The traditional Easter treat of hot cross buns are available in bakeries and supermarkets all year round these days. I once challenged a baker in Hove on this – where I used to buy a bun quite often when working on a contract there. He said that if he makes a simple spiced fruit bun people don’t buy it, but they will if you put the cross on the top, so now he does it all year round.
My recipe is an adaptation of the one by Paul Hollywood on the BBC Good Food website. It uses apple to provide some additional moisture. I used chopped dried apricot as I’m no fan of mixed peel.
I made the sponge overnight on Friday, made the dough Saturday afternoon, then added the fruit and put it in the fridge overnight. Sunday morning all I had to do was divide it up into buns and let them proof for an hour, put the crosses on and bake. Rather than using apricot jam glaze I made a syrup from water and sugar.
The flour is Shipton Mill No 4. I used this flour last week to make my standard white sourdough batch and the result was a somewhat softer crumb than I get with the supermarket strong bread flour. I thought this would be ideal for hot cross buns. Mixing some plain flour with a strong bread flour might have the same effect.
Sourdough starter, at a batter consistency (approx 150% hydration)
1 apple , peeled, cored and finely chopped
75g caster sugar
500g strong bread flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp or less olive oil to oil the bowl
1 egg , beaten
50g chopped dried apricots
zest 1 orange
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground mixed spice
Good Friday evening:
Before going to bed, prepare a sponge from your sourdough starter: In a large bowl mix 1 cup of the strong white bread flour with 1 cup water and beat to a batter. Add in the sourdough starter (mine usually weighs about 270g and is 150% hydration. My cup sizes are European, so 1 cup is 250ml) and beat again. Wash and dry your sourdough starter pot ready to take the starter for next time. Cover the batter and leave in a moderately warm place to form a sponge – six to eight hours should do it.
Saturday at some point:
Take out 0.5 cup of starter and put it in your clean pot, feed it with 0.5 cup of water and 0.5 cup of flour and put it away for next time. Boil the milk then melt the butter and dissolve the sugar into it. Let that cool and then beat in the egg. Add this to the sponge. Then add in most of the remaining flour (about 375g) and the salt and spices. Get the whole thing into a dough and kneed it on a lightly floured counter for a few minutes, adding more flour only if it is impossibly sticky. No need to go crazy, just get it smooth and even. Oil the bowl and put the dough back in it and cover. Leave to rise until double – about an hour if it’s somewhere moderately warm.
Peel, core and chop the apple. Add this with the sultanas and chopped apricots and orange zest to the dough in the bowl. Fold the dough over and over in the bowl which will knock it back and incorporate the fruit. Cover the bowl again and put it in the fridge overnight.
Easter Sunday morning:
Take the dough from the fridge and flour the counter. I split the dough and made two long sausages. From these I cut 75g portions and I got 17 of them. Space them out on baking sheets lined with parchment or non-stick-whatever. You want about 1cm between them. after an hour they should be just about touching. Mix 75g flour with about 5 tbs of water to form a thick smooth paste and pipe this in a grid over the top of the buns to make the crosses. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 220C, 200C if fan assisted for 20 mins. Turn them part way through if they are browning unevenly.
Make a syrup from 50g water and 50g sugar. Boil it hard for a minute or so but don’t let it colour. Brush the tops of the buns with the syrup when they are hot from the oven. Let them cool – but tuck into one before they are completely cold!