Since the start of this year, I have been spending a lot of time trying to perfect my breadmaking skills. I made my own sourdough starter and have pretty much developed my foolproof method for making a light and airy sourdough loaf, a no knead method which slow proves over night and is baked in a hot oven in a cast iron pot. I’ve kept my sourdough alive, using the excess starter to make my own super easy sourdough crumpets and bread making has become somewhat of a weekly weekend ritual. So, making my own hot cross buns for Easter should have been a pretty easy transition, right? Wrong!
There’s something more demanding about making hot cross buns than just your regular loaf of bread, even though you want a nice elastic dough with enough air to keep the crumb soft but without the big air pockets that you would be looking for in your bread. You need to work the dough to a point where it is stretchy and elastic when you pinch and pull a bit of the dough. It shouldn’t break as you stretch it, but the inclusion of dried fruit in the bread, which will absorb some of the moisture as you knead and prove it, makes it difficult to get to a full windowpane effect like you would try to work toward when you are kneading a traditional loaf. The windowpane effect is where the dough is so elastic that you can stretch and pull a pinch of the dough to a point where it becomes so paper thin that you can see through the stretched dough but it holds its shape and doesn’t tear. You’ll get close with this recipe, but you will be working a long time to get there. I found that 5 – 6 minutes in the KitchenAid stand mixer (on level 2) was enough to get a dough that was smooth, elastic and sprung back when I poked at it with my finger. That’s the point where you want to get the dough.
It’s been a little cooler up in the Adelaide Hills this past week, so finding a warm place to prove the dough was a little more challenging. I turned my oven on to 180C and just let it warm for about 3 minutes then turned the oven off. I covered by dough with a damp clean tea towel and placed my dough in the turned-off warm oven – about 45 minutes later, I was ready to bake. I left on batch in the oven with the door closed over night, and the dough almost tripled in size providing a super light dough for perfect buns.
Easter is a time when you have more space to play in the kitchen, and these are a real baker’s delight! Sweet, spicy and easy to make – stand mixer really helps – but be patient. Create a warm environment and time for the dough to rise, twice, and I’m sure you’ll experience success with this recipe.
HOT CROSS BUNS
- 1 Tablespoon dry yeast
- 1/2 cup caster sugar
- 1 1/2 cups (375ml) milk, lukewarm (45 seconds in the microwave should do it)
- 4 1/2 cups bread flour
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon powder
- 1 3/4 teaspoons ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- zest from 1/2 a large orange
- 1 1/2 cups currants
- 1 1/2 cups candied mixed peel
- 50g butter, melted and cooled
- 1 egg
- For the crosses: 4 Tablespoons plain flour and 1/4 cup water
- For the glaze: 2 Tablespoons apricot jam and 1 Tablespoon water
Heat the milk in the microwave for about 45 seconds. It should be warm to your finger’s touch, not hot.
Place the yeast and 2 teaspoons of the caster sugar into a small bowl and pour over the warm milk. Stir to combine and allow to sit for about 5 minutes or until the yeast froths up.
Place the flour, remaining sugar, cinnamon, cloves, salt, currants, peel and zest into the bowl of your stand mixer. Stir to combine.
Fit the dough hook to your mixer and add the milk and frothed yeast, the egg and the cooled melted butter to the bowl and knead on low speed for 5 – 6 minutes (on a KitchenAid stand mixer, speed 2 is just fine). After 5 minutes, stop the mixer and lightly press the dough with your finger. If the dough springs back to your touch, you are in a good place. If it dents, knead a little further.
Turn the rough out onto a lightly floured surface and lightly knead a further minute or two, or until the dough stretches a little before breaking if you pinch and pull a piece of it.
Place the dough in a lightly oiled large bowl and cover with cling wrap and a damp clean tea towel. Leave to prove for at least 1 1/2 hours or until the dough has almost doubled in size.
Make a fist with your hand and press down in the middle of the dough to release some of the air.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll into a log.
Using a sharp knife, cut lengthways to divide the dough into two logs, then cut each piece into six even pieces to give you 12 pieces in total.
Lightly press each piece of dough and then gently, with your fingers, tuck the edges of the dough under and then roll lightly on the bench, seam side down, to form smooth balls.
Place the balls of dough close together on a baking tray lined with baking paper, perhaps 1cm apart. Cover loosely with a lightly oiled piece of cling wrap and cover again with a damp tea towel. Allow to prove again in a warm place (45 minutes in the preheated oven, turned off, again does the trick – you’ll notice the dough becomes very relaxed and soft to the touch after this prove).
Preheat the oven to 180C.
Mix the plain flour and water in a bowl to create a sticky paste. Add the water a little at a time and adjust with extra water and flour if needed to create a paste that can be piped through a piping bag. Spoon the paste into a piping bag (or a snaplock sandwich bag with the corner snipped off) and pipe crosses over the buns.
Bake for about 22 minutes or until the tops of the buns are lightly browned.
Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, mix the jam and water for the glaze in a coffee cup and zap in the microwave for 30 seconds. Mix the water and jam again and then, using a pastry brush, brush the glaze onto the slightly cooled buns.