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Easter 2019 – Scotland the Bread Sourdough Hot Cross Buns

This is a sourdough version of the Hot Cross Bun recipe from Bread Matters by Andrew Whitley.

The process takes longer than the yeasted version, naturally, but the resulting buns are full of flavour, with a characteristic slightly chewy texture. Made with Scotland The Bread heritage wholemeal flour, they will taste all the better. The recipe below uses some white flour to make the buns a little lighter. The balance of flours can be adjusted to taste, bearing in mind that the more wholemeal used, the tastier – and more nutritious – the buns will be.

In medieval days it was common for bakers to place a cross on their loaves, perhaps to repel any evil spirits that might infect the bread and prevent it rising.

After the Reformation, such practices were frowned on as ‘popish’, but the cross remained as the symbol for the Easter bun.
Rich, spicy, fruited doughs were allowed at holidays or public burials and by the seventeenth century the hot cross bun was established fare for Maundy Thursday. Until quite recently, people ate hot cross buns on just this one day of the year. Needless to say, supermarket culture has diluted such seasonal pleasure and hot cross buns now appear on shelves as soon as Christmas is over, if not all year round.

Corporate marketing is adept at selling us re-heated morsels of our own history, for what is ‘One a penny, two a penny’ if not the original ‘buy one, get one free’?

To make 16 buns

12-24 hours before you want to make the Hot Cross Bun dough, soak a Fruit mixture and refresh your sourdough (if you haven’t got a sourdough starter on the go, see ‘Stage 1’ of this Bread Matters recipe here , but it takes a few days to build up from scratch).

Production Sourdough (16-hour)

Scotland The Bread Wholemeal flour120g
White flour 60g
Sourdough starter 130g
Water (room temperature) 110g
Total420g

Refresh your old starter with flour and water as above. You can use all wholemeal flour if desired, but don’t use only white flour for this part because it’s lacking in the bioactive elements (natural yeasts and beneficial bacteria) that make a sourdough work well. Mix everything together into a smooth dough, then cover (a lidded tub is good) and leave in a cool place (not the fridge) to ferment.

[You can do a faster four-hour refreshment if you have a reasonably active starter. In this case, use 35°C water and leave the mix to ferment in a warm place.]

 

Fruit Mix

Raisins100g
Sultanas100g
Stem or crystallised ginger, or candied peel70g
Fruit juice, water or spirit (e.g.rum)40g
Total310g

Put everything into a bowl with a well-fitting lid or a strong polythene bag, tie its neck and swirl it around a bit so that the liquid comes into contact with all the dry ingredients. Do this a couple of times over the soaking period if possible.

Then, when the production sourdough is ready…

 

The Main Dough

Production sourdough (from above)400g
White flour100g
Scotland The Bread Wholemeal flour200g
Butter (or olive oil)50g
Raw cane sugar50g
Mixed spice10g
Sea salt (reduce to 2 g if using salted butter)5g
Egg (two medium eggs)100g
Water100g
Fruit Mix (from above)300g
Total1315g

See Method below

 

The Crossing Mix

White flour (or sifted wholemeal) 50g
Olive oil5g
Sourdough starter 10g
Water (warm) 50g
Total115g

Mix all together and ferment for about four hours. The mixture should be bubbling a little and should be fairly runny.

Method

Add the flour, spice, salt, egg, sugar, butter & water (but not the fruit) to the production sourdough and mix until everything is combined well. Knead (or mix in a machine) gently for as long as it takes to develop a soft, fairly smooth dough (the smoothness will depend on the proportion of wholemeal flour in the mix). Scotland The Bread flour has a softer gluten that doesn’t require much kneading. Add a little extra water if the dough becomes too stiff. It must be very soft at this stage. The dough will be tacky on the surface because of the sugar and egg in the mix, so use water on your hands and the worktop to stop it sticking too much. If your dough feels too soft and sticky to handle, it is probably about right!

Put the kneaded dough in a bowl, cover well and leave it for 30 minutes or so. It won’t show many signs of rising in this time, but the gluten will relax which makes folding the fruit in much easier.

Stretch the dough gently out on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle about 25 cm (10”) x 20 cm (8”). Spread the soaked fruit mix over almost all the surface. Roll the dough up carefully, turn it through 90 degrees and roll it gently up again, taking care not to force the fruit through the surface (easier said than done).

Divide into pieces weighing about 80 grams each and, using a little flour on your hands and if necessary on the worktop, mould them into fairly tight, round buns and place them in accurate rows on a baking tray with a 2.5 cm (1”) gap between each bun. Remove any fruit exposed on the top of the rolls and tuck it underneath so that it doesn’t burn and become bitter.  Prove until the buns are almost touching. This may take four or five hours, depending on the vigour of your sourdough. Be patient and remember that the natural sourdough yeasts are struggling with elements (butter, egg, spice, even the extra sugar) in the mix that make life difficult for them.

Place the fermenting crossing mix in a piping bag with a fairly fine nozzle, or cut a very small triangle (the opening should be no
more than 3 mm across) from the corner of a stiff polythene bag and improvise your own piping bag.

Then pipe the crosses onto the buns as neatly as you can. Put the buns in the oven immediately after piping the crosses.

Bake at about 180°C/350°F for 10-15 minutes depending on your oven. Glaze generously as soon as the buns are out of the oven with a mixture of two parts warmed honey to one part whipping cream, thoroughly stirred.

Serve slightly warm and in the company of others.