We all like big buns (no pun intended) but no more so than at Easter time. Whilst hot cross buns unashamedly make their appearance shortly after Christmas in most supermarkets, their origin lies entirely in the spring time when they are traditionally eaten on Good Friday to mark the end of Lent. This doesn’t stop us Brits from indulging in the odd Marks & Sparks bun well before then however (guilty), with on average more than 20 million packs bought in the UK during the Easter week alone. In Tudor times though, it was actually illegal to sell any spiced buns on any day other than Good Friday, Christmas or at funerals! This didn’t deter people though as they simply set about baking them in their own homes instead.
Other than its religious ties, there are many traditions & superstitions surrounding the hot cross bun. In folklore, it is said any buns that are both baked & served on Good Friday will never spoil or grow mouldy (not something I’m willing to test!). Other’s believe that the buns have medicinal properties or that hanging a bun in the kitchen will not only protect against fires but also ensure that all breads that are baked in that kitchen will turn out perfectly (if only). I prefer to simply eat mine.
Whilst older recipes for hot cross buns would have used spices such as saffron or mace, a traditional recipe calls for simply yeast, milk, flour, butter, eggs, sugar, a handful of dried fruits & a combination of spices including cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg & allspice. Nowadays you can find a never-ending assortment & variety of bun available in the shops, everything from chocolate orange, toffee, blueberry, apple… you name it.
I’m a bit of a traditionalist though & whilst all of these other varieties are perfectly delicious on their own merit, in my eyes, they are simply flavoured sweet buns masquerading as my beloved hot cross bun. I like my buns to be sweet, sticky, speckled with dried fruit & heady with spices. The sort that I could take to the street & sell ‘one a penny, two a penny, hot cross bun’, just how that would go down in the 21st century though, I’m not sure (again, not something I’m willing to test).
I make these every Easter & quite look forward to whiling away an afternoon in the kitchen to do so (nothing quite beats getting stuck into some dough when you’ve got the time). Over the year’s however, I’ve found myself reaching for the wholemeal flour instead of the classic strong white, something I experimented with a couple of year’s ago which ended up producing a surprisingly light texture & a well-balanced flavour as the addition of wholemeal brings a slightly savoury edge to combat the sweetness of the sugar & dried fruit. These wholemeal hot cross buns take on my classic recipe is a well spiced, lightly fruited treat that demands a light toasting & a slather of butter. I’m not so sure on their hanging properties (not recommended) but they do freeze well, simply defrost in a low heated oven or even in the microwave.
WHOLEMEAL HOT CROSS BUNS
- 150g strong white flour
- 350g wholemeal flour
- 75g soft light brown sugar
- 7g fast-action yeast
- 5g salt
- 45g butter, melted
- 1 large egg
- 3 tsp mixed spice
- 300ml whole milk
- 250g mixed dried fruit
- 100ml boiling water
- 90g apricot jam (to glaze)
For the crosses:
- 75g plain flour
- 75ml water
- In a large bowl, combine the flour, yeast, salt, sugar & spices
- Warm the milk & butter together in a saucepan or microwave & leave to cool slightly until just lukewarm
- Add the egg to the milk mixture & whisk to combine
- Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture & pour in the milk mixture
- Stir until the mixture no flour remains & a dough is formed (you many not need all of the milk mixture, alternatively use a little water if your dough feels a bit dry)
- Empty the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface & knead for 10 minutes (or 5 minutes if using a dough hook in a stand mixer) until it is smooth, elastic & it has a slight shine
- Put the dough back into the bowl, cover with clingfilm & leave to rise for about an hour, until it has doubled in size
- Whilst your dough is rising, pour the boiling water over the mixed dried fruits, cover with a tea towel & leave to soak
- Once your dough has risen tip it out onto a floured work surface & knock back the dough (knead out the air pockets)
- Stretch out the dough slightly, strain the dried fruits & empty this onto the dough
- Knead the fruit into the dough until evenly distributed
- Divide your dough into 12 evenly sized pieces & use your hands to shape each piece into a ball (I prefer to cage my hands around the dough & move in a circular motion on the worktop)
- Place your buns onto a parchment lined baking sheet, leaving enough room between each for them to rise
- Cover with cling film, a tea towel, or (my preference) place inside a bag for life & leave to prove for 45 minutes – 1 hour, until they have doubled in size
- When the buns are ready, make the topping by combining the plain flour & water to make a paste
- Spoon the paste into a piping bag & use this to pipe crosses on the top of each bun
- Bake the buns at 190C for 15-20 minutes until pale golden-brown & they sound hollow when tapped underneath
- Whilst the buns are baking, warm the apricot jam in a small saucepan until fluid
- Once the wholemeal hot cross buns are baked, remove from the oven & brush all over with the warmed apricot jam before leaving to cool on a cooling rack