Earl Grey Hot Cross Buns
Updated: Dec 8, 2022
Hot cross buns! One a penny, two a penny! Hot cross buns!
This is a familiar rhyme at Easter although it has been decades since you could buy a hot cross bun for a penny. It feels like hot cross buns make their first appearance on supermarket shelves on as soon as the last piece of Christmas wrapping paper hits the floor. As Easter approaches mountains of flabby buns appear in the supermarket aisles. There are special offers such as the ubiquitous BOGOF and of course new varieties to pique the appetite.
This year Waitrose has looked to Heston Blumenthal to innovate their hot cross buns using Earl Grey tea and Mandarin in his recipe. I was sufficiently intrigued to try a pack of these buns. What astounded me was the price - £1.59 for two buns! So typical for a celebrity endorsed product. Meanwhile, Finsbury Food, who manufacture the Heston buns, are rubbing their hands with glee as thousands of middle class shoppers purchase the buns and further bolster the £2.2m pre-tax profit they made in six months up to December 2011.
The price unfortunately did not reflect the quality. The flavour was citrussy but the bun itself was like biting into a dehydrated sponge. So I set about making my own version. Yes, they take time and energy but for the raw ingredients alone my version come out at around 32p for a large bun or 21p for a medium size bun. More importantly they taste far superior to anything you can buy in a supermarket.
Earl Grey Hot Cross Buns
(Makes 8 large or 12 medium sized buns)
2 x Earl Grey tea bags
200ml boiling water
A slice of lemon (optional)
100g raisins or sultanas
500g strong plain flour
10g (2 tsp) dried or fresh yeast
10g (2 tsp) mixed spice
5g (1 tsp) fine sea salt
75g (2 generous tbsp) marmalade
100 - 125ml whole milk
50g unsalted butter
1 large egg
For the crosses and glaze
100g plain flour
2 - 3 tbsp cold water
2 tbsp caster sugar
2 tbsp milk
Place the tea bags and lemon (if using) in jug and pour over the boiling water. Leave to infuse for a minimum of 5 minutes. Remove the bags squeezing out as much liquid as possible. Place the dried fruit in a bowl and pour over the tea. Leave to infuse for at least one hour or preferably overnight.
Place the milk and butter in a saucepan. Gently heat until the butter has melted. Allow to cool until lukewarm.
Place the flour, yeast, mixed spice, salt and marmalade in a large bowl or food mixer with a dough hook attached. Briefly mix the dry ingredients together before adding the tea soaked fruit and the remaining liquid, the milk and butter mix and the egg. If using a mixer gently mix until combined then knead on a slow speed for 4 minutes (I use setting 2 on my Kitchen Aid). If you are making these by hand, mix the ingredients together until a ball of dough is formed then knead on a floured board for 5 - 10 minutes until springy. The amount of milk required seems to vary in both cases. Add 100ml to begin with and the remaining 25ml if the dough mix feels too dry. Leave the dough to prove in a warm place for 90mins to 2 hours until doubled in size. Although I don’t use a bread maker myself I see no reason why this dough couldn’t be prepared following the manufacturers instructions for a sweet fruit bread setting.
Knock back the dough and divide into 8 or 12 pieces depending on how large a bun you like! Place on a greased baking sheet. At this point you can slash the top of each bun with a very sharp knife to make a cross (if you intend to make paste crosses don’t bother slashing the buns). Leave to prove in a warm place for a further 30 - 40 minutes until doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C Fan/400°F/Gas 6. If you want more distinctive crosses mix the plain flour with the water to form a ball of dough. Roll out to around 2 -3mm thick and using a ruler cut 16 - 24 strips (depending on the number of buns you have). After the buns have proved for a second time brush with a little milk then gently apply two strips to form a cross on the top of each bun. Bake the buns for 15 - 20 minutes until golden brown. While they are cooking put 2 tbsp each of milk and caster sugar in a small saucepan. Heat until the sugar has dissolved. As soon as the buns come out of the oven brush a little of the glaze over each one repeating a second time. As the glaze cools it will make the buns deliciously sticky.
If you are planning to freeze these buns don’t glaze them when they come out of the oven. Instead, defrost the buns then put them in a warm oven (about 180°C) for 5 mins. Prepare the glaze while they are in the oven and brush over the buns when you take them out.