Yael Shochat, chef-owner of Auckland restaurant Ima Cuisine, shares the recipe for her hot cross buns – regularly voted among the best in the city.
HOT CROSS BUNS
You may use equal weights of pre-ground spices, but you’ll get a much better flavour if you can grind the whole spices yourself. You can make the pastry cream a day in advance, but you’ll need to re-whisk it before piping the crosses (see method below). You will have some leftover but it will last for a good four to five days in the fridge, then you can use it to fill tart cases or in other desserts.
For the spice mixture:
- 4 quills cinnamon
- 1 nutmeg
- 1½ teaspoons whole cloves
Break the cinnamon quills into pieces and quarter the nutmeg with a sharp knife. Transfer all spices to a strong plastic bag and beat with a wooden spoon against a hard surface to break the spices into small pieces, then grind to a fine powder with a spice grinder. If you are using pre-ground spices, mix together in a small bowl.
For the dough:
- 850g strong bread flour
- 125g unsalted butter, soft
- 175g honey
- 60g fresh yeast (or 20g dried active yeast)
- 500ml whole milk, at room temperature
- 25g salt
- 250g currants
- 125g mixed peel
Using a stand mixer: Combine the flour, butter, honey, yeast and milk in the mixer bowl. Using the dough hook, knead on medium speed for 10 minutes. Add the salt and spice mix and knead for a further 5 minutes. Leave the mixture in the mixer bowl.
By hand: Combine the flour, butter, honey, yeast and milk in a large bowl with a wooden spoon or electric beaters on low speed until well mixed. Transfer to a clean surface and knead for 15 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Add the salt and spice mix and continue to knead for another 10 minutes. Transfer to an oiled bowl.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and move to a warm place to let the dough rise until doubled in size, around 1½ hours, during which time you can prepare the syrup (below). After the dough has risen, knead in the currants and mixed peel with either the dough hook or by hand until evenly distributed.
For the syrup:
- 150g (¾ cup) caster sugar
- ½ cup water
Bring the sugar and water to the boil in a small saucepan. Simmer for one minute then remove from the heat. Let the syrup cool completely before using; you can speed up the process by placing the pan in a bowl of ice water.
For the pastry cream
- ½ vanilla bean
- 500ml whole milk
- 60g cornflour
- 90g caster sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 50g unsalted butter, at room temperature
Use the tip of a sharp knife to score the vanilla bean lengthwise. Open up the pod and run the blunt edge of the knife from the top of the bottom to scrape out the seeds. Stir the seeds into the milk in a medium-sized saucepan, add the vanilla pod, and bring to the boil, stirring occasionally to prevent the milk from catching on the bottom of the pan. Once boiling, turn off the heat and let stand for 10 minutes to allow the flavour of the vanilla pod to steep into the milk, then fish the pod out and discard it.
Stir the cornflour and sugar together in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the first two eggs and beat with the paddle attachment on medium speed until no lumps remain, then beat in the remaining eggs one by one. With the mixer still on, slowly pour in the warm milk and continue to beat until combined.
Pour the custard back into the saucepan, and whisk over a low heat until it becomes thick and difficult to whisk. Continue to cook on low, whisking the whole time, for a further three minutes to cook out the taste of the cornflour. Add the butter to the pan and whisk until incorporated, then remove the pan from the heat.
You’ll want to cool the pastry cream before using, but it tends to form a skin on top. Three options to prevent this are:
- Transfer the pastry cream back into the mixer bowl and mix with the whisk attachment on medium speed until room temperature. If not using immediately, transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate.
- Transfer the pastry cream to an airtight container and brush the top with melted butter. Let sit until room temperature then refrigerate.
- Lay a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the pastry cream while still warm in the saucepan, then remove before using.
Prepare and bake the buns:
Divide the dough into 12 equal portions and form into round balls. Arrange on a lined baking tray with a 2cm gap between each ball and allow to rise in a warm place for 30 minutes until doubled in size. While the buns are rising, preheat the oven to 180°C.
Using the tip of a very sharp knife, score a cross on the buns about ½cm deep. Bake the buns for 15 minutes, until pale golden on top. Remove from the oven.
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Fill a piping bag or zip-lock bag with the pastry cream and cut the tip off to create an opening about 1cm in diameter (or use a plain round 1cm nozzle). Pipe a cross of pastry cream into the scored lines on the buns. Return the tray to the oven and bake for a further 10 minutes, until the buns are medium brown and spring back when touched, and the pastry cream has golden spots on top. Allow the buns to cool on their tray for 5 minutes before brushing the tops, including the cross, with syrup. Eat warm, at room temperature, or sliced and toasted with butter.
To make ahead:
Buns can be baked in advance and frozen, back to back and tightly wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to one month if eating at room temperature, or longer if you will be slicing and toasting them. To eat them freshly baked in the morning, make the mixture the night before up to and including placing the individual balls of dough onto the tray, then immediately refrigerate. In the morning, place the tray in a warm place for an hour then bake as directed.
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