Reviving again! When I was a child we used to buy hemispherical, dark, spicy, glazed fruit buns, which I've not seen in the bakers for a very long time. The modern "hot cross bun" is a pale, weak imitation. Last year I decided to search around for any suitable recipes and try to recreate the original buns. I think I've come very close. I've made these three times now, so the recipe is still being modified (and is very detailed); when I gave the recipe to my sister, she told me that she made a batch, and liked them so much that she made another batch the next day.
Here's what they look like (they're a bit small; the final proving probably wasn't long enough): https://www.mediafire.com/?p2lzy7planupdf5
(just click on the View button near the top right of the screen).
(The recipe is mainly from “The Book of Buns” by Jane Mason, but I've modified it. I've added some notes in square brackets.)
To make 16 buns.
150 gm strong wholemeal flour
300 gm (UK plain / USA all-purpose) white flour [I've actually used white "strong" bread-making flour perfectly well, but "plain" flour would probably give a lighter dough.]
4.5 gm / 1½ tsp dried yeast
50 gm sugar (golden or brown gives better flavour and colour) [I used Muscovado sugar, which gives the dough a lovely brown colour.]
280 ml/gm milk [I've used skimmed and semi-skimmed with good results, but the recipe probably expects full-cream milk.]
salt - use 5gm or less ... say 1-1½ tsp. (The original recipe uses 7 gm, which gives a noticeable saltiness to the dough.)
50 gm butter (unsalted) [At room temperature. It needs to be soft so it can be worked into the dough.]
[One recipe suggests simply using approx 3 tsp of ground mixed spice, but I prefer the stronger mix that Jane Mason uses, and that I've given here. Elizabeth David uses a more complex mix, but it involves getting whole spices and grinding them.]
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground mixed spice
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground cloves [You might want to halve this. Half a teaspoonful gives a noticeable flavour of cloves - not unpleasant, but you might want to use less.]
½ tsp ground allspice
100 gm raisins/sultanas (unseeded) (or you could add a proportion of unseeded currants)
70 gm dried apricots, chopped (optional) [I added 70 gm extra sultanas instead, as I hadn't any dried apricots, and I'm not an enthusiast for apricots anyway.]
80 gm candied peel, chopped
Crosses mix: [optional]
50 gm plain flour
pinch of baking powder
½ tsp vegetable oil
50 gm cold water
[Two rounded tsp of liquid honey plus one rounded tsp of double cream gave more than enough glaze for a single coating on the eighteen buns. If there's any left over, give the buns another coating or discard it; I've found that it doesn't work as well if you keep it in the fridge for a few days.]
Over two days or in one day (this just affects the initial proving of the dough):
The evening of the day before baking, or the morning of baking day:
Rinse the dried fruit (not the peel) and soak it in orange juice (or port, rum, brandy, or medium sweet wine or cider) for a few hours or overnight. Drain and pat dry. [First soak them in just-boiled water, then cold rinse until the water is clear, before adding the port/juice/whatever. You could just do the final soak in water instead. I used port because that's what I had, but it's a bit wasteful, as you have some left over after draining, and you lose some when you dry the fruit. I did drink the drained port, but the raisins gave it an odd flavour. ]
.... and start on the dough:
Heat the milk to just below boiling and cool it to room temperature. [If you put the saucepan in a little cold water it cools much faster than if left on the stove top.] Dissolve the sugar in the milk.
Mix the flours, yeast and sugared milk together. Work with a machine or wooden spoon until smooth. Cover and put somewhere warm for an hour or so. [This gives an incredibly stiff dough ... at least, it does with the flours that I used. I added a little milk - a few dessert spoons full - but this did mean that I had to add more flour later.]
proving, put this dough somewhere cool. It'll rise well enough in the fridge, but will then need a bit of hand-kneading or resting to bring it back to room temperature.]
Add the beaten egg, salt and spices to the dough. Gather into a ball and knead for ten minutes (or work in the machine with the dough hook for a few minutes).
Add the butter and work for the same time again. The final dough will be firm but sticky, but try to avoid adding any more flour.
[If you're doing this in a kitchen machine, you don't need to worry about the stickiness of the dough, but if you're doing it by hand, you'll probably need to add more plain flour so you can work it ... this may be because of the extra milk I added in the early stages.]
Return the dough to the bowl, cover and rest somewhere warm for 15 minutes or so.
[You may need to add flour to make the dough workable for this next stage.]
Work the fruit and peel into the dough, not too vigorously, to avoid breaking the fruit up. Return the dough to the bowl, cover, keep warm for two hours or more, until it's roughly doubled in size.
Making the buns:
Pull the dough out onto a very lightly floured surface. Flour your hands, rather than the table-top.
Divide the dough into sixteen equal portions. [I divide the dough using the scales: weigh the whole blob, then divide it into two equal blobs - give or take a gram or two. Then halve each of them, then halve each of these four. The eight blobs can then be halved by hand.]
For each bun, shape the portion of dough into a tight ball (press a ball of dough out, then work your way round the edge, drawing dough out and pressing it back into the centre; then turn the blob of dough over, smooth side upwards, and tighten it into a half-ball by working your fingers around the edges, pushing the dough under and up towards the centre.). [When you work the sides of the ball under, you can carry on doing this until there are no sultanas exposed on the top of the buns, so they won't get burnt in the baking.]
Flour the tops lightly . Place the balls a couple of inches apart on a buttered or non-stick baking sheet. Cover and rest for about ¾-1 hour, until the buns are noticeably larger.
Pre-heat the oven to 200°C (Gas 6). [about 180°C in a fan oven]
If used, mix the ingredients for the crosses in a bowl until smooth. Load a piping bag ready to make a line about 5 mm across.
To make the glaze, warm the honey and cream together, stirring the mixture. [It turns surprisingly clear.]
If your buns seem to have flattened out too much after rising, you can flour your hands and gently fold the edges under again to tighten them up.
Optional: mark the cross on each bun.
Bake for 18-20 minutes. Check to make sure that they're not browning too quickly (you want pale crosses on a chestnut-brown bun), and cover them with foil if they are. [I had a tray of buns on each of two shelves, so swapped them over half way through, so they browned evenly.]
Take them out of the oven and paint immediately with the glaze. You could go over them twice, if you have plenty of glaze and like your buns extra sticky.
"Anyone who believes that exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist." Kenneth Boulding, 1973