Until recently, I had never had any success with making bread, or pizza dough, or anything that is made with yeast. Every attempt ended in failure and frustration. And I just couldn’t get why it never worked for me – I always faithfully followed the recipe. Disillusioned, I gave up and put baking bread in the too hard basket, along with puff pastry and cryptic crosswords.
Despite my track record, last Easter I felt the urge to make hot cross buns. I can’t really explain why. Is there some kind of ancient allure about breadmaking that is impossible to ignore? Or is it just that baking bread is so powerfully evocative? The idea of filling your home with the smell of fresh baked bread, or pulling a tray of warm spicy buns out of the oven, does seem to equate to some kind of domestic nirvana.
I had to try again. But I was determined to avoid the disappointments of past baking, so I consulted a friend, Alex, a chef and something of an expert on yeast. Alex brews his own beer and blogs about it . I had a recipe from Gourmet Traveller, which I emailed to Alex. He emailed me back an edited recipe, with some critical advice and alterations.
I followed Alex’s advice and the result: a triumph! Perfectly chewy and soft aromatic buns that were devoured and exalted by all who came into contact with them. I get emotional just thinking about them.
The most important thing I had to learn about making bread was patience. You can’t rush dough, and all up, making these will take you about 5 hours (although you’re not doing anything for most of it). It’s best to make them on a day when you’re home all day and have lots of other things to do around the house while you’re waiting for the dough to rise. Most recipes gloss over this important point, and I think that is where I’ve gone wrong in the past.
This is mine and Alex’s hot cross bun recipe, sans the cross.
A final word: baking buns is a fantastic activity to do with children. They love seeing the dough “grow”, the punching and kneading, rolling the little balls out, and painting on the glaze, so get them involved 🙂
- 700 g plain flour
- 1/4 cup caster sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 heaped teaspoon salt
- 75 g dried orange peel
- 150 g currants
- zest of an orange
- 300 ml milk
- 1 egg
- teaspoon of caster sugar
- 2 teaspoons powdered yeast
- 100 g butter, chopped
For the glaze:
- 1/4 cup caster sugar
- sprinkling of allspice powder
Makes 16-20 buns
Step 1: Make the dough
Warm the milk to roughly baby bottle temperature, not any hotter, and add the yeast and the teaspoon of sugar and let it stand for about ten minutes to rehydrate the yeast.
Sift the flour into a large bowl, add the quarter cup of caster sugar, spices, currants, orange peel, orange zest and salt and combine.
Add egg to the milk mixture and whisk to combine. Add the milk mixture to the flour mixture, and mix well. Soften the butter and add to the mixture, using your hands to rub in.
Step 2: Knead
Turn the dough out onto a clean floured surface and knead for 10 minutes. Alex says to test the dough you need to do a window pane test – which means stretching the dough without it tearing so you can almost see through it. Just use a small piece.
Step 3: First rise
Put the dough into a clean oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and place somewhere warm for two hours. It should have about doubled in size.
Step 4: Make the balls
Next you “knock back” the dough: take your dough and place it again on a clean floured surface, and press or punch back down to remove any air bubbles. Get a large oiled baking tray or dish ready. Roll out about 20 even sized balls of dough. Roll the balls firmly between the palm of your hand to smooth out large creases. Place the balls next to each other in the tray.
Step 4: second rise
Cover the tray with a damp towel, and leave again in a warm place for about an hour. They will have expanded and should be touching each other.
Step 5: Bake & glaze
Heat the oven to 220, cook for 10 minutes, reduce the heat to 200 and cook for another 10 minutes.
While they are cooking, make the glaze by dissolving the sugar in a little warm water, and stirring in the allspice powder.
Brush over the buns while they are hot.
They are best eaten straight from the oven, cut in half, and spread with butter. 🙂
Freeze any that aren’t eaten on the day of baking.