Everyone with a pulse is aware the hot cross buns are a traditional Easter treat in the UK. However, these sticky buns also have a sticky history.
Most scholars are content with the notion that hot cross buns appeared St Albans in the 14th Century when local monk Brother Thomas Rodcliffe would distribute his buns on Good Friday as alms for the poor. However, Mary I of England (and later Elizabeth I) decreed that spiced buns with a cross on them were so special that they were illegal on any day except Good Friday and Christmas Day. This turned the hot cross bun not only into contraband, but also into an item pretty much only eaten at Easter.
The special status afforded to hot cross buns by the lunatic women of the House of Tudor gave rise to various legends, superstitions and traditions regarding these baked goods. In summary:
- If carried on a ship, hot cross buns will bring good fortune and prevent shipwrecks.
- Hanging a hot cross bun in your kitchen will prevent kitchen fires, with the caveat that the bun must be replaced annually.
- If you make a hot cross bun on Good Friday, it will never go off.
The recipe given here is lightly adapted from that of Paul Hollywood. The ‘secret’ ingredient here is the apples, which break down and moisten the dough.
Hot cross buns
- For the dough:
- 300ml milk
- 500g strong bread flour
- 75g caster sugar
- 7g fast-acting yeast
- 1 tsp salt
- 50g butter, softened
- 1 egg, beaten
- For the flavouring:
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 150g sultanas
- 80g mixed peel
- Zest of 2 oranges
- 1 apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped
- For the cross:
- 70g plain flour
- Approx 5 tbsp water
- For the glaze:
- 3 tbsp apricot jam, heated until liquid
To make the dough and prove:
Bring the milk to the boil in a pan and pour it into a jug. Leave to cool to hand temperature.
Mix the flour, sugar, yeast, salt, butter and egg with a stand mixer. Slowly add the milk while mixing and then run the mixer on medium until a consistent, stick dough forms.
Add the rest of the ingredients and mix again until the fruit is evenly distributed throughout the dough (see notes)
Tip and scrape the doing out onto a floured surface and knead until a smooth and springy. Sparingly dust in flour as needed as you go. Put the dough in an oiled bowl, cover and prove in a warm place until doubled in size.
To make the buns and prove:
Once the first prove is done, flour a surface and roll the dough out into a sausage about as thick as a rolling pin. Cut into 16 equal-sized pieces. Roll each piece into a ball and place them own a baking sheet lined with paper, about 1 thumb-width apart. Loosely cover with cling film and prove in a warm place again until doubled and touching each other.
To do the cross, bake and glaze:
Heat an oven to 200˚C.
Once the buns are proved, mix the flour for the cross with just enough water to make a paste that will pipe. Transfer to a piping bag with a small nozzle and pipe the paste over the buns in one direction and then in the other to make the crosses.
Bake in the middle or lower part of the oven until golden brown. It takes about 20 mins, but watch them carefully, turn the tray as needed and make sure they do not burn.
Once baked, brush the still-warm buns with the hot jam. Cool, break up and store.
Paul Hollywood varies his recipe all over the place here. Sometimes he proves the whole mixture eighth fruit, but sometimes he also proves once without the fruit and once again with it. It does not actually matter as long as the prove is to doubling in size.