All of the following recipes use the “Sponge and Dough” method described in the Food Culture Article Take Time to make Good Bread. This may also be combined with cool overnight fermentation.
HOT CROSS BUNS
First class ingredients will make your homemade Hot Cross Buns better than any you have ever bought. It really makes a difference to hand cut candied peel and grind spices just before using rather than buying ready prepared alternatives. Likewise use organic stoneground flour if you can – it will give the buns more character, flavour and texture. White stoneground flour is harder to come by than wholemeal so, if you can only find industrial roller-milled white flour, mixing it with a proportion of stoneground wholemeal flour is a good alternative.
Fresh yeast gives the best results, but if you are unable to find it, try to buy traditional dried yeast, such as that made by Allinsons, rather than “easy-blend” or “fast acting” alternatives, which include flour improvers. Use half the quantity of dried yeast to fresh, and halve this again if you have to resort to an easy blend version.
Note that the ferment needs to be made a day in advance.
140g strong white flour
20g fresh yeast
310g stoneground strong white flour (or use 170g industrial white mixed with 140g stoneground wholemeal)
1 tsp salt
3 tsp mixed spice *¹
55g light muscovado sugar
55g butter, melted
1 egg, beaten
85g hand chopped candied lemon peel
For the crosses:
50g plain white household flour
Pinch of baking powder
40 – 50ml water
1 tsp vegetable oil
For the glaze:
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp boiling water
Mix up the ferment 12-18 hours before you want to make the hot cross buns. Heat the water until it feels lukewarm to the touch then stir into the fresh yeast until it is smoothly blended. Mix this liquid into the flour, cover the bowl with cling film and leave in a cool place to rise and drop again.
When you are ready to make the dough, mix together the flours, salt, sugar and spice then create a well in the centre. Melt the butter and pour it into the well together with the beaten egg and 4 fl oz of milk. Stir the liquid with your hand, gradually drawing in some of flour mixture. When the centre is no longer liquid add the ferment from the day before and begin to knead to create a homogenous mixture. Absorption rates vary from flour to flour so be prepared to add more water or flour to get the right consistency – quite moist but manageable. It will take the yeast a little while to recover from these additions, so it pays to cover the dough and let it rest for half an hour or so before kneading in earnest. Whilst the dough is resting you can chop the peel and, if you like, pour a couple of tablespoons of sweet sherry over the sultanas to plump them.
Once the dough is smooth and elastic, stretch it out, as far as it will go without tearing, into a rectangular shape. Scatter the chopped peel over the dough and then fold the bottom third over, followed by the top third. Now give the dough a quarter turn and stretch it out again. This time scatter with the sultanas (minus any excess soaking liquid) and repeat the folding process. Put the dough into a large bowl, cover with cling film and leave in a warm place, such as an airing cupboard, until the dough has doubled in size. This will take about 2 hours at this temperature or see note*2 below for overnight fermentation.
Briefly knead the dough to knock out the air and then divide it into 4. Further divide each quarter into four and shape each piece into a ball. Place these onto greased baking sheets allowing a gap approximately the same size as each ball between them for the dough to rise. It doesn’t matter if the buns just touch as they cook. Cover and put back in a warm place for the dough to rise again, which this time will take about 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, mix together the ingredients to make the crosses. The mixture should be quite firm but just runny enough to pipe. Put the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a broad plain nozzle. Pre-heat the oven to 210ºC/190ºC (fan ovens)/Gas Mark 5.
Pipe a cross over each risen bun. Put the buns into the oven and turn the heat up to 220ºC/200ºC (fan ovens)/Gas Mark 6. Bake for 12-15 minutes until lightly golden in colour. Whilst the buns are baking mix together the ingredients for the glaze and brush over the buns immediately they are removed from the oven.
*¹ Mixed Spice is a blend of predominantly sweet spices that used to be known as Pudding Spice. The exact blend varies but almost always includes cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Other additions might include: coriander seeds, allspice berries and ginger, these latter two providing heat as well as flavour. Elizabeth David recommends: two parts nutmeg, two parts white or black peppercorns (or substitute allspice berries for a milder blend), one part cinnamon bark, one part whole cloves, one part dried ginger root. She further notes…To this mixture a fraction of freshly ground cumin seed can be added. This is particularly successful for Hot Cross Buns.
*² If this rising time is inconvenient, for example if you wish to eat the buns in the morning, the dough can be put in a cold place to rise overnight. The second rising, after the buns have been shaped, should be in a warm place and slightly longer should be allowed for the dough to warm up and begin to rise.
PANARY’S OVERNIGHT LONDON BLOOMER
This recipe is from Paul Merry’s Traditional British bread making course, which he runs from his cookery school Panary . It is based at Cann Mills, near Shaftesbury in Dorset, from where I buy all my stoneground flour. For further detail see www.panary.co.uk or email Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org
Many traditional British loaves were based on this dough, the main differences being down to shape, which might, for example, give more or less crust. On Paul’s course we made a Cottage Loaf from the same dough, using two thirds to form the base with the remaining third, also shaped into a ball, secured to the base by pushing a floured finger right through the middle.
First Stage – The Overnight Sponge
450g/1 lb strong white bread flour
300ml/½ pint cool or luke warm water (depending on ambient temperature)
15g fresh yeast (note: I find 10g quite sufficient, or 5g traditional dried yeast – SW)
Disperse the yeast in the water and then mix in the flour. Mix thoroughly then knead briefly. Cover the bowl with a cloth or plastic sheet, ensuring there is plenty of room for the dough to expand. Leave overnight at room temperature. NB Overnight is a minimum of 6 hours, if more than 12 or if the weather is very hot, half the salt from the second stage can be included to slow down the fermentation.
Second Stage – The Bulk Fermentation
450g/1lb strong white flour
250 – 300 ml/ approx ½pint water
The overnight sponge
Add the flour and salt to the overnight sponge together with sufficient water to bring it all together. Knead vigorously to develop the gluten in the fresh flour.
The maturity of the overnight dough will ensure that the yeast works on the fresh flour of the second stage surprisingly quickly, and if the dough has finished reasonably warm it will probably only require about 1½ hours for its bulk rise. Allow 2-3 hours to prove if the dough has finished cold. To test whether it is properly proved and ready for the next stage, gently poke the dough with a floury finger tip. If the cavity you make stays then it is ready, if it closes over as you withdraw your finger then it needs more time to mature.
Third Stage – Shaping and Final Proof
When you are satisfied that it has matured fully, shape the dough into one huge long loaf or two smaller ones. The rounded ends are important to the look of a London Bloomer. Place the loaves on a baking tray or, if you are baking them on a hot earthenware tile (which would be more authentic) prove them in floured cloths. Once shaped the final proof will take about an hour.
Just before the loaves go into the oven (preheated to 220˚C/Gas Mark 7) make a dozen diagonal cuts across the loaf’s back. Bake for about 30-45 minutes depending on the size of the loaves and the heat of the oven but the loaves should be well baked with a thick and crunchy crust.