Stories abound about the origin of the hot cross bun. According to the book Holiday Symbols, “The pagans worshipped the goddess Eostre (after whom Easter was named) by serving tiny cakes, often decorated with a cross, at their annual spring festival. When archaeologists excavated the ancient city of Herculaneum in southwestern Italy, which had been buried under volcanic ash and lava since 79 C.E., they found two small loaves, each with a cross on it, among the ruins.”
In Tudor times, a London bylaw was introduced that forbade the sale of buns except on Good Friday, at Christmas, and at burials: “That no bakers, etc, at any time or times hereafter make, utter, or sell by retail, within or without their houses, unto any of the Queen’s subject any spice cakes, buns, biscuits, or other spice bread (being bread out of size and not by law allowed) except it be at burials, or on Friday before Easter, or at Christmas, upon pain or foreiture of all such spiced bread to the poor.”
Pagan or religious, legal or contraband, I was determined to try making some of these fruity little morsels this year. I cobbled my recipe together from a few different sources, eschewing the traditional currants for dried cherries and white chocolate, plus some orange zest and plenty of mixed spice to give them some oomph.
Cherry and White Chocolate Hot Cross Buns
for the dough:
680g strong white flour
big pinch of sea salt
14g (2 sachets) easy blend yeast (also called fast action, instant or quick yeast)
70g golden caster sugar
80g very soft butter
15g mixed spice
270ml warm water
1 egg, lightly beaten
for the fruit:
100g dried cherries
100g white chocolate chunks
zest of 1 orange
for the cross paste:
100g plain flour
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
for the bun wash:
1 eggcup boiling water
2 teaspoons sugar
pinch of mixed spice
Put all the dough ingredients in a large bowl and stir together with a wooden spoon, or even better, your hands, until everything comes together. Turn the dough onto a flat surface and knead for around 15 minutes, until it is smooth and ‘vital’ (ie. it springs back into shape easily). Gently work in the cherries, chocolate chunks and orange zest.
Nestle the dough back in the mixing bowl – very lightly greased with oil to prevent sticking – and cover with a tea towel or a piece of lightly oiled cling film. Leave to rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes, until it has doubled in size. In the meantime, grease a high-sided baking tray and line it with greaseproof paper.
Turn the dough out and cut it in half, then divide and divide again until you have 16 evenly sized pieces. In the palm of your hand, firmly round the pieces so they stand pert on your baking tray, a finger’s width between them.
Again, cover the tin and leave in a toasty place until the buns have doubled in size (mine took just under an hour). Preheat the oven to 210ºC.
To make the cross paste, sift the flour into a bowl and add the salt, oil and water. Stir until you have a smooth mixture, then pour it into a piping bag.
Pipe a cross on the top of each bun and bake them for around 30 minutes until the tops and bottoms are golden. While they are cooking, make the bun wash by mixing the boiling water, sugar and spice together. Remove the buns from the oven and immediately brush with the bun wash.
Delicious served warm, or toasted and spread with lashings of butter. These buns are not as sweet as shop-bought ones, nor do they have that billowy aerated texture; they are rather more rustic. Not very pretty, but pretty tasty.
Easter egg update:
Five layers of chocolate, some mini fudge chunks, and hours of patient refrigeration later, and I have managed to release the two halves of my homemade Easter egg from their moulds. There were a few tense, breath-holding moments, and a near miss with some hot water, but we all survived unscathed. Next, to glue the halves together with more molten chocolate…