Hot Cross Buns
It’s taken me a while to perfect a hot cross bun recipe – and boy, it was worth the wait! They’re not at all hard to make but like all good bread recipes, they take a little time. To get the buns super light and soft, you make a yeast ‘super booster’ at the start to get it all going. It adds a smidgeon more time to the process, but it’s so worth it. And you probably only make hot cross buns once a year, so what’s your rush? Just enjoy the magic of breadmaking and then stuff yourself with the spiced buttered deliciousness. (And yes, you can add chopped up dark chocolate instead of fruit, you naughty people!)
VEGAN VERSION: Use 1 tbsp ground flaxseed (linseed) soaked in 3 tbsp water instead of the egg, and firm coconut oil (chopped up finely) instead of butter.
GLUTEN-FREE: Sorry, but you can’t use GF flour for this one, it just won’t work. Try my gluten-free hot cross bun cakes instead.
Makes 16 buns
Prep time – 30 minutes, plus 3-4 hours rising time
Cooking time – 17-20 minutes
1 ¼ cups high grade white flour (or strong flour)
1 ½ cups milk
2 tbsp sugar
3 tsp active dried yeast (check expiry date)
1 ½ cups raisins, sultanas, chopped apricots or a mixture
Zest and juice of 2 oranges (I like to strip the peel off with a peeler then chop finely)
3 cups high grade white flour (or strong flour)
3 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp mixed spice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp salt
50g chilled butter
‘Super Booster’ (see recipe above)
1 free-range egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup reserved fruit liquid from above (make up with water if need be)
½ cup flour
1 tbsp sugar
3-4 tbsp water
½ tsp baking powder
Heat the orange juice and zest in a small saucepan until hot. Add the fruit to a bowl or a resealable bag and pour the orange liquid in. Seal/cover and leave for an hour or so, or overnight. Drain the fruit in a sieve before using and reserve the liquid.
Add the first measure of flour to a large mixing bowl.
Add the milk to a heatproof bowl and microwave in 20 second increments until it reaches skin temperature – about 32c is ideal. If it gets too warm, just let it cool down to skin temp before using.
Add the sugar and yeast and whisk gently for 20 seconds or so.
Make a well in the flour and pour in the milk mixture, stirring to combine evenly. Cover with a clean damp cloth or a plastic bag, and leave somewhere draft-free* for however long it takes for it to double in size.
Once the superbooster has risen, add the second measure of flour, sugar, spices and salt to a large metal or plastic mixing bowl and stir. The bowl needs to be big enough for the dough to double in size in later.
Finely chop the chilled butter and add to the flour mixture along with the Super Booster mixture and egg. Stir with a wooden spoon to bring it all together into a rough dough.
Tip it out a clean benchtop you’ve cleared some space on. Start to knead – it will feel very wet and sticky at first and your hands will feel caked in dough. You can rub your hands in a little more flour to clean them, adding the crumbs back to the dough. Keep kneading and eventually, the dough will stop sticking to your hands and the bench so much. Don’t be tempted to add heaps of flour – a little bit at the start is OK, but a sticky dough will produce much better buns than a dry dough. My tip is to invest in a dough scraper to clean the bench as you go – it’s a lifesaver.
Knead firmly for 10 minutes – it needs to be very smooth and stretchy (see tips below). You should be puffed with a mild sheen of sweat by the time you’re done (it’s good fitness). I literally stand one leg and throw all my weight into it. Once it’s ready, leave to sit for 5-10 minutes to relax before adding the fruit.
Drain the fruit well in a sieve and tip on to the benchtop. Squash the dough out on top and knead it all together for another minute or so. It will feel slippery and weird to start with – just persist with gentle kneading and it will all come back together into a cohesive, very sticky dough eventually.
Add the dough back to the mixing bowl, pop a plastic bag on top and leave in a draft-free place* (see tips below) until it’s doubled in size – usually an hour or two – it depends on the temperature of the surroundings, among other things. It’s a visual clue, not a timed one.
When it’s doubled in size, tip out on a clean benchtop and divide into 15-16 even pieces (you can weigh them if you have electric scales). Firmly roll (and I mean firmly – I use the bench and really roll it around hard with one hand) each portion until you have a fairly smooth ball.
Place the balls 1-2cm apart on a baking tray or metal baking dish lined with baking paper (mine was about 30 x 20cm). My buns were pretty much touching start with, so all the buns joined up nicely as they rose.
Cover with lightly oiled clingfilm (or I prefer uncovered in the turned-off oven with the bowl of boiled water) and leave to rise again for another hour or so until puffed up into proper bun size – they don’t rise any more when cooking, like cakes do.
Preheat the oven to 180c regular bake.
Only do this just before you pipe the buns, or the mixture goes claggy. Stir the flour, baking powder, water and sugar together with a fork to form a smooth paste. Add to a piping bag with a small round nozzle (or a snaplock bag with a tiny corner cut off). Pipe thin crosses on top of each bun.
Bake immediately in the middle of the oven for about 20 minutes – or until dark golden brown all over. You can turn the oven up to 200c for a couple of minutes if they aren’t browning.
Use the reserved fruit liquid and any water needed to make up 1/3 cup of liquid total. Add this to a heatproof bowl with the sugar. Microwave on high for 1 minute then whisk to dissolve the sugar. Brush on top of the buns as soon as they come out of the oven.
You did it! Homemade hot cross buns! They won’t look perfect because it’s home baking and you can’t produce buns like the bought ones – nor should you want to. No matter what they look like, you’re an absolute legend and they will taste better to you that anything you’ve bought a shop.
If eating them more than half a day later, I’d toast them. Always serve with lashings of butter, dairy-free spread or coconut oil.
There’s no set time for dough to rise, room temperature is usually OK in the warmer months. It will rise slowest in cold conditions and faster in warm humid conditions (ideal temperature is about 32c). Try placing a bowl or tray of just-boiled water in a turned-off oven and pop the covered dough in there with it. Shut the door and there will be enough warmth trapped in there to help it rise nicely. It’s worth noting that yeast dies at temperatures above 50c, so don’t be tempted to warm it up too much.
Proper kneading at the start means a lighter bun at the end. Knead by pushing the dough away – literally stretching it out – downward and away from you with the heel of your hand, then grabbing it and bringing it and repeating. You’re stretching out the gluten strands in the flour so the dough can rise properly. At the end, try to stretch and coax a piece of the dough out into a ‘window’ with your fingers – when the dough is ready, it should stretch enough you can see light through a thin pane of ‘glass’. If it’s not ready, it will just tear. You’ll get there – just keep going until you do. It’s a good workout!
Using a machine
I prefer not to use a machine – it actually ends up taking longer to achieve the result you want. However, if you must, you can use the dough hook on the machine to start the kneading process. Use a low speed for 5 minutes. You’ll need to finish the kneading by hand for another 5-10 minutes to get the ‘window-pane’ result I’ve mentioned above, which is critical.