The thing I like most about baking hot cross buns is the smell. That gorgeous, sweet spicy smell that fills the whole house – better than any scented candle, and so comforting. With these hot cross buns I used a packet of dried cherries that I had in the cupboard, but any dried fruit will do; I think cranberries would be delicious. Take your time, because slow rising gives the best results. I’m guilty of rushing up to the airing cupboard every five minutes to see if they’ve risen, but, like bread, they always turn out best when you’ve forgotten the dough and it’s puffed up to glorious proportions.
For the spice, you can just use plain old mixed spice, but I love Steenberg’s pumpkin pie mix – it’s got a little bit less going on than traditional mixed spice and seems sweeter, somehow. Oh, and if you’ve popped here from America, welcome! I’ve added measurements for you in brackets.
150ml (5 fl oz) milk
150ml (5 fl oz) water
Zest of one orange
50g (3.5 tbsp) butter
450g (1 lb) strong white bread flour
1 tbsp mixed spice
1 tsp salt
75g (1 1/2 cups) caster sugar
1 x 7g sachet dried yeast
100g (2/3 cup) dried fruit (sultanas, raisins, whatever you have)
For the cross:
2 tbsp flour
1 tsp caster sugar
For the glaze:
1 tbsp orange marmalade, rindless or sieved
Before you start, weigh out all your ingredients. I do this a lot now as I’m a massive scatterbrain and tend to get halfway through a recipe before realising I’ve run out of something. Have a quick pick through the dried fruit to make sure there aren’t any errant stalks in there.
In a small saucepan, gently warm the milk, water, orange zest (use the finest grater you have) and butter until the butter is just melted, then turn off the heat. Let it cool so that when you stick your finger in, it feels like blood temperature, the whisk in the egg (whisk it in while it’s too hot and you’ll have strings of scrambled egg in it – not nice).
While the liquid is cooling, sieve the flour and spice together into a large bowl, then stir in the salt, sugar and dried yeast.
If you’ve got a mixer, pop in all the dry ingredients, then set it on low and slowly pour in the milky mixture until the dough comes together (you might not need all of it, but the dough should be quite sticky), then plug in the dough hook and set it to knead for a good five minutes, or just knead by hand until the dough is smooth and pillowy.
Pop your dough back into the bowl, cover with a cloth or loosely with clingfilm and leave in a warm place until it’s really puffed up and at least doubled in size. Then, just knock it back with your fist and flump it out onto a floured surface. Add the sultanas and knead them in (they keep escaping, but persevere).
Cut the dough in half, then half again and half again. Form each of your 8 pieces into a ball and place them on a floured baking tray. Cover and rise again for a good hour until they’re puffed up.
To add the cross, mix about 2 tablespoons of flour, a teaspoon of caster sugar and enough water to make into a thick paste. Pipe it onto your buns (I use a disposable piping bag, but you can just put it in a plastic sandwich bag and cut off a little corner).
Bake for about 15-20 minutes at 180 degrees C/gas 6 until they’re gloriously golden and sound hollow when patted on the bottom. Finally, when they’re just out of the oven, warm up the marmalade with a splash of water and brush it on for extra glossy stickiness. Eat warm straight out of the oven, or split and toast. Either way, they’re best slathered in butter.