I haven't as yet got my head around the idea that Easter is almost upon us. I love Easter; it should be like Christmas, but without the hassle. I've got a thing too about Hot Cross Buns: the combination of creamy butter, sweet rasins and yeasty dough have a Proustian effect, bringing back memories of Easters past- when, at least, it was bright, fresh and almost warm. Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah. How memory plays tricks.
Hot Cross Buns are one of those traditional dishes whose origins have been lost in the mists of antiquity. The "crosses" were supposedly meant to ward off evil spirits, and the buns, apparently, were banned by the Protestant church for Popery. You eat them on Good Friday.
Here's the recipe, adapted from Sara Paston-William's definitive book, "Christmas and Festive Day Recipes":
Mix up half a pint of milk and water, and warm it up to blood heat. Stir in 22g of fresh yeast, let the mixture get frothy and let it stand for ten minutes.
Sieve 450g plain flour, a teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of mixed spice,a teaspoon of cinnamon, and some grated nutmeg into a mixing bowl. Stir in 50g of caster sugar. Rub in 50g butter with your fingers. Make a well in the flour mix, pour in the yeasty milk, two beaten eggs, and 175g of currants. Mix it all up to make a dough. Use your hands!
Turn the dough onto a floured board, and knead it with your hands until the dough is elastic. Place it in a warm, greased bowl; sprinkle with flour, and cover with a kitchen towel. If you leave it in a warmish place, the dough should rise.
Once it has doubled in size (this might take over an hour), knock it down, and leave it to rise again for another half an hour. Form the dough into smallish buns. Reserve some of the dough, and roll it out flat. Cut the dough into strips, and place on the top of each bun to form a cross. Set them aside to rest for about fifteen minutes.
Bake them in a pre-set oven at 425F (220C). It might be a good plan to place a tin of water at the bottom of the oven to create a steamy atmosphere. After twenty minutes, the buns should be cooked.
Finish the buns off with a sugar glaze. This is just sugar-water which you have boiled rapidly to form a syrup. Once the syrup is thick enough (and very slightly brown), brush it over the buns.