When I was a child, we were not allowed hot cross buns until Good Friday. In households without a similar restriction, you might have had them before Good Friday but they weren't always available in the shops that long before Easter back in the seventies. These days they have, of course, been in the shops for weeks so the very idea of keeping them for Holy Week, let alone Good Friday, can seem odd.
But hot cross buns are a deeply, anciently, symbolic baking tradition associated with Holy Week and even though I do not stick to the embargo-until-Good-Friday régime of my childhood, I do like to wait at least until Holy Week before making them. Echoes from the Easter story flow like an undercurrent both to making and eating them. It's not just the characteristic cross that marks the surface either. The whole recipe is full of potential symbolism.
I make no apology for telling you that I make the dough in my bread-maker rather than by hand but if you have more time and are so inclined, you can easily make them by hand.
What you need:
2 tsps quick action dried yeast
8 oz / 250 g wholemeal breadmaking flour
8 oz / 250 g white breadmaking flour
1 tsp salt
2 oz / 50 g unsalted butter or a pure, unhydrogenated sunflower margarine
2 oz / 50 g soft light brown muscovado sugar
2 tsps ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground mixed spice
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2 bantam eggs or 1 large egg
50 ml milk and enough water to make up a total of about 360 ml
4 oz / 150 g currants - not normally my favourite dried fruit but here they work really well
For the glaze:
2 tbsps brown sugar
2 tbsps water
What you do:
I use the raisin wholemeal dough programme on my bread-maker which means that I tip all the ingredients in, apart from the currants, and leave it to get on with it, hopefully adding the currants when it beeps so long as I have not gone out of ear-shot! (Aaaaaargh! Why does that always happen?!)
If you want to make the buns by hand, follow any straightforward bread-making recipe using the above ingredients. I think in this case I would melt the butter or margarine in the milk and add the balance of the required liquid as cold water to make a tepid mix that will ease the kneading process. Make sure you add in the currants early if making the buns by hand because adding them in once the dough has formed properly is difficult. The little blighters pop everywhere and will do anything other than stick in the dough! Don't miss the raisin beep if using the bread-maker either because the same difficulty occurs once the dough has got properly springy in the machine. (Nota Bene, Mrs T!)
Once the dough is ready I divide it into 12 pieces
This is much easier than making pastry crosses to appliqué on top.
Leave the buns to recover a little from their cross-shaped cuts on lined baking sheets while you preheat the oven (195 C for my hot fan oven, 200-210 C for a less fierce, non-fan one).
Bake the buns for about 15 minutes until well-risen and browned. In the oven, the deep cuts effectively heal, leaving only a faint marking and making the buns whole again.
While they are baking, boil up the sugar and water for the glaze and when they come out of the oven brush the hot glaze over the top of each one.
You can of course make and enjoy these fragrant, spicy, sticky buns at any time of year but they still have an appropriateness all their own for this week. They are lovely for breakfast. I like them plain and unadorned but others here like them split, toasted and with slivers of cold butter melting into the hot toasted surface and a sunny citrus spoonful of my mother's homemade marmalade sitting on top.