It’s hot cross bun weekend, because how better than to remember the horrific biblical practice of crucifixion than by painting a flour-paste cross onto some sweet enriched bread, quietly sniggering at the Easter Bunny’s lack of klout compared with Santa, and cramming mini eggs into your face as fast as they’ll fit.
Well, these HXBs are to die for. Stop smirking, Judas; it didn’t end well for you either. Anyway, I made these without any weighing scales or measuring jugs and have dictated the exact recipe out of my stupid little brain as it happened – for reference, it’s a crossover (lol) of Felicity Cloake’s perfect HXBs, with Nigella’s overnight proving method, combined with my addition of earl-grey soaked fruit. I’ve left optional the cardamom and cinnamon stick as my inability to follow written instructions meant I forgot these things but nothing bad happened. They’ll just be nicer if you do include them. And yes, that says prove overnight. It’s much better that way, promise.
My recipe is by no means foolproof, because I for one, am the biggest fool I know and I’ll have proofed something somewhere. But hopefully if you follow it and use your own good judgement, you’ll end up with giant HXBs like I did. They won’t ever fit in the toaster, but they’re so, so good and soft you won’t need to toast them using the grill for a day or two at least, especially if you store them in a big airtight tupperware. You have to have these with butter because it’s the law.
2 heaped mugs of flour (should be 400g) + some more on hand on day 2
100g butter (just under 1/2 a pack)
Bag of granulated sugar and a teaspoon (got no weighing scales, see? It’s 50g if you are living the luxury life)
2 beaten eggs
a glass of milk – around 200ml
A dried yeast sachet
Optional but recommended by the food goddesses: 1 cinnamon stick, 4 cardamom pods smashed a bit, 6 whole cloves
Ground cinnamon/mixed spice/cloves/nutmeg (tsp or so of each)
Zest of one big orange
200gish dried mixed fruit (I used just under half a mixed bag of dried peel, raisins and sultanas)
3 Earl Grey teabags
Pinch of salt
The Evening Before You Bake
Do all this before you go to bed, or at least after dinnertime – you’ll over-prove your dough and it’ll go all alcoholy if you do it too far ahead.
If you’re using whole spices, put them in a saucepan with the milk and bring them to the boil, before taking off the heat then leave to cool a bit and infuse. While the milk gets spicy, rub the butter into the flour in a massive bowl (please use a big bowl or you’ll regret what’ll will happen later), then stir in 10 heaped teaspoons of sugar, followed by the salt and any other spices you fancy using but probably not like, cumin or fenugreek. I used cinnamon and nutmeg for reference.
When the milk’s at the temperature you’d use to bathe a benevolent cat (i.e. not too cold and not too warm), remove the whole spices and add a teaspoon of sugar and the yeast. Let that go froth for a bit before adding to the flour, along with the beaten eggs, and giving it a really great stir. It should be hella sticky. You’re going to leave this covered at room temperature overnight – if your house is super duper warm, put it in the fridge, but otherwise, anywhere cool-ish will do. You should also soak your fruit overnight. Boil like 300ml of water and pour into a bowl/saucepan with the teabags and leave to steep for like 15 minutes. Splop in around 200g of the mixed dried fruit and let the it sip the tea while you sleep.
The next morning, you will marvel at how enormous your yeasted creature has grown. Punch him down and encourage him out onto a very well floured work surface and work it until he’s a wee bit less sticky. You can add a few more handfuls of flour at this stage, depending on how sticky you were to start off. Keep it as moist as possible; you only just want to be able to shape it and work with it. Like, if he’s really runny add some more flour but try not to add too much. Think weird thoughts and keep kneading until everything looks soft and stretchy.
Drain your now-plumped fruit if there’s any excess liquid. Flatten the dough into a circle and plop the fruit right in the middle. Zest an orange right on top of this. Fold the edges in and knead the fruit through the dough until everything’s evenly squelched in. You can deffo add some more flour here as the dough will have become a lot sticker cos of the extra moistness – but again, only as much as you (k)need to make it workable. It should be more like brioche than bread if you’re familiar. If you’re not, then it should be stickyish.
Divide your dough into 12 equal balls for XXL HXBs, or 16 for more daintyerish ones. I had to flour my hands to work with the dough – that’s how soft it was. Nestle your balls together in a baking tin/tray and leave to prove themselves in a fight for about an hour, or until they’re a bit puffier. I used the boiler cupboard, but if you have a personal correspondence with beelzebub, a quick cuppa down there for 10 minutes will do. Tell Judas he’s a massive snake.
Put the oven on to 200.
For the crosses, Mix a wee paste of about 4 tbsps of flour and a tbsp or 2 of water until it drips off a spoon but not too quickly. You’re looking for something of about treacle/syrup consistency here. Put that into a sandwich bag and poke a hole in it with a big chopstick. Or use a piping bag if you actually own one. Pipe this in cross shapes (nothing but crosses, HEATHENS) across your buns and then stick them in the oven for 20-25 minutes where they should, with any luck, go absolutely giant.
While they’re in the oven, you’re gonna do the very last step. Put about 2 shot glasses of sugar in a pan along with about half a mug of water. Stir it on a low heat til the sugar is dissolved and then bring to a boil, until it’s just just turning a tiny bit syrupy. You don’t want to be making caramel here – HXBs are all about softness. Switch it off and leave it to cool a tiny bit.
When your buns are smelling heavenly (joke’s still on you, Judas), and have gone a deep Gordon Brown on the top, take them out of the oven and leave to cool a bit in the tin before transferring to a cooling rack. Alternatively, use a bit of oven rack you’ve taken out because you don’t have a bloody cooling rack. If you have a pastry brush, brush them with the warm syrup. If you don’t have a pastry brush, dip some kitchen roll in the syrup to saturate it, and smear all over the tops like the degenerate cook you are.
There you have it. Hot cross buns. They’re an effort, but well worth it. Oh, and for once, all the photography is MINE and I’m super proud of these babies. If you end up making them, do tell me. I’d love to know.