Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Mum's Hot Cross Buns

I am not cutting edge.  I am not even blunt edge.  I am nowhere near the edge, in fact, any edge.  Whilst part of me would love to be a Heston-esque food pioneer, smearing Andy's tea with pea foam every night, the biggest, honest part of me knows that I definitely sit at the comfort food end of the spectrum.  Not that I don't admire the brave frontier-pushers - I really, really, do, but more in a watching-from-my-sofa, or eating-in-your-restaurant way.  Actually, this applies in all aspects of my life: my music choices are notoriously bad, middle-of-the-road horrors.  My technology choices are pedestrian and always at the late end of the bell curve.  I do not like change.

That is why the Hot Cross Bun recipe I make every year, without fail, is the same recipe that my Mum has been making for 40-odd years.  Smell is the most evocative sense, they say, and who am I to argue with actual science when making these makes my house smell like Mum's, in the Easter of my childhood?  Easter was always quite a big deal in our family growing up - yet another chance for my big, loud, loving family to get together to eat and laugh and gorge ourselves on chocolate, and so, as a change-averse, ritual loving person and cook, I plan and cook now the way we planned and cooked then.  Hot Cross Buns are the bell-ringing pathway to Easter for me, and I love them for that.  Once you have eaten your first one, hot from the oven, leave the rest to cool then split them and toast them, spreading them quickly with salted butter (and yes, it has to be salted - don't make me come round there).  I can think of no better breakfast, nor afternoon snack.  I make one tiny, tiny change to the recipe: I don't usually keep candied peel in, as the original calls for, so I up the weight of the currants and grate some lemon zest in.  It makes no massive difference, as far as I can tell, to the way they smell and taste.

But don't think that I only make these for nostalgia reasons:  the truth is they are very, very good - a million light years ahead of anything you could buy as a substitute.  Does that make me cutting edge after all?

Hot Cross Buns
Adapted from Basic Baking by Janet Johnston - free from McDougall's Cookery Service

NB: The original recipe, being printed in the late 60s/early 70s, is in pounds and ounces - I have given alternative weights but if you have scales that work in the older weight, I think it works out better for it.  Change averse, you see.

1lb (450g) plain flour
pinch of salt
2 oz (57g) butter
1 egg
half-pint (284ml) milk and water mixed
grated zest 1 lemon
1 level teaspoon cinnamon
1 level teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
half oz yeast (I use one packet dried yeast) 
2 oz (57g) caster sugar plus 1 tablespoon
4 oz (113g) currants
2 oz (57g) plain flour, mixed to a pastry with enough cold water to bind.
3 tablespoons milk

Sieve half the flour and all the yeast into a bowl.  Gently warm the milk and water until it is lukewarm, then whisk the liquid into the flour, mixing well.  Cove with a damp cloth and put it in a warm place to 'sponge' for 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, sieve the remaining flour, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar, and stir in the currants and lemon zest. Melt the butter and beat in the egg.

Add the dry ingredients to the sponged mixture, and pour in the butter and egg, mixing very thoroughly.

Cover again with a damp cloth, put in a warm place to rise for an hour to an hour and a half, until it has just about doubled in size.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface, and cut into 16 even pieces.  Shape each piece into a round.  Place on a greased and floured baking tray, allowing room for the buns to spread.  

Cut narrow strips of pastry, about 2 inches (6cm) long, place in a cross on top of the buns or make a cross using a knife, and put in a warm place to prove for 40 mins.  

Mix the milk with the tablespoon of sugar.

Preheat the oven to 425F/Gas Mark 7/220C.  Bake for 15 - 20 mins.  About 5 mins before removing from the oven, brush over with milk and sugar.  

Makes 16 buns.


  1. Oooo, it sounds lovely with the lemon zest. One day I will attempt HCB. One day.

  2. I think I may be addicted to hot-cross buns, I have to resist the temptation of eating them all year round. I like to keep things in season and these are definitely reserved for Spring. That said, I wouldn't say no to a Cadbury's Cream Egg in November!!!

    The nice thing about these hot-cross buns is that they have to be eaten (or frozen) fairly quickly. Mine never make it to the freezer so I have a wonderful excuse for eating far too many on one day!

    I'll be thinking of you on 28/3/13 as (work permitting) I'll make myself some hot-cross buns.