Typically eaten to mark the end of lent, in many historically Christian countries, hot cross buns are synonymous with Easter. Traditionally eaten on Good Friday (once forbidden except at burials, Christmas, or on Good Friday), the buns are now widely available in the lead up to the beginning of Spring, available year-round in some supermarkets. While Greeks are said to have marked cakes with a cross during the 6th century, the hot cross bun (as it’s known today) is believed to have originated in St Albans, where a 14th century monk, Brother Thomas Rodcliffe, developed a similar recipe for an ‘Alban Bun’, distributed to the local poor on Good Friday. Various riffs on the traditional hot cross bun recipe are now available, but so many remain purists, favouring the version with dried fruits and spices.
Head chef at The Forest Side in Grasmere, Cumbria, Paul Leonard’s hot cross buns recipe follows a classic model. Having joined the Michelin-starred Lake District restaurant in November 2019, Paul Leonard has previously cooked under the likes of Marcus Wareing and Andrew Fairlie. He’s since been praised for his appreciation of local produce, which is carried on in his role at The Forest Side, with the dining experience intended to be a reflection of the landscape in which it sits. In addition to showcasing local producers, the menus use produce from the acre of kitchen garden, which grows approximately 60 percent of the restaurant’s fresh seasonal fruit and vegetables, plus flowering plants and herbs. Over 100 varieties of vegetable and 25 types of herbs are tended to by a dedicated team, with produce picked daily.
“You seriously cannot have Easter without hot cross buns, so here is a recipe I make every year. It’s pretty classic, and I’m of the camp: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.”
- Piping bag with a small nozzle
- 300 ml whole milk plus 2 tbsp more
- 50 g butter
- 500 g strong flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 75 g caster sugar
- 1 tbsp sunflower oil
- 7 g sachet fast-action yeast
- 1 egg beaten
- 75 g sultanas
- 50 g mixed peel
- Zest of 1 orange
- 1 apple finely chopped
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 75 g plain flour
- 3 tbsp apricot jam
- Bring the milk to the boil, then remove from the heat and add 50g butter. Leave to cool.
- Put flour, salt, caster sugar, and sachet fast-action into a bowl. Make a well in the centre. Pour in the warm milk and butter mixture, then add 1 beaten egg. Using a wooden spoon, mix well, then bring everything together with your hands until you have a sticky dough.
- Tip on to a lightly floured surface and knead by holding the dough with one hand and stretching it with the heal of the other hand, then folding it back on itself. Repeat for 5 mins until smooth and elastic. Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with oiled cling film and leave to rise in a warm place for 1 hr or until doubled in size and a finger pressed into it leaves a dent.
- With the dough still in the bowl, tip in sultanas, mixed peel, orange zest, apple, and ground cinnamon. Knead into the dough, making sure everything is well distributed. Leave to rise for 1 hr more, or until doubled in size, again covered by some well-oiled cling film to stop the dough getting a crust.
- Divide the dough into 15 even pieces (about 75g per piece). Roll each piece into a smooth ball on a lightly floured work surface. Arrange the buns on one or two baking trays lined with parchment, leaving enough space for the dough to expand. Cover with more oiled cling film, or a clean tea towel, then set aside to prove for 1 hr more.
- Heat oven to 220C/200C fan/gas 7. Mix 75g plain flour with about 5 tbsp water to make the paste for the cross – add the water 1 tbsp at a time, so you add just enough for a thick paste. Spoon into a piping bag with a small nozzle. Pipe a line along each row of buns, then repeat in the other direction to create crosses.
- Bake for 20 mins on the middle shelf of the oven, until golden brown.
- Gently heat 3 tbsp apricot jam to melt, then sieve to get rid of any chunks. While the jam is still warm, brush over the top of the warm buns and leave to cool.