Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Hot Cross Buns

Happy Easter! Did you have a good time? Did the Easter Bunny visit? Did you eat lamb, hot cross buns and unholy quantities of chocolate? Did you just luxuriate in the rare treat of a 4 day weekend? 

The answers here are yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. Well, we didn't have all that much chocolate - now we're grown ups, the Easter Bunny seems to pass us by - but every other tradition was firmly in place. As were two more cliches, namely major DIY (this evening I feel like the Queen, surrounded by the smell of fresh paint) and miserable weather. All the better to keep us inside, painting skirting boards.

This year, the Dine at Mine household also started a new tradition. In all my years as an enthusiastic hot cross bun eater, I had never actually tried to make them. Nor had I broken in the dough hook on my beloved Kitchen Aid mixer. When these two facts impressed themselves upon my consciousness a few days ago, I decided that the universe was trying to tell me something. And I listened.

Hey presto, a mere matter of hours later, there they were! Hot cross buns! One a penny two a penny, hot cross buns, home-made and fresh from the oven on Good Friday morning. Split, buttered, jam-spread even (Mr Dine at Mine does this, although it always seems very unorthodox to me). I just couldn't get over it.  

Honestly, I know this sounds stupid, but my little heart was filled with glee as I stood there in dressing gown and slippers, in the cold of early morning, dribbling the crosses onto the uncooked buns. I practically whistled while I worked. Just fifteen minutes later, there they were! I'd made them! And we were eating them on Good Friday, just like you're meant to! I don't think I've ever felt so gratified by breakfast.

This particular recipe came from Nigella's Feast but to be honest, I think I'll try another one next year. I fiddled with it quite a bit - skipping her suggestion of cardamom because it sounded far too exotic for the bun I wanted; doubling her quantities of spice; adding in some allspice, sugar and a pinch of salt. I mucked around with the timings, fridged it overnight at a different stage of the process, and made 12 rather than 16 because her buns looked too tiny for our appetites. 

This last decision may not have been the wisest - mine came out browned on top but still ever so slightly underdone in the middle, either because they'd been in the fridge or because they were bigger than hers. And I'm not all that convinced by the texture - I think "robust" would be the best description. But I made them! With yeast, and crosses, and a sticky glaze and everything! For Good Friday! No, I can't get over it.

Of course, if you can't be doing with all that faff, then you can just buy some - like these astonishing ones from our local bakery on Easter Saturday (aka Boat Race day). Blue crosses!  Even more amazing than my home made ones. These have inspired me to start a whole new tradition. Home made hot cross buns for breakfast on Good Friday, before the Easter Bunny arrives and before the chocolate onslaught. But from next year onwards, my buns will be adorned by a colourful medley of crosses. Not just Oxford Blue (Oxford, you were robbed!) - but purple, pink, green and yellow. I can't wait. Do you think it'll be just as exciting next year?

These were the DARK blue ones, honestly

Hot Cross Buns
Adapted from Nigella's Feast, available here

For the buns
- zest of one orange
- 150ml milk
- 50g butter
- 400g strong flour (bread flour)
- one 7g packet of easy blend yeast
- 125g raisins, sultanas or whatever dried fruit you fancy 
- 50g caster sugar
- pinch of salt
- 2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon of ground ginger
- half a teaspoon of ground allspice
- 1 egg

For the egg wash
- another egg, beaten

For the crosses
- 1 1/2 tablespoons of plain flour
- 1/2 tablespoon of caster sugar
- 1 tablespoon of boiling water

For the glaze

- 1 tablespoon of caster sugar
- 1 tablespoon of boiling water

In a small pan, warm the milk, butter and orange zest until the butter melts, then set aside to infuse. I actually left it for hours while I went out, which meant that it got incredibly orangey, but ten minutes or so would do - Nigella says to leave it until it reaches "blood temperature".

In a big bowl, mix together the flour, fruit, yeast and spices. Beat the egg into the milk/butter/zest, then pour all the liquid ingredients into the dry. Knead it together with your hands or a dough hook until smooth, elastic and silky, adding extra milk/water if it seems a bit too dry (I did). Cover the bowl in clingfilm and leave to rise - either overnight in the fridge, or out in a warm kitchen for an hour to an hour and a half.

Go and do something fun while you wait. Ho hum. 

And you're back! First, make sure your dough is at room temperature (ie: get it out of the fridge if necessary). Squish the dough down with your hands - although mine hadn't really risen all that much, to be honest - then knead again quickly. Work out how many buns you want (I did 12, Nigella suggests 16) and divide the dough into that many bits, rolling them into balls. 

Line a baking sheet with parchment - not foil, as I've done here (we'd run out of parchment), because they'll stick and it'll be annoying. Line up your bun-balls, close to each other but not quite touching, and score a cross lightly on the top. Cover with a tea towel and leave to prove again for 45 minutes. OR do what I did and put it in the fridge overnight, ready for breakfast tomorrow.

When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 220C - and make sure your dough is at room temperature. Brush the buns with beaten egg wash, then stir together the flour, sugar and water for the crosses and dribble it over the scored crosses with a teaspoon. Or you can get fancy with a syringe if you have one (clearly I don't). 

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until bronzed and beautiful. When they come out, mix together the sugar and water for the glaze and brush it over. Then dig in!

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