What do you look for in a Cross Bun? Flavour? Texture? Both?
The flavour is widespread with the signature spice combination of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. While currants or raisins are traditionally added, other dried fruit such as citrus peel and apricots can be used too; I’ve known recipes where candied fruit such as pineapple and cherries have been included. Actually, one year I added candied ginger to mine. I don’t know how much the fruit influences the overall flavour of the buns, I believe that they are there for textural enjoyment, which brings me to what I look for in a Cross Bun. Texture. How the bun itself looks and how it feels, especially when I bite into it.
For years I have been tweaking my Cross Buns recipe. About 20 years ago I started with my mother’s recipe. Her Cross Buns were like a spiced, enhanced Tennis Roll; there was no glaze, no cross made of icing or flour paste. Mom snipped the top of the raw dough of each bun with the tip of sharp scissors making a cross just before adding them to the oven. The first year living away from home I made mommy’s recipe, primarily for nostalgic reasons (don’t tell her, but I was not a fan of her Cross Buns). I found the bun a bit bland and by Good Friday morning (having baked on Holy Thursday afternoon), the buns were a tad dry for my taste. As I write this I think you must be shaking your head saying that I am too fussy. I’m not. Truly. We ate our Cross Buns with cheese, jam or butter. I wanted to be able to eat the Cross Bun on its own with my tea. I believed then and I still believe now that the bun should be able to stand alone; without the cheese or anything else.
Each year I’d try something different, it wasn’t so much the flavour that eluded me, I had that down-pat, it was the texture. Always too dense for my liking. Sometimes it was perfect on the day it was made and by the next day, it lost its oomph. All was not lost though, I turned uneaten Cross Buns into awesome bread pudding, if I say so myself. In one of my experiments, I added freshly grated coconut to the Cross Buns mixture, it held so much promise, and I was excited. It turned out to be a dud. It wasn’t just dense, it was hard. Good flavour though. Out of my many trials, a takeaway was the addition of ground ginger to the spice mix. Remember I told you at the beginning that once I had added candied ginger? It didn’t really do much for the Cross Buns but the ground ginger to the dried spice mix was a better fit.
Tired of the yearly trials, one year I decided that instead of making Cross Buns I would take the time to determine what it is that I was really after in a Cross Bun and to try and figure out how to make it. This is what I concluded – I want a Cross Bun that is soft like my Butterflap, sticky at the top like a proper Bajan Coconut Turnover and sweet like an Amish White Bread.
There is only so much tweaking one can do with a recipe, after a while, when things are not working out, you need to start from scratch. And that is what I did.
Using my yeast to flour ratio for my Butterflaps, I set about making Cross Buns. Again. While the recipe I came up with was good on its own, I found the buns needed a bit more sweetness, so I opted for an icing glaze in addition to the sugar water topping which was more for looks than taste. I would continue to make this recipe for a few years until one year when I baked the buns on a sheet pan instead of a deep baking dish. The heat circulating around each bun as it baked formed a crust that made the bun a little too crusty for me (you may think it but don’t say it – I am not fussy). It is only then that I realized that I prefer my Cross Buns to have soft sides. A mental note was made that if I ever baked Cross Buns on a sheet pan, to put them close together.
Last year I couldn’t help myself, I was back to tweaking the Cross Buns recipe, the same one that I thought was IT. I felt that some work still needed to be done on the texture – the softness of the bun itself. In making it softer, I decided to enrich the dough with the addition of eggs and melted butter. And as if that was not enough, I determined that there was no rule that the icing must resemble a crucifix; I was going to drizzle the glaze crisscross. Boom!
The eggs and butter not only enriched the dough, they made the buns softer, and the following day they were still soft and nice. These are stand-alone buns. However, eaten with a thick slice of sharp or mature cheddar, they are slap-your-thigh good. I think this is it. This is the Cross Buns recipe for me that checks all the boxes. Did I hear you say – at least for now?
Hot Cross Buns
• 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for work surface
• 1 tablespoon dry instant yeast
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
• ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
• ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
• ¼ teaspoon fine table salt
• ½ cup currants (substitute withraisins)
• 1 ½ cups warm whole milk (110 – 115 degrees F)
• ½ cup white or brown sugar
• 2 large eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
• 3 tablespoons melted butter (unsalted)
• 3 tablespoons white sugar
• 2 tablespoons room temperaturewater
• ¾ cup icing/powdered sugar
• 1 tablespoon lime/lemon juice (milk or water can be substituted)
1. Mix together the flour, yeast, spices and salt in a large bowl; blend well.
2. Toss in currants and mix evenly to distribute in flour mixture.
3. Add sugar to milk and stir to dis solve.
4. Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture; pour in the milk-sugar mixture along wit the eggs and melted butter and bring together the ingredients to form a dough. Turn the dough on to a floured work surface and knead for 5 minutes.
5. Place the dough in a large oiled bowl, rub oil all over the top and sides of the dough, cover and put somewhere warm and draft free to rise for 1 ½ to 2 hours depending on your location. The dough should more than double in size.
6. Brush a 9 x 13 baking dish with oil and set aside.
7. Punch down risen dough to deflate it and cut into 12 equal pieces. Form each piece of dough into a ball and assemble in the dish. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and place some place warm and let rise for 1 hour.
8. 20 minutes before the hour is up, preheat the oven to 375 degrees
For glaze & baking:
1. Mix together the sugar and water and brush the buns just before adding the dish to the oven.
2. Bake for 20 minutes then brush with remaining sugar-water and bake for another 5 to 7 minutes until brown and shiny.
3. Remove dish from oven and rest for 15 minutes then turn buns on to a wire rack (intact) to cool to room temperature.
4. Mix together the icing sugar and lime/lemon juice or water, milk. Transfer to a piping bag or a newzip bag and snip one end. Pipe icing over the buns in the design you prefer. Or simply spoon the icing over the buns.