Spring is officially here. I can tell by my itchy nose (I suffer terrible allergies this time of the year), and from the wonderful pastel colours on the trees I saw this morning.
It was 8 am, the time when, on a normal day, I would have been on my 6k run. Instead, I was up early to go to the supermarket for supplies, after almost 10 straight days of hunkering down in my apartment. When I got there there was already a queue that took over the entire front parking lot, with everyone lined up like a giant Nokia snake game, except that there was a one-metre distance between each human dot.
The whole grocery trip took 3 hours. This is not normal.
When I finally got back home, I put on some Pino Daniele on the turntables and scoffed down two hot cross buns in a full fit of stress eating and then almost choked when I realised that we had forgotten to grab both the lamb and the fish. And what was with the two giant packs of crisps? Cooking this week is going to be hella fun.
On a positive note, the delivery for 20 bottles of wine which 🐸 made just 3 days ago arrived just in time for lunch. Thanks to a friend who works in the wine business in Montepulciano (a small town hidden amongst the beautiful rolling hills of Tuscany), we got some top-notch bottles for a really decent price of around 16 euros each. Sweeeeet.
Thus how my days pass right now - never did I imagine to be sitting here discussing the perils of going to the supermarket (literally, now a matter of life and death), nor did I ever feel so much excitement at the arrival of my online wine order.
I tell myself, think happy thoughts. So I think of Easter, and the time I fooled my younger brother into believing that there really was an Easter bunny that came around and hid chocolate eggs all around his room (🐰=me) and I think of hot cross buns.
Not growing up in a religious family, in my mind, Easter is simply chocolate and hot cross buns, and hot cross buns and chocolate are Easter.
I've been making hot cross buns for the last few years now. They take a bit of effort, but they're well worth it. They remind me of home, grabbing bags of them at every grocery trip in the run-up to Easter. We never used to get anything fancy.
Seven years later, these hot cross buns have become something very special to me.
These hot cross buns are soft, fluffy and fragrant with all the classic spices that make for a good hot cross bun. There's warming cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, that play perfectly with fragrant orange. The milk is infused first with the spices, but more spices are added later to the dough as well.
Bread flour gives the buns their structural support, while the eggs and butter add richness. Don't forget to soak the raisins - dry raisins will soak up the moisture from the dough as it bakes, making it drier than it should.
These are delicious the day that they are made, warm straight out of the oven with a smearing of butter.
How to make chocolate chip hot cross buns
To make hot cross buns, you need to prepare the dough, let it rise, shape the dough into buns, and let them rise again before finally baking them. All of this takes at least 3 hours, so I recommend you start early. If you start before lunch, then you will have them ready for afternoon tea. Or get going as soon as you wake up. There's no shortcut to it.
I had posted this recipe before - but this year, in times of Coronavirus, I couldn't go to the markets to find candied orange peel, a classic ingredient in traditional hot cross buns. Instead, I threw in a good dose of chocolate chips to make up for the lack of citrus.
The flavours are still there, the warm spices and orange zest work wonderfully with chocolate chips (what doesn't anyway?).
In times like these, it's important to find whatever works for you.
Chocolate Chip Hot Cross Buns Recipe
Makes 16 buns (or halve the recipe for 8 buns)
A few years ago, I would never have seen myself make my own hot cross buns. Once I started making them, I got hooked. If you are not used to making leavened doughs, it might all sound rather complicated, but trust me, give it a go. Make sure to use good flour and fresh spices, as pre-ground spices lose their flavour quickly and won't give you the fragrant result that you are looking for.
250 ml milk, plus a little extra for glazing
3 cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
450 g strong bread flour
7 g sachet yeast
100 g cold butter, cut into small cubes
50 g caster sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
zest and juice of one orange
2 eggs, lightly beaten
150 g currants
150 g chocolate chips
For the crosses on top:
1/2 cup plain flour
4-5 tablespoons water
For the glaze:
About 2 tablespoons orange marmalade
1 teaspoon water
(alternatively, 1/3 cup sugar, 2 tbs water)
1. Infuse the milk: add the milk, smashed cardamom pods, cinnamon stick, cloves and nutmeg to a small pan and gently heat it until it just starts simmering. Remove from the heat and let the spices infuse for about an hour.
2. Gently reheat the milk so it's warm to the touch, not hot. Pour it through a mesh strainer into a separate bowl and discard the spices. Flour and yeast goes into a large bowl along with the butter. Cut the butter into the flour, so that it roughly resembles bread crumbs. Stir in the sugar, salt, extra cinnamon, and orange zest.
3. Make the dough: Make a well in the middle, and pour in your warm milk and the beaten eggs. Use a fork to mix it all together into a sticky dough. Chuck it onto a lightly floured cutting board and gently knead the dough, about 7-10 minutes, until it looks smooth and feels springy.
4. Place in a lightly oiled bowl (use the previous large bowl if you want), cover with a tea towel and let rise for about an hour in a warm place. The oven turned off with just the light on should do the trick if the temperature in your house is not being supportive. It should approximately double in size.
5. Take your dough and tip it onto a lightly greased surface, and punch it down to knock out some of the air. Add the currants, and chocolate chips if using and gently knead it just enough to get the ingredients incorporated.
6. Line a large baking sheet or two smaller ones with baking paper. Divide the dough into 16 even balls, eyeballing or using the kitchen scales to get them approximately the same size. Round them off by rolling the dough between your palms and place them on the baking paper with 1-2 cm in between each bun. They should expand as they prove and bake. Cover loosely with plastic and put them away in a warm place again to prove for about an hour.
7. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan-forced.
8. The finishing touch: In a small bowl, stir the flour with water to a thick consistency. Scoop it into a zip-lock bag, close it, snip off a 5 mm hole in one corner and go over all the buns to create the crosses.
9. Bake for about 25 minutes, until they are golden and bouncy. Gently heat up the marmalade with a dash of water in a small pan, and brush over all the buns whilst they are still warm. Alternatively, you can use a simple sugar syrup - stir together the sugar and water in the small pan on a gentle heat until the sugar has melted. Brush this over instead.
10. Transfer to a rack to cool completely, or, enjoy them slightly warm with a smearing of salty butter.