Last week, during the doughnut extravaganza, some people may have noticed an orange boiling away on the stove in preparation for some hot cross bunning. The orange was not my only do-ahead – I had also soaked sultanas, raisins and currants overnight and made an extremely fragrant sugar syrup (complete with star anise, cinnamon and cloves). This is not the recipe for those hot cross buns. Those ones ended up here.
I can’t say I wasn’t upset, as this was the recipe for the buns from Tivoli Road Bakery, specifically called out on this seemingly authoritative list of Melbourne’s best hot cross bun bakeries at number 3. My experience was not really ‘best of’ list material. Despite all my diligent prep, I quickly found myself with an extremely difficult dough.
I had put all of my ingredients into my processor and mixed according to the instructions. Despite this my dough was less ‘elastic and shiny’ and more ‘the stickiest monster in recorded history’. The sentient dough had lots of plans for what to do next and none of them involved becoming more dough-like. I thought I could wrangle it with a bit of hand kneading. As soon as the sprawling expanse of tacky ooze was on the counter I knew I’d made a huge mistake – the dough and I were inseparable. Now we had embarked on a life as a single super-being I screeched at Maitland to come and add flour. And more flour. And more flour. In the end we added 270g more flour to a dough that only had 500g in it to begin with. With great difficulty we managed to surgically remove the dough from my arms and return it to the mixer. After 10 minutes of this flour-loading and remixing it seemed to have transitioned from a power-hungry glue beast into a regular-ish dough. I was exhausted and put it in the fridge for an overnight prove.
The next morning did not usher in a new day for the dough. Instead it became clear that the additional flour had done the buns more harm than good – the dough was insanely stiff and unmalleable. I decided to try accept my defeat graciously and took great delight in dumping the dough boulder in the bin.
One week later I re-entered the hot cross bun arena. Since then I had consulted another recipe book which cautioned patience and perseverance when dealing with sticky HCB dough. It advocated hand kneading and resting every 2-3 minutes. It required no orange boiling and I felt like it could offer redemption.
This time far less prep was required, I could start on the Friday and finish on the Saturday and feasibly even produce the buns before midday. Even better, when I started mixing the dough was normal. It was actually shiny and elastic and I felt like the tide was turning.
I felt that way right up until the buns were left to prove. Maybe I was just impatient, but after an hour sitting in the warmest spot I had they had shown minimal enthusiasm for expansion. Perhaps it was my decision to substitute dried yeast for fresh (which had to be thawed from frozen and maybe a microwave was involved and maybe that was toxic for the wee organisms) or perhaps it was some less practical mistake.
Things got worse when I went to pipe on the crosses. I had a recovered memory from a few years ago when I had attempted hot cross buns with a friend and enjoyed reasonable success apart from the crossing which had proven basically impossible. Here again I found myself thwarted by the thick paste, which burst my piping bag and then lay glistening maliciously on the bench. I sighed with exasperation for about five minutes until Maitland came to the rescue with a suggestion that we just hand roll bits of the white paste into little cross bits.
After this setback we got down to baking. This also took longer then it should’ve and when I finally removed them from the oven they smelled amazing, looked like darker versions of what had gone into the oven, and generally struck me as underwhelming.
A colleague/friend/home-baking goddess (actually, she very generously gave me this book this recipe came from, Dean Brettschneider’s simply titled Bread. Thanks Nat!) counselled me after my first failure. Aside from agreeing that sticky doughs were part and parcel of the process, she also observed that, no matter how egregious your doughsaster, the taste of hot cross buns fresh from the oven is still pretty damn good.
She was right. Despite being under-sized, under-proved and possibly slightly undercooked, once they were doused in a sugar glaze (I had retained the elaborately spiced one from my first attempt) and slathered in butter, they tasted pretty damn good. Maitland very sweetly declared them ‘the best hot cross buns’ he’d ever tasted.
He’s wrong though, and that’s why I’m not writing out any recipes here. I know that somewhere in between these two recipes there are some properly delicious HCBs to be made…maybe third week is the charm!