Sunday 8 April 2012

Easter cooking: Hot Cross Bun's

It's Easter morning and the family has awoken to the heady aroma of Hot Cross Bun embracing them warmly as they rise from their beds. The benefit to having a small child for whom the day began at six a.m is that I could indeed start baking early enough to have fresh Hot Cross Buns ready and on the table for breakfast a couple of hours later.

A traditional Easter bread, the Hot Cross Bun is a spiced dough, slightly sweet and traditionally filled with currants and candied orange peel or zest. The risen bun is topped with a paste of flour and water in the shape of a cross to represent the message of the crucifixion. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth the 1st the ruling Protestant's tried to ban the Hot Cross bun claiming it represented a hold over the people from the Catholic church, from whom the dough was said to originate. Yet as the humble bun proved to be far too popular to ban, the monarch relented slightly and in a compromise allowed them to be baked but only during Christmas and Easter.

So thanks to her majesty I found myself measuring out the ingredients this morning in eager anticipation of the finished product. Starting with 500 grams of white flour, an equal split of strong white bread flour and regular flour. You could use a wholemeal flour if you prefer but as these are a special treat I go with the flow of tradition and that makes my children even more grateful. Next into the mixer goes 5 grams of dried yeast, followed by 50 grams of fine sugar and a good pinch of salt. At this stage we add an egg to the mixer bowl alongside 50 grams of room temperature butter before switching it on low and mixing for two minutes.

The twist comes in the shape of the wonderfully aromatic spices that we now add in to the mix, I think it is a personal taste but we use an amount of freshly grated nutmeg and cardamon. Most English recipes call for Mixed Spice which is a pre-blend of cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice and can be easily bought. Next we add the fruit, again not the most traditional with the addition of sultanas but that is what we prefer and that is how I cook, we make things our own and the recipes in turn become part of who we are as a family. Followed finally 50 grams of candied orange peel or if you prefer the zest of an unwaxed orange.

The mixer goes back on for roughly ten minutes, by which point our dough is silkily smooth and glowing with the promise of good things to come. Then we have to leave the dough to prove for an hour to double in size. Next job is to shape the dough into ball's and place on the baking tray to again prove before the final step that turns these humble fruit buns into their alter ego the Hot Cross Bun.

Using a flour water paste we draw a cross on the top of each bun before finally placing them in a hot oven for ten minutes to bake and go golden brown. When they are ready, brush a glaze of watered down apricot jam onto the warm buns and there they will rest, golden, glowing and smelling simply too delicious to resist.

Which is just as well because at that point there were suddenly three hungry boys called from their slumbers by the spices that persuaded them from their warm cosy beds all the way downstairs to the table. We sat and enjoyed the food, little ones grateful to have their fill of Hot Cross Bun's unaware of the part they have to play in the passing of tradition. I, content with the smell and taste of my own childhood as well as with awareness that these tradition's are such an important part of life away from home. A moment to sit back and enjoy, Happy Easter.


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