Blood Orange, Honey & Saffron Hot Cross Buns
We sit at the low table with the fruit-patterned tablecloth, mugs of caffe latte steaming before us and Lorenzo watches in awe-filled silence as the opaque slabs of butter melt into transparent pools on the craggy surface of a split and toasted Hot Cross Bun. Fat raisins glint with expectation, some of them cut open to show wet brown insides, smudged into the dough where the bun has been sliced. There are orange flecks of homemade peel, tiny specks of nutmeg and cinnamon, a golden-brown hue of saffron and the scent of orange, honey, butter and spices.
He cradles his mug of coffee and takes a bite of warm, buttered bun. Teeth sink into soft, scented dough, a raisin bursts in his mouth. I don’t usually like raisins, he says.
Yes. He says, exhaling softly, holding his bun up to the light like a holy relic. You English know about breakfast.
Except that Hot Cross Buns in my family were always for tea.
In truth there is no time that is bad for these buns, and these are welcome all year around without the crosses too; both children and adults adore them. They make a magnificent breakfast. The quantity of eggs and butter mean they are wonderfully rich, a truly enriched dough, but using all bread flour rather than plain ensures they stay bready, too, rather than come out as little cakes. Having said that they are perfectly edible untoasted and unbuttered, the choice is yours. I add no sugar, as I like the sweetness to come purely from the honey, which adds its own fragrant flavour too.
Though the recipe says make a ‘starter’ don’t be put off; this is not something you have to mix up days, nights or hours in advance. It is good to leave it an hour to give the yeast a kick-start before you slow it down with all that butter, but it is not essential. I’ve been impatient and used it after 20 minutes and things have still worked out fine. Like sell-by dates, it’s only advisory.
The saffron gives a delicious exotic whiff and adds a bit of Sardinia to this undoubtedly English Easter treat, as well as contributing to a rich golden colour.
There is only – I hope - one part of this recipe which will potentially irritate, and that is when I urge you to use homemade candied peel. Commercial candied peel has no flavour and rubble-like texture. If you make your own it will make a world of difference. If you can’t face it, just add the fresh zest of another orange and give yourself a break.
Note: Make sure the butter is taken out of the fridge in good time and softens nicely otherwise it won’t mix evenly into the dough. This is particularly important if you are mixing by hand. If you are mixing by machine it matters less, as the force of the machine will help break down the butter and incorporate it. A dough scraper is advisory, as it will help you enormously handle the sticky dough.
Makes 10 buns
220g bread flour
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
Good Pinch (1/4 tsp) of ground saffron
Good Pinch (1/4 tsp) of ground cloves
Zest of 2 blood oranges (squeeze the juice and reserve for later)
20g fresh yeast (or 10g dried yeast)
200ml warm water (blood temp)
For the final dough:
400g bread flour
2 egg yolks
130g butter, softened
100 g (home-made) candied peel, drained and dried of any juice and finely diced
170g raisins (soaked in orange juice)
For the Cross:
80g plain flour
Pinch of salt and pinch of sugar
To brush & glaze: milk and more honey
Soak the raisins in the orange juice and allow them to absorb it all and soften up (stir them occasionally and you will notice they plump and soften after half an hour or so).
Melt the yeast and honey in the warm water, whisking well to dissolve, and then whisk all of the ingredients for the starter together and cover. Leave for 1 hour.
Add the remaining ingredients for the final dough and mix in a mixer until you have a smooth, even dough. This will take a fair amount of kneading/mixing. If doing by hand, this will look very messy at first, but revel in the kneading process as it comes together as a fairly uniform but slightly sticky dough. It will be a little tacky, but don’t worry. Leave to rise overnight in the fridge well covered, or at room temperature for 1hour – 90 minutes, until doubled in size.
Using a dough scraper and oiling your scales, work surface and hands with a flavourless oil, cut and shape the dough into balls of 130g.
Place the balls on a large baking tray lined with greaseproof paper a few inches apart. Tuck them away somewhere warm and draft-less to keep them out of mischief. This could be inside the oven (turned off!) if you are short of space – as I am.
Let them rise for 1 hour – 90 minutes, until doubled in size. (this stage can also be done overnight in the fridge)
Remove the buns from their safe place and turn the oven to 180.
Brush the buns evenly with milk and a pastry brush.
Mix the ingredients for the cross together in a bowl. Make a little piping bag out of grease-proof paper or use a piping bag with a small nozzle and decant the mixture into it. Pipe on the cross.
Bake in the oven for 14-16 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the oven and glaze, whilst still warm, with honey and a pastry brush.
Eat as they are (these buns are good enough to be eaten alone) or split, toasted and topped with slabs of salty butter.
N.B If your dough is very sticky oil is your friend, and will help you work without having to add extra flour, which will mean your buns form a crust.