Hot Cross Buns

Nobody now knows the origins of Hot Cross Buns, but sweet buns of this sort have been around in various guises since long before the beginnings of recorded history, and without doubt many had ritual connotations. Traditionally, Hot Cross Buns were Lenten fare, eaten throughout the forty day fasting period before Easter, but during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I they were forbidden except for Christmas Day, Good Friday, and at funerals – God alone now knows why – which rather confused things and set the pattern for the custom of eating them at Easter only. Deeply religious folk would kiss the cross on the top before eating it. Chocolate flavoured Hot Cross Buns are a peculiarly antipodean phenomenon.

3/4 cup milk.
1/2 cup boiling water.
4 tsp dry yeast.
75g butter.
1/4 cup honey.
1 1/2 tsp salt.
3 1/2 cups plain flour.
2 tsp mixed spice.
1/4 cup brown sugar.
1/2 cup sultanas [or mixed fruit].
1 sheet flaky pastry for crosses.
1 tblsp golden syrup.
1 tblsp honey.
1 tblsp water.

Mix the milk and the boiling water in a large bowl and stir in the yeast. Cover and leave for 5 minutes to allow the yeast to start working then add the butter, honey, salt, 2 cups of flour, the spice and the brown sugar. Mix together with a wooden spoon until fully combined the cover again and leave in a warm place for 15 minutes.
Mix in the sultanas and the rest of the flour and work the mixture with the spoon until a soft, evenly constituted dough is formed. Add a little more flour if too sticky. Turn the dough on to a floured board and knead for 10 minutes until smooth and springy. It should not be sticky. Wipe 2 tsp oil around the bottom of a large, clean bowl, place the dough in it, cover and leave in warm place for 45-60 minutes.
Divide the dough into 4 equal size pieces, then divide each piece into 4 smaller pieces. Form the pieces into balls and place on an oiled oven tray in a 4×4 pattern, leaving about 20mm between each ball. Cover with a cloth and leave in a warm place for an hour. Preheat the oven to 200°C. From the sheet of flaky pastry, cut strips about the width of your little finger, moisten with a little water and arrange them on top of the dough balls in crosses.
Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Bring the golden syrup, honey and water to the boil. Remove the buns and brush immediately with the honey glaze.

Yield: 16 buns.

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