I think I can say that the recipe I made for my hot cross buns last weekend is officially pretty traditional. You see it was sourced from my new and very coveted book of English Bread and Yeast Cookery by Elizabeth David, published in 1977. Not really an old publication I know (well maybe not so new now I think about it), but when you delve into her book you are entering a history lesson as she teaches you about the origin of the dish you are creating and how the food fit into the culture back in the day. Hot Cross Buns as a modern day fad have their history as far back as the 1592 when they were made to be made and eaten on Good Friday, Christmas Day and at funerals. In fact there was a decree in place in London from Elizabeth I stating that if you were caught making or selling these delicious spiced buns at any other time then they were to be given to the poor as punishment. I’m not an extreme traditionalist by any stretch but I think this is an edict worth re-introducing so that we enjoy our food far more seasonally, as it should be. We could then have the wonderful time of anticipation, and the pleasure of enjoyment for the short time that they were available. I’m sure this is not likely to happen any time soon, but I will continue to groan each time I see hot cross buns and easter eggs appear in January and Christmas decorations begin to appear in October.
As to the buns themselves…well lookout! They are as light as a pillow, fluffy without turning to dough the minute you touch them. I would like them to have a bit more substance, but found upon toasting them for breakfast that you get the perfect texture with this method of consumption. Add lashings of butter, or for the non-traditionalists amongst us, a smear of hazelnut spread. The only thing I changed was to glaze them with apricot jam instead of the milk and sugar glaze in the recipe.
I can’t wait to explore this book in more depth when we have it as part of The Cookbook Guru (cookbook book club) in May, but for now we are going to savour our hot cross buns on Good Friday for breakfast and look forward to new versions next year when the timing is right.
Hot Cross Buns
taken from Elizabeth Davids “English Bread and Yeast Cookery”
- 500g Plain Flour or Bread Flour
- 30g Fresh Yeast or 2 tsp Dried Yeast
- 125g Currents
- 1 tsp salt
- approx 1 cup full cream milk
- 60g brown sugar
- 60g unsalted butter
- 2 tsp mixed spice
- 2 eggs
- 2 tbl sp apricot jam
Place your milk into a saucepan over a very low heat and warm to blood temperature. It should be neither hot nor cold to touch. If you are using fresh yeast, combine a small amount of the milk with the yeast to cream it.
Place your flour, along with the spices, sugar, salt and your yeast if you are using dried yeast into a large bowl. If you are using an electric mixer then combine well and then add the butter, the milk mixture and the eggs, one at a time. Mix until well combined and your dough forms. It will be quite sticky and soft. Finally add in the currents and knead until mixed evenly through.
Cover the bowl with a tea towel and let the dough rest until it has doubled in size. If you are in a colder climate or your kitchen temperature is fairly cool a good way to encourage this process is to wrap the bowl in a towel.
Once the dough has risen tip out onto a well floured bench and knead back to original size. Flatten and shape into a rough rectangle about 2-3cm high. Using a knife or a dough scraper cut your dough into strips and then into squares about 4-5cm. Roll slightly to even out the edges. Your balls should be about the size of a kiwi fruit, or somewhere between a golf and tennis ball. Place the buns adjacent to each other on a baking tray that has been lined with non-stick baking paper.
Once you have created all the buns, cover them with a tea towel and again allow them to rise, doubling in size. At this point take about 2/3 cup of plain flour and mix with just enough water to create a paste. Using a piping bag or freezer bag with the corner cut off, pipe crosses across your buns.
Place the buns in a 180-200c oven and bake for approx 30 mins or until golden in colour. When the buns are ready, in a small bowl combine the apricot jam with about 2 tbl sp of hot water until well combined. Using a pastry brush, paint the jam mixture over the hot buns. Allow to cool slightly and then paint a second layer. Allow to cool completely if you can resist warm spiced bread.
Best served toasted with lashings of butter. Will keep in an airtight container for up to 3 days and will also freeze well.
Happy Easter and Happy Eating,