I don’t particularly like raisins, but I absolutely love Hot Cross Buns with a passion. As Easter treats go, I would always choose a hot cross bun over an Easter egg. This is probably because I haven’t worked out a way to put butter on a chocolate egg yet…my eyes lit up when I saw Dan Lepard’s recent recipe in the Guardian for Spiced Stout Buns as these are a grown up hot cross bun.
Despite my raisin issues, I always keep a bag of mixed dried fruit in the cupboard and I had a spare bottle of stout (from London’s excellent Greenwich based Meantime brewery rather than the Mackesons suggested. Sam Smith’s would be good too, but I think Guinness would be too strong) left over from an adapted version of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s Oxtail with Star Anise from the same copy of the paper. Easter had come a little bit early in my house!
These are relatively easy to make, but do require some time and organisation. The dried fruit is soaked overnight in black tea as you would for a traditional tea loaf and the yeast and stout batter needs to prove overnight as well. Neither of these steps require much more than some simple measuring, making them easy enough to do while your dinner is cooking.
Next day, you should have deliciously plump looking moist fruit with hardly any tea left sloshing around and a fabulously puffy yeasty batter that smells amazing. Yeast, stout and spices are a heady combination, especially when left to ferment. The two different mixtures simply need to combined along with some more flour, melted butter and an egg. Easy enough to do and you should be left with a stiff but malleable dough.
This is where it gets a bit faffy. The dough needs to sit, then be kneaded momentarily, then sit again, then be kneaded again…several times. It’s not difficult, but repeatedly oiling and washing my hands was annoying as hell. The dough then needs to rest for another hour, before being rolled into 100g balls and placed on a baking tray. It then rests again for another 90 minutes. Obviously none of this is tricky, but it is time consuming and means that if you wanted these buns in time for lunch, you would have to get up really rather early. Aim for afternoon tea instead!
The next step is slightly more challenging: getting the cross on your hot cross bun. The recipe is fairly vague about amounts of flour and water and I’m scared I’ll ruin my hard work with an avalanche of home-made glue if I’m not careful. I mixed 2 tablespoons of flour with about 2 and half tablespoons of water and spooned it into my scary looking icing syringe. It was quite runny and might have needed a touch less water. It was surprisingly good fun drawing wee crosses on the buns before they went into a 200˚C oven for 25 minutes.
These cooked beautifully in the time suggested and looked great when I took them out of the oven. I finished them with a glaze of sugar and water to give them the shiny stickiness I associate with hot cross buns. They then looked so beautiful it took all my willpower to let them cool before trying one.
It was worth the brief wait. These buns are soft and doughy without being heavy. The stout adds a subtle flavour to the incredibly moist juicy dried fruit. The top and sides are gloriously sticky and chewy and moreish. But they could do with a lot more spicing to me. There is the merest hint of ginger as an aftertaste, but they are slightly bland to me. I’m kicking myself as I debated doubling the spice, but erred on the side of caution. Do not make the same mistake! I got round it by spreading some cinnamon butter on mine. They would also be good with a strong cheddar.
This recipe made about 14 hefty hot cross buns. I hope they keep for a day or two. This recipe was too time consuming to end up throwing any away. I will leave a few out and freeze the rest. Easter may have come early, but it can stay late too!