Some say that the hot cross bun is age old, dating back to Ancient Egyptian pagan history where the little buns were offered in honour of the Egyptian moon goddess. The Pagan Saxons too offered similar buns to their Goddess of Light, Ēostre, the cross signifying the four quarters of the moon, the four seasons, or the elements earth, wind, water, fire. There seems to be a variety of interpretations for the significance of the perpendicular intersecting lines. As with many traditions and customs their can be found similarities in many cultures and along a lengthly time line. Today, the buns have a primarily Catholic connotation. For hundreds of years the hot cross buns have been baked and eaten on Good Friday, the symbolism apparent. For me, regardless of their history, they occupy a glorious little place in my childhood, a near perfect treat that came around only once a year.
This recipe, although appearing involved at first, is quite straightforward and once you’ve made your first batch, subsequent ones will be far easier and come together quickly in between preparation for other dishes.
To bake this recipe I used the rectangular tin in the first photo and can make 15 buns with the quantity of dough in this recipe. Some prefer to lay the buns out as you would cookies, with ample room for each to grow but this does not produce the buns we’ve grown up with in Australia and with too much surface area open to the oven, you get too much crust. Apart from eating, the most satisfying part of the hot cross bun is pulling one away from the others and revealing the freshly baked soft bread.
To the recipe:
Proofing the yeast, the most important step of the bread making process: In a bowl or saucepan add 1.5 cups (375 ml) of milk and 1 tablespoon of sugar. Heat the milk in either the microwave (bowl) or on a stove top (saucepan). I heat the milk to about 40 degrees which is roughly when you can stick your finger in it, it is hot but you do not need to remove your finger. When the milk is warm enough, remove from the heat and add 2 teaspoons (7 grams) of dry yeast. Set the milk mixture aside in a warm spot for about 10 mins, or until the next step is complete. You need to check that the yeast is ‘alive’ and working properly. After 10 minutes there should be a light foam sitting on the surface of the milk. If there is no foam, there could be several problems. Inactive or dead yeast, milk too cold or milk too hot. I understand that scorching hot milk can kill yeast quite efficiently.
In a large bowl, add the following ingredients:
4 cups of flour, 00 flour is best, 45 if you live in France.
1/4 cup of castor sugar
1 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of saltanas
1/4 cup of currants, Corinthian currants if you can get them.
1 teaspoon of nutmeg
1 teaspoon of ground ginger
2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
20 ground coriander seeds
16 ground cloves
6 ground pimento ( I think that this is often called all-spice)
Note: Using a mortar and pestle, I grind the coriander seeds, cloves and pimento together.
When all of these dry ingredients are in the same bowl, mix with a spoon to evenly blend the ingredients together.
Melt 60 grams of butter. Check that the yeast has activated in the milk mixture you set aside earlier, if so, add the melted butter and one egg. Whisk together.
Make a well in the centre of your dry ingredients and pour in the milk mixture. Stir until combined. Then, using your hands, form the dough and turn on to a floured bench or marble. Knead for 15 mins or so until the dough is smooth and elastic-like. I add extra flour to the outside of the dough as I kneed to prevent it from sticking to my hands too much. It is a sticky dough and I strongly recommend the use of dusting flour while kneading.
Cover with a damp towel and rest for at least an hour or until the dough has doubled in size. It needs a warm place so moving it back to the bowl may be necessary.
Punch the dough down by hitting it with your fist until deflated. Five or so times is enough. Then kneed for 3-5 mins. Divide the dough into equal portions (I make 15) and form each portion into a ball. Line your baking tray with baking paper and place the buns inside. I have the buns just pushing up against each other but not close enough to change the shape of the ball too much. Cover with a damp cloth and set aside for a further 30 mins in a warm location.
Pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius.
In a small bowl, mix 1/2 a cup of flour and about a 1/4 cup of water together. I do this stage standing at the sink so that I can add more water as I go. You want it to flow but not be too liquid. You will use this mixture to mark the cross on the buns. Put it in a freezer or sandwich bag and tie it off. When the 30 min rise-time is complete, snip a small corner off the bag and draw the crosses on the buns. The best way to do this is to draw a continuous line across each row of buns in both directions. Keeping the line in the center of the buns.
Bake for 10 minutes at 200 degrees celsius and then turn the oven to 180 degrees celsius and bake for a further 20 mins or until golden brown. The best way to test that the buns are ready is to tap on the bottom. If the bun sounds hollow, its likely to be ready.
Hot cross buns are best eaten fresh, straight out of the oven, served with butter, honey or jam. Those that remain until the next day will seem quite hard but if you heat them up, they soften almost back to what they were like fresh.
Happy baking! If you have any questions please comment and I will answer.