Hot cross buns: Mary Berry or Marks and Spencer?
It’s Easter, so I had to make hot cross buns. Well, I had to try at least. I wasn’t really in great baking frame of mind to be honest. My little girl – she’s 21 months – had been singing Wheels on the Bus at top volume all night and, just as she decided to go to sleep and I was drifting off, I was whacked around the head by a stegosaurus. Hard.
Wheels on the Bus continued through breakfast with my son joining in in close and loud disharmony. It was only after nearly breaking my neck twice (marbles in the hallway and a collision with a knee-high articulated lorry that almost got kicked into the middle of next week in frustration) that I managed to get the children off to nursery. Perhaps some savage kneading was just what I needed.
I decided to use the recipe from Mary Berry’s Baking Bible. The first step was to mix strong white flour, salt, mixed spice, ground cinnamon, grated nutmeg, a sachet of fast-action yeast, and caster sugar. The recipe then tells you to make a well in the centre and add some melted and cooled butter, tepid milk, tepid water and a large beaten egg and, following these, currants and chopped candied peel. I followed the recipe and, as with other Mary Berry recipes (I really should have learned by now), I ended up with a really wet dough. I had to add quite a lot more flour so that I could work with it.
Kneading the dough wasn’t the therapeutic experience I’d hoped for. It was a nightmare. At least half of the currants in the mixture ended up on the floor, and most of the others just popped out of the dough. I ended up kneading the mixture for 15 minutes, and then poking errant currants into the mixture with my fingers. Mary Berry would have been shocked. I’m not sure whether I’d done enough kneading, but I was so fed up I went onto the next step and put the dough into an oiled boil, covered it with oiled cling film and left it to rise.
Now, the recipe says that the mixture should double in size, and that this will take about an hour and a half in a warm room (since it is an enriched dough, it will take longer to rise than plain dough). So, how warm is a warm room? Would 20 degrees be classed as warm? Did I need to turn up the heating? I don’t think that my kitchen (which is usually about 20 degrees) was warm enough. I had to give the dough an extra 30 minutes rising time and, even then, I’m not sure that it had grown to twice its original size.
I kneaded the dough for a couple of minutes as per the recipe and made 12 buns out of it, cutting a cross in the middle of each one. Next, I put them onto oiled baking trays and, again, covered them with oiled cling film.
I left them to rise until doubled in size. The recipe said that this would take about 30 minutes. I had to give them an hour.
For the crosses, Mary suggests either, leaving the buns as they are, or making up a bit of shortcrust pastry to put on the top before baking. The Great British Bake Off, Big Book of Baking uses a flour and water mix to pipe a cross onto the top of the buns. I did four of each.
I baked the buns for 15 minutes at 200 degrees fan and, once I’d taken them out, I glazed them with a sugar and water mixture. This is what they looked like.
Was it worth it?
My verdict on the crosses was that the piped dough crosses looked the best, but tasted awful. Some of the pastry crosses had broken on baking, but tasted much better. The buns themselves didn’t taste like hot cross buns at all. They were doughy and just didn’t taste right.
I suspected that my mistakes had been in the rising and proving of the dough. I couldn’t find much to help me in the Baking Bible so I had a look in Leith’s Cookery Bible. This is a vast and decidedly unsexy cookbook (it doesn’t have very many pictures, and none of them include soft focus vintage tea cups or flowers), but it’s really useful for trouble shooting. According to the Cookery Bible “warm” means 24 degrees. The dough should be left until it is double in size and remains indented when pressed lightly with a finger. So, it was as I suspected, I needed to increase the temperature and wait longer for my dough to rise. Another interesting thing I found out from the Cookery Bible is that, fruit and/or nuts are usually added to dough after the first rising stage.
I mulled these points over for a couple of days and then decided to make another batch of buns. This time, they would definitely rival my M&S buns. In the second batch I did things a little bit differently:
- I used the KitchenAid to mix and knead the dough. The children were at home, so the quicker and cleaner I could do things the better.
- I added the butter and egg to the mixture in one go, but mixed the milk and water together and added it gradually until the dough formed. I ended up using around two thirds of the liquid stated in the recipe.
- I cranked up the kitchen radiator and made sure that the mixture had doubled in size (and my finger left an indent in the dough) before I made the buns. This took about two hours.
- I added the currants and mixed peel after the dough had risen. It still wasn’t easy, and I ended up poking a fair few currants into the dough again once I’d finished kneading.
Once the dough had risen, I made the buns. I was a bit haphazard here. I had to drop everything to rescue my daughter, who was being fed raw garlic by her big brother. Everything else I did as quickly as I could. I ended up with buns that tasted… wait for it… the same as the last batch. They were edible, but they certainly didn’t taste like hot cross buns. I felt terrible. I was an inattentive mother who would have to carry on buying her hot cross buns from M&S. I’m going to have to make a chocolate cake next week, just to cheer myself up.