Usually, around this time of year, The Canberra Times selects its annual hot cross bun taste testing team. It's a very sought after position. You have to display restraint, a finely-tuned palate, but mainly you have to suck up to the Food & Wine editor in the week's leading up to tasting day.
This year, we're doing something different. Aren't we all. What crazy, unprecedented times. I mean hot cross buns have been available since Boxing Day basically. What is the world coming to?
Has their year-round availability taken some of the mystique out of the hot cross bun? Who hasn't a freezer-full of those soft little ubiquitous supermarket buns.
But don't fret. Quality hot cross buns are still available around town. Three Mills Bakery will deliver them for free if you order more than $40 worth. Sonoma in Braddon is doing its traditional fruit and chocolate "not cross buns". The Knox in Watson debuted in last year's taste test and we were mightily impressed with their traditional and chocolate versions. Order online for pick-up only. The Flute in Fyshwick is still trading, takeaway only, and have a good sized bun that is light and fluffy. And Knead Bakery is Campbell is baking theirs daily for takeaway as well.
But really. You have no excuse now to try your hand at making your own hot cross buns. Don't be put off by this long recipe. We're converts to Natalie Paull and Beatrix Bakes. She explains everything, ideal for the novice baker.
Make some and we'd love to see photographs of your efforts. Email them to email@example.com and there'll be a cookbook for the best effort.
Beatrix Bakes' buns
As the final few hot cross bun batches pass the oven threshold at Beatrix each Easter, I start a little stash of them in the freezer. These are the buns that get me through the subsequent weeks ... a comedown from the headiness of eating two, four, okay, five buns a day (don't judge!). This dough is a tinkered version of my original ninth-grade home economics recipe, with the addition of raw puréed orange - an homage to local bakery Babka's shoo-fly buns. These buns are soft, sticky and redolent with interesting spices.
2 large oranges
100g mixed currants and sultanas
520g plain flour
60g caster sugar
25g full-cream milk powder
12g mixed spice
10g fine sea salt
150ml water, room temperature
20g fresh yeast
75g unsalted butter, soft and squidgy
cooking oil spray
100g caster sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split
finely grated zest of 1 orange (reserved from 1 orange, above)
60g plain flour
5g icing sugar
2g fine sea salt
10ml vegetable oil
50ml water, room temperature
To make the dough, start by finely grating the zest and then juicing one of the oranges. Reserve the zest for the glaze. Soak the currants and sultanas with 20ml of the juice. Trim the bottom off the second orange and chop into chunks, removing any seeds as you go. Put the orange chunks in a food processor and whiz it up - raw and whole - to a pulpy paste. Weigh it: you need 250g, so make up any shortfall with the remaining orange juice. Set aside.
Put the flour, sugar, milk powder, spice and salt in a bowl and swizzle with your fingers to combine. Put the water in the bowl of an electric stand mixer, then add the yeast and stir well to dissolve. Tip the dry ingredients on top, then add the puréed orange and soft butter.
Using the dough hook, knead on speed 2 (above low) for 10 minutes. The dough will go from shaggy to a fully cohesive and very moist dough. With the mixer still on low speed, add the soaked fruit and knead for 5 minutes. The finished dough should look slack and sticky.
I delay the addition of the dried fruit, so they don't knead too long and tear apart, losing their juicy innards.
Remove the bowl from the mixer, spray the top of the dough with cooking oil spray and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside to double in size - about 1 hour at warm room temperature. This is the first prove.
Meanwhile, make the glaze. Put the water, sugar and vanilla bean in a small saucepan, bring to the boil and cook for 30 seconds. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature, then add the reserved orange zest (so the zesty essence isn't lost in the heat).
I like a sticky glaze, but not so sticky that the buns burn in the toaster (during the post-bake days). If you prefer an uber-sticky glaze, simmer the syrup for longer.
Lightly spray a 30cm 40cm heavy baking tray with cooking oil spray and line with baking paper. Choose a smaller tray if you want snuggly buns that bake close together.
When the dough has proved to super soft and fluffy, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Lightly press to deflate the gas out. Cut the dough into 12 95g pieces, then form each piece into a ball and place on the tray in a 4 3 formation. Lightly spray the tops of the dough balls and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm place to prove for 30-50 minutes.* So the oven is ready when the buns are, preheat the oven to 190C.
While the buns are having this final prove, make the cross paste. Combine the flour, icing sugar, salt, oil and water in a bowl and beat together with a wooden spoon until it is a gloopy consistency. If the paste is too thin it will melt; if it's too thick the cross won't adhere properly. Adjust with a little extra flour or water, as needed. Scrape the paste into a disposable piping bag with a small nozzle. If you don't have a nozzle, snip the merest tip off the end of the piping bag.
Check the buns are ready to bake by lightly pressing a greased fingertip into the dough to make an indentation. If the dent doesn't bounce back, they are ready. Pipe the crosses onto the buns. To do this, keep the tip of the bag close to the buns and squeeze a line down the centre of the row of buns. Allow the paste to follow the hills and dales of the buns. Repeat to make all the buns crossed.
Bake for 15-20 minutes, keeping an eye on them after 10 minutes to ensure they aren't cooking too fast.** Get the glaze and a pastry brush ready for the cooked buns. If the glaze doesn't seem syrupy enough to brush, thin it slightly by whisking in a little warm water.
Remove the buns from the oven, place the tray on a wire rack, then immediately swipe a brushful of glaze all over each bun. The sizzle of the syrup hitting the hot buns is a wonderful sound! Allow to cool to warm before splitting and spreading with lots of butter.
* Underproved or flat overproved buns will have a heft, but edible texture. Just eat them as quickly as possible.
** If you burn them, trim and discard the charred crusts and make hot cross bun bread and butter pudding.
Keeps: Best eaten the day they are made. Toast if eating the next day. They freeze and defrost beautifully.
Makes 12 buns.