Hot cross puns

Just in time for Easter - and my first successful foray into enriched sourdough! I adapted my existing recipe to incorporate sourdough starter instead of yeast, and quite daringly decided to try and make it in a no-knead fashion, which is how I make regular bread… Results were pretty damn good and meant I didn’t have to get the mixer out at all, or put in much physical effort myself. Always a win!

As with mince pies, I love the idea but the classic versions are usually a bit heavy on things that I am not a fan of - currants, mixed peel, cloves (I don’t hate cloves as a rule, just in these circumstances, before you bite my head off). Also they can easily be too soft and claggy or dry or hard, and getting enough fruit into the dough isn’t easy, because the more you put in, the harder it is to get a decently risen, still round well-proved bun, but if you skimp you end up with sadness.

My solution to this is to put a bit more fruit into the dough than it can handle, and let some of it fall out along the way, whilst trying to keep as much of it as possible. Even then, I think more fruit would be desirable. That, combined with the constant nagging for a dairy free or vegan version (though I am going to cheat dramatically by stretching the definition of a hot cross bun to the max), is leading me to a hot cross bun sourdough loaf, which I will make this weekend in time to be demolished and / or taken on holiday with us next week.

These take a bit of time to make - 3-4 hours for the sponge, then another 3-4 to develop the dough, then rest in the fridge overnight, then shape, then prove (2-4 hours at room temp, depending on how warm, or over night in the fridge), then bake. But the effort isn’t massive for the extremely yummy reward. You can also freeze the balls of dough once shaped, and prove them at room temperature over night ready to bake in the morning.

Sourdough, Apple & Rye Hot Cross Buns

Makes 14-16

Ingredients

For the sponge:

100g strong plain flour

100g light rye flour

100g sourdough starter (100% hydration)

350g scalded full-fat milk (to scald, place in a saucepan over the heat and bring just to the point of boiling, then turn off and leave to cool)


For the fruit:

150g sultanas

1 black teabag

Boiling water

2 medium sized Bramley apples

1 tbsp golden caster sugar


For the dough:

250g strong plain flour

250g T45 flour

(you can use 500g of strong plain flour if you don’t have the T45)

1/2 tsp ground mixed spice

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground cardamom

75g golden caster sugar

2 tsp fine sea salt

3 medium eggs

100g softened unsalted butter, cut into chunks


For the crosses:

100g plain flour

50g icing sugar

A pinch of salt

A large pinch of ground cinnamon

2 tsp cold pressed rapeseed oil

Water


To glaze:

120g full fat milk

25g golden caster sugar


Method

  1. Make the sponge - whisk all the ingredients together in a medium sized bowl, to form a thick, smooth batter. Cover and leave for 3-4 hours at room temperature. It will rise and bubble and at least double in size.

  2. Whilst the sponge is doing its thing, get the fruit ready. Preheat your oven to 200C. Steep the tea bag in boiling water, brew for a couple of minutes, then remove the bag and soak the sultanas in the tea for at least 3-4 hours, or overnight. Drain and set aside when ready. For the apples, peel and dice into 1.5cm cubes. Toss in the sugar and place into a baking tray lined with parchment. Roast for 8-10 minutes until starting to brown and soften. Leave to cool.

  3. For the dough, place the flours, salt, sugar and spices into a bowl and mix together. Throw in the sponge, eggs and butter and mix together with your hands or a dough scraper to form a cohesive but still shaggy dough. Everything should be well incorporated, but it will be rough looking, and there may be the odd small chunk of unmixed butter visible. Leave for half an hour, covered.

  4. Fold the dough by lifting up from one end, pulling / stretching it and folding it on top of itself. Give the bowl a quarter turn and do the same again, repeat until you have folded the dough on top of itself 4 times and it will look a bit smoother and elastic. Leave for another half an hour.

  5. Repeat this folding process then leave for another 30mins. Each time you stretch and fold it you help to organise the gluten which is developing as the dough bulk proves, and each time you will see the dough is a little more elastic.

  6. Now the fruit - throw it into the bowl and repeat the folding process, now gently trying to incorporate it throughout the dough as you stretch and fold it. Leave for another 30 mins.

  7. Fold the dough again. If it’s nice and elastic you can put it into the fridge to prove overnight (covered), otherwise, leave again, and fold one more final time before refrigerating.

  8. The next day, shape the dough - flour your work surface. Divide the dough into 14-16 or weigh out individual buns for precision - around 100g each. Once you have split the dough, carefully roll each into a ball. You want to keep the fruit inside, and not poking through the top (or the buns will burst and the fruit will burn) and to keep a nice smooth skin on the surface.

    Use a lightly floured surface, fold the dough in on itself to form a rough ball with a seam on the bottom. Try to tuck all the fruit in if you can. Turn it over, then use your hand over the dough to roll into neat balls. You can use the pressure of your hands and the rolling action to roll any pesky fruit that sticks out back into the ball. If you’re unsure how, there are loads of videos online of how to do it, like this one!)

    You can either transfer the rolled buns to a tray lined with paper and wrap and freeze them, or you can transfer to a baking tray lined with parchment to prove - make sure you leave space for them to expand as they prove and then again as they bake. Cover with a large tupperware turned on its head, or oiled cling film.

  9. Leave the buns to prove until they dough stops springing back quickly when pressed - 2-4 hours at room temp depending on how warm it is, or overnight from frozen. You should be able to press your finger (not too hard) into the dough and it leave an indentation rather than springing back straight away.

  10. Preheat the oven to 200C (190C fan). When ready to bake, score a cross into the top of each dough with a super sharp knife or lahm and leave for another 5 minutes. They cross you scored will expand a little as you leave it.

  11. Meanwhile make the crosses - the ingredients together, then dribble in water as you mix to form a thick batter, or pipe-able paste. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a small nozzle.

  12. Pipe the crosses onto the buns - go in long lines across the entire tray in a criss cross fashion until all the crosses are completed.

  13. Bake at for 5mins, then turn the oven down to 180C and bake for another 10mins.

  14. Meanwhile make the glaze - heat the milk and sugar together until the sugar is all dissolved.

  15. Take the buns out of the oven and brush them liberally with the glaze. Return to the oven for another 5-7 minutes until nicely browned, shiny and sticky looking.

  16. Remove from the oven and glaze them again. Leave to cool on the tray until you can handle them, then transfer to a wire rack. Eat as soon as they’re cool enough not to burn your mouth!

  17. Best freshly baked, of course. But can be stored in an airtight container for a couple of days. They’re so spicy and apply and complex from the sourdough, all they really need is butter and a cuppa.