When I was growing up there were rules about Easter. We only started eating hot cross buns on Good Friday and Easter eggs were verboten until after church on Sunday. It was a bit of a surprise to realise that other people didn’t live this way – didn’t they get told off, or go to hell? – but I now think my mother had a point. If you eat hot cross buns or Easter eggs from the moment they arrive in the shops, which is now in late January, there’s nothing to look forward to when Easter actually arrives.
Even so, I found my resolve wobbling enormously last week when I masterminded a hot cross bun taste-off for work. That’s why I developed this loaf, which has all the flavour and aroma of a hot cross bun, but none of the guilt.
One of the best things about the aforementioned hot cross bun test was getting a few tips from Sean Armstrong (who New Zealand readers might have seen on Masterchef recently) about what fruit and spice do to yeast doughs. I tweaked my normal bread recipe accordingly and it worked a treat. I know the instructions look long but this isn’t at all hard. You don’t have to make a cross on top, but it does stop it looking like ordinary fruit toast.
This is also, handily, my entry for April’s Teatime Treats, hosted this month by the lovely Kate, and for April’s Fresh From The Oven, hosted this month by The Little Loaf.
150g dried fruit (a mixture of mixed peel, sultanas and currants is good)
1Tbsp mixed spice
1 1/2 tsp dried yeast
150ml boiling water
500g strong white flour
2Tbsp brown sugar
1/2tsp ground cloves
1 1/2tsp salt
For the cross:
1 egg yolk
milk to mix
For the glaze:
2Tbsp brown sugar
2Tbsp hot water
Put the mixed fruit and mixed spice in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Stir and let soak for at least four hours – overnight is best. Drain and set aside.
Put the milk and boiling water into a bowl. When it’s at blood heat, add the yeast and leave for five minutes to start working.
While that’s happening, put the flour and butter into a freestanding mixer fitted with the paddle beater, and put on low speed until the butter is mixed through. Alternatively, rub the butter through the flour with your fingers.
Add the sugar, cocoa, cloves and salt and stir well. Pour in the yeast and liquid and stir to combine, then use the dough hook on low speed until a dough forms. Tip in the drained fruit and knead with your hands or the dough hook until you have an elastic dough that springs back when touched. It will be quite sticky – this is good.
Form into a ball, put in a greased bowl and cover with a plastic bag. Leave in a warm place until the dough has doubled, about an hour.
Preheat the oven to 200C.
Turn dough out of the bowl and knock back gently. Press into a rectangular shape with your fingers, then roll up tightly. Put into a large, greased loaf tin and let rise again for about 30 minutes, until risen by half.
While you’re waiting, mix the egg yolk and flour together for the cross. Add a little milk if needed. Scrape it into a snaplock bag – there will be lots left over, but you can put it in the fridge for a day and use it for your hot cross buns. Snip a tiny corner of the bag off when you’re ready to use it.
When the loaf is ready to go in the oven, slash a cross in it, then pipe in the gaps.
Bake for 25-35 minutes, until the bottom sounds hollow when tapped.
As soon as it comes out of the oven, brush it with the glaze, which you have made by heating the sugar and water together until dissolved. Let cool completely before slicing.
Did you have these sorts of rules when you were growing up, or was my family completely abnormal?