Easter, to me, is second only to Christmas in the celebration stakes. There’s always time for family and friends to catch up, share some great food and, of course, to eat chocolate!
As a child we used to hard boil eggs, paint them and race them down the hill outside our house. Inside we would have a branch that had been painted white and stuck in a pot and my mum would tie sweets to it for us all to share. Then I had my own children and we started traditions of our own (they cried when we raced eggs down the hill because they did not expect them to break and they wanted to eat them for breakfast!). Easter egg hunts in the garden became the norm with the clues growing ever more complex as they got older. This year my 4 year old grandaughter will be staying and she is already wondering if the Easter rabbit will be coming again – last year he left foot prints all over the house and she was delighted to find eggs and gifts hidden at the end of every trail.
But first there’s Good Friday to look forward to with a lazy lie in, hot cross buns for breakfast and, weather permitting, a walk on the beach.
In the Christian calendar Easter marks the death and resurrection of Christ and feasting marks the end of the lenten fasts. But even if you are not a Christian, there is a very long history of feasting at this time of year as spring arrives and the winter deprivations are at an end. Eggs and lamb have long been traditional spring foods as have spiced breads. In recent years hot cross buns have been the bread of choice, traditionally eaten on Good Friday with the cross to represent the crucifixion. There is even a tradition which claims that spice bread baked on Good Friday will never go stale and you can keep it as a lucky talisman for the rest of the year. In fairness it never lasts long enough in my house to find out if that is true.
Personally, I’m a bit funny about hot cross buns in the same way that I am about mince pies. They seem to be available in the shops all year round and yet, to me, they are part of what makes Easter special and so I prefer to wait until Good Friday before I eat one. I also like to bake my own buns. In the past I have tried all sorts from mass produced supermarket buns to expensive artisan baked buns and they always seem a bit doughy and a bit lacking in flavour.
This recipe from Paul Hollywood (he of the blue eyes and scathing GBBO comments) is more time consuming than many others as it requires 3 separate rising processes of an hour each but I think it is worth it as it helps the dough to develop real flavour. Talking of flavour the original recipe called for 1 tsp of cinnamon but I think it can stand a little more so I have doubled it. You could also try adding mixed spice.
The dough in this recipe is very wet and sticky and you may be tempted to add more flour – don’t. Persevere and, with the help of a scraper, it will come together beautifully.
This recipe also uses the traditional flour and water paste for the cross. This paste doesn’t add anything to the recipe in terms of flavour and some people use icing or sugar paste instead. I really wouldn’t recommend this if you want to toast your hot cross buns – too much sugar in the cross will burn and taste bitter.
I found the original oven temperature (220°C) to be a bit high too, the buns browned before they were baked, so I reduced it to 200ºC. I feel a bit guilty saying this as I don’t really like to presume that I know better than Paul Hollywood (I really don’t) but this worked better for me. Feel free to follow the master – it might work better with your oven.
These buns are delicious served hot, straight from the oven but they also work really well re-heated or, my favourite, toasted and spread with butter the next day.
I hope you all have a lovely Easter, whatever you cook and whatever you eat.
300ml / 11fl oz Full Fat Milk (+ 2 tbsp)
50g / 2oz Butter
500g / 1lb Strong Bread Flour
1 tsp Salt
75 g / 3oz Caster Sugar
1 tbsp Sunflower Oil
7g Sachet of Fast Action or Easy Blend Yeast
1 Egg (beaten)
75g / 3oz Sultanas
50g / 2oz Mixed Peel
Zest of 1 Orange
1 Apple (peeled, cored and finely chopped)
2 tsp Ground Cinnamon
For the Cross
75g / 3oz Plain Flour
For the Glaze
3 tbsp Apricot Jam
Bring the milk to the boil, then remove from the heat and add the butter. Leave to cool until it reaches blood temperature. Put the flour, salt, sugar and yeast into a bowl. Make a well in the centre. Pour in the warm milk and butter mixture and then add the egg. Using a wooden spoon, mix well, then bring everything together with your hands until you have a sticky dough.
Tip onto a lightly floured surface and knead by holding the dough with one hand and stretching it with the heel of the other hand, then folding it back on itself. Repeat for five minutes until smooth and elastic. Put the dough into a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with oiled cling film and leave to rise in a warm place for 1 hour or until doubled in size and a finger pressed into it leaves a dent.
With the dough still in the bowl, tip in the sultanas, mixed peel, orange zest, apple and cinnamon. Knead into the dough, making sure everything is well distributed. Leave to rise for one hour more, or until doubled in size, again, covered in oiled cling film to stop the dough from getting a crust.
Divide the dough into 15 even pieces (about 75g / 3oz per piece). Roll each piece into a smooth ball on a lightly floured work surface. Roll each piece into a smooth ball on a lightly floured work surface. Arrange the buns on one or two baking trays lined with parchment, leaving enough space for the dough to expand. Cover (but don’t wrap) with more oiled cling film, or a clean tea towel, then set aside to prove for one hour more.
Heat the oven to 200ºC/ 400ºF / Gas Mark 6.
Mix the flour with about 5 tbsp water to make a paste for the cross – add the water 1 tbsp at a time, so you add just enough for a thick paste. Spoon into a piping bag with a small nozzle. Pipe a line along each row of buns, then repeat in the other direction to create crosses. Pipe slowly so that the paste curves down the side of the buns.
Bake for 20 minutes on the middle shelf of the oven, until golden brown.
Gently heat the apricot jam to melt, then sieve to get rid of any chunks. While the jam is still warm, brush over the top of the warm buns and leave to cool.