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MotherBee's Hot Cross Buns - Semana Santa - Reflections, Memories, and Food

Updated: Sep 17, 2023


Hot Cross Buns
Hot Cross Buns

I lived for 37 years in the Philippines, which built a strong foundation for my Christianity and my love of Filipino food but migrating to New Zealand led me to learn a new lifestyle, a new culture and new food.

One dish that I have learnt to appreciate in New Zealand is the Hot Cross Bun. When I was in the Philippines, I had hardly heard of this dish. I only encountered them in baking books and even then I would only look at the photos, read the ingredients and ignore it. During that time, I did not have the courage and determination to try the recipe but I always wondered how it tasted, how it smelt, what the texture was like and what the overall experience of eating such a wonderful bun was like.


I came across this bun for the very first time when I first started working in one of the Italian bakeries here in Auckland. I still remember my first encounter: that busy day we made thousands of buns and the bakers could not cope with the long hours of kneading, forming, baking and packing from morning until evening. Even I had to stop and abandon my primary role in the bakery to extend a hand and ease the backlog. It was fast pace and tiring, but as I smelt the lovely spicy and sweet aroma coming from those freshly baked pieces of bread, my tummy rumbled and I had a heavenly feeling in my mind.


When I first tasted them, I immediately loved the sweet, yeasty and spicy taste and the generous fruity-nutty texture. The bread was rich, aromatic and dense yet moist with a chewy texture. I could finally say that this was the best bread I had ever tasted in my entire life! From then on, just like any New Zealander, I look forward to the coming of each Lenten season in order for me to have another chance to eat these lovely buns.

Due to my new found love of Hot Cross Buns, I have been curious about their origins and history.


Hot Cross Buns’ religious roots date back centuries and according to historians as far back as AD79. Some archaeologists found early versions of Hot Cross Buns in the ruins of Herculaneum in Italy. This is proof that this bread had been baked by early civilizations to celebrate their own beliefs. Egyptians also had their own version, marked with a symbol representing the horns of an ox while the pagan Saxons baked a bread marked with a cross to honor their goddess, Eostre. The mark symbolizes the four phases of the moon.


The Ancient Greeks put marks on top of their bread with four divisions, which resembled a cross believed to symbolize the wheel of life and the four seasons of the earth and gives them the reason to celebrate land’s recovery after the cold season of winter.

For Christians, the cross symbolizes the crucifix and its divinity by breaking the Lenten fast and eating this bread after Good Friday. This is because the bread is rich using eggs, butter and milk, which are usually given up during the Lenten season.

To tie up this data, Queen Elizabeth declared that the selling of Hot Cross Buns outside Good Friday and Christmas in 1592 was prohibited.


There were several beliefs about this bread:

1. It was believed that Hot Cross Buns baked and eaten on Good Friday would protect you against danger or was a miraculous medicine to cure sickness.

2. Another legend that has been passed on through generations was the belief that Hot Cross Buns baked on Good Friday would stay fresh for several years. I read an article once in the UK Telegraph about a 211-year-old Hot Cross Bun. The world’s oldest hot cross bun can be found in Colchester. This is arguably proof that the bread can survive the test of time but for sure there must be a scientific explanation why the bread did not get moldy.


Bakery science

The spices added in this recipe are not just for flavor and taste but they serve as a natural preservative to keep the bread fresher and mold free for a couple of days. On the other hand, spices can potentially reduce the yeast activity thereby, slowing down its capacity to produce gas or create fermentation. The yeast can only take a certain level of spice in the formula and going beyond that will result in a denser, hard, small and heavy bun.

The addition of dried fruit to the recipe will introduce natural fruit sugar that will serve as additional food for the yeast during its fermentation. The dried fruit also increases the fiber content of the product, giving your body a better digestion and healthier gut.

The original recipe uses high protein flour which supports the weight of the added dried fruits in the recipe.


The world’s oldest Hot Cross Bun was preserved due to the spices and the water activity. The available water in the bread is low, which can slow or hinder the growth of bacteria and yeast and molds.


Motherbee’s Hot Cross Buns

Dough

Bread flour, high protein – 545 grams

All-purpose flour – 60 grams

Sugar, white granulated -  80 grams

Yeast, instant – 8 grams

Pumpkin, cooked and mashed – 25 grams

*Milk, liquid – 200 grams

Honey, liquid – 40 grams

Whole eggs – 100 grams

Lemon, zest - from 1 lemon

Orange, zest – from 1 orange

Butter, salted – 100 grams

 

Spice-Fruits and Nuts mixture

Mixed spice  – 1.20 grams (1/2 tsp.)

Cinnamon, powder – 1.40 grams )1/2 tsp.)

Ginger, powder – 0.50 grams (1/4 tsp.)

Nutmeg, ground – 0.70 grams (1/4 tsp.)

Raisins – 85 grams

Currants – 90 grams

Almonds, chopped – 85 grams

Mixed peel – 90 grams

Honey – 30 grams

 

Crosses

All-Purpose Flour – 50 grams

Milk – 75 grams

Sugar, white granulated – 15 grams

*this will be enough for both recipes

 

Glaze

Sugar, white granulated – 40 grams

Water – 60 grams

Honey – 20 grams

*this will be enough for both recipes

 

Procedure for the Bread

Weigh all ingredients in a dry clean container.

2.    A day before you bake the bread, mix the fruit and nuts together with the spice mixture. Leave it covered on top of your bench.

3.    On a clean surface put all dry ingredients (except the spice mix and the fruit and nuts) together and shape them into a mountain, put a hole or crater-like shape in the middle of the dry ingredients.

4.    Pour the liquid ingredients (except for the butter) in the crater (middle) then slowly gather and mix the ingredients until you form a dough.

5.    Start to knead using your hand until the dough is stretchable and has a smooth texture.

6.    Lightly grease a mixing bowl and place the dough and cover with cling wrap.

7.    Let the dough ferment and double in size (time will be depending on the temperature of the environment. The ideal fermentation time is at least 1 hour. This is to allow for the dough to develop a sweet yeasty aroma.

8.    Fold in the spiced-fruits and nuts that you have prepared 1 day in advance. Make sure the mixture is evenly distributed.

9.    Shape into a log and portion into equal pieces at least 50 grams each.

10.    Round them into small balls to smoothen them prior to proving.

11.    Transfer the rounded dough into a pan giving at least 3-4 cm distance from each other.

12.    Cover the pan with cling wrap and prove them in a warm place for 1 hour or until they double in size. You will know if the bread is ready when you smell a sweet yeasty smell, the color and weight become lighter.

13.    Check if the dough is ready for baking: dip your finger into water and lightly tap the dough. If your finger leaves a light impression on the surface of the dough and slowly springs back then your dough is ready for baking (the gluten developed during kneading should be strong enough to hold the gas formed but relaxed enough to expand). If the impression stays then it is over proofed. If when you poke the dough and the impression springs back quickly the dough is under-proofed then you have to continue proofing.

14.    Pipe the cross mixture and create a cross mark on each bun.

15.    Bake in a pre-heated oven set at 150C° for 20 to 25 minutes or until the bread is golden brown.

16.    Quickly brush the glaze on top of the hot baked bread return to the oven for 1-2 minutes then apply a second coat then remove from the oven and leave on the bench for 3 to 5 minutes.

17.    De-tin the bread and put on cooling wires or serve while still hot.

18.    To serve your guests pour honey or chocolate ganache with soft butter on the side.

 

Yield – 30 pieces (50 grams/dough)


Hot Cross Buns
Hot Cross Buns

Here is the basis of this recipe:

Past historical facts:

1. The bread is heavy and dense.

2. Cross marked by a hot iron cross.

3. The flour used is strong flour.

4. Very fruity and has an intense spice taste.


Modern facts:

1. The bread’s texture ranges from dense to light depending on the recipe of the bakery or the person baking them.

2. Cross marked by piping the flour and liquid mixture to create a cross mark.

3. The flour used is strong flour or combination of bread flour and all-purpose flour.

4. The recipe has flavor variations from traditional to chocolate.


Motherbee’s Chocolate Hot Cross Buns

Dough

Bread flour, high protein – 330 grams

All-purpose flour – 300 grams

Cocoa powder, dark Dutch-process – 40 grams

Sugar, white granulated -  100 grams

Yeast, instant – 10 grams

*Cream, thin – 130 grams

Milk, condensed – 50 grams

Whole eggs – 135 grams

Lemon, zest - from 1 lemon

Orange, zest – from 1 orange

Butter, salted – 140 grams

Chocolate, dark – 30 grams

*Chocolate, chips - 200 grams

Spice mix

Mixed spice  – 1.20 grams (1/2 tsp.)

Cinnamon, powder – 1.40 grams )1/2 tsp.)

Ginger, powder – 0.50 grams (1/4 tsp.)

Nutmeg, ground – 0.70 grams (1/4 tsp.)

 

Yield – 32 pieces (50 grams/dough)

 

Procedure – use the same procedure for the traditional hot cross buns.

 

Author’s notes

*milk, liquid/cream – add more if the dough looks dry, just add a little at a time until you get a soft dough that sticks to the hand but not watery.

 

*flours have different moisture and protein levels that will give you a variation on the absorption of liquid, you have to adjust if necessary.

 

*both dough are sticky and wet.

 

Re-heat the bread to revive the soft texture of the bread, re-heat in the microwave at 800 watts power for 10-12 seconds. One important tip do not heat them up more than the required time, it will result in a rubbery, dry and hard bun.

 

One important tip is to lightly sprinkle water evenly around each bread to be reheated then put them in a ceramic container and cover. This process will allow the microwave to generate heat from the water or moisture added prior to reheating and it will not consume the existing moisture available in the product. It will prevent your bread from drying out and will avoid a rubbery texture.

 

Ingredient notes and substitution:

The two most commonly available type of yeast for home bakers are active dry and instant yeast, you can whatever is available but bear in mind that the active dry yeast needs to be dissolved in water before use.

However, the instant yeast is a fast fermenting yeast and can be added directly into the mix without any other extra preparation.

Sultanas – you can substitute with any dried fruits.

Almonds – can be substituted with cashew nuts

Sugar, white granulated -  you can use brown sugar or coconut sugar

Pumpkin, cooked and mashed – you can use cooked mashed potato or kamote (sweet potato)

Milk, liquid – you can use any liquid milk such as evaporated milk

Honey, liquid – you can use corn syrup/glucose, maple syrup or golden syrup

Lemon, zest – you can use lime zest or dayap

Butter, salted – you can use shortening or compound butter

 

Notes on Shelf life

This bread if cooked, handled and packed properly will keep for 7 to 10 days at room temperature but you can also store them in a well-sealed container inside the refrigerator for 10 to 14 days. Take the quantity you require as you need them. You also can freeze the bread and pack them in plastic wrap, then put them in a hard plastic container sealed tightly with and freeze. The bread can be kept up to 6 months then thaw out in the refrigerator overnight and reheat in the oven, toaster or microwave.




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