Aidan Chapman of the Phoenix Bakery in Weymouth likes to do things properly and his annual two-week stint making 1000s of hot-cross buns is no exception. We chatted about them recently and he mentioned his frustration at not being able to get a really good non-chemical clove oil, the flavour that turns a fruit bun into a hot-cross bun (that, and the cross!). So, we decided to have some specially made containing nothing but clove essence suspended in sunflower oil. It is good stuff - and you don't need to use a lot. In return, Aidan generously parted with his special hot-cross bun recipe.
Aidan uses buttermilk in his bakery which, in most parts of Great Britain is now hard to get hold of, although it is readily available in Northern Ireland. The nearest approximation to it in most supermarkets is "cultured buttermilk". You can make a substitute by adding 1tsp fresh lemon juice to 225mL full milk and allow to stand for 5 minutes (see this article in The Telegraph about buttermilk). You may find that a local dairy or farm shop can supply you with buttermilk.
The recipe makes 22 buns which freeze well, aren't difficult and don't take too long to make.
In a large bowl, add all the liquid ingredients, including the egg and the fresh yeast - if using. Whisk briefly to mix in the egg and break up the fresh yeast. Next add all the remaining ingredients and stir together using your dough whisk until the mixture starts to come together and becomes too stiff to stir. Tip onto a lightly floured surface and knead until the dough becomes smooth, which will take a few minutes. Put the ball of dough back into the bowl and leave, covered, for about an hour.
Take the dough from the bowl, back onto the lightly floured worktop and give a quick knead to knock the dough down. Divide the dough into 22 pieces, each around 120g and roll each into a ball, placing them onto lightly oiled baking sheets, pressing them down to flatten them a little. Cover with a damp teatowel and leave for about 40 minutes after which time they should have doubled in size.
Set your oven to 200°C. Now is the time to add the crosses to the buns.
Mix these ingredients using a dough whisk to form a very smooth, lump-free mixture, suitable for a large-nozzled piping bag. Then pipe the mixture across the buns, doing all the parallel lines across all buns before repeating having turned the tray through a right angle to compete the crosses.
Bake the buns for 15-20 minutes until golden, turning once if needed for an even colour. While baking, make your glaze.
For the glaze:Mix all the ingredients and heat gently until melted. Glaze the buns as soon as they come out of the oven, putting them onto a cooling rack first. Tasty sliced and buttered, sliced, buttered and jammed, toasted buttered, toasted, buttered and jammed.