It’s been a rather busy week of baking bread, beautiful buns & creating sweet sugar bunnies for Easter treats, so this morning was no different. After a 5.00am start, one pot of “slap you round the face” coffee & some hot, buttered toast, I was up & at ’em! Early mornings are special for me, when everyone else is still sleeping & I’m able to get as much done as possible. Stopping for fuel this morning at my local Sainsbury’s, chatting about chocolates to the lovely ladies who were also up early (hello ladies!), I was able to shop in blissful peace, wandering around the shelves selecting supplies to make tiny bunny toes. It was as if the world had stopped just for a couple of hours. By 9.00am, I had managed to hit four supermarkets & be back home (I think my shopping ninja just levelled up!).
Easter is almost here & we always celebrate, as it’s when nature is springing & sprouting, new vegetables are in season & food becomes a bit lighter & brighter. While baking bread this week, I decided to make my usual light, fluffy bread dough & also an enriched, sweet dough. Yes, this did involve kneading by hand for ten minutes per batch & yes, my muscles would be worthy of Wonder Woman, but it was worth every minute! For many years, I’ve been making bread with fruit in (my Husband loves it toasted with butter for breakfast), so thought I’d make some fruity buns. Now you all know how much I adore proper plumped up fruit in my baking, so I’ve usually got a handful of sultanas soaking in a cup of tea ready for baking (& fluffy bread demands squishy, sumptuous sultanas!).
Hot cross buns were so loved, someone even wrote a nursery rhyme about them, so they must have been popular! Although there are some splendid shop-bought ones out there, I do love making my own buns whenever I fancy some. My hot cross bun recipe is really easy, I promise & they freeze really well, so you can have them anytime (just leave the cross off). I will warn you, you’re going to get messy, but that’s half the fun. So, hands washed & aprons on, here we go!
What you need:
500g Strong White Bread Flour
12g dried Yeast (or fresh if you like)
300ml Lukewarm Water (dip a finger in it & it should feel just warm)
1 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
A good pinch of ground Sea Salt
1 large Egg
Splash of Semi-Skimmed or Full Fat Milk (not skimmed)
1 teaspoon each of Lemon & Orange zest (wash them first!)
1 ball Stem Ginger, chopped finely
8 Amareno or Sour Cherries, chopped chunky
A good handful of soaked Sultanas, strained
25g Melted butter (for brushing your tin)
For the glaze:
3 tablespoons Semi-Skimmed Milk
2 tablespoons Sugar
A pinch of ground Cinnamon for dusting (you won’t need much)
For the cross:
3 tablespoons Plain Flour
3 tablespoons Cold Water
What to do:
Pre-heat the oven to 220*C. For any kind of bread-making, you need your oven to be really hot, so it pays to put it on now.
In a large bowl, tip the flour, yeast, sugar, sea salt & olive oil.
In a jug or bowl, measure your lukewarm water & add the egg, along with a splash of milk. Using a fork, whisk into a cloudy, fluffy liquid & tip into the other ingredients, using the fork to combine everything into a lovely sticky dough.
Turn out your dough onto a lightly floured surface, ready for kneading. You will find this dough rather stickier than usual, because there’s more liquid in it, but this will give you beautiful buns! Get yourself a pastry scraper, in case it sticks to the work top (you don’t want to lose any!).
Knead for ten minutes until you get a pliable, smooth dough ball.
Place your dough into a lightly floured bowl & cover with oiled cling film (just rub a bit of olive oil all over it). Put it somewhere warm away from draughts (like the airing cupboard) for 30-40 minutes to prove, until it is doubled in size like a big bubble.
While the dough is proving, prepare your tin. Get yourself a nice, large baking tray & a sheet of greaseproof paper. The paper should overhang the tray slightly, as it will be filled with dough balls & will stop them touching the tray.
Using a pastry brush, paint melted butter all over it thoroughly. Press the paper down into the tray, buttered side up, to make sure you have painted it all.
Once the dough has proved & is doubled in size, remove the oiled clingfilm & set to one side (you’ll need this again). Tip the dough onto your lightly floured work surface & knock it back to remove any large air bubbles – I throw it on the worktop a couple of times & this works really well. Knead it lightly for a few seconds & spread out on the worktop into a rectangular shape.
Sprinkle the sultanas evenly over the top, followed by the chopped cherries, ginger & zest. If you don’t like cherries, try adding dried chopped apricots.
Fold the dough into thirds & press it together well to seal everything in.
Carefully cut in half, then half again & once more (probably once more too), until you have sixteen even-sized little lumps of fruit filled dough. By now your worktop is a bit sticky, but persevere – you’re getting there!
Using floured hands, roll each dough lump into a ball & place on the buttered greaseproof paper, leaving roughly an inch between them.
Once done, cover with the oiled clingfilm you used before & leave to prove again for 20-30 minutes, until they have doubled in size again (they will have already started to do so before you finished filling the tray).
Before they go in the oven, you need to put the crosses on. Mix the plain flour & water in a cup using a fork, until it resembles a gloopy paste. Scrape into a piping bag & snip the end off (don’t make it too big, just enough to draw a decent sized line), then pipe crosses on the tops of your buns, which will have all snuggled up next to each other nicely & filled the gaps.
Put the tray in the centre of the oven & bake for about 12-15 minutes. You will need to turn the tray around a couple of times to ensure they are baked evenly (trust me, you don’t want raw ones in the middle).
When the buns have turned a gorgeous golden colour with lovely cream coloured crosses, they should be ready. To check any bread, just tip it over & tap it on the bottom – if it sounds hollow, it’s ready! Be careful not to break up your big batch of buns!
Lay the whole lot out on a cooling rack, placing the greaseproof paper carefully underneath the rack on the worktop. This will stop your worktop getting messy & you can just roll it up afterwards.
Immediately brush on some cold milk & sprinkle with sugar, then dust very lightly with a little Cinnamon. The milk will absorb quickly & they will smell absolutely heavenly!
While they’re still warm, gently pull apart or cut into batches of four or even just individual buns. Freeze any extra ones in bags & you’ll have a treat anytime. These fluffy, flavourful buns taste fabulous just as they are, lavishly spread with butter (the good stuff), or toasted. They’re great for tea breaks, breakfast or just when you need something nice to nibble.
You don’t need to wait til Easter though & can make these any time you want a fruity filled bun – just replace the cross with a drizzle of my zesty zingy icing. It’s really simple, here’s what you need:
5oz Icing Sugar
Juice of half a Lemon
Juice of half an Orange
What to do:
Mix the juices together in a jug & remove any pips.
Put the icing sugar in a bowl & add some of the juice, about a teaspoonful at a time, until you get a silky but slightly thick drizzly consistency (a bit like yoghurt). If not there yet, add a bit more juice until you feel it’s right.
Get a teaspoon & dip it in the icing, then swirl over your buns in whatever pattern you like (I did zigzags on mine). Leave them to set.
Smuggle them into your bag for nibbling on with your afternoon cuppa or just have them for breakfast.
So when Easter comes around, why not bake some beautiful buns & share with family & friends! In fact, I might just have one now with another cuppa! Stay hungry 😉 A x