Brighter days are coming! The weather is (somewhat) improving, the nights are lighter and the new leaves are starting to appear on the trees. All the signs that Spring is on the way. Another sign that Spring is near is the yearly influx of Hot Cross Buns.
Doughy little spiced buns, bursting with dried fruit, and adorning the familiar cross on top. Not to mention the iconic song that goes along with them! But why do we only eat Hot Cross Buns in the Spring?
Well, it’s actually just coincidence that they are eaten in Spring, due to the fact that is when Easter falls. And much like most commercialised holidays these days, Easter is no longer just a weekend but is in fact present in our lives for what feels like more of an entire season.
Centauries ago, Hot Cross Buns were baked with a cross on them, as a way to honour the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. However in 1592, Queen Elizabeth I had quite enough of them and put a ban on them being baked, sold or eaten, unless it was within the Easter weekend. Of course this ban didn’t stand the test of time and it was lifted by the 1700s. Finally people could enjoy the now-Easter-associated buns whenever they wanted but the general rule of them being a Easter-time treat has long continued.
Being a bake with a long history, there is of course a never ending catalogue of different Hot Cross Buns recipes, both online, in recipes books and even in archives. So what makes this recipe different?
This is your go-to, fuss-free Hot Cross Buns recipe. Traditional in taste and using ingredients you’ll probably already have to hand. No overly fancy dried fruits, no artisan doughs and no icing crosses. Just those doughy little spiced buns, bursting with dried fruit, and adorning the familiar cross on top.
Milk makes up the liquid portion of the Hot Cross Buns dough. You’ll start by warming up the milk – this helps melt the butter/margarine but also get the yeast going (yeast likes a bit of warmth!).
The kind of milk you use is personal preference. Full-fat milk will give a richer bun overall but it is by no means essential. Soya milk also works brilliantly if you are wanting to omit the dairy.
Butter or Margarine
It’s personal preference on if you use butter or margarine in this recipe. Flavour-wise, butter can help give a richer flavour but with the spices and fruit being the star of the flavour-show it will probably be hard to notice a real difference.
Strong Bread Flour
For the most predictable dough, Strong Bread Flour is the best. This is due to the amount of protein (ie. gluten) in the flour, which gives the dough a good structure.
However if you don’t have any or can’t get your hands on some, Plain Flour is a decent alternative; you’ll just need to work the dough a little harder when kneading to activate what gluten is in the flour. Take a look at the Baking with Granny Instagram to see just how much Granny works a dough made with Plain Flour.
A little bit of sugar is needed to give this dough a good flavour and not just be a plain bread roll! Not much is needed – too much and the yeast with have a feast.
Caster sugar is preferable due to its fine consistency. You could use Golden Caster Sugar too, for a more caramel flavour.
When it comes to making a yeast dough, you don’t want your yeast getting ahead of itself. That’s where salt comes in! Salt retards the yeast and slows it down, giving the gluten in your flour time to strengthen and develop.
Cinnamon and Mixed Spice
Hot Cross Buns are known for having a bit of a spice to them and I find this combination to be perfect. If you are struggling to get your hands on some Mixed Spice, pumpkin spice is a reasonable substitute, or just use another spoonful of cinnamon.
There was a time when you could buy various types of yeast but nowadays, Fast Action Yeast in 7g sachets is the most accessible. It also works brilliantly in many recipes but especially this Hot Cross Buns one, as no extra measuring, or preparation is required to activate it.
A little oil added to the dough helps bind it all together, add a little extra moisture and keeps the buns tasting fresh a little longer. Sunflower oil is great because it doesn’t have much of a taste. Other oils could be used if they’re not too overpowering in taste.
This recipe uses just sultanas, as opposed to a mixture of dried fruits. I find that sultanas bake the best and compliment the dough, without adding too much extra chewing or sticking to your teeth. You can of course mix things up and swap them for your dried fruit of choice, or create a mixture with other fruits.
The zest of an orange is the perfect addition to give these Hot Cross Buns a fruity kick but without also being too overwhelming. And the orange zest alone gives all the fruitiness required without also needing the addition of mixed peel too – but if you are a mixed peel fiend you could swap them out for each other
For the Crosses
- 3 tbsp Plain Flour
- 3 tbsp Water
For the Glaze
- 2 tbsp Apricot Jam
- Dash of boiling water
- In a small milk pan, gently warm the milk and butter/margarine until the butter/margarine has just melted. Do not let it get too hot or boil.
- Meanwhile, sift the bread flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon and spices into a large bowl. Add the yeast and gently stir together until combined. Create a well in the middle and pour in the sunflower oil, before pouring in the milk and butter/margarine mixture too.
- Use a wooden spoon to bring the ingredients together and create a slightly sticky dough. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic.
- Place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with a piece of oil cling film, or a damp tea towel. Allow the dough to rise for at least 1 hour, or until it has doubled in size.
- Line a baking tray with some greaseproof paper and set aside.. Knock back the dough (by gently punching the air from the dough and pulling it back on itself) before adding the sultanas and orange zest. Turn the dough back out onto a floured surface and knead again until the sultanas and orange zest are evenly distributed through.
- Divide the dough evenly into 12 (see notes for tips) and shape into small balls. Place each bun onto the baking tray, leaving a bit of space between to allow them to rise.
- Cover the buns with the greased clingfilm and leave to rise in a draft-free place again for 1 hour.
- Pre-heat your oven to 200°c (180°c for fan assisted ovens or Gas Mark 4).
- In a cup, mix the flour for your cross with a few tablespoons of water until it becomes a smooth paste consistency. Transfer to a piping bag and cut a small hole in the end. Pipe a line on top of the buns, down each row both vertically and horizontally, to create the crosses.
- Bake in your pre-heated oven for 13-15 minutes, until golden brown.
- Mix the apricot jam with a dash of boiling water to create your glaze. Brush onto the top of your buns whilst they are still hot.
- Once cool enough to touch, transfer to a wire rack to cool completely, or enjoy whilst still warm.
Free-from & Vegan
Nut-free: This recipe doesn’t include any nuts. Just be sure to double check your ingredients individually for any allergy info.
Vegan: Use a dairy-free milk and a dairy-free margarine and these Hot Cross Buns are vegan friendly.