Hot Cross Buns, like turkey stuffing, would appear to be one of those emotional issues where compromise is rare. The ones I grew up with are the best, and there is no question about it. You may think you are making the authentic ones, but you are wrong.
For years, the Critic has been telling me that he makes the best Hot Cross Buns in the world. So this year, I put him to the test: put your money where your mouth is, I told him.
There are similarities between the English Hot Cross Bun and the midwestern USA ones I grew up with: fruit, spices, bread-like buns. But the Critic's version is nevertheless a departure from what my Irish-American grandmother used to bake. Ours used a basic bread dough, sweetened with a bit of vanilla, a cross made in the dough with scissors after the last proofing, and sugar glaze frosting drooled in the cross after baking. Read on for the "authentic" (Ye Olde Englande) version. It has some merit! (Though of course is nowhere near as good as my grandmother used to make...)
So the Critic and his daughter decided to make me some Hot Cross Buns.
Hot Cross Buns
15g fresh yeast
300 ml/1 cup warm milk (do not microwave)
450 g strong white flour (in the US probably called bread flour - it has higher gluten levels) plus extra for kneading
5ml/1 tsp salt
5ml/1 tsp allspice
15ml/3 tsp ground cinnamon
2.5 ml/.5 tsp grated nutmeg
50g/2 oz. caster sugar
75g/3 oz. butter
75g/3 oz. currants (we used raisins)
25g/1 oz. chopped mixed peel (we used chopped dried mango as mixed peel isn't found in French stores)
1 egg, beaten
50g/5 oz. plain flour
For the glaze:
60ml/4 Tbs fresh milk and water, mixed
45ml/3 Tbs caster sugar
1. Dissolve the fresh yeast in the milk. Leave in a warm place for 15 minutes.
2. Put the strong flour, salt, spices and sugar in a bowl. Rub in 50g (2 oz.) of the butter, then stir in the currants and peel (or raisins and dried mango). Make a well in the centre and stir in the egg and yeast mixture and beat together to a soft dough.
3. Turn on to a lightly floured survace and knead for about 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic and no longer sticky. Put into a clean bowl, clover with a clean tea-towel and leave to rise in a warm place for about one hour. It should double in size.
4. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 2-3 minutes. Divide the dough into 12 pieces and shabe into 13 round buns.
5. Place the buns on a greased baking sheet, cover and leave in a warm place for about 30 minutes, until doubled in size.
6. In the meantime, make the pastry for the crosses. (American ed. note: this is the weird part.) Put the plain flour in a bowl and rub in the remaning butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Sir in enough water to bind the mixture together. Knead lightly.
7. Roll out the pastry thinly on a floured surface and cut into thin strips about 9cm/3.5 inches long. Dampen the pastry strips and lay tow on each bun to make crosses.
8. Bake at 190c/375f for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown. For the glaze, heat the milk and water with the sugar. Brush the hot buns twice with the glaze. Then transfer to a wire rack to cool.
Here is a picture of my stepdaughter, Marianne, glazing the baked buns.
And this critic's critique? They were pretty good. I liked the addition of cinnamon and allspice and (especially) nutmeg, but I missed the thick sugary glaze cross. So Vive la Différence!!