Lucy Corry’s Blog: What you knead to know about hot cross buns
Lucy, who once skipped a party in order to perfect her hot cross bun dough, shares her most successful recipes and tips ahead of Good Friday.
I love making — and eating — hot cross buns. I’m one of those people who gets outraged at seeing them in supermarkets before the Christmas decorations have come down. The Easter weekends of my childhood were punctuated by going to church and looking for Easter eggs; the Easter weekends of my adulthood are controlled by the ‘ding’ of the timer telling me when the buns are ready.
Embarrassingly, I once turned down a party invitation in my 20s because I wanted to get my dough started for the next morning (what was I thinking?)
As a child, we only ever had hot cross buns on Good Friday and never, ever before. It took me a long time to realise that I didn’t have to religiously adhere to this rule as an adult, and even then it felt like a sinful transgression. Last week my husband produced a packet of supermarket hot cross buns for breakfast and I looked at him like he was breaking a major law.
“You know we don’t have hot cross buns before Good Friday,” I reminded him. “No,” he said. “We just don’t have the ones you make before Good Friday. Supermarket ones don’t count.”
I harrumphed a bit and stayed on my moral high horse until he’d left the house. Then I popped one in the toaster. But only because we didn’t have anything else to eat. And I didn’t enjoy it (much).
While I ate it I mentally flipped through hot cross bun recipes I’ve made. I do this every year as a form of self-flagellation; punishing myself by remembering the over-spiced rocks or the under-salted duds. The most successful recipe I make is one by Dan Lepard, featuring a generous slosh of stout (and some for the cook).
Last year, when lockdown meant stout was missing from the pantry, I made Alice Arndell’s Gourmet Hot Cross Buns (a huge success even though I was missing a few of the ‘gourmet’ ingredients). One year I went truly off-piste and made Little & Friday’s brioche doughnuts instead, taking them to a friend’s hot cross bun party. I warned a friend’s charming husband that they were lethal and he should only eat one. “Oh yes?” he asked, reaching for another. “What will happen if I eat two?”
This year I’ve accidentally upped the ante. On Good Friday, around 30 people aged between nearly 5 and nearly 70 are coming to our place for what I’ve termed a ‘Hot Cross Bunathon’. At this point in proceedings, I’m deeply regretting sending out the invite. But since I can’t leave the country (sob!), it looks like I’ll have to face the music.
I sought advice from pastry chef Jackie Lee Morrison, who makes some of the best hot cross buns in Wellington at Lashings. A Lashings hot cross bun is an intriguingly spiced confection, perfumed with orange zest and studded with single origin chocolate and currants. A shiny orange glaze and a scattering of demerara sugar add stickiness and crunch to the top. They’re about as far as you can get from a pallid supermarket bun or the Marks & Spencer versions Jackie grew up eating in the UK (“there is no mixed peel or raisins in them,” she says firmly).
Easter is bigger than Christmas for Lashings, driven by customers’ hot cross bun cravings. Jackie jokes that she and her small team suffer from post-traumatic stress every Easter as a result, driven by hand-zesting hundreds of oranges, making a secret spice blend and crafting hundreds and hundreds of buns. They’d already clocked up more than 500 buns the week before Easter.
“Good hot cross buns don’t just happen instantly,” Jackie says. “When you’re dealing with any yeast dough you’ve got to give it time and be patient. Remember to treat it like bread, not cake. Allow the gluten strands to develop by kneading it in a machine with a dough hook or by hand. If you don’t allow the gluten to develop, you’ll end up with hard, dense rocks.”
Jackie uses the tangzhong method (an Asian method of bread making that pre-gelatinises starch molecules in the dough so they absorb more moisture — see here for a more detailed explanation). This ensures her buns are soft, fluffy and stay fresh for longer. “It’s an extra step that takes no time and works really well.”
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She also recommends lifting your spice game to make your buns stand out. At Lashings they make their own speculaas-style blend that includes star anise, cardamom and cinnamon. “It’s a really nice, spicy blend and it elevates the buns. If you’re only using cinnamon at home, your buns will be boring.”
So, thus armed with Jackie’s advice, I feel ready for my hot cross bunathon on Friday. I’m just going to update the invite so my guests know exactly how to boost their bun game (or where to buy some good ones from). I’m looking forward to my Good Friday sleep-in already.