Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Hot Cross Buns

 If you have no daughters, give them to your sons...

How early is too early? The Christmas-related grumbles start earlier every year. Easter may still be over a month away but it seems like the supermarkets cleared out the mince pies and Christmas decorations and substituted them with hot cross buns and Easter eggs. I baulked at the produce on show at first but I couldn’t resist the sweetly spice allure of hot cross buns for long. My local supermarkets have been particularly sneaky recently as they were offering two packs of six store-baked buns for £1 for a while and have now deviously reduced the packs to four while still keeping their ‘bargain’ deal the same. No where near two a penny!

Hot cross buns are traditionally eaten on or around Good Friday with the cross on the top of the bun harking back to the cross of the Crucifixion. Some believe that hot cross buns predate Christianity as the Saxons ate a cross adorned bun in honour of the goddess Eostre. You can read more into their complicated history here if you're curious. Either way, there are a surprising amount of superstitions surrounding these unassuming baps of lovelyness which I was unaware of until now. Sharing a hot cross bun can apparently ensure friendship for the forthcoming year while taking one to sea can guard you from ship wreak. Maybe this is why the Pitt Rivers Museum has seen fit to archive one in their collection which is now over eighty years old!

My memories of hot cross buns start at infant school with me carefully rolling out a paste to form the white ‘cross’ to go on top. The buns seemed bigger back then (and don’t even get me started on Creme Eggs). I have fond memories, too, of making fragrant yellow Easter biscuits with my Mum, taking great pleasure in using a biscuit cutter with crimped, wavy edges. I have always loved the details! Years later, our after school club made Easter nest cakes with us which were a lot nicer than they sound. Crumbled Shredded Wheat biscuits stuck together with melted milk chocolate and fashioned into a nest shaped to be filled with Cadbury’s Mini Eggs.

Hot cross buns are one of the few Easter-related foods that has continued to jump into my shopping basket (completely of their own accord, of course) since my infancy, through university until now. I haven’t attempted to make them since my early school days so when a friend pointed out a recipe, I thought we should give them a try. They do take some patience as they need two chances to rise and plump up but I think that they were well worth it.

Hot Cross Buns
Makes 12 - 14 buns

375g strong white flour
25g caster sugar
7g fast-action yeast
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
peel of half an orange, zested or finely grated
220ml skimmed milk
1 egg, whisked
60g unsalted butter
100g sultanas, lightly soaked in water or orange juice

For the crosses:
35g plain flour
pinch of baking powder
Honey to glaze

- Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl with the sugar, yeast, salt, orange peel and spices.
- Gently heat the milk with the butter (in the microwave or on the hob) on a low heat until melted and the milk is just warm. Whisk the egg into the mixture.
- Make a well in the centre of the flour and add the milk mixture. Mix well until it comes together as a dough.
- Knead for 10 minutes until smooth and elastic.
- Cover in a little sunflower oil, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place for one hour or until doubled in size.
- Knock back the dough and knead in the sultanas so that they are evenly mixed into the dough.
- Divide into balls just larger than golf balls then cuddle them up on a lightly greased baking tray so that they are just touching. Cover again and leave to rise for 30 minutes - they should join up as they rise.
- Meanwhile, mix the crosses mixture with 3 tsp water. Spoon into a piping bag and pipe a cross on to each one once they have risen.
- Bake for 15 minutes at 180c or until golden. They should sound hollow when tapped.
- Leave to cool then brush with warmed honey (I zap it in the microwave for a few seconds until its runny) to glaze.

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