Hot Cross Buns
These gnarled little creatures are my first attempt at making Hot Cross Buns, a big pre-Easter tradition here in Australia. I never liked them as a child because I hated sultanas and any dried fruit that appeared in anything I was to eat. I'd pick each and every one out. I still don't like them too much, but I like to think my tastes are maturing. They've matured enough to really enjoy my yearly consumption of hot cross buns in the final weeks of Lent.
Considering these buns took all afternoon, I'm a bit disappointed with how they turned out and currently feeling a bit grumpy about the whole thing. They don't look anything like the picture that tempted me in A Spoonful of Sugar. Angela's are burnished golden and shiny with glaze, bursting with the promise of a soft, fluffy interior studded with currants and mixed peel, whereas mine look like rock cakes. They pretty much taste like rock cakes too, although so far I've only tasted half of one straight out of the oven. I can still feel it sitting like a lead weight in my stomach! BAH!
Full disclosure here: this was not only the first time I've made hot cross buns, but the first time I've ever use yeast in baking. I've always wanted to, but steered away from it, somehow knowing that I'd be the type of person for whom yeast cookery should be well avoided. I'm a bit impatient and clumsy, really especially in the kitchen. A bit slapdash...I like to poke and prod at things, and yeast cookery just takes so much time. Witness - I started these at 1pm, and finished at 5.30. That's a heck of a long time to make 12 buns! Admittedly, I did enjoy the process, I just wish that the end result was more impressive.
Who knows where things went wrong? Perhaps I kneaded too roughly or for too long? It never became smooth or silky... I did it for the specified ten minutes, with the technique I've seen on countless TV cooking shows. Perhaps my flour wasn't strong enough? Perhaps I didn't wait long enough to let them rise properly, but you know, I'd left it for nearly two hours, and I only had the entire afternoon free, not the entire DAY! After two hours it had risen a bit, but certainly not doubled itself, and that was even with sitting the bowl in the sun where it was nice and warm...
But I may speak too soon. I will try another later tonight, and give half a dozen to A. who will be very frank with his judgement (he considers himself a hot cross bun connoisseur...and has 5 of Melbourne's top 10 Hot Cross Bun bakeries within walking distance of his house...).
I've included the recipe below, as it evidently is a good one for many people. And maybe with more practice baking with yeast, it'll become a good one for me too!
Extra Spicy Hot Cross Buns - Linda Collister, Bread
450g unbleached strong white bread flour
50g stoneground wholemeal bread flour
50g caster sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground mixed spice
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
50g unsalted butter, diced
25g finely chopped mixed peel
7g sachet easyblend (fast action) dried yeast
250ml tepid milk
1 large egg, beaten
60g plain flour
30g unsalted butter, diced
2 teaspoons caster sugar
4 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons caster sugar
2 baking sheets greased
Put the flours, yeast, sugar, salt and spices in a large bowl and mix well.
Add the diced butter and rub into the flour using the tips of your fingers until the mixture looks like fine crumbs.
Mix in the dried fruit and mixed peel, then make a well in the centre of the mixture.
Add the beaten egg to the well and approximately half the milk. Gradually draw in the flour to make a soft but not sticky dough. Add more milk if necessary or extra flour (a tablespoon at a time) if the dough is too sticky.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead throughly for 10 minutes.
Return the dough to the bowl and then put the bowl into a large plastic bag and inflate slightly, or cover the bowl with clingfilm. Let rise in a warm spot in the kitchen until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.
Punch down the risen dough a couple of times to deflate.
Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces. Shape each into a neat ball and set well apart on the greased sheets. Slip the sheets into large plastic bags and inflate slightly or cover with a slightly damp teatowel and let rise as before until doubled in size, 45 minutes - 1 hour.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200C /400F / Gas Mark 6.
To make the pastry for the cross, put the flour, butter and sugar into a small bowl and rub the butter into the flour with the tips of your fingers until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs. Stir in 1-2 tablespoons cold water to make a firm dough. Roll out the dough on a floured work surgace to about 3mm thick, then cut into strips about 10cm long and 1cm wide. Uncover the risen buns, brush the pastry strips with a little water to dampen, then arrange, sticky side down, in a cross on top of the buns.
Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes until golden brown.
Meanwhile, to prepare the sticky glaze, heat the milk and sugar in a small pan until dissolved, then boil for 1 minute until syrupy.
As soon as the buns are cooked, lift them out onto a cooling rack and brush immediately with the hot glaze. (Place a tea towel under the rack to catch the drips!!)
Eat warm or toasted, or freeze for up to 1 month.