This recipe is taken from George Read’s mid-nineteenth century “The Complete Biscuit and Gingerbread Baker’s Assistant” (1854). It is a comprehensive handbook of all the recipes a baker might need, covering biscuits both hard and soft, cakes, gingerbread, buns, muffins and crumpets. It is available as a free-to-download PDF here.
Obviously commercial bakers would be dealing in much greater quantities than home-bakers today, so the recipes need to be scaled down. This one I have scaled to 1/35 of the original.
This is a very understated recipe, with just a spoonful of mixed spice and some currants, but the dough, enriched with butter and sugar, benefits from a long overnight rise, and bakes to an ethereally light and tender crumb.
Another difference is the crosses, which, unlike modern recipes, require no second dough – they are cut into the rising buns. Victorian bakers would have a specialised tool called a bun docker, but I find a pizza cutter does the job just fine.
If you’d made curd cheese recently, or have had some milk turn sour, whey makes excellent soft buns. Alternately, use half milk and half water.
Hot Cross Buns
Makes 20 buns, ready by 8.30am(ish) Good Friday Morning. If you haven’t got barm, use regular yeast and adjust the liquid levels accordingly to give 400ml in total.
250ml whey/milk + water – warmed
500g strong white bread flour
80g soft brown sugar – dark or light
100g unsalted butter
5g mixed spice
1 large yolk for glazing
2tbs caster sugar
- Maundy Thursday Night – 10pm or 1 hour before bed, whichever is earlier.
- Mix 50g of the flour with the barm and the warm whey/milk &water. Set aside to work for 30 minutes.
- Put the currants into a bowl and cover with warm water to plump them.
- Put the rest of the flour into a food processor with the butter, sugar, salt and spice and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
- When the barm mixture is showing bubbles, add the flour mixture and combine. Knead by hand for 10 minutes. If you’re using a mixer and a dough hook, set it to the lowest possible speed for 10 minutes, then the highest speed for two minutes. You want the dough to be elastic, but probably a little more moist than regular dough – the long rise time is very drying and if the dough is too stiff to begin with, it will restrict the rise.
- Drain and dry the currants. Add them to the dough and knead them in.
- Turn out the dough and divide into 60g pieces (should be around 20).
- For each piece, fold in the edges to the middle, turn over and roll under a cupped hand to a ball. Arrange on a baking sheet¹ lined with parchment paper in four rows of five.
- Spritz the buns with water. Grease the underside of some cling film by brushing it with oil and stretching it over the tin. The cling film will help keep the air around the buns moist. The buns shouldn’t rise high enough to tough the cling film, but if they do, having it greased will keep the dough from sticking to it, and being pulled out of shape when it is removed.
- Slide the tray of buns into the oven to rise overnight.
- Good Friday Morning
- As early as possible, as soon as you get up (6.00am here), cut the crosses into the buns. Use the flat end of a palette knife or a pizza wheel. Dip your implement into some flour and press into the top of the buns twice, at right-angles. No back-and-forth motion is required. The cuts should be in the centre of the buns and not break the edges. Be sure to re-flour your implement before each cut.
- Re-cover with the cling film and allow to finish rising. I left mine for two more hours, making for a total of 9 hours rising. Yours might vary. Decide the time based on how your buns look. If they look ready to bake when you get up, brush them with the egg glaze and use a baker’s lame/razor-blade/sharp knife to lightly cut the crosses (don’t deflate the dough!) and bake immediately.
- Heat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
- Whisk the egg yolk with 1 tablespoon of water and brush lightly over the buns.
- Bake for 15 minutes, turning the tray around half-way through to help them colour evenly.
- While they are baking, heat the milk and sugar in a small pan until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside to cool.
- After the buns have baked for 15 minutes, brush them over with the milk/sugar mixture and bake for a further five minutes until shiny and golden.
- Remove from the oven, cover with a clean cloth (to keep them soft) and allow to cool in the tin.
¹ The best baking sheet, in my experience, is the shelf that (usually? sometimes?) comes with the oven, with a 4-5cm raised rim all around. This can be helpful to support clingfilm during the overnight rise (the buns are small and won’t rise too high).