“Now it feels like Good Friday,” said my Irish friend A. as she helped me butter hot cross buns still warm from the oven last night.
For as long as I’ve lived in Turin, every Easter I’ve thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a hot cross bun right now?” But hot cross buns are not an Italian Easter tradition, and I’ve never found a decent substitute. (Yes, colomba has dried fruit, but the texture is totally different and there’s no spices.)
This year, I finally decided to make my own. Here’s how I did it:
First, I should note I basically followed this recipe, which you should read for its wonderfully reassuring tone about all things yeasted (“DO NOT TOUCH IT OR WORRY ABOUT IT. IT IS FINE. IT DOES NOT NEED YOU.”) My modifications were in the fruit/spices, and the timing (I am a huge fan of proving dough overnight/24 hours).
Timing: Make the dough the night before. You will need another hour or so for the buns to rise, and about 20 minutes baking time.
340ml full-fat milk
4 cloves (whole, not ground)
grated zest 1 orange
500g strong bread flour (see note below)
1 tsp salt
75g caster sugar
7g sachet fast-action or easy-blend yeast
a good shake of ground cinnamon (maybe 1tsp? I dunno, I never measure spices)
smaller shakes each of ground allspice and nutmeg
1 egg, beaten
~70g sultanas or other dried fruit of your choosing
70g candied peel
(Honestly, I just added dried fruit until it seemed there was enough in the dough. The peel measurement is exact because I used a full little container, but the sultanas were more a matter of tipping them out until the quantity seemed right. I have never managed to find candied peel in anything other than dinky 70g containers here in Italy, if anyone has tips for bulk purchasing, let me know!)
75g plain flour, plus ~3-5 Tbsp water
2 Tbsp sugar
A note about the flour: Apparently, Italian strong flour doesn’t have as much gluten as, eg, Australian strong flour? Considering the bread disasters I’ve had in my time here, I would certainly believe this… I eventually discovered that Carrefour own-brand bread flour has 13g protein/100g flour and it worked well. On the other hand, I suspect the overnight proving is able to make up for a lot of deficiencies in flour/kneading/etc etc.
The night before:
Put the milk and cloves in a small saucepan, bring the milk to the boil then turn off the heat, add the butter and orange zest, and leave to cool to about body temperature.
Meanwhile, mix your dry ingredients — bread flour, salt, yeast, sugar, spices — in a large bowl.
When the milk and butter are at the right temperature, discard the cloves and pour the liquid into a well in the flour mixture. Add the beaten egg. Mix with a wooden spoon/spatula until you have a dough.
Tip the dough out onto a clean lightly-floured surface and knead — stretch, fold, turn — until the dough is smooth and elastic. This will take at least 5 minutes, it took my dough more like 10. (Ten actual mintues as measured with my kitchen clock, not just “I feel like I’ve been kneading for 10 minutes” which usually happens after about 45 seconds.)
Knead in the dried fruit. (You could probably add the dried fruit before all the kneading? But the recipe seemed to think it should happen later in the process.)
Put the dough in a clean bowl and cover with a lid/clingfilm. Pop this in the fridge overnight, mine was in the fridge more like 24 hours. If you are a fancy person you can smear a little vegetable oil over the bowl so the dough doesn’t stick, but I am not a fancy person and my hot cross buns were fine.
On the day of baking:
Punch down the dough (always satisfying), divide it into 12 (larger buns) or 16 (smaller buns). I made 16 but next time I’d make 12, the 16 buns were quite small.
Roll each portion into a nice little ball. Actually, I have no idea how to get nice little balls with my dough and my hot cross buns were correspondingly rustic. Whatever.
Put these about 1″ apart on a tray lined with baking paper, and use a knife to mark Xs in the buns.
Drape over some clingfilm and leave to rise in a warm spot for about an hour. During this time, you’ll want to turn your oven on to preheat to 200C (fan forced).
Just before you put the buns in to bake, you’ll need to pipe on Xs using a paste of the 75g plain flour and just enough water for a thick consistency (add the water a little at a time). I can’t give you any tips for this because A. kindly did this step for me while I was off at a Good Friday service. (You can tell she did it not me because the Xs were really nice.)
Bake for around 20 minutes. These buns took a bit less, you’ll want to keep an eye on them.
While they’re baking, prepare the glaze: Put the water and sugar in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir and bring to the boil, then boil for 3-4 minutes.
Brush the glaze over the buns while they’re still warm.
Smother with butter and enjoy eating with good friends and a cup of tea.