Hot Cross Bun 101
Hot cross buns fall in the category of rich yeast breads. They're a type of sweet spiced bun made, originally, with currants and leavened with yeast.
They're almost always based on white flour, including egg, milk and butter. Sugar is often added to feed the yeast. Spices such as cinnamon, mixed spice and nutmeg contribute to the spicy taste and a pinch of lemon zest or freshly ground cloves will add wonderful flavour, too. The heavy ingredients such as raisins, dried apricots and currants are usually kneaded in just before shaping because they can hinder the rising of an even-textured dough. You can use dried cranberries and mixed citrus peel instead of raisins.
Hot cross buns are done when the crust is deep golden; the bottom sounds hollow when tapped and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
The most distinguishing part of a hot cross bun is the cross on top. This might be made in a variety of ways: it could be pastry, made from a simple flour and water mixture, cut from rice paper and glazed onto the bun, or simply cut into the bun itself using a pair of scissors.
A glaze is also part of a hot cross bun's appeal. This could be a simple sugar syrup with a squeeze of lemon, or melted apricot jam spread over as soon as they come out of the oven (see tips below). If you are in a hurry or all out of options, use golden syrup or honey which will become running when you pour it over the hot buns.
Tips & tricks
# They're best straight out of the oven or stored in an airtight container for 3 days. You can freeze them for 6 months.
# To test the dough to see if it has risen sufficiently and is ready to be shaped, gently stick two fingers into the risen dough up to the second knuckle. Take them out and if the indentations remain, the dough is ready.
# Put paper towelling under your cooling rack before glazing the buns as there will be a lot of dripping.
# If you are going to freeze your just-made buns, don't glaze them. Rather do this after they have been defrosted and heated in the oven.
# Hot cross buns can be eaten plain, or buttered, or split in half, toasted, and served with butter and cheese.
# Add a drop of vanilla or lemon essence (or real lemon juice or orange juice) to the glaze for extra flavour.
# Use a pastry bag, a spoon, or a knife to paint the crosses on top of the buns.
# Melt 2 tablespoons granulated sugar and 2 tablespoons of water over a gentle heat and brush the buns with it as soon as they come out of the oven.
# For a richer glaze, heat 4 tablespoons milk and 3 tablespoons caster sugar in a small pan until dissolved, then boil for 1 minute until syrupy.
# For a tangy glaze, boil together 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, 3 tablespoons of milk and 1 tablespoon marmalade until the sugar is dissolved and it has become slightly thickened.
# For more distinctive crosses, use a flour-and-water paste made with 110 g plain flour and 3 tablespoons water. Roll out thinly and divide into small strips, dampening them to seal.
# For pastry crosses. Put 60 g plain flour, 30 g unsalted butter, diced and 2 teaspoons caster sugar in a small bowl and rub the butter into the flour with the tips of your fingers until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs. Stir in 1-2 tablespoons cold water to make a firm dough. Roll out the dough on a floured work surface to about 3mm thick, then cut into strips about 10cm long and 5mm wide.
# For a liquid-like paste, mix 80 g plain flour, 2 tablespoons sugar and 100ml water and put it in a piping bag (or a plastic freezer bag with one corner shipped off) and pip a cross on each bun.
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