Monday, April 2, 2012

Hot Cross Buns (the real English way!)

There are some things that are just quintessentially Easter. Of course, you've got your chocolate bunnies and a plethora of egg-shaped treats, but for me the holiday isn't complete without an Easter Lamb Cake (a German/Eastern European tradition) or a batch of hot cross buns.

I suppose that's because these treats emphasize the Christian aspect of the holiday (although it's been hotly debated that they have their pagan roots, too) while still allowing me to get my hands dirty in the kitchen and fill my belly with delicious foods.

Hot cross buns hold another special place in my heart - right up there with bangers-and-mash, Cadbury's chocolate, and golden syrup-rich flapjacks - in my treasured food memories of childhood in England. Each spring, I'd look forward to the appearance of the soft, spiced, currant-studded buns, and spend the few weeks of their short season trying to enjoy as many of them as possible.

These days, the buns are sold practically year round, but they weren't always so ubiquitous. In fact, these doughy delights were actually banned by Oliver Cromwell during the Protectorate, when their religious/Catholic associations were considered a threat. I guess that brings a whole new meaning to the phrase 'dangerously good' (and I'll bet you didn't know you'd get a history lesson today)!

In all seriousness, though, the hot cross bun does have a fascinating history (you can read about it in greater detail here), and is surrounded by a whole host of interesting legends (you can read about them in greater detail here). Traditionally, the buns are prepared and eaten on Good Friday, as a celebration of the end of the Lenten season (i.e. "yay we can eat butter and sugar again - lets have some sticky-sweet buns to celebrate") and in preparation for the celebration of Easter (hence the cross). It's said that buns prepared and eaten on Good Friday will never mold, and that such buns, if kept, have all sorts of powers in the home. I'm not sure I'm willing to put these tales to the test, but I am willing to go out on a limb and say that you absolutely must make these buns this Easter.

I haven't been this pleased with a recipe in quite a while - to the extent that I didn't make even a single alteration. Of course, that's also because I spent hours (and I mean hours) searching for the perfect recipe beforehand. There seems to have been a surge in popularity of these treats Stateside in recent years, and while I'm sure that's a good thing, I wanted a version that would replicate, as exactly as possible, the hot cross buns of my British youth.

I pored over dozens of recipes before rejecting them on some grounds or other. Some had no currants, some had no sugar (everyone knows that hot cross buns are sweet, Nigella), and some were just tarted up cinnamon rolls (I'm looking at you, Pioneer Woman).

Let me just clear this up before we proceed: real hot cross buns don't have icing crosses. Ever. I'm not usually one to object to icing, but somehow it seems to go against the wholesome, traditional, and somewhat ascetic nature of these 'treats'. The real method is to use a paste of flour and water, with maybe a bit of sugar added in. That's all. Got it? (Sorry to be so dogmatic, but you don't mess with my hot cross buns - you just don't!).

Proper flour crosses before being baked into goldeny goodness

As you can see, I have high standards when it comes to hot cross buns. The more recipes I perused, the more I despaired of ever finding The One (apparently, I'm not the only one who's had this dilemma) - and then, suddenly, there it was. The perfect recipe for hot cross buns comes courtesy of a Sydney-based food blog called Citrus and Candy. The recipe is given in metric/by weight measurements, which is good news for authenticity and deliciousness, but bad news for the average American cook. I certainly hope you can find a scale and follow along - otherwise, here's a decent-looking recipe in imperial measurements (but be warned: I can't vouch for it's authenticity or deliciousness!).

If you're still reading, I'll assume you've decided to try the metric recipe. Congratulations, your world-of-hot-cross-buns is about to be rocked! This recipe turns out a dozen of the most perfectly spiced, perfectly moist buns, each of them generously studded with soft raisins and topped with a thin, perfectly shaped flour cross.

For those of you inexperienced in baking bread at home, this recipe also serves as a great initiation. There were several points at which I thought things might go wrong (my dough was very moist at first, my cross paste was a little thin, and I had to substitute strawberry-rhubarb jam for the more traditional apricot glaze), but yet the buns turned out absolutely perfect. Perhaps the rumors of divine protection are true, or perhaps it's just a really good recipe. Either way, I hope I've convinced you that you absolutely must make them: these buns really are dangerously good!

Hot Cross Buns
from Citrus and Candy (with immense gratitude!)

For buns:
310ml warmed milk
60g granulated sugar
16g dried yeast (about 4 teaspoons)
600g all-purpose flour, sifted
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 large eggs
60g butter, room temperature
1 - 1 1/2 cups raisins

For crosses:
about 60g all-purpose flour
about 60 ml water
1-2teaspoons granulated sugar

For glaze:
2 Tablespoons fruit jam, warmed (apricot recommended)

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, warmed milk, and yeast until sugar has dissolved. Cover loosely and set aside for 10 minutes or until mixture becomes frothy (it should almost triple in size, so be patient!)

Meanwhile, mix the flour, salt, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg in a large mixing bowl. Rub the softened butter into the flour mixture with your fingers until evenly distributed (it helps to cut it into small pats before adding). The mixture will be crumbly. Stir in the egg, frothy yeast mixture (this is called a 'sponge') and the raisins until completely combined.

On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough for about 5 minutes until it comes together and becomes smooth and elastic. Add flour to your kneading surface as necessary. Lightly grease another large, clean mixing bowl. Place the dough in the bowl, turning it several times to coat lightly with grease (I used a small amount of vegetable oil). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave in a warm, non-drafty place for about 45 minutes, or until it has doubled in size (I left mine on the top of a warm oven for about an hour - after which is was positively enormous!).

When dough has doubled, remove the plastic wrap and punch down the dough (don't be shy - you can really thwack it). Knead briefly, on your lightly floured surface, until smooth. Separate the dough into 12 even rounds.

Shape each round into a bun and place in a lightly greased 9x13-inch baking pan. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm place to rise for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 390°F (technically, the recipe calls for an oven temp of 200°C, which is about 392°F).

Whisk together the 60g of all purpose flour, the sugar and the water to create the paste for the crosses. Add flour if necessary, to thicken so that the paste can be easily piped onto the buns.  Pipe crosses onto the buns and bake for 10 minutes at 390°F. Then, reduce oven temperature to 350°F and bake for a further 15 minutes, or until buns are golden and sound hollow when tapped (don't worry, they'll soften after baking).

Warm the jam for the glaze and dilute with water if necessary. Brush onto buns while still warm.

Buns are best eaten warm from the oven or freshly toasted, on the day of baking, but they're also tasty cold and you can store any leftovers (hah!) in an air-tight container for a day or two.

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This post has been shared at:
The Southern Institute: Creative Me Monday - The Sweet SpotKeeping it Simple: Motivate Me Monday - Make Ahead Meals for Busy Moms: Melt in Your Mouth MondayMrs. Happy Homemaker: Makin' You Crave Monday - Craft-O-Maniac: Craft-O-Maniac Monday - Brassy Apple: Make It MondayFlour Me With Love: Mix it Up Monday - Crazy for Crust: Crazy Sweet Tuesday - Today's Creative Blog: Get Your Craft On - Home Stories A to Z: Tutorials and Tips - JAQS Studio: Made By MeHope Studios: Tutorial Tuesday - New Nostalgia: Anti-Procrastination Tuesday - Chef-in-Training: Tuesday Talent Show - Sweetology: Tea Party Tuesday - I'm Topsy Turvy: Topsy Turvy Tuesday - 33 Shades of Green: Tasty Tuesday - Not Just a Housewife: Show Me What Ya Got - Ginger Snap Crafts: Wow Me Wednesday - Clean & Scentsible: The Creative Spark - Oopsey Daisy Wednesday's Wowzers - The NY Melrose Family: Whimsy Wednesday - My Girlish Whims: Your Whims Wednesday - Lil' Luna - Southern Lovely: Show & Share - Mrs. Fox's Sweets - Lady Behind the Curtain: Cast Party Wednesday - Blue Cricket Design: Show and Tell - Something Swanky: Sweet Treats Thursday - Bear Rabbit Bear: Things I've Done Thursday - Domesblissity: Thriving on Thursdays - The 36th Avenue: Show Me Extraordinary - Somewhat Simple: Strut Your Stuff - Gluesticks: Get Your Brag On - Diana Rambles: Thematic Thursday - Stuff and Nonsense: Fridays Unfolded - Not Your Ordinary Recipes: Foodie Friday - Happy Hour Projects: Happy Hour Friday - Rattlebridge Farm: Foodie Friday - Making Lemonade: Refresh Your Nest Friday - Petals to Picots: I {heart} Fridays - Tutus & Tea Parties: A Pinteresting Party - Chic on a Shoestring: Flaunt It Friday - Six Sisters' Stuff: Strut Your Stuff Saturday - Sweet as Sugar Cookies: Sweets for a Saturday


  1. These look delicious! All I can think of is how much my daughter would enjoy them because of the song "Hot Cross Buns". She's two so it's all about the little things. I'll have to try these.

    1. How cute! I remember singing the song as a kid, too!

    2. Thanks so much for sharing at whimsy Wednesdays!

  2. These look really wonderful, I know I would love them!

  3. stumbled onto your blog via the blog hop and just wanted to leave you a little blog luv! Def enjoyed this post looks so YUMMY!!! new follower :-)

  4. I've been searching and searching for a perfect recipe - now you've convinced me that this is it! Thanks for sharing it with everyone.

    1. I've been searching and searching too, but no more! I hope you enjoy it as much as I do :)

  5. Mmm these look super yummy! It's just me and my hubby for Easter this year, but I still might make them! I don't think there would be a problem with them disappearing lol.

  6. Thanks for the great recipe I'll be making these for my churches sunrise breakfast:) Pinned it!

  7. Thank you for sharing this recipe. Happy Easter!

  8. These buns look wonderful!
    I bake a lot !) with yeast, and just I love the look of these buns

  9. Hi Rachel,
    Your Hot Cross Buns are just beautiful and a perfect addition for Easter. Hope you have a wonderful Easter Celebration and thank you so much for sharing at Full Plate Thursday.
    Come Back Soon!
    Miz Helen

  10. These look so yummy! thanks for sharing :)

  11. CONGRATULATIONS!!! Your Easter recipe is being featured at Menu & Party Idea Round Up.
    Thank you for sharing your recipe with us at Cast Party Wednesday. Please grab a "featured" button. ---Sheryl---

  12. I am so glad to find this recipe for Hot Cross Buns! Thanks for sharing. I am a new follower. Happy Easter. Patsy

  13. I learn SO much from your posts. These look yummy and glad to know the history behind them too! Thanks for sharing at oopsey daisy!

  14. I just pulled mine out of the oven - very, very good!!

  15. My mother used to make these at Easter. I've contemplated making them, and now that I've found this recipe I think I will. I just need to convert your measurements! Thanks for posting...stopping by from the blog hop.

  16. I blogged about them. Very, very good!!

  17. I absolutely MUST make them....popped over from Butter Yum's to check out your blog....

  18. I've been searching for a hot cross bun recipe that approximates the texture of the ones I remember from childhood. This one looks like it might do that. I'm looking forward to trying it.

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