The run-up to Easter is a good time to bake those indulgent treats and this year, we’ve had to wait quite a while as Easter falls late (the first Sunday following the first full moon that follows the Spring equinox, for those that are interested). Anyway, the bakes marking Easter originate from many sources including Christian, Pagan and Jewish among others, and from lots of countries. There should be something for everyone. In previous years, Vanessa has devised a Russian Kulich and Italian Colomba Pasquale.

This year, I asked Vanessa to come up with a hot-cross bun variation that, perhaps selfishly, would be good for me to munch when out on a long bike ride, that is, with the sugars being released slowly rather than the quick blast that supermarket ones give…anything to get me up the hills around here without too much moaning.

Vanessa decided to go one better and to make a variation using almost no refined sugar and instead to get the sweetness from blueberries. She mentioned a study on the positive affect blueberries have on the mood of youngsters too, so these sourdough wholemeal buns are a longer-lasting treat – and good for the parents too during the holiday.

I look forward to the Easter break as the kids can kick back and relax. School seems so much more demanding than I remember. They are also under constant bombardment from brightly coloured sugary snacks - a battleground for many parents. I’m not puritanical about food though; instead I try to bake things that have flavour and something more sophisticated than just sugary sweetness to turn their heads away from junk.

Traditionally made with candied peel

(and if you like, you still can), I have made these buns with blueberries and toasted anise which accentuates the blueberry flavour and sweetness, but purposefully not adding extra sugar. If you want to stay more traditional, leave out the blueberries and anise and add candied peel.

A study I read recently (Khalid, S., et al. (2017)) used pure blueberry juice to demonstrate that the consumption of flavonoids is associated with positively affecting moods in children aged 7 – 10. It might seem a little odd to consider the mood of your children at such a young age, but happy children learn more, they are calmer and good eating habits start young. Blueberries are packed with flavonoids, which are a class of polyphenols (micronutrients) found naturally in fruits, vegetables, tea, coffee and cocoa. Flavonoid consumption has been associated with both vascular and cognitive benefits across the lifespan.

Thinking about Patrick riding his bike and maintaining blood sugars, I’ve used some wholemeal flour in this recipe and a long slow fermentation using sourdough. The wholemeal slows things down and creates flavour, as does the sourdough process. It also increases digestibility and the carbohydrates are released more slowly. I couldn’t resist adding a honey glaze to make them beautifully shiny and to add a hint of sweetness – leave it out if it will stick to your cycling gear.

Serve toasted with cold butter – or simply split and buttered without toasting

…Of course they are also good for grown ups.

Recipe: Blueberry
Hot-Cross Buns


Late evening (ideally 11pm)

Mix the leaven ingredients then leave covered with a damp cloth on the counter for 6–8 hours. It should then be bubbly and ready to use.


1st Ferment (Early morning):

Warm the milk and the butter, in a saucepan until the butter melts. Leave to cool to 30C then beat in the egg. Pour this liquid into the bowl of dry ingredients together with the leaven.

Cover the bowl with a clean damp cloth and leave the dough to rest on the side in the kitchen for 30 minutes. This is called Autolyse. Then add the saline water. Don’t worry if it looks wet, the flour will absorb it as you stretch and fold.


Lift and fold your dough over on itself. Do a quarter turn of your bowl and repeat three more times. Over the next 2.5 hours, using lightly wet hands, lift, and fold your dough every 30 minutes. Becoming ever more gentle with your folds. This process gives you the chance to feel the dough and get a sense of how it is behaving. On the last stretch and fold add the blueberries and lime zest and scatter the toasted anise seeds.


Place the dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 6. Dust very lightly with flour and shape into balls. Transfer onto either greaseproof paper with a sprinkling of semolina or a buttered baking tray that has been lightly dusted with flour. Cover with a damp tea towel and leave to prove for another hour then transfer into the fridge until you are ready to bake the following day.

Next day:

Make the cross mixture

About 4 hours before you want to bake, stir together the cross mixture ingredients. Leave covered with a damp cloth on the counter for 4 hours.

When ready to bake stir in 1 tablespoon of caster sugar and add more water until it is viscous enough to pipe easily but not run.


Preheat the oven to gas mark 7/220C/425F. Take the dough from the fridge.

Transfer the fermented paste into a piping bag. Bake the buns in a cloche for 15-20 minutes. The covered baking ensures that maximum rise for the buns as they are steamed, so the crust strays soft as the dough has its initial rise. Uncover and make the cross on the top of each one using the piping bag. This way the cross stands slightly proud. Bake for a further 10 minutes until lightly golden (with the lid on to maintain softness). When the hot cross buns come out of the oven, mix the honey and water together for the glaze, and brush each hot bun. Pop back in the oven for 2 minutes (again with the lid on).


Khalid, S., et al. (2017).'Effects of acute blueberry flavonoids on mood in children and young adults.' Nutrients. 9(2), 158

Makes 6 buns

20g refreshed starter
90g cold water
90g organic wholemeal flour

225g milk
50g butter
300g strong white flour
100g wholemeal flour
1 egg at room temperature
4g sea salt mixed with 10g of water
200g dried blueberries
zest of 1 lime
1 tbsp toasted anise seeds


10g starter
30g cold water
50g strong white organic flour

1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp warm water

Vanessa Kimbell runs the Sourdough School, Northampton


featured products


Fresh sourdough starter made from organic strong white bread flour and delivered in a convenient pot to keep a small quantity in your fridge between use.

Gilchester Organic 100% Wholemeal Flour | £2.70

Gilchester Organic 100% Wholemeal flour from heritage wheat, milled finely for excellent rising properties, crumb and flavour.

La Cloche Baking Dome | £47.99

Make fantastic bread in your oven every time with a La Cloche. Ensure perfect golden, crackly crust and moist, evenly baked bread with this amazing product, based on 1000s of years of bread baking traditions.

Candied Orange Peel | £3.30

The thick peel from Italian oranges, cooked until tender then simmered in batches of sugar syrup over days, has an honest delicate orange flavour and subtle sweetness perfect for great fruitcakes, Florentines, and biscuits.

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