For many, Easter comes with many traditions. And Hot Cross Buns are as synonymous with Easter as chocolate eggs.
HOT and cross. Remember the nursery rhyme? “One a penny, two a penny. Hot cross buns.” The rhyme and the word bun always creates an inner child like excitement that conjures memories of yeast smells oozing from baking.
At the time of year when hot-cross buns are of interest, it felt fitting to make my own version. I read somewhere that hot cross buns are eaten on Good Friday and then somewhere else on Easter Monday. Since time is of the essence for me, I have chosen the edict of the latter.
I have always been averse to traditional hot cross buns and only just felt compelled to bake and eat a variation this year. I don’t care for the sweet, fruit-studded variety. I find the bright, coloured fruit bits to be weird. Their texture disgusting and then to be meshed with spices like nutmeg and clove. NO THANK YOU is the nicest phrase that I can think of.
Since I love to weave some history and fun facts into these blog posts, here’s some of that. The origin of hot-cross buns is pagan. Supposedly, the Saxons ate a similar kind of bun in the spring, during vernal equinox, to honour the goddess of light, Eastre, as she was named for the direction from which the first light of the day first comes.
Rooted in England, a hot-cross bun is called a Chelsea bun, across the pond and sold year round. Then during Easter a cross is formed on the top of the bun by slashing the dough or other baking tricks. There is a theory that the cross was slashed as evidence of pagan belief, to ward off any evil spirits that might jinx the dough and prevent it from rising. Hail to the baking gods.
I’m a self-confessed nostalgic person, and a big lover of baking bread. I love the smell of yeasty dough. I admit I never have enough time in the day, so I rarely have the opportunity to make my own bread. But because of these hot cross buns, I just might get in the habit, more often.
I find making bread has the ability to soothe me and keep me sane. At first, it all looks like a mess. I have tinges of doubt of whether it will actually work out. I always check to see the date of my dried yeast (I’ve had a few incidents of expired yeast). It happens to the best of us. When you mix the yeasty liquid with dry ingredients, it is all clingy and messy. I get flour all over the counter, on my clothes, and even in my hair. But after that initial hurdle, I get reacquainted with my love for making bread. I trust in the magic of it all. You will too, I promise.
Then comes the kneading. The mess transforms into a soft, elastic dough that hugs your palms and your wrists lead the way to roll it left and then right. The repetition is like a nursery rhyme (“One a penny, two a penny…”) so simple, you’ll remember it without effort.
Then after proofing and adding in extras like nuts or chocolate, baking those beauts takes centre stage. Since I am a bookworm at heart, I usually try to read while the baking is happening. This lets me enjoy the words across the page of whatever book I’m reading while the smell wafting through my house brings on a full on smile. Truly this is bliss. Then as I continue on reading, I can eat the baked goodness.
So on to my hot-cross buns. They, like all my recipes have easily crossed ethnic lines. I have removed the gross, luminescent sticky fruit bits and replaced them with chocolate chips. Because who doesn’t love all things chocolate, plus it’s Easter after all. I loaded the dough with cocoa and mini semi-sweet chocolate chips. And then nestled a few white chocolate chips so the cross, so it looks more like a bow. Then to infuse them with some Indian influence, I immersed the dough with heady chai spices, like ground cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, and ginger.
What resulted was sweet, fluffy, and irresistibly chocolatey hot cross buns. While these are at their best when served warm, preferably soon after they have been baked, a quick toasting and a slather of butter would more than salvage a day-old bun. And if you happen to have extras two days later (you won’t, but in case you do) turn these Triple Chocolate Chai Hot Cross Buns into bread pudding and eat for breakfast, of course.
Triple Chocolate Chai Hot Cross Buns
2 tsp dry yeast
1 1/2 cups milk, warmed
1/4 cup sugar
4 1/4 cups flour, sifter
1/2 cup cacao powder, sifted
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
½ tsp ground cardamom
4 tablespoons butter, chilled, chopped into smaller pieces
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips
Handful of white chocolate chops
1/2 cup flour
2 teaspoons caster sugar
1 tablespoon cacao powder
water to make a paste
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon water
Combine the yeast, warm milk and one tablespoon of the sugar in a bowl. Whisk well and let yeast proof for about 15 minutes.
Combine flour, cacao and spices in a large bowl. Add the butter and using your fingers rub it into the flour, until it is well incorporated. Add the yeast mixture, egg and remaining sugar. Mix well.
Place dough onto a well-floured surface and knead for 5 minutes until the dough is glossy, smooth and soft. Place the dough into a well-oiled bowl, cover and leave in a warm place to double in size, about an hour.
Take the dough and punch it out and knead lightly. Add the chocolate chips and knead until well combined. Divide the dough into 15 portions and place on baking tray. Cover and allow to rest for 40 minutes.
Flour Paste: Combine the ingredients use a plastic sandwich bag with the corner snipped off to pipe crosses onto buns. Add white chocolate chips to the centre. Bake in the oven for 13 to 15 minutes.
Glaze: Combine the sugar and water on a medium/high heat until the sugar has melted. Remove the tray from the oven and allow the buns to cool for 5 minutes before placing on cooling rack. Brush the tops generously with the glaze and allow to cool completely before serving with butter.