Hot cross buns

Freshly baked buns

An unexpected pleasure this year has been participating in the panel that’s judging the Guild of Food Writers “Cookery Writer of the Year” award. This particular award is not for cookbooks (my own book is entered for the cookbook award so I couldn’t really be on that panel!) but for articles published in newspapers and magazines during 2017. The five of us judges have each been given 5 recipe articles from 20 different writers, with a view to creating initially a shortlist and then a winner. It was a marathon of reading and thinking about 100 articles (perhaps 400 recipes in total) and their introductions. The breadth of people’s food imagination is remarkable, and I’m excited to have discovered several writers that I wasn’t familiar with – although probably should have been.

Since I’ve only just submitted my shortlist, and the awards ceremony is not until June, I can’t say anything about individual entrants. But the whole process has set off a wave of new recipe cooking at home – including delving again into some books that have been resting on our shelves. On Monday Sarah made a delicious Nigel Slater combination from his Kitchen Diaries vol 3– duck legs slow cooked with port and prunes, plus red cabbage with bacon. I was doubtful about the red cabbage and bacon but wrongly so. The salty cabbaginess made a memorably delicious plateful when eaten alongside the duck and prunes.

Meanwhile, with Easter (and therefore Good Friday) fast approaching, my eye had been caught by a hot cross bun recipe in one of the articles submitted for the GFW awards. I made a first version last week and have tinkered with it in a minor way this week to create the buns pictured here. I think they’re lovely – the diced apple and the spiced glaze giving the deliciously soft dough an extra lift. Taking these buns out of the oven I had to suppress once again my dream of having a little bakery. ’Remember the ridiculously early mornings, Bill, as well as the tricky economics’ I tell myself for the umpteenth time.

‘Mixed spice’ is classic British pudding spice mix which will vary from brand to brand but which generally features cinnamon, cloves, allspice, ginger and nutmeg. I find the combination strangely alluring.

makes 16 buns

This dough is more easily kneaded in a mixer than by hand as it’s rather slack and sticky. As it’s an enriched dough it takes a lot longer to rise than normal bread dough.

340ml milk
50g butter

500g strong white flour
75g caster sugar
7g pckt yeast
5g salt

1 egg, lightly beaten

75g sultanas/raisins
50g mixed peel
1 eating apple, diced 0.5cm
1 tsp mixed spice

For the cross:

75g plain flour and enough water to make a paste like toothpaste

For the glaze

50g sugar
50g water
½ tsp mixed spice

  1. Heat milk to steaming. Add butter and allow to melt. Allow mixture to cool.
  2. In a large mixing bowl (ideally of a Kenwood Chef type mixer) add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Mix together roughly, then mix in the egg and knead for a couple of minutes (or 5 minutes if kneading by hand).
  3. Mix in the raisins, peel, apple and mixed spice and knead again until everything is evenly distributed. Cover with clingfilm and leave for 1½ to 3 hours (depending on the room and dough temperatures) until at least doubled in size.
  4. Line 2 baking sheets each measuring about 26cm x 32cm (or 1 larger one if you’ve got a big oven) with baking parchment. Divide the dough into 16 and arrange evenly on the baking sheets. Don’t attempt to shape the buns as they’re too sticky for this and, in any event, they settle to a nice shape as they rise.
  5. Allow to rise in a warm place until really puffy (1-3 hours depending on room temperature). Pipe on the crosses with the flour paste using a piping bag. If you make a mess (as I usually do) that goes to show that these are home-made buns and none of that shop-bought nonsense.
  6. Bake at 180C (fan) for 20-25 minutes until slightly browned and hollow-sounding when tapped underneath. Remove from the oven.
  7. Put the glaze ingredients in a small pan and heat to boiling point, stirring sufficiently to mix the sugar in to the water. Brush the glaze generously on to the buns whilst they’re still warm.