Hot Cross Buns – every year we make these in Feb and March. This spice filled, dry fruit laden bread and its contemporary versions are relished by everyone in our kitchen. I make at least one batch of the traditional buns and then a few with my own spin on it . This year it is a whole wheat version formed into a loaf. The idea was to make something that can be sliced and toasted in a standard toaster !
I think every bread baker should make this popular English classic at least once. Make it the traditional way and then make it your own, I say !
Spring is the time when life seems to return to nature from self imposed exile! No wonder the bone chilling cold and the first shoots of tender leaves inspired folklore and holidays – religious and otherwise. I think I have mentioned already that this year it all seems a bit out of step. Just last week it felt like spring is already here. In case you are wondering it is FEB and we are in the northern hemisphere!
So last week it was bird songs and tender leaves on the rosebushes and the last couple days – well it is an entirely different scene. Bone chilling cold and ice in the backyard. Still a few birds , but they are strangely silent – just like in winter. My inner Dr.Seuss whispers “I don’t like it – don’t like it at all” !
Anyway the hot cross buns are in the oven ( Just like life searching for something familiar, a friendly face , in the uncertain times!). Truth be told I don’t need an excuse to make these. But if I needed one – a mood booster seems as good as any !
So this years spin on the classic has 50 % whole wheat and 50% unbleached flour. Use the flours with the highest protein content that you can find. Next year may be I should try another one incorporating more whole grains ! But for this year 50% is good enough ;-).
The dough is a little wet but not too wet.
When it is formed it sags a little but not too much.
Ask me why – and I tell you why !
Can this nonsense and be on your way —
Yes sir, yes sir – what ever you say sir !
Here is a few shots of the dough as it gets transformed. The above stages are pretty much the same whether you do it by hand or by machine. Here is a little bit of explanation left to right , top to bottom in that order !
- Add the flour, spices , salt and zest to the activated yeast mix. Mix till crumbly.
- Add the eggs and milk – if by hand add the milk in batches. Knead until everything comes together and you begin to see gluten strands forming. Look for the sticky threads as you stretch the dough.
- Add the softened butter and sugar. In the machine it gets messy – almost as if you are destroying all the work done so far. As the butter gets kneaded into the dough it visibly changes almost acquiring a glossy sheen.
- Slowly but surely the butter gets absorbed completely. Be patient with the mess. This takes about 3 minutes in the machine and roughly 3 to 5 minutes by hand.
- The dough becomes smooth, looks uniform forms a smooth mass. Since this has high whole wheat flour the results of windowpane tests will not be encouraging. The dough film will tear. Stick a a tiny amount of dough between two fingers, and spread the fingers apart gently stretching the dough . As long as you can see fairly strong good gluten strands when the fingers are about 1 cm apart we are good to go.
- Form into a smooth ball and set aside to double.
Once the dough is doubled it is time to add the fruits . Knead it in and shape
In the pictures above you can see that the dough has puffed up – almost like a balloon. Sights like these are what makes a bread baker happy ! Dump all the dry fruits on top and knead for a minute to distribute it evenly. Divide into 12 equal parts (referring to the recipe below ⇓). Form each into rolls. Place 6 buns on each loaf pan and let rise till doubled. Just before baking make a flour cross on top.
To the Cross – flour cross to be exact. I like a thick mix of water and flour with a pinch of sugar. How thick you want the crosses or even if you want it, is entirely up to you. But if you make it thick definitely add a pinch of sugar.
The crosses are piped on just before the bread goes into the oven.
Once the bread is about half way into baking, it is time to make the glaze. I used orange juice and honey, as it was the perfect way to use up the orange that I got the zest from. Use about 1/4 C of orange juice and 2 Tbsp of honey. Mix and heat till it is reduced to a thick syrup.
Apricot or peach preserves are another good option. Just warm these until it becomes runny.
Once the bread is done and out on the cooling rack brush the warm glaze on top. Let it cool completely before slicing.
The recipe here makes 2 large (about 2lb) loaves. Use one and slice and freeze the second one for later !
Here is the recipe for Hot Cross Bun Loaf …
Hot Cross Bun Loaf
- 450 g Unbleached Flour 4C (See Notes)
- 450 g Whole Wheat Flour 4C
- 440 g Milk 1 3/4 C + 2 Tsp Divided use
- 70 g Sugar 5 1/2Tbsp
- 110 g Butter 1/2 C or 1 Stick
- 4 Eggs Large
- 2 Tbsp Orange Zest
- 14 g Active Dry Yeast 2 pkts or 1 1/2Tbsp
- 15 g Salt 2 3/4 Tsp
- 300 g Raisins About 2 C (See Notes )
Spice Mix (See Notes)
- 1 Tsp Cinnamon
- 1/2 Tsp All Spice
- 1/4 Tsp Nutmeg
- 1/4 Tsp Cardamom
- 1/4 Cup Flour
- 2 Tbsp Milk
- 1/2 Tsp Sugar
- 1/4 Cup Orange Juice
- 2 Tbsp Honey
Activate the yeast
- Warm 1/2C milk (120g) to about 110°F or just warm to touch. Stir in 1 1/2 Tbsp sugar. Sprinkle the yeast on top and set aside for 5 minutes for it to bloom.
Make the Dough - Using Stand Mixer
- Fit the stand mixer with the kneading hook. Pour the activated yeast into the bowl followed by flour , spices, zest and salt. Set the machine to the lowest setting and mix for 30 seconds t o 1 minute till everything is mixed well the and the mix looks crumbly.
- Turn off the mixer. Beat the eggs and add to the bowl along with the remaining milk. Start on low and knead for one minute, scrape the sides and knead for 2 to 3 minutes until all the flour is absorbed into one wet mass. Turn off the machine and add the softened butter and sugar. Knead for an additional 4 to 5 minutes. During the first minute the butter gets splattered all over the inside, creating what looks like a sloppy mess. It slowly gets absorbed in and you end with a soft shiny dough.
Make the Dough - By hand
- In a large mixing bowl mix the flours , spices , salt and the orange zest. Make a well in the center and add the activated yeast along with the beaten eggs and half the remaining milk . Use a wooden spoon to slowly mix the flour into the wet mix adding as much of the remaining milk as necessary. When almost all the flour is mixed in cover the bowl with a plastic wrap or wet towel set aside for 10 minutes. Uncover and knead the dough for 5 minutes until it forms into one large uniform mass. Add the sugar and softened butter. Continue kneading making sure to include the butter and sugar. The dough becomes visibly soft and very pliable - about 5 to 10 minutes. Form into a ball.
- Lightly grease a large bowl and place the dough ball in it . Turn to coat all sides of the ball with oil. Cover the bowl with a plastic wrap or moist kitchen towel and set aside in a warm place to double - about 1 hour.
Shape and second rise
- Add the dried fruits to the risen dough and knead it in . It takes about 1 minute of kneading by hand to distribute the fruits evenly. You can do this on a lightly floured work surface or in the bowl itself if it large enough.
- Divide the dough into 2 equal parts. Divide each into 6 equal portions. Form each portion into smooth balls, trying not to have the dry fruit sticking out on top. Lightly grease two 9" X 5" loaf tins and arrange 6 balls on each loaf tin. Cover with a plastic wrap or moist kitchen towel and set aside to rise - 20 to 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F (190 °C).
- If making the cross , mix the ingredients for the cross into a thick paste. Pour the paste into a plastic bag (icing bag) and snip the bottom to create a 5 mm circular opening. Pipe the crosses on top of the loaf just before placing the bread in the oven.
- Place the pans in the oven, reduce the temperature to 350°F (180°C) and bake for 20 minutes. Check the bread and if the tops are already browning cover with a foil and rotate the pans if necessary . Bake for another 15 to 20 minutes until the bread is done.
- When cooked through the internal temperature should register at 190°F . Another way to check is to tap on the bottom of the loaf. It should sound hollow when cooked through.
- While the bread is half way through baking , squeeze the orange and reserve 1/4 C of the juice. Take it in a small sauce pan and add 2 Tbsp of honey to it. Warm the mix stirring often till it comes to a boil. Let it simmer until it reaches sticky syrupy consistency . Turn off the heat and keep warm .
- Take the bread out of the oven. Let it cool in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes and transfer to a cooling rack. Brush the glaze over the bread while it is still warm.
- Let it cool completely before slicing. The bread can be frozen up to 3 months. Slice and portion , wrap each portion and place in freezer bags and freeze. When needed remove from the freezer and toast before serving.
- Use All Purpose flour with high protein content or bread flour.
- I prefer unbleached and un-bromated flour, preferably organic.
- The traditional favorite for dry fruits are currants but use cranberries, blue berries, currants , raisins or a mix of these.
- Of the given spices use a combination that you prefer. Mix the spices to make up 2 tsp for this recipe, keeping nutmeg and cloves to 1/4 tsp or less.
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