My first stop on this adventure was the domestic goddess herself, Nigella. She had a seemingly easy recipe which involved melting the butter and milk, infusing the spices and then mixing in the flour, yeast etc. These buns smelled divine while cooking and looked very artisinal but only tasted good fresh out of the oven. As they cooled they toughened up, rendering them almost inedible a mere 24 hours after baking. I'm not sure if it was that I didn't let them prove long enough but it's not a recipe I'll be repeating. There was also a flat note to the taste, after a while I worked out that it was because there was no salt or sugar in the recipe. It would be vastly improved by the addition of both but that wouldn't change the toughness of the dough.
Not one to be thwarted by a challenge, I went on the hunt for another recipe. I stumbled across this one in the Sydney Morning Herald. It sounded reasonable, if a little plain, but I was willing to give it a go. Poor Mr K offered to take Baby G off my hands while I was mixing and sifting and kneading. I think the lure of a freshly baked spiced and fruited bun had something to do with the offer.
The result? I was really impressed. The buns were tender, yet the crust was robust enough to carry a good slick of butter. Of course, I couldn't help but make some changes to the recipe (noted below) but the end product was delicious. I'd certainly make them again and they are well worth the effort.
Miss Kitty's Favourite Hot Cross Buns (adapted from Wailyn Mar's hot cross buns, from the Blue Ribbon Recipes cookbook)
1 tsp dried yeast
¼ cup sugar
4 cups plain flour
1 ½ cups lukewarm milk
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp ginger
¼ tsp cardamom
1/8 tsp ground cloves
3 tsp cinnamon
Zest of one orange
1 cup raisins (Wailyn uses sultanas and only half a cup)
For the crosses:
3 tblsp plain flour, extra
2 tblsp water
½ tblsp sugar
For the glaze:
1 tbsp sugar, extra
1 tbsp hot water
Lightly grease 18x28cm lamington tin. Mix yeast well with 1 teaspoon each of the sugar and flour, add milk and mix well. Cover and stand in warm place 10 to 15 minutes or until mixture is frothy (it took 20 minutes in my cold kitchen and it never really overly frothed).
Sift sugar, flour, salt and spices, rub in butter, toss in orange zest, add egg, raisins and yeast mixture, and knead lightly to ensure ingredients are thoroughly mixed. At this point the dough with be ridiculously sticky and will adhere to everything. You will likely think you got the measurements all wrong but persist and try and bring it all together until it is well mixed. Add a little extra flour if you think it needs it.
Place dough in lightly oiled or buttered bowl, cover with plastic wrap and clean cloth and stand in a warm place 40 minutes or until dough doubles in bulk (I left it for 1 ¼ hours). Punch dough down, turn out onto floured surface and knead well until smooth and elastic – about 4-5 minutes. Cut into 4 equal pieces then cut each piece into 4, making 16 buns in all – you could make as many as you like but I found this the best way for keeping them even in size. Knead each into a round shape.
Preheat oven to 220C. Put buns in tin and stand in warm place 10 to 15 minutes or until they rise and puff up a little. Make paste by mixing extra plain flour, sugar and water, fill zip lock bag, snip a tiny hole in a corner and pipe a cross on each bun. Bake 10 to 15 minutes (I baked for 20 before they were the requisite burnished golden I desired). Remove from oven and immediately brush with glaze made from mixing extra sugar and hot water.
Cool buns on a wire rack. Consume with copious amount of butter, tea and good company while still warm.
PS: Sydneysiders note that good commercial buns can be bought from Arthur's Bavarian Bakehouse in Pymble, as I discovered on Saturday morning. But nothing tastes as good as homemade ones!