Hot Cross Buns

Our friends Michele and Dave are living in England temporarily, and Michele keeps me updated on English baking adventures (sticky toffee pudding!). Yesterday she told me it’s traditional to bake hot cross buns on Good Friday, so this morning, that’s what I did.

Hot cross buns

A dozen hot cross buns, half the batch

Then I took them to Dr. Science’s office, where people seemed to like them. I don’t know if I’ve ever had a hot cross bun; I know I’ve never had a traditional English one, which is what these are, but I got a bite of one this morning. This recipe is from Jeff Hamelman’s book Bread. The mixing instructions begin, “Small quantities of up to 12 dozen buns,” which sets up a cognitive dissonance for me. He does give measurements for 1 dozen (which I doubled). Technically this is not a straight dough because there’s a sponge, but the sponge only ferments for 40 minutes. The cross on top isn’t icing, it’s a dough paste. The dough and paste have butter, sugar, and eggs, and the paste has vanilla, and when you take the buns out of the oven, you brush them with simple syrup, so they’re somewhat sweet. I think icing would be overkill.

Traditional English Hot Cross Buns
(for 1 dozen buns, 2.7 oz each)
1.3 oz bread flour
6.7 oz milk
3 oz granulated sugar
0.26 oz instant yeast (2¼ t)

Whisk the ingredients together and cover; ferment for 30-40 min.

12 oz bread flour
2 oz soft butter
1 egg
2 oz granulated sugar
0.1 oz salt (I used 2¼ t Diamond Crystal kosher salt)
1 oz ground allspice
all of the sponge
4 oz dried currants
1.3 oz candied lemon or orange peel

In a stand mixer, mix the flour and butter until the butter is dispersed. Mix in the egg, sugar, salt, and allspice, then add the sponge. Mix for 3 min on the first speed and then for 3 more min on the third speed. Add the fruit and mix until it’s evenly distributed. Cover and allow the dough to rise for 30 min. Give the dough a turn, as you do with puff pastry: Fold the dough in thirds, like a letter, turn the dough 90 degrees and fold it in thirds again. Let it rise another 30 min. Divide the dough into 12 2.7-oz balls. Arrange them on the baking sheet and cover them with plastic. Allow them to rise another hour. While the buns are rising, make the crossing paste.

Crossing Paste
4 oz butter
3 oz milk
1 T vanilla
4 oz sugar
1 egg, beaten
zest of 1 lemon
8 oz all-purpose flour

Heat the butter and sugar until the sugar dissolves. Whisk in everything but the flour, then stir in the flour. (This is a very stiff paste and a lot more than you need; it’s probably enough for 3 or 4 dozen buns. If you have liquid eggs, you can halve the recipe easily.)

When the buns are ready, pipe the paste onto each bun in two lines at 90 degrees to each other. (I used a cookie press with a Berliner tip. This is a stiff paste, and I have no idea how you’d pipe it with a pastry bag, which I tried first and couldn’t get to work.) Bake at 440℉ for 14-16 min. While the buns bake, make the simple syrup (or get out what you have).

Simple Syrup
Heat equal weights of water and sugar until the sugar dissolves; 2 oz of each is plenty for a dozen buns.

When the buns are done, brush them with the simple syrup. They’re best eaten the day they’re baked, although according to tradition, if you bake them on Good Friday they’ll stay fresh for a year.

Note: To my astonishment, I’m out of allspice. (Either that or I couldn’t find it on my spice shelf, but I’m probably out.) So I used cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. I meant to use 2 t of cinnamon, ½ t of nutmeg, and ½ t of cloves, but it was early and I hadn’t had any coffee yet, and I used 1½ t of cinnamon, 1 t of nutmeg, and ½ t of cloves. That’s a lot of nutmeg, but people liked the result, so I guess it wasn’t too much. I have to remember to buy more allspice.

Traditional English Hot Cross Buns. Jeffrey Hamelman: Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2004, p 266.


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