There are certain times of the year that I miss England more than usual – Easter is one of those times. I miss big hollow foil wrapped and commercially themed Easter eggs that only seem to exist in such abundance in England, the conversations about how many Cadbury’s creme eggs so-and-so can eat in one sitting, the double bank holiday and most of all hot cross buns.
Hot cross buns, made famous by the nursery rhyme, were traditionally associated with Good Friday, but they are far too good to be relegated to one day a year, and now it seems you can buy them for a very extended spring season. When I was a hungry rower we used to buy bags of hot cross buns fresh from the oven at Manuel’s bakery on Lower Richmond Road and wolf them down by the dozen.
One thing that has stopped me from making hot cross buns since I have been in the states, is that I hadn’t been able to find candied peel, and while opinions on the matter may vary, for me it is an essential ingredient. This year I found candied lemon peel on sale in the grocery store after christmas – apparently they only sell it in December for Christmas fruit cakes. While not quite the same as the English version, it would do.
The recipe I used was from Waitrose Food Illustrated, but when I make them again I will revert to the faithful Delia Smith. Having consulted my veteran bread baking father, I think her method of dissolving the yeast would yield better results. Mine didn’t rise as much as I would have liked. Cooking for Engineers have a step by step guide to Delia’s recipe. For the fruit she uses currants and mixed peel but you can really use any mix of raisins, currants, sultanas (yellow raisins) and candied peel. My local grocery store sells something they called hot cross buns, but these contained dried strawberries and that is just wrong and should not be condoned.
Another British ingredient in hot cross buns is ‘mixed spice‘. The components of this are variable but it generally contains cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg. It can also contain mace, allspice, coriander or cassia. I made my own mix with some pumpkin pie spice and some additions from the cupboard. I used a mix of bread flour and Flying J whole wheat flour.
The Waitrose recipe does have a good method for making the crosses though. You make a paste of flour (4tbsp), oil (1tbsp) and water (3tbsp) and then pipe it on the buns. I think the rolled out crossed can be hard. I didn’t have a piping bag so I snipped the corner off a ziploc bag and it worked really well. They also used honey dissolved in water instead of sugar for the glaze.