A BIT OF HISTORY
From Kate Colquhoun’s book ‘Taste: The Story Of Britain Through Its Cooking’
“In honour of Eastre, goddess of spring and the dawn, [Anglo-Saxon] bread dough could be studded with dried fruits and baked into small loaves that, as Christianity spread, began to be marked with a cross by monks: the earliest form of hot-cross bun”.
For centuries past, marking baked goods (like breads, buns and cakes) with the sign of a cross was a common thing for a baker to do as the cross was said to ward off evil spirits which could affect the bread and make it go mouldy or stale. However, it was during the 17th century that the Puritans condemned the practice of marking a cross on baked goods as ‘Popish’. Thus, from the late 1600s, (after the English Civil War) only bread, cakes and buns made on Good Friday were permitted o bear a cross in token of the Crucifixion.
AN AUTHENTIC RECIPE
The recipe and method given below is not a quick and simple recipe, like those found in a modern cookery book, but then this recipe is far, far better than that – these buns are made as if from an old fashioned, commercial artisan bakery.
For The Ferment
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 215ml warm milk (30C)
- 20g active dried yeast – or 40g live fresh yeast
- 1 tsp sugar
- 50g strong white flour
For The Dough
- 150g currants
- 100g sultanas
- 50g chopped mixed peel
- 625g strong white flour
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 2 tsp ground mixed spice
- 150g unsalted butter (or lard), softened
- 100g natural brown sugar
- grated zest of a lemon
For The Cross
- 3 tbsp plain flour
- 2 tbsp milk (add more if necessary)
- 1 tbsp butter, softened
- 1 tbsp icing (powdered) sugar
For The Bun Glaze
- 3 tbsp golden syrup (corn syrup) warmed
- 1 tbsp hot water
Prepare the ferment:
In a measuring jug combine the beaten egg with enough warm milk (30C) to give about 275ml of liquid. Whisk in the sugar, 50g of flour and then the yeast. Use a fork to break up any larger lumps which form. Pour this ferment into a large bowl so the yeast can expand – leave this ferment covered for 30 minutes in a warm place.
Prepare the main dough:
Sieve the main flour into a large mixing bowl and sprinkle in the spice and sea salt, rub in the butter (or lard) until the flour resembles fine breadcrumbs. Then make a well in the centre.
Put the sugar and grated lemon zest in the well and gently pour in the yeast ferment (after it has had 30 minutes). Gradually draw in the flour with a wooden spoon and mix vigorously until it forms a dough – finish it off by mixing it together with your fingers – add in a little extra flour if it needs it.
Then gently knead the plain dough on a lightly floured work surface until it becomes firm, smooth and elastic. If the dough is still a little wet add in a small amount of plain flour as you knead.
Kneading The Plain Dough On A Floured Work Surface
Once the dough is smooth and elastic work in the dried fruit (currants, sultanas, and mixed peel). Knead gently for a few more minutes to evenly distribute the dried fruit. Shape the dough into a ball and place it back into the bowl, cover over with a clean cloth and put to rise in a warm place for 90 to 120 minutes (2 hours).
After 90 minutes turn the risen dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and gently knead to knock any excess air out and get the dough back into an even texture once more. Shape the speckled dough back into a ball, put it back into the bowl, cover over and leave somewhere warm for another 30 minutes.
Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and divide it into 6 or 9 equal pieces – depending on the size of bun you want to make. Roll each piece into a ball, then flatten them slightly into a ‘bun’ shape using the palms of your hands. Cover the buns again with the clean cloth and set aside to rest for 10 minutes.
Grease a baking tray with butter and carefully transfer the buns to the tray – before putting them on the tray use a very sharp knife and cut a shallow cross into the dough, from edge to edge. Cover and place the baking tray somewhere warm – a good tip is to place the tray inside a large polythene bag. Tie or fold over the end of the bag and set aside in a warm place for a further 40 minutes to rise.
Preheat the oven to 240C
Prepare the pastry cross:
In a small mixing bowl add the flour and rub in the butter until it forms fine breadcrumbs, sprinkle in the sugar and beat in the milk until a smooth moist pastry is formed which can be piped easily through a small piping bag.
Make the Hot Cross Buns:
When the buns have risen, remove the polythene bag. Spoon the flour mixture into a piping bag and pipe a cross on each bun into the cross indentation left by the shallow cut which will have widened as the buns rise in a warm place. Smooth down the pastry cross with a finger, working it into the cut.
Transfer the buns on the baking tray to the oven and bake for 10 minutes, or until pale golden-brown. As soon as you remove the Hot Cross Buns from the oven, brush them with 3 tbsp of warm runny golden syrup (corn syrup) mixed with 1 tbsp of hot water, then set aside to cool on a wire rack.