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.