Easter is almost here and I carry on wishing that fabulously silly Easter hats a la Steel Magnolias might be deemed appropriate attire anywhere outside the deep south of the USA … Alas I would be deemed even crazier than my neighbours think already I am if I started dressing like Dolly Parton and parading around town, so I’ve got to find another way to celebrate. I might just munch down a couple of gargantuan chocolate bunnies and call it good.
In all seriousness, I really do love this holiday because it’s based on chocolate as much as it is on anything else so that even for the non-religious types it’s enjoyable. Let me be clear though, my grandma was a priest – the 4th episcopal ordained woman, quite an accomplishment (wtf am I going to do with my life…?), so I’ve got an understanding of the historical meaning of the day. But then I went and married an atheist too so there you go – we modernize.
In respect of history and tradition, there are Hot Cross Buns. These are another of those traditional bakes that keep coming back year after year. They make your house smell great and are an excuse to eat carbs- so why not?! And yes, sure you can buy them in the shop too, but like most breads nothing beats homemade.
These are filled with spice and fruit and to die for (insert Jesus joke here? Hmmmm maybe too soon…?). Best served fresh with slabs of butter and drizzled honey in the morning and made into bread and butter pudding the day after, I keep making them well through Spring.
I am not a huge fan of the dried peel that shows up in lots of traditional recipes so have omitted it in mine and replaced it with fresh orange zest. If you love peel, of course add it in! Simply replace some of the weight of the sultanas and currants.
Yum. The house is filled with the smell of baking… Now where is that Bunny with my chocolate???
HOT CROSS BUNS
Makes 16 buns
30g fresh yeast
80g caster sugar
300g strong white flour (bread flour)
150g plain white flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
85g salted butter
225-300g milk, warmed to scalding point
2 eggs, whisked
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
2 teaspoons mixed spice
50g dried currants
75g golden raisins
Zest of two oranges
For the Egg Wash
Mix together 1 egg yolk, 50g milk and 1 teaspoon caster sugar,and pass through a sieve.
For the Flour Paste
Mix together 1oog flour and 1tsp sugar with enough water to make a paste the consistency of toothpaste.
Preheat the oven to 220ºc/425°f.
Scald the milk and chuck in the butter to melt and cool down the mixture. Mix the yeast together with a tablespoon of the sugar until it turns to liquid – a great science trick, t happens by osmosis. Sift the flour and salt into a bowl or stand mixing bowl, whisk in the spices and the rest of the sugar, make a well in the centre and pour in the yeast. Swirl a bit of the milk in the yeast pot and pour it in to get everything you can then pour in all but about 50mls of the milk mixture, trying to get in all the butter as you do, and stir to combine into a wet dough. Don’t be tempted to add in all the milk at first, you might not need it and could end up with too much a sloppy mess. Of course if it is a sloppy mess (as I often am), just add a bit more flour (I like to think I’m as easily fixed too).
The dough should be very soft and sticky. If there are any dry patches or bits of flour left in the bowl add in a teaspoon or two of milk until you lifted it all into a uniformly wet dough. Then leave it for 10 minutes to allow the flour to absorb the liquid fully. Flour absorbs different amounts of liquid depending on the time of year, how damp the air is etc…
Knead the dough for 10 minutes on a lightly floured surface or in a stand mixer for 5 minutes. The dough should look smooth and elastic and feel springy, which is a sign the gluten has developed nicely. Add in the fruits and the orange zest and knead together, then cover loosely with cling film and leave to rise until doubled in size. It should take about an hour and a half if its warm in your kitchen, longer if it’s cool. Alternatively, you can leave it to rise in the fridge over night, which does tend to give it an awesome flavour.
Knock back the dough and portion it out into 70g pieces. Shape into buns and place on a baking sheet.
Lightly wash them with the egg wash and then pipe a cross on each using the flour paste.
Allow the buns to double in size, glaze them again carefully with the egg mixture on the dough only, avoiding the crosses, and then bake on the top shelf at 220ºc/425°f for 5 minutes. They should puff up beautifully. Turn down the heat to 200ºc/400°f and bake for another 10-15 minutes. Check regularly and if they start to go too brown too quickly, turn down the oven another notch and continue baking.
The buns are done when they are a dark golden colour and feel light for their size. Be careful not to get too much colour on them or they will be dry. Now munch away with those gnashers God (and/or evolution) gave you!
Happy Easter! (Or just Spring…)