Easter in Romania has plenty of its customs, but this year I tried to get out of the box a little bit and looked at other countries and their Easter traditions. And this is how I stumbled upon these Hot Cross Buns. Intrigued by their aspect and the promise of a delicious brioche-like dough, packed with dried fruits, I decided to give them a try. And I am so glad that I did as I found a delicious Easter treat to hold on from now on.
A hot cross bun is a spiced sweet bun made with bread flour, candied fruit, dried fruits, marked with a cross on the top as a signature. It is traditionally eaten on Good Friday in The UK, Ireland, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and some part of the USA. The buns mark the end of the Lent, while the cross represents the crucifixion.
The origin of the Hot Cross Buns seems to be in England, in St. Albans where brother Thomas Rodcliffe, a 14th century monk at the St. Albans Abbey developed a sweet bread recipe called Alban bun and distributed these buns to the local poor people on Good Friday. In the 16th century however, the London Clerk of Markets issued a decree forbidding the sale of hot cross buns and other spiced breads, except at burials, on Good Friday and Christmas. As a result of this decree, hot cross buns were made primarily at home.
The spices used include cinnamon, cloves or ground star anise, while the fruits used could be candied apricots, cranberries, raisins, candied ginger or oranges, sultanas, pieces of dried figs and so on. One little trick I like to use when having to deal with dried fruits is to soak them in a liquid. This time I used cognac, but you can pretty much use anything, from liqueurs to citrus juice or just water flavored with some of your favorite spices. If no extra flavor is desired, simply don’t soak them, but don’t expect them to be as soft and moist as they are when soaked overnight.
This dough definitely expresses my love for gluten. Not that I don’t enjoy gluten-free products, but nothing compares to a chewy, fluffy sweet yeasted dough fresh out of the oven! The perfume, the crust, the crumb, it’s all just perfect! Another great example of a great gluten-packed dough and so so delicious are these sticky cinnamon rolls which I highly recommend!
How to make Hot Cross Buns
The dough starts by mixing the flour with the milk, buttermilk, yeast, honey and butter in the bowl of your mixer. The purpose is to knead these ingredients into an elastic dough before adding the sugar and spices. If the dough is not strong enough, when you finally add the sugar it will fall apart, the weak gluten being destroyed by the sharp edges of the sugar crystals. So first of all, knead an elastic dough! This could take 10-15-20 minutes, depending on your mixer. Once the dough feels strong, start adding the sugar combined with the spices and salt, bit by bit, adding more only when the previous batch has been incorporated. Keep kneading until you add all the sugar.
The final step is to add the fruits. At this point, the dough should be strong enough, but even so, don’t overmix once you throw in the fruits. Knead 1-2 minutes just until evenly distributed and it’s done!
Transfer the dough in a greased bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Place it in the fridge for the next 8 hours or better, over night. During this time, not only the gluten will develop better, but fermentation will also happen at a slow rate, infusing the dough with an amazing aroma. Additionally, the dough will stiffen which makes it easier to work with later on.
After proofing in the fridge, cut the dough into small pieces, 60g each or even a bit more, and shape into perfect balls. Arrange them all on a tray lined with baking paper, making sure they have enough room to rise. This second rise of the dough could take up to 2h as the dough is cold from the fridge and it takes a while to warm back up and activate the yeast once again at its highest.
Once the buns have risen again, brush them with egg wash and pipe on top the flour paste. The point of firstly brushing the buns with egg wash is to create a shiny, golden coating on the buns, while the cross remains dull and lighter in color, thus creating the beautiful contrast on each bun.
Hot Cross Buns
- 500 g bread flour
- 4 g dried yeast or 12g fresh yeast
- 140 g full-fat milk
- 180 g buttermilk
- 50 g egg
- 20 g honey
- 40 g butter
- 75 g white sugar
- 1 g cinnamon powder
- 0.5 g nutmeg powder
- 8 g salt
- 50 g raisins
- 50 g candied orange peel (chopped)
- 50 g cranberries
- + 1egg for egg wash
- 65 g all-purpose flour
- 35 g milk
- 35 g powdered sugar
- 35 g butter (softened)
- Combine the flour, yeast, milk, buttermilk, egg, butter and honey in the bowl of your mixer and knead for 20 minutes on low speed or until the dough begins to look elastic.
- Separately, mix the sugar with the salt, cinnamon and nutmeg then begin to add it over the elastic dough, while kneading.
- Add the sugar one teaspoon at a time, trying to keep the dough elastic.
- Transfer the dough in a greased bowl and let it rise covered in the fridge for 8 hours or 2h at room temperature if you are in a rush.
- Cut the dough into pieces of 60g each and shape them into small balls.
- Place the buns on a baking tray and let them rise again for 1 more hour or until double in volume.
- Brush the buns with egg wash before the next step.
- Mix the butter with the sugar – don’t whip, just mix them together.
- Add the milk and flour and mix into a paste.
- Place the paste into a piping bag then pipe a cross on each proofed bun.
- Bake in the preheated oven at 170C for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.