If there's one seasonal food I get excited about in the spring, it's hot cross buns. I'm not searching the supermarkets for chocolate eggs come April, no no — I'm looking for these carb-y delights. They're slightly sweet, soft and scented with warm spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. Exactly what I crave during these sporadically rainy days in the UK.
Although hot cross buns are usually available in UK stores in the weeks between the beginning of Lent and Good Friday, being able to make them yourself means any day of the year can be a hot cross bun day! I tend to feast on them for breakfast, split and toasted with a lot of salted butter and a dab of apricot jam.
Sure, they're bumpy and a bit wonky, but baking them at home also means that you get creative control. I decided to replace the water in the dough with strongly brewed Earl Grey tea, which contains citrusy bergamot and floral notes. It paired perfectly with the lemon and orange zest also in the buns, making them even more fragrant and appropriate for breakfast. You'll normally find hot cross buns dotted with a mixture of currant and sultanas, but I prefer using raisins as I find raisins are more tender and less likely to dry out when baked in the bread dough.
The most important thing though, is the cross. I've seen a few recipes here and there where the cross has been made of cream cheese frosting or some kind of glaze, piped on post-baking. While that does sound good, I can't begin to imagine the amount of smoke that would be produced if anyone attempted to toast an frosting-topped bun. That's why the flour-water paste that they're decorated with here is a better option — no smoke alarm caution required.
Earl Grey Hot Cross Buns
2/3 cup water
3 Earl Grey tea bags
1 (1/4 ounce) packet of dried yeast
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 1/2 cups (16 ounces) all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter
1/3 cup milk
1 large egg
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon mixed spice (see Recipe Notes)
1 lemon, zested
1 orange, zested
1/2 cup currants or raisins
For the "cross" topping:
1/2 cup (2 1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/3 to 1/2 cup water
Milk, for glazing
Oil, for greasing
Apricot jam or golden syrup, for glazing
Bring the water to a boil on the stovetop or in the microwave. Remove from heat and steep the tea bags in the water for 15 minutes. Remove the tea bags, squeezing as much liquid as possible out of them and discard. Let the tea cool until it is lukewarm (about 100°F).
In a small bowl, stir together the brewed tea, yeast, sugar and 1/2 cup of the flour. Set aside for 15 minutes.
Heat the butter and milk together in a small saucepan over a low heat until the butter has just melted; remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Whisk in the egg.
In a large mixing bowl, stir together the remaining flour, salt, mixed spice, lemon zest, orange zest and currants. Pour the tea mixture and the milk mixture over top. Stir together until there are only a few floury patches remaining. Tip the contents of the dough out onto a work surface and knead until smooth, about 10 minutes.
Clean the large mixing bowl and grease with some oil. Place the dough in the bowl, cover with oiled plastic wrap, and leave in a warm place to rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Divide the risen dough evenly into 12 pieces and roll them into balls. Place onto a parchment-lined baking tray spaced a few inches apart. Slash a cross into the top of each bun using a sharp knife or razor. Cover with oiled plastic wrap and leave to rise for 30 minutes until doubled in size.
While the buns are rising, preheat the oven to 350°F.
Make the "cross" topping by stirring together the flour and enough water to make a loose paste. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a small, plain tip (or a sandwich bag with the tip of one of the corners cut off).
Brush the risen buns all over with a little milk then pipe the cross mixture into the cross-shaped cuts.
Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown all over. While still warm, brush them with golden syrup or apricot jam. Cool completely then store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
Mixed spice is available in supermarkets in the UK. It's very similar to pumpkin pie spice or a general "baking spice" mix — it's a mixture of ground cinnamon, cloves, ginger, allspice and nutmeg. You can make it yourself using this recipe.