Hot Cross Buns

Hot cross buns!
Hot cross buns!
One a-penny, two a-penny
Hot cross buns!

It’s Easter, which means hot cross buns have been everywhere for at least the last month and a half. Traditionally eaten throughout Lent, these sweet, fruit-filled buns are a special tea-time treat, especially if you give them a quick warm in the oven or toast them up and slather them up with butter. Although there are, apparently, good ones you can get in the shops, as is typically the case, homemade is exceptionally delicious.

Hot cross buns have a long history that may go all the way back to the days of the ancient Greeks (who are said to have baked buns with crosses on the top). There’s also a tenuous connection with the German pagan goddess Eostre, whose name gave us the modern word ‘Easter’. What we do know for sure is that during the reign of Elizabeth I, the London Clerk of Markets forbade the selling of hot cross buns or any other spiced breads except at burials, on Good Friday, or at Christmas. Anyone caught selling out of season forfeited the forbidden goods to the poor. As a result, most people began making hot cross buns at home. This rather nonsensical ban continued during the reign of James I of England VI of Scotland.

The buns were thought to offer protection against a number of calamaties. If taken on a sea voyage, they were thought to prevent shipwrecks; if hung in a kitchen, there would be no fires and all breads baked that year would turn out perfectly. Sharing a hot cross bun between two people was thought to ensure friendship throughout the coming year, presumably because you’d only share something this delicious with someone you really, really liked!

Hot Cross Buns

Recipe by Rose Prince

Yield: 12-16 buns

Ingredients

500g strong white plain flour

5g fine salt

90g softened butter

1 level tsp ground cinnamon

1 level tsp mixed spice

½ tsp ground mace

Grated rind of half an orange

Grated rind of half a lemon

100g raisins

30g fresh yeast (15g dried yeast)

300ml whole milk, heated until lukewarm

60g caster sugar

1 egg

For the crosses

Either use bought sweet shortcrust pastry, rolled thin and cut into strips, or combine 170g plain flour with 125g softened butter and 1 dessert spoon of icing sugar. Bind to a paste with a small amount of cold water, and chill before rolling.

If you don’t feel like bothering with shortcrust, you can also make frosting by combining icing sugar with a bit of milk and mixing into a thin paste. Pipe crosses onto the buns after they’ve cooled a bit.

For the stickiness

Mix five tablespoons of warm milk with 60g caster sugar until slightly syrupy, then cool.

Method

Put the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl and quickly rub in the butter. Add the spices, citrus zest and raisins and set to one side. Stir the yeast into the warm milk until dissolved, then add the sugar and egg. Make a well in the centre of the bowl containing the dry ingredients, and add all the yeast mixture. Mix well then dust your hands and the counter with extra plain flour, scrape the dough out of the bowl onto the counter and knead, stretching and pulling the dough until it is soft and elastic.

Put the dough back in the bowl, cover with cling film and put in a warm (up to 29C/84F) place for 1 ½ to 2 hours or until doubled in size. Remove from the bowl, knock the air out, then cut into 12 equal pieces. Shape into rounds, and place about 3cm apart on a greased baking sheet (or one covered in baking paper). Cut strips from the rolled out sweet pastry, and stick crosses to the surface of the bun with a little milk.

Leave the buns to prove, uncovered, in a warm place until doubled in size again – for about 40 minutes. Preheat the oven to 230C/450F/Gas 8 and bake for about 10 minutes until pale brown. You do not want them to be too dark, but they should sound hollow when tapped on the base. Cool on a rack; brush with the sticky milk and leave it to set. Eat warmed with butter.

Image: Spitalfieldslife.com



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