On the cusp of Easter, as we are, it seems impossible to go anywhere that sells baked goods and not be hit with the heady scent of spice that can only mean hot cross buns.
I am neither a sweet tooth, nor do I usually frequent bakeries for tasty treats (keep the good artisan sourdough away from me though!). This year, the abundance of buns and “The Great Bun Fight” article in The Age’s Epicure section this week ensured that those little glazed domes of freshly baked dough were well and truly front of mind. So it did not take much, when a colleague at work suggested it would be nice to have hot cross buns for morning tea on the Thursday before Easter, for me to announce loudly to the office that it wasn’t necessary to buy them, I would make some.
Did I mention that I have never made hot cross buns before? Or that despite a broad love of cooking and reasonable success in most areas, that baking simply wasn’t my thing? Perhaps I feared horrible supermarket bought buns; airy and insipid with no real spice and poor quality ingredients. Perhaps I just needed another challenge.
According to the judges of the Great Bun Fight in Epicure,
“The perfect bun should have a well rounded dome, evenly glazed, completely baked on the bottom and, very importantly, have an even and carefully laid cross on the top. The aroma should be of fresh. The smell of quality spice, with perhaps some aromas of fruit and freshly baked dough but not yeasty.
The perfect bun should have a well-baked crust, even pores in the centre and crumb (the inner part) that chews with some resistance that doesn’t go to a paste immediately in the mouth. The judges were looking for quality, good tasting fruit with a generous but not overwhelming portion per bun.
A great bun should have a flavour of freshly baked dough, dark flavours on the crust from baking, sweetness from the fruit, balance between sweetness and sour if a sourdough and, perhaps most importantly, good clean flavours of a good blend of fresh spices. Old, cheap spices severely impact on the quality of a hot cross bun.”
The basis for my recipe was the one found in this month’s Gourmet Traveller, with some adjustments because I always mess with recipes!
Apart from good ingredients, you need time to bake hot cross buns. The dough, once combined and kneaded for a solid ten minutes needs to prove for 40 minutes then get the air knocked out, kneaded into balls for the buns, then proved again for 40 minutes. I wanted my buns to be hot out of the oven in the morning for me to take to work. I was not at all keen on the idea of getting up a 3am in the morning to achieve this and decided to make the dough and do the first prove the night before, then finish them off in the morning. Seemed like a good plan to me.
I chopped peel and fruit, I grated fresh spices and I mixed and kneaded and ended up with a pretty good looking dough, which rose to the challenge for its first prove. All good! All on track, and I was feeling rather pleased with myself.
One element of baking that I understood in the theoretical sense but neglected to include in my revision of the bun making method was that yeast needs warmth for the dough to rise. This did not occur to me until I had finished cleaning up and was ready to retire for the evening and remarked to my beloved that it was getting a bit chilly. Chilly? How was my dough going to rise if it was chilly? I fumbled around for a while and in the end decided to wrap the bowl that the dough was in with several warm tea towels and stick it in the oven (which had a hint of residual heat from out dinner earlier). Not great but better than nothing.
When I woke this morning and inspected the dough, it looked okay. It was not a huge mass full of air, and perhaps had shrunk a little in size from when I had wrapped it up the night before but all, in all, things looked promising. A bit more kneading and then some nice rounded balls of dough rose again (only a little – again, I think it wasn’t warm enough for the yeast, or my delay had stretched it too far) and were adorned with the white crosses that prevent them from being any old fruit bun. Into the oven and 20 minutes later the house was full of wonderful smells.
A quick brush with some glaze and arranged in a nice little basket and this little Easter bunny was ready to go to work and make her delivery.
Morning tea time came. Coffees were procured from the café next door, butter was laid out for those who wished, and the hot cross buns were set upon by my colleagues who devoured them with a smile and a sigh.