Friday, March 30, 2007
One a penny, two a penny...
I love hot cross buns. I love them warm and fresh out of the oven, smothered in melting butter. I love them cold. I love them as a snack or an afternoon treat. I love their yeasty, bready texture, sweetened with spices and dried fruit. Easter doesn't feel complete to me unless I've made at least one batch of freshly cooked buns.
Hot cross buns start appearing on supermarket shelves with indecent haste after Christmas but I manage to ignore them until at least March. I can't abide the recent trend for sickly-sweet choc-chip hot cross buns. I love chocolate and I love hot cross buns but never the twain shall meet! The original buns are so delicious that they don't need the addition of chocolate. I don't know where the trend has come from (although wikipedia suggests it's because people don't like mixed peel and want to replace it with something else) but it shows no signs of abating. Maybe we've become such sweet tooths that we just can't help overloading ourselves with sugar. Or maybe it's just the marketing gurus trying to create new consumer cravings.
I strongly encourage you to have a go at making your own buns - it's surprisingly easy. It does involve yeast and that puts some people off, but yeast is not as daunting as people fear. Your technique improves the more you cook with yeast, as you learn what to look for, whether the yeast is active and whether the bread mixture is rising as it should.
I've adapted my hot cross bun recipe over the years, taking bits from Donna Hay and Gourmet Traveller recipes, and changing the spices (I prefer a spicy mix in my buns), soaking the sultanas in port and omitting the mixed peel (which Adam detests). The aroma of these buns baking in the oven is heavenly and I like to make several batches in the lead-up to Easter. I always think I'll make these buns throughout the rest of the year because I love them so much, but somehow it feels like cheating!
Whip up a batch of these for morning tea in the lead-up to Easter, and definitely have some fresh from the oven for breakfast on Good Friday.
HOT CROSS BUNS
1 12g sachet of dried yeast (it should be equivalent to one tablespoon)
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 1/2 cups lukewarm milk
4 1/2 cups plain flour, sifted
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon mixed spice
50g butter, melted
2 cups sultanas
1/2 cup port
1/2 cup plain flour
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup caster sugar
1/4 teaspoon mixed spice
1/4 cup water
Soak the sultanas in port for 30-60 minutes. Drain and discard remaining port.
Place yeast, two teaspoons of the caster sugar and all of the milk in a bowl. Set aside for 5-10 minutes, until the mixture foams.
Add the flour, spices, butter, egg, sultanas and remaining caster sugar to the yeast mixture and mix using a knife until a sticky dough forms. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 8-10 minutes or until it feels elastic (you may need to add some extra flour if the mixture is too sticky). Place in an oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel, and stand in a warm place for one hour, or until doubled in size.
Divide the dough into 12 pieces and roll into balls. Grease and line a 23cm square cake tin or baking dish with non-stick baking paper and place the dough balls into the tin. Cover with a tea towel and set aside for 30 minutes, or until the buns have risen.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Combine the flour and water for the paste and place in a piping bag (or a plastic bag with the corner snipped off) and pipe crosses on the buns. Bake for 25-35 minutes, or until well browned and springy to touch. Remove from oven and brush on the warm glaze while the buns are still hot.
To make the glaze, combine all ingredients in a small saucepan. Stir over a medium heat until the sugar dissolves, bring to the boil and then simmer for two minutes.