The sharp-eyed amongst you will notice that today’s Resolution Result would have been more appropriate in the run up to the Easter holiday, which is now nothing more than a fond but distant memory. Yes, okay, fine, you’ve got me cornered and I’ll willingly own up. I’m constantly playing a game of catch-up, and nowhere will this be more apparent than the times I test and review any seasonal-type recipes. But then again, I ask you, why should lovely pastries and buns like the ones from today’s reviews be consigned to the dead letter file for 51 of the year’s 52 weeks? We’ve only just finished the last of my stash of store-bought hot crossies, and I confess to feeling a bit bereft.
So, join the revolution and don’t just reserve these exclusively for Easter! They’d make a lovely, fruity breakfast bun any old time of the year! When the hot crossie isn’t on duty, as it were, – in its civilian clothes, if you like – its iconic X can serve to represent the location of buried (berried?) treasure. Yeargh, me hearties! If pirates scuttle rather than float your boat, perhaps the X could represent the target for a bombing run, just before you dive on in. For the gentler souls amongst us who prefer to make love, not war, the X could only represent a kiss, which serves double duty as a baked-in, subtle reminder to show your appreciation to the head cook and bottle-washer. Mmmmm. Who’s for some Hot Kiss Buns? If you still weren’t comfortable with any of these options, why include an X at all? Omit it entirely – the integrity of the bun won’t be affected in the slightest – or simply pipe the dough into a different pattern – perhaps an initial or rune!
The Xs on my buffins were largely obliterated due to a heavy hand with the cross dough liquid, but if you squint and tilt your head to the side, you can just about make them out. Consider them an example of interpretive, perhaps prehistoric, art. So, kittens, take heed. When making the sweet dough paste for the crosses, trust me when I say to add the water sparingly – in half teaspoonful increments even. A thick, dry yet pliable paste is what you’re aiming for here. Never mind the advice to use sweet dough that “coats the back of a spoon.” Every year I’ve fallen for that old chestnut, and every year I get runaway, outta control crosses.
For, you see, I have attempted to make hot cross buns previously, but since I’d never made them in this particular fashion, I do hope that you concur that this submission still meets the resolution requirements. All of my previous attempts have been, at best, a bit ropey. No matter what I did, I never managed to achieve the tight, neat little pillows of fruit-flecked golden dough that you get at the bakery. Sometimes the buns wouldn’t rise, preferring instead to flatten and spread out to conquer the entire baking sheet, and other times they’d simply turn out like scones or rock buns, squatting sullenly in craggy, vaguely toadlike shapes on the bake tray.
This is a bit of a cheat” recipe in that it is a breadmaker-assisted recipe. I even leant on the breadmaker manual recipe for “Basic Dough: Hot Cross Bun Variation” for guidance. If your bread machine has a fruit and nut dispenser that you trust, then you could put the fruit in there and allow the machine to drop it in at a time it deems appropriate rather than kneading it in by hand as I have advocated. The reason for my reluctance to rely on the machine, unfortunately, is that I cannot count on my breadmaker to do the right thing when it comes to the dispenser. No, my machine delights in pulverising anything that drops from the dispenser into a fine paste. Once upon a time, I made an olive loaf, placing my trust and an handful of whole, pitted kalamata olives in the dispenser. I had visions of a fluffy, white loaf which, when sliced, would reveal a pristine, snowy interior studded with fat, black olives which would stare lidlessly at you (…Perhaps it’s just as well that the bread machine macerated them.) The reality was, in my opinion, much grimmer, though. The loaf that emerged from the machine offered no clue that it ever harboured olives as a constituent and when sliced, revealed an unappetising, dishwater grey interior which, unsurprisingly, hung about in the breadbox until it started sprouting tiny, blue crop circles. If I were a woman given to flights of anthropomorphisation, I’d imagine that my bread machine was a bit of purist who didn’t stand for any spangly, new-fangled additions which would only adulterate good, honest bread. Clearly, I am not that sort of woman, but I still decided to knead the fruit and peel in the old-fashioned way AFTER letting Ol’ Thrashy have his wicked way with the plain dough first.
As I prepared to embark on 2010’s hot cross failure, I wondered aloud if the smug bakeries with their fancy, perfect buns secretly used moulds to shape and guide the rising dough, and lo, my eyes fell upon the muffin tin resting on the drying rack. “Why not stick them in the cups of a muffin tray?” I thought. Channelling my inner Heston, I tucked a couple of dough balls into unlined, greased cups, another couple in paper fairycake cases and another handful in squares of greaseproof baking parchment, gave them time to rise and then baked them all up together. Of the three methods employed, the greaseproof parchment route exceeded all expectations. The buns in muffin’s clothing rose spectacularly, and they looked perfectly charming and homespun in their rustic, brown paper wrappings. Fresh and warm straight out of the oven, they were spicy, buttery, lemon-scented gems, and they were perfectly amenable to being eaten like muffins. The next day, however, they required a little coaxing to shine as brightly, but they required nothing more than a quick turn in the oven and a lacquering of sweet butter.
Hot cross buffins
1 tsp yeast (fast acting, breadmaker suitable)
3 cups flour (I used strong, white flour, suitable for breadmaking.)
½ tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 – 1/2 cup sugar (depending how sweet you like your hot crossies – 1/4 cup was just right in my opinion)
4 tbsp butter
Zest of one 1 lemon
1 1/2 tbsp powdered milk
1 1/4 cups water, lukewarm (or you could substitute 1 1/4 cups milk and leave out the milk powder entirely)
1 large egg , beaten (2 if they’re small)
3/4 – 1 cup of the dried, mixed fruits of your choice (I used a mixture of currants, muscatel raisins and sour cherries)
1/4 cup mixed peel (if you don’t care for peel, add a bit more of the dried fruit that you DO like.)
2 tbsp plain flour
2 tbsp icing sugar
-enough water or milk to make a thick paste
1 small egg, beaten
1. Place all of the ingredients for the dough, EXCEPT for the dried fruit, into the breadmaker. Make sure to layer these ingredients in the order established by your particular machine’s manual. Select the dough programme and leave it to churn. (If your machine has a fruit and nut dispenser that you trust, you may wish to add your dried fruit there.)
2. Once the dough is ready, tip it out onto a lightly floured surface and punch it down to deflate. It will be very sticky, so keep a small pot of flour nearby to re-powder your hands. If you opted not to use the fruit dispenser on your machine, pat the dough out and sprinkle the dried fruit on top. Fold the dough over to enclose the fruit and then knead well to distribute it evenly.
3. Prepare your muffin tin! Have at the ready several squares, measuring approximately 6×6 inches, of greaseproof baking parchment, and a many-holed muffin tin. Divide the dough into even, uniform pieces – I got 10 clementine-sized pieces from my batch – and then roll them into neat balls. Line the muffin holes with parchment squares and then carefully place a dough ball inside. The ball will protest its fate and try to cling stickily to the parchment, but just be firm with it and encourage it down. To prove the dough, cover the nestled dough balls with a tea towel or cling film and place them in a warm, draught-free location for 45-60 minutes. They should have doubled in size and should now resemble little balloons.
4. While you prepare the sweet dough for the crosses, preheat your oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6. Combine the flour and icing sugar in a small bowl. Keep adding the liquid of your choice in tiny, tiny amounts to the flour/sugar mixture until you achieve a thick, dry, but still pliable dough that is suitable for piping. (I made the mistake of adding too much water at once and then played a losing game of Dry Ingredient Compensation. Don’t be like me.) Once the dough has been proven, using a pastry/piping bag or a plastic bag with a corner snipped off, pipe the sweet dough into crosses, initials, patterns or hieroglyphs on the tops of the buns. If you’re using the glaze, brush the egg wash over the buns now. The oven should now be heated to the correct temperature, so pop the tin in and bake the buns for 15 to 20 minutes or until they’re golden. Let them cool in the tin for a few minutes before removing them onto a cooling rack.