I know it's a day or two early, but I love making hot crossed buns. I baked these yesterday morning:
Here's our recipe. Inevitably it is based on several others, most notably Andrew Whitley's (Bread Matters) and Elizabeth David's (English Bread and Yeast Cookery). Our contributions are a greater quantity of wholemeal flour than is usual and the use of leaven instead of yeast. Happy Easter!
Hot Crossed Buns (makes about 16 buns)
Wheat leaven: 230g
Whole milk: 205g (at about 30 degrees celsius)
Wholemeal wheat flour: 45g
Mix all the ingredients together and leave in a warm place (20-24 degrees celsius) until there is obvious activity such as swelling and bubbles on the surface. This will probably take at least 4 hours, depending on the vigour of your wheat leaven and the temperature of your kitchen.
Strong white wheat flour: 110g
Wholemeal wheat flour: 240g
Ground mixed spice (spice mix at the end of the post): 10g
Water: 330g at about 30 degrees celsius
Melted Butter: 55g
Dried fruit (raisins, currants etc): 285g + hot water: 45g
Soak the fruit in the hot water and leave for 12 hours. This works best if you put them in a freezer bag and tie it up so that all the fruit is in contact with the water.
Mix the milk leaven with 100g of the water. Mix together the flours, sugar and spice, and then mix them into the diluted leaven. The dough should be quite stiff. Cover the bowl with plastic (cling film, a plastic bag etc) and let it sit for 10-20 minutes. Knead it vigourously for 200 strokes. Re-cover it and let it rest for another 10 minutes. Knead it again for another 200 strokes. Re-cover it and let it rest for another 10 minutes. For the rest of the dough making, I find it easiest keep the dough in the bowl. Add the salt, and knead until it is entirely absorbed. Now add the butter and knead again until the butter is absorbed. Add the remaining water a little at a time, each time kneading until the water is absorbed into the dough. You should end up with a dough that is very soft, and perhaps a little sticky without being unmanageable. You may need more water, depending on the strength of your flour. Now fold in the fruit. The action I use to do this is a bit like kneading, but much more gentle. The dough should be so soft that it is quite easy to incorporate the fruit without squashing it.
When all the fruit is incorporated, cover the bowl and set the dough to rise. How quickly this happens depends again on the temperature of your kitchen and the activity of your milk leaven, but it may be 6 hours or so. I often cool the dough and let it rise even more slowly overnight.
When the dough is risen, break it into equal sized pieces. I like about 75-80g, which gives the 16 or so buns that this recipe is designed for. They will be a little smaller than most commercial buns but then these are also a little bit denser than those hyperlight, supersoft confections. Form the pieces into buns and place them on a buttered baking sheet about 1inch/2.5cm apart. Leave them to rise for about 2 hours at 20-24 degrees celsius. The will not swell much, but at the end of this time you should notice that they are markedly softer when you poke one with your finger.
Crosses (from Andrew Whitely, Bread Matters):
Plain flour: 50g
Baking powder: 1g
Vegetable oil, or melted lard or butter: 10g
A gram of baking powder is hard to measure; half a teaspoon does the job. Mix all the ingredients together into a smooth batter and pipe them onto the buns immediately before baking.
Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees celsius and bake the the buns for 15-20 minutes (but see the note on baking times below). While they are baking, prepare the glaze:
Muscavado Sugar: 50g
Boil the water with the sugar until you have a dark and fairly liquid syrup.
When the buns are done (the crosses should be no more than just colouring), turn them off the tray onto cooling racks, leave them for 5 minutes and then brush them with the glaze.
I really like Elizabeth David's variation on her own sweet spice blend for HCBs: the addition of cumin. Her quantity of cloves, however I find excessive. Here's our version. Grate 2 large nutmegs into a bowl and mix with 14g ground ginger (or grind your own if you have some dried ginger root). Grind together 14g Allspice berries, 14g cumin seeds, 7g cinnamon bark and about 20 whole cloves and mix them with the nutmeg and ginger. this mix can be a bit overpowering if used immediately, if your spices are good and potent. I like that but if you don't, try making it 24hours ahead of time to let it mellow.
15-20 minutes is about right if you have only this quantity to bake. If you bake double, say, the drop in oven temperature when you put them in will be greater and you will need to let them bake for quite a bit longer.