A Mother Goose Rhyme, Hot Cross Buns have been burnt into my memory since childhood. Today, they take on a raft of different associations from literature; images of the street vendors of Charles Dicken's London or James Boswell breakfasting with Samuel Johnson on Good Friday morning on tea and hot cross buns spring to mind.
Even London's workhouses, again brought to life by Dickens, with their meagre fare attributed significance to the hot cross bun. A Diet Table from an 1831 report on the Cleveland Street workhouse notes "Cross buns one to each on Good Friday." (Because, of course, to be hot cross buns, they would need to be served hot).
Fates and fables are also tied up in the apocryphal history of the hot cross bun. It's said that ladies who could keep a bun, the date of baking pricked into the bread with a pin, for twelve months would find themselves married within the next year.
Hot cross buns hold a specific significance for me, and sadly it's one of failed baking attempts. In 2004 a group of girlfriends from London came up to Scotland to visit at Easter. Likely trying to project the idyll of country living we went for long walks and I baked. The hot cross buns I produced were not at all bun like, more rock cake and resulted in a great deal of mirth. My friends later sent me a copy of Nigella's 'How to be a Domestic Goddess' by way of an ironic thank you.
I haven't attempted hot cross buns since, but decided with some apprehension, to have another shot at it this Easter. I hedged my bets with two sets of dough. The first from Paul Hollywood's recipe, a take on the apple and cinnamon hot cross bun. The second was from BBC Good Food Magazine's March 2020 issue and required overnight proofing in the fridge.
I suspect the current shortage of flour hampered my chances of outright success. With the supermarket shelves bereft of ground grain, it was only in the 'free from' isle that I delighted in laying my hands on a bag of Doves Gluten Free White Bread Flour.
Mr. Hollywood's recipe was made by hand. I found the dough very sticky, but the recipe does note 'a sticky dough' and I've read that it's best to avoid a dough that's too dry as the fruit will soak up the moisture. Mine was so sticky it was hard to knead. Later my hopes of seeing it rise were dashed. Nevertheless, I shaped the dough into twelve rounds and they rose a smidgen. My crosses were a monumental failure; my paste was fine, but my piping nozzle too big. Miraculously, baked for 23 minutes, despite their texture there was something familiar and pleasing about the taste of these buns.
Here they are; dense, under cooked and looking nothing short of a dog's dinner.
So, I was hoping that Barney Desmazery's 'next level hot cross buns' lived up to their name. Again, I was working with gluten free bread flour, but the overnight proof delivered what looked like promising results.
Desmazery's recipe specifies using a food processor, forcing me to dig out my never before used bread hook. This seemed to slice the fruit into teeny tiny fragments, so I double checked my mixer's instructions to ensure I had used the right attachment. It seems I had. After the designated mixing time, my dough was not sticking to the hook, but it had risen significantly in temperature, leading me to consign it to a bowl in the fridge. It certainly doubled in size.
After a good knead and a second proof of significantly longer than 2 hours, my buns hadn't risen in an impressive way that would suggest an outcome I could be proud of. So I sat them atop the oven while it warmed up in the desperate hope this would boost a last minute rise. As per the recipe, they were baked for 20 minutes.
After the debacle of my crosses yesterday, I decided to roll with 'nought cross buns' today, glazed simply with apricot jam.
Gerard Paul has written more on the history of Hot Cross Buns here.