a not-so-delicious outcome. In fact I found nailing the cross (no pun intended) to be the hardest part of the process. The pros say use a good choux pastry recipe rather than your basic flour/water combo and I’d tend to agree. You want tastiness from top to bottom, so choose the best for each element. And buy yourself a piping bag – it makes for a prettier finish and far less mess.
5. Play around! Use dates or sour cherries in addition to your regular currant-raisin mix; try exotic spices like saffron and cardamom or native spices like lemon myrtle; and maybe even change up the bread, using a sourdough or brioche recipe (at either end of the flavour spectrum) instead.
6. The right amount of spice is all-important, as is the amount, type, juiciness and distribution of fruit. Equally important is the overall texture and this is largely dependent on your dough. My feeling is that looks are less significant – you want a shiny top and a relatively neat cross, but the beauty of home-made is that they’ll be a bit more rustic in shape.
7. Go nuts with the glaze. As with the above, a sweet, sticky top adds to both the texture and flavour of your buns. That said, it needs to be a nice, shiny lacquer without dripping everywhere once it’s in your hands.
8. Finally, make sure you pick up a good cultured butter to spread on your bread. Pepe Saya, Myrtleford and Saint Omer are top choices.
So, why not give your own a go? You’ll be oh-so satisfied when you pull off the perfect fruit/spice ratio. Plus, it’s an excuse to invite everyone you know around for a cuppa to show off your artisanal wares. Pride, popularity and a tonne of buns to tuck into for weeks to come – what more motivation do you need?!
Not a fan of chocolate? Check out our Easter treats for chocolate avoiders.