Hot Cross Buns

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Is it just me or has Easter come around spectacularly fast? I’m sure it’s partially due to the early dates this year, but either way, the past three months seem to have flown by. I noticed this when I realised I hadn’t blogged since Christmas!

I’m one of those people who simultaneously complains about hot cross buns appearing in shops on Boxing Day, and secretly craves them. My solution this year (given the alternative was to buy very average buns from a supermarket) was to bake up a storm. I have a bit of an irrational fear of yeast; I’ve always much preferred baking from butter and eggs. My previous experiences with yeast have ranged from average to good, but I was willing to give it another try in the hope of hot cross buns fresh from the oven.

Despite a few issues with the yeast (which I almost expected), the buns turned out fantastic. They were nice and light with plenty of fruit and spice – a bland bun is dead to me! I honestly don’t think I’ve had a better hot cross bun, and this was my first batch!

So, the aforementioned yeast issues: I found that my first yeast mixture didn’t bubble, it just sat there. I could hear it quietly fizzing but nothing really seemed to be going on after 10 minutes. So I ended up leaving it and starting again, but this time with the milk slightly warmer. This did produce better results; I saw the foam start to accumulate on top much faster. Yeast is renowned for being sensitive, but I learnt that you do want the milk to feel warm as opposed to body temperature. You also don’t want the milk too hot which would kill the yeast. But please don’t let this put you off! Dried yeast is infinitely easier to work with than its fresh counterpart, and as long as you have foam your dough will turn out fine.

Onto the next issue: mixing. The first time I made these I decided to make them ‘the traditional way’ and shunned the electric mixer in favour of old fashioned hard work. I started to regret this decision 20 minutes later when my arms were aching and sticky dough was spread out all over the counter. I ended up adding extra flour to the original recipe (that’s modified below) which did help in making the dough less sticky, but the whole process was infinitely easier the second time I made the buns using a Kitchenaid. There was much less mess, and my muscles didn’t feel the pain! I will warn you, however, to make sure your electric mixer can cope with this quantity of sticky bread dough before you start. I also tried to make these buns in my Kenwood mixer, which started to emit steam from the motor after 10 minutes of mixing (it’s fair to say that was a bit of a disaster).

If you don’t have a mixer, or can’t use it, I would still urge you to give hot cross buns a go. Despite my complaints of sore muscles, the whole process really isn’t too bad, and in any case it is completely worth it for piping hot buns fresh from the oven.

Butter, anyone? Happy Easter!

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Hot Cross Buns, adapted from taste.com.au

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups (375ml) warm milk
  • 2 tsp (7g/1 sachet) dried yeast
  • 1/4 cup (55g) caster sugar
  • 60g butter, melted
  • 1 egg, lightly whisked
  • 4 1/2 cups (675g) plain 00 flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1.5 tblsp mixed spice
  • 1tsp cinnamon
  • 1 3/4 cup (300g) sultanas
  • 1/2 cup (75g) plain 00 flour, extra
  • 1/3 cup (80ml) cold water
  • 1/2 cup (170g) apricot jam

Method

  1. Combine the milk, yeast and 1 tbs of caster sugar in a small bowl. Set aside in a warm, draught-free place (such as the microwave) for 10 minutes or until frothy.
  2. Combine the milk mixture, butter and egg in a jug and whisk to combine. In a separate bowl, combine 4 1/2 cups (675g) of flour, salt, mixed spice, cinnamon and remaining caster sugar. Add the sultanas and stir to combine. Make a well in the centre. Pour in the milk mixture and use a wooden spoon to stir until just combined, then use your hands to bring the dough together. Alternatively, combine the dry and wet ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer on the lowest setting using a dough hook.
  3. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 15 minutes or until smooth and elastic, or alternatively, knead using an electric mixer on low speed for 10-15 minutes. Place the dough in a bowl and cover with a damp tea towel. Leave in a warm, draught-free place for 1 hour or until dough doubles in size.
  4. Preheat oven to 200°C. Grease a 23cm square cake pan or rectangular baking dish and line with baking paper. Punch the dough down with your fist. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 2-3 minutes or until dough is smooth and elastic. Divide dough into 16 even pieces and shape each portion into a ball. Arrange dough portions, just touching side by side, in the prepared pan. Cover with a tea towel and set aside in a warm, draught-free place for 30 minutes or until dough has risen 2cm.
  5. Meanwhile, mix the extra flour and water together in a small bowl until a smooth paste forms. Place in a small snaplock bag and snip off the end. Pipe a continuous line down the centre of each row of buns, lengthways and widthways, to form crosses. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 180°C and bake for a further 20 minutes or until golden and cooked through (buns are ready when they sound hollow when tapped on the base).
  6. Turn onto a wire rack. Place the jam in a small saucepan over high heat. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes or until jam melts. Strain through a fine sieve. Brush hot jam over the buns. Serve fresh out of the oven with butter. Hot cross buns are best eaten on the day they are made, but are lovely toasted the next day.

Norwegian Cinnamon Buns

Not long ago I was passing by Donut King and had an overwhelming urge to purchase a cinnamon donut. This I did and as I was eating it, I realised that I wasn’t really enjoying it. I’m not a fan of greasy donuts that don’t taste of anything in a particular.

And so I remembered that I don’t really like cinnamon donuts at all, I am just addicted to anything that contains cinnamon and sugar mixed together.

When I saw the recipe for Norwegian cinnamon buns in Nigella’s How to be a Domestic Goddess I popped the recipe straight on my mental “to bake” list. Now that university exams are over and holidays have begun, the four-week bake fest is on a roll (pun intended). First up, cinnamon buns.

I’ll start with saying that the recipe I’m going to post is with the changes I made, and the ones I would make next time. The original recipe is posted on other blogs around the internet. The main change is the flour – I was worrying when I was kneading the dough that it was way too soft and that I had done something wrong, but a quick google search showed that many had the same problem. My solution was to add extra flour, but the Nigella website recommends whisking the melted butter and eggs with half of the milk (200 mls) and combining this with the flour/yeast mixture first, before adding the remaining milk gradually as required until you have a soft dough.

Norwegian Cinnamon Buns, adapted from How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson

Ingredients: dough

  • 600g plain flour, plus extra
  • 100g white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 21g or 3 sachets dried yeast
  • 100g butter, melted
  • 400mL milk
  • 2 eggs

Ingredients: filling

  • 150 g unsalted butter, softened
  • 150g sugar (I used half brown, half white sugar)
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon

Method

  • Combine the flour, sugar, salt and yeast in a large bowl.
  • Combine the melted butter,  milk and eggs in a separate bowl (alternatively, follow the Nigella website recommendation).
  • Add the liquid mixture to the flour mixture and combine.
  • Prepare a lightly oiled bowl to place your dough in, and dust a clean work surface with flour.
  • Knead the dough on your work surface until it is smooth and springy (or you could use a dough hook of an electric mixer). I found this the hardest step with such a wet dough, but if you’ve added the milk gradually and/or add extra flour, you should be okay. Knead your heart out, this step takes awhile.
  • Place the dough in the oiled bowl, cover with cling wrap and leave in a warm spot for 25 minutes to rise. I left mine for about 50 minutes since it is winter here and my dough clearly wasn’t going anywhere fast. I also popped the bowl in a very cool oven (around 30 degrees) for about 10 minutes just to get the chill out of it.
  • Prepare a 33 x 24 xm roasting tin or baking dish by lining it with baking paper bottom and sides. My tin was around 30 x 40 cm.
  • Combine the filling ingredients, making sure the butter is super soft. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.
  • Dust a clean work surface with flour and roll out your dough to about 30cm high and maybe 60cm wide. The book recommended 50 x 25 cm but seeing as I skipped the bread-base step (see full recipe for details), I made my scrolls a bit bigger.
  • Spread the filling evenly over the dough. Roll it up so it forms a giant sausage.
  • Cut the dough into scrolls – I made around 14, but the recipe is meant to make 20, so mine were quite big.
  • Place the scrolls inside the baking tin, leaving a bit of space between them, and let them rise again for around 15-20 minutes.
  • Bake for 30-40 minutes. I wish I could give the bread equivalent of the skewer test, but I don’t know one, so I resorted to taking the buns out of the oven so see if they were baked. Cover the rolls with foil if they brown too quickly.
  • Remove from the tin using the baking paper as handles, and leave to cool on a wire rack.

And voila, you have made cinnamon rolls!

It is fair to say my rolls look nothing like Nigella’s, which look lovely golden brown and are very puffed. Mine rose but evenly, which I suppose isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I would have preferred the scrolls to be a bit lighter with a slight crunch on top, but I don’t know how I would achieve this next time. I found mine to be more cakey. All in all I am glad I made these scrolls, as stressful as it was. I was convinced for a good hour that my yeast had died and that I was wasting my time, not to mention all of the wet dough issues. I think next time I would try using bread flour, follow the Nigella website technique and also make more scrolls, mine were far too big! If you’re planning on making these rolls, have a look at the original recipe first and then take my changes (and others’ changes) into account – I can almost guarantee you’ll struggle with the original recipe.

I wanted to take some pictures as I was cooking but I only managed one. I have no idea how other food bloggers manage to take gorgeous pictures when their hands are covered in gooey dough. It’s a mystery! This is my lone picture:

Unbaked buns

Appetising, I know. If you make these scrolls, please comment and let me know how you made them – I’m keen to try these again and need all the help I can get!