My friend Jo popped over to see us yesterday. She is married to a miller who is the fifth generation to work their watermill near Shaftesbury in Dorset. It’s the busiest week of the year for flour millers and bakers, but her husband (who also trained as a professional baker) has a tradition of his own. So as soon as the mill falls silent and all of the deliveries are completed, instead of putting his feet up beside the mill pond, their family make Hot Cross Buns together each Good Friday.
For me, Good Friday usually means a busy morning cooking breakfasts and then preparing for a class or evening meal, but this Easter weekend there is another agenda. So I thought it would be a great opportunity to begin a tradition of our own.
My Easter Bun recipe was really simple. Basically I began making the English Muffin dough that I use each morning for the farmhouse guests. (see below)
Once the flour was weighed I added a generous teaspoon of ground mixed spice, half a teaspoon of cinnamon and a whole grated nutmeg. As this is what I had in the pantry but ideally I would have liked to add ground clove as well as a little cumin and coriander.
Following the first rise, I knocked back the dough and added two generous tablespoons of vine fruits and a tablespoon of marmalade. I am not so keen on candied peel and I felt marmalade would add the citrus notes that I was looking for. This was all kneaded into the dough and then i cut the dough into eight equal pieces and the buns were shaped. A cross was cut into each with a very sharp knife so that the dough did not drag. This made quite generous buns so you could easily make a few smaller ones if you prefer, but remember they will not take so long to bake.
Once the buns had proved (second rise), I glazed the buns with a little milk mixed with a teaspoon of sugar and I also mixed 100 g plain flour with enough water to create a paste that was the consistency of toothpaste. This was piped this into the indentation of each cross.
The buns were baked on the second lowest runner in the AGA roasting oven for approximately 15 minutes (conventional method below) and then I removed the buns and glazed again with a little more sweetened milk, transferring them to the floor of the AGA for another 6 – 8 minutes for the last part of cooking.
Once the buns were golden brown and well risen (the base of each sounded hollow when tapped gently) I removed the tray from the oven and transferred them to a cooling rack and glazed them with a little warm honey mixed with a teaspoon of brandy, but warmed and sieved apricot jam would be perfect too.
For the basic bread dough you will need:
450g strong flour
15g or 1 level tablespoon dried yeast
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
425 ml milk (not fridge cold) and lukewarm water measured separately (50:50)
Rice flour for dusting
Weigh out flour. Pre-heat oven*
Activate the dried yeast. First measure the water into a jug and add sugar. Stir well to dissolve then sprinkle yeast on top of water and mix well until completely dissolved and no grains remain. Allow yeast to activate and achieves 4cm of frothy bubbles. Add milk.
While yeast is activating add flour to free standing mixer fitted with dough hook or simply hand mix, combine flour with salt, oil or rub in butter. Add activated yeast to flour, mix to combine and ensure that no dry flour remains. Set machine on low speed until you have achieved a soft and smooth dough that resists to your gentle touch. Or knead by hand for ten minutes.
Grease a large bowl with a little olive oil. Transfer dough to prepared bowl and cover bowl with a clean tea towel. Leave to rise in a draft free place at room temperature for 60 – 75 minutes or until at least doubled in size.
Knock dough back by giving it a gentle knead on a lightly floured board and then divide into eight portions. Dust a little rice flour on your hands and shape each bun into a neat round disc.
Place each bun on a dusted baking sheet. Return tray to a daft free place and prove for 25 – 45 minutes. The length of time will depend on the temperature in kitchen. The buns should resist to your gentle touch once more.
Preheat your conventional oven to 200 C Gas Mark 6 before baking and cook for approximately 15 – 20 minutes in total.
Serve broken in half with butter or keep for the next day and toast.
Cooks tip – Cream 100 g softened butter with orange zest, a pinch of cinnamon and soft brown sugar to taste. Shape into a log and then wrap in grease proof paper. Serve with your hot Easter buns.
Have a great weekend.