These apple and sultana hot cross buns are lightly spiced with cinnamon and make a delicious alternative to the classic hot cross buns.
Homemade hot cross buns taste far superior to the ones that you can buy, I find most of those have no real substance and little flavour. Nothing like a good yeasted bun should be unless you are lucky enough to have good artesian bakery nearby, and while they might be good they are usually substantially more expensive.
Variations on a theme
To me hot cross buns are a big part of Easter, even more than chocolate! The sweet spicy smell of hot cross buns as they bake on Good Friday is a memory etched on my brain and one of my fondest childhood memories. My Dad was a master baker, the bakery was attached to our house and from the hours before dawn to mid-day hot cross buns were baked and sold as fast as they came out the ovens
One of my earliest jobs as a child was helping to pipe the crosses. Easter was a busy time and it was all hands on deck, young children included!
Sadly the family bakery no longer exists, but every year I make at least one batch of traditional hot Cross buns as a family tradition.
While it is hard to beat a classic hot cross bun I also experiment with new variations. Some of my favourites are my sourdough hot cross buns, the pecans, cinnamon and orange buns published on Recipes Made Easy and my sultana, lemon and thyme buns published here on Only Crumbs Remain.
And now an apple and sultana bun which I think could be my favourite variation yet. Spiced with ground cinnamon I think they are delicious!
Too good just for Easter, I shall be making them again throughout the year without the crosses of course. Is it just me or do you find it rather sad seeing hotcross buns in the shops throughout the year?
So how did the hot cross bun come about?
A short history*
The tradition of baking bread marked with a cross takes its roots in Paganism as well as Christianity. The pagan Saxons would bake cross buns at the beginning of spring in honour of the goddess Eostre – most likely being the origin of the name Easter.
The cross represented the rebirth of the world after winter and the four quarters of the moon, as well as the four seasons and the wheel of life.
Later Christians saw the cross as a symbol of the Crucifixion and replaced its meaning with the resurrection of Christ at Easter.
One theory of the origins of the hot cross bun as we know them now dates back to the 14th century when an Anglican monk baked the buns at St Albans Abbey and called them the ‘Alban Bun’. which were distributed to the poor on Good Friday. Instead of the piped cross the cross on these buns were cut with a knife.
The first recorded reference to hot cross buns was in ‘Poor Robin Almanac‘ in the 1700s.
It read: “Good Friday come this month, the old woman runs. With one or two a penny hot cross buns”.
The English nursery rhyme
‘Hot cross buns, hot cross buns!
One ha’penny, two ha’penny, hot cross buns!
If you have no daughters, give them to your sons,
One ha’penny, two ha’penny, hot cross buns!’
was first published in a book called the Christmas Box in London, 1798. Which is also claimed to be used by vendors selling buns around Easter time.
- I use easy blend or fast-action yeast which you just stir into the flour. Do check the use-by date. Old yeast may take much longer to work or even not work at all.
- You can use a stand mixer to make these buns in which case I would leave the fruit out of the initial mix adding it instead after the first rise just before shaping. Over-mixing can cause the fruit to get broken down. That said I find these are easy enough to mix by hand and you do not have to really work the dough as you would for bread. Just a light kneading will do it, so its not hard work.
- When making bread and buns, I cover my bowl with a saucepan lid that fits my bowl or a shower cap - one of those disposable ones that you get when you stay in a hotel. You can reuse it many times, so it is less wasteful and more environmentally friendly than using cling film every time.
- When it comes to covering the buns when they are on the tray, I used to pop them in a plastic carrier bag but I do not have so many hanging around as I used to anymore. A clean damp, well rung out tea towel does the job. Hang it in front of the oven during baking to help speed up drying it out afterwards.
- Making your own buns is not hard but you do need to leave enough time for the dough to rise. I have suggested proving times but these should be seen as a guide only. It will vary according to things like the temperature and how active your yeast is. Look at the step pictures and see how the once well-spaced buns are touching when fully proved. Make sure you let them double in size before baking!
- There is no need to pipe each cross separately just pipe a line along each row in one direction then the other.
- I use a disposable piping bag and cut off the tip, no need for a nozzle since this is not fine piping work. If you don't have a piping bag use a polythene food bag and snip off one corner.
- I like to make a sugar syrup to glaze the buns and add a little extra spice to the glaze but you can save time by using a little warmed golden syrup or honey if you prefer. (Warming the syrup or honey first makes it easier to brush on the buns.)
How to serve hot cross buns
Hot cross buns are at their best while still warm from the oven. They can be eaten as they are but are even better split and slathered with butter. Best eaten within 24 hours of baking an older bun is also delicious served toasted.
How long will the buns keep?
Homemade hot cross buns are best eaten the day they are made but will keep a few days if stored in an airtight container in a cool place.
However, they can be refreshed by popping them in the microwave for a few seconds to warm through or by warming them in the oven in the oven at 180℃ (170℃ fan)/350°F/gas mark 4 for about 5 minutes.
Can I make them dairy free?
To make the buns dairy free simply replace the butter with 3 tbsp light olive oil or other vegetable oil and use a dairy-free milk substitute of your choice. I like almond milk for these. You may need to use a little less water.
Can I make them vegan?
Yes you can adapt the recipe to make them suitable for vegans. Change as for dairy free and omit the egg. You may need a little more water.
How to make apple and sultana hot cross buns step by step
Hot cross buns
for the buns
- 500 g (1lb2oz) strong bread flour
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 7 g (¼oz) sachet easy-blend yeast
- 75 g (3oz) golden caster sugar
- 1¼ tsp salt
- 50 g (50g) butter cut into cubes
- 75 g (3oz) sultanas
- 1 small eating apple peeled, cored and cut into small dice.
- 1 medium egg
- 100 ml (4floz) milk
- 150 warm water You may ot need it all
for the crosses
- 50 g (2oz) plain flour
- cold water to mix water
for the glaze
- 25 g (1oz) golden caster sugar
- 50 ml water
- ½ tsp cinamon
- baking sheet
- piping bag or polythene bag
- pastry brush
To make the dough
- Place 500g (1lb2oz) flour and 2 tsp ground cinnamon into a large mixing bowl and stir in a 7g (¼ oz) sachet yeast, 75g (3oz) sugar and 1¼ tsp salt. Rub in 50g (2oz) butter with your fingertips, then stir in 75g (3oz) sultanas and the diced apple mixed.
- Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and drop in the egg. Then add 100ml (4floz) milk and add most 150ml (¼ pt) warm water. Mix to a soft dough, adding the remaining water if required.
- Turn out the dough and knead gently for 5 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Place in a lightly oiled bowl, turning to coat the dough in the oil. Cover and leave in a warm place to rise for about 1½ hours, or until doubled in size.
- Turn out, and lightly knead again. Divide the dough into 12 and roll each piece into a ball. Place on a greased baking sheet about 2cm (1in) apart. Cover with a damp tea towel, or slip the tray inside a carrier bag, and leave in a warm place until doubled in size which should take about 50 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 190℃ (170℃ fan)/375°F/gas mark 5.
To make the crosses
- Place 50g (2oz) flour into a small bowl and stir in enough cold water to mix to a soft paste. Spoon the mixture into a disposable piping bag and snip of the end. Pipe a cross on each bun. Bake for 20 -25 minutes until risen and golden.
To make the glaze
- While the hot cross buns are baking, prepare the glaze. Place the sugar and water in a small pan and heat gently stirring until the sugar dissolves.
- Once the buns are cooked transfer to a wire rack placed over a tray or baking sheet the brush the tops with the sugar glaze.
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