These fluffy hot cross buns are traditionally eaten in the United Kingdom to celebrate Easter. The recipe comes from a course I followed, already some years ago, on festive breads taught by Paul Merry. Mr. Merry teaches bread baking at his school, Panary, in Dorset. I would not refuse to spend some time there. Donations admitted.
Mr. Merry says about the buns:
In Medieval bakeries it was common for the bakers to place a cross on the loaves in order to repel any evil spirits which might be lurking about. There was great fear that evil spirits might overcome the bread in the oven and prevent the magical rising. After the practice was virtually banned in the 16th century as being «popish», the cross was allowed to remain as the symbol for the Easter bun.
A strange law in the Puritan period ensured that rich spicy fruited breads were allowed to be made only during festive or holiday periods or at public burials, and by the 17th century the «hot cross bun» was an established Easter ritual. The baking day was the Thursday before Good Friday, and unlike modern commercial practice, the bakers only made them on the one day.
- 600g milk
- 260g bread flour
- 10g dried baker's yeast (30g fresh yeast)
- 840g bread flour
- 2 medium eggs
- 110g sugar
- 10g de salt
- 140g butter, softened
- 150g raisins
- 30g spices*
- Sweet wine or rhum to soak the raisins
- 1 aditional egg for brushing
- 100g bread flour
- 100g water
- Prepare a batter with the preferment ingredients. Let rise until it is frothy and light.
- Add to preferment flour, sugar, eggs and salt. Knead by hand or machine, until you get some gluten development. Then add the softened butter in batches. Knead again until the dough is elastic and smooth, with a good gluten development.
- Add the well drained raisins, previously soaked in rhum or sweet wine, and knead until well integrated.
- Make a ball, put in a oiled bowl, cover and let double in bulk.
- Divide the ball in two parts, and keep half of it tightly covered. Use the other half to form 16 buns. Place them on a tray lined with baking paper, less than 1cm apart, so that they kiss when expanding.
- Preheat the oven to 190°C without convection. Prepare the piping mix for the crosses, beating the flour with water in a bowl. It is important that the flour is bread flour, because the slight gluten development after beating helps to better draw the lines. It should be a fairly thick paste. I use a sauce bottle to paint the buns, but you can also use a pastry bag with an icing nozzle. My mix was not very thick, so the crosses browned a bit too much, they should be whiter.
- When the buns have risen (no need for them to double), brush with an egg yolk beaten with some milk and then draw the crosses.
- Bake the buns in the oven 15 minutes. Spray some water on the buns immediately after putting them in the oven.
- Remove when they are well browned and transfer them to a cooling rack**.
** If you want to give them some glazing just after coming out of the oven, there are various options:
Boil 280ml of water with 300g of sugar until dissolved. Add 15g powder gelatin and brush the buns while piping hot.
Heat 4-5 tbsp apricot or plum jam with 1-2 tbsp water. Strain the mixture and use the liquid to brush the buns while piping hot.
Even though the hot cross buns are best freshly made, they perfectly last a couple of days stored in a plastic bag. And if you find them a bit past their prime, slice them in half and toast them. Delicious with butter and jam.
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