Hot Cross Buns

Broken up sideEaster crept up on me a bit this year. Usually, we would have been off work for at least a four day weekend. We would have planned to get out of the city, gather with family for a big meal and enjoy plenty of chocolate treats. With our new work patterns this year, neither of us took the typical long weekend. We’re counting down the weeks (less than three!) until we head to Japan, so this Easter really caught me by surprise.

In a hasty attempt at a last minute celebration, I made these hot cross buns.

Crossed sideCrossed angle 2InsideWe shared them with a lucky few on Saturday, and the others are in the freezer to be reheated as treats throughout the week. Easter overload on sweets aside, I couldn’t help asking why we don’t always have spiced, yeasted breads on the weekend?

This recipe jumped out at me because I had recently spent a day out at the Macbiehill Farmhouse with the High Rise Bakers during a Bread Matters breadmaking course with Andrew Whitley and Veronica Burke. The Baking for Community course usually runs over four days, but this was a two-day session designed for a community baking initiative in the Gorbals area of Glasgow. Veronica invited me to meet the group through my role with a new initiative, Scotland the Bread, which ‘aims to engage the creative energies of people throughout the food chain in participatory research and collective action to produce better home-grown flour and bread’ in Scotland. More on that later (!), but it was such a privilege to see a course in action and to meet this group of community bakers. From diverse backgrounds, and all facing difficulty in finding or sustaining employment, the bakers are now working with Bridging the Gap to provide tasty, nutritious breads to members of the Gorbals community. I am looking forward to visiting their bakery the next time we’re in Glasgow! IMG_1562IMG_1557 (Breads prepared by High Rise Bakers at a Bread Matters course.)

During my visit,  I was fortunate enough to overhear some of the instruction, advice and recommendations from Andrew as the bakers prepared their own hot cross buns.Andrew and group (Andrew Whitley, discussing the addition of fruit to spiced buns.)DoughDough 2(High Rise Bakers measuring out their dough to be baked in the wood fired oven.)

Although I didn’t catch a glimpse of the (I’m sure more traditional) hot cross bun recipe during my visit to Macbiehill Farm (or stay long enough to taste the results!), I wanted to share the Bon Appetit recipe I used this year. In true American fashion, this recipe is set apart from its British and Irish counterparts by the addition of more sugar – icing is used for the cross instead of the traditional flour and water, usually baked into the surface. The result is more like a sweet cinnamon and cardamom bun than a spiced bread, but better than any that I’ve tried (as above, I missed the final result from the High Rise Bakers’ buns). These are soft, heavily spiced and perfect just out of the oven. Unlike the more bread-like versions, these hot cross buns do not need any additional butter, although all are best served warm.

When reading the recipe again to offer further suggestions or amendments, I realized that I had varied considerably – though unintentionally – from the original. Normally, the success of the final result would give me the confidence to just include those notes here, but I’m not sure I can recommend the way I went about things (added an extra egg… used all the milk in the dough and then couldn’t figure out why they’d omitted liquid for the glaze…). Someday my breadmaking skills may be refined enough to know how these changes had affected the outcome, but I’m not willing to guess yet. I’d still recommend you give these a go, however, because they turned out beautifully, despite my lack of attention to detail.

In place of a full recipe here, then, may I direct you to the original and say:

  • Freshly ground cardamom is an incredibly welcome thing here – if you can grind your own, the more the better, as far as I’m concerned;
  • Working with what we had in the cupboard, we used about 1/4 cup of soaked, chopped dates and 3/4 cup sultanas in place of the traditional currants, raisins and candied peel;
  • I’m still learning how to substitute for all-purpose flour, but 1 cup of plain wholemeal flour and the remainder of plain flour had a very good result;
  • It is really worth starting these the night before you’re hoping to eat them. Not only does that reduce the time between waking and biting into a gorgeous treat in the morning, but the flavor rounds out beautifully with a longer rise. In this case, do everything up until the second proof and allow the fruit-studded dough to rise in a very cool place (the refrigerator if there is space, or outside/the laundry room is still cold enough for us here) until you are ready to bake them in the morning;
  • Use your judgement when kneading the dough – the idea is to get a ‘tacky but not sticky’ consistency, so if you need a little extra flour or water to achieve this, go ahead. Just make sure to adjust in very small amounts!
  • Using the egg white leftover from the extra yolk in the dough, instead of another egg, resulted in a beautifully browned crust;
  • We skipped the apricot jam step, and I didn’t miss it for a minute;
  • Read the full directions and ingredient list before starting! Ingredients are listed in full, rather than by step/stages, so I’ll probably rewrite it before using it again next year.

Enjoy!

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