Belated Happy Easter, Part 2? Paul Hollywood’s Hot Cross Buns

I didn’t plan on making hot cross buns for Easter 2018. I had already made my pretty pastel meringue “Easter eggs” – I thought I was good to go for the Easter baking season.

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PS – The photos in this post are kind of ugly. Sorry about that.

Then, my fellow baking-obsessed friend messaged me, asking if I had a good hot cross buns recipe. I didn’t – but the seed was planted and I became obsessed with finding a good one.

We agreed to try Paul Hollywood’s iteration – you know, the fellow of Great British Bake-Off fame. If it’s good enough for Paul, surely it would be good enough for us!

But first, we had to translate the recipe. There are some slight differences between baking in the UK and baking in Canada, apparently. With the help of Google and some educated guesses, we decided on the following:

  • “strong bread flour” could be substituted with Roger’s bread flour
  • “caster sugar” is granulated sugar
  • 425 degrees Fahrenheit sounded about right
  • “hand temperature” is lukewarm (i.e., body temperature)

And, in our respective kitchens, we attempted to give the recipe a try.

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First, I boiled milk, added butter, and let the whole thing cool down a little. Meanwhile, I whisked together the dry ingredients, then dug a little hole in the centre for the milk and butter combo. As instructed, an egg was introduced into the equation.

After giving it all a good stir with a wooden spoon, I ignored my stand mixer and kneaded the whole thing by hand. I’ll admit that this is a very satisfying process. After about five minutes (you’ll feel it in your hands!), it was time to leave the whole thing to rise in a greased plastic-covered bowl.

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In hindsight, I think I should have put the bowl in my “proofing drawer” (i.e., my bathroom, with the heat turned up and the door closed). My kitchen was on the cooler side and I think my dough could have been a little springier.

After the first rising, it’s time to mix in the good stuff. The good stuff includes orange zest, raisins (i.e. sultanas), an apple (that’s new to me for hot cross buns!), cinnamon – and normally, mixed peel (a.k.a., the colourful dried fruity bits), but I am not a fan of that stuff so I left it out. Good thing, too – there were almost too many toppings to incorporate into the dough! I kneaded it all together as best as I could, but the toppings kept spilling out. I took that as a good sign – the more stuff, the better.

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Once I got the stuff really stuffed in, I left the dough to rise for a second time.

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The recipe makes 15 buns, and I dutifully weighed each and every one out so they would be uniform. I think my extra precision was rather unnecessary, because when it came time to shape, I couldn’t get my buns to be uniform! I found the dough a little tricky to work with. I left my poorly shaped buns to rise for another hour, and then they were just about ready to bake.

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There was only one step left: piping on the crosses. I came across a lot of online recipes that pipe the crosses on post-baking with icing – no! To me, that is not a true hot cross bun. Paul’s recipe calls for a ration of 5 tbsp of water to 1 tbsp of flour, but I used a few more tablespoons of water than that – and still, my consistency was iffy. I don’t think I whisked it properly, because it kept clogging in my piping bag’s nozzle.

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As a result, some of my crosses sunk nicely into the buns, while others stayed separated on top, even after baking. It wasn’t a huge deal, but it didn’t make for the prettiest buns.

Regretfully, I took a shortcut post baking: I skipped out on the strained apricot jam that Paul suggested, opting instead to brush the buns with a simple sugar syrup that I whipped up. DO NOT SKIP THE JAM! My friend did hers the proper way, and I thought the extra sweetness and flavour really took the buns to the next level. (Yes, she dropped off a couple so I could try them!) Next year… next year.

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So the buns were a little ugly – but they were tasty little morsels, and I have to admit, they made the holiday feel proper. I think I have some room for improvement with this recipe, but I’ll keep it in mind for next year.

Early Happy Easter? Dorie’s Cookies Meringue Vanilla Snowballs

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I was meeting up with some friends around Easter last year [yes, I am posting this a year late…], and I wanted to bring an Easter-esque treat that didn’t involve chocolate. Don’t get me wrong – I love chocolate more than the average person, but Easter tends to be pretty choco-ful and I wanted something a little different.

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Enter the Meringue Snowballs.

I figured if I made these “cookies” (can they really be called cookies?!) in pretty springtime pastels, they would fit with the Easter theme – and nary a cocoa bean in sight.

I have made meringue a few times before, and Dorie’s version is decidedly unfussy. It’s relatively quick, easy, and foolproof – at the expense of perfection. My meringues cracked a little and yours might too, but they still looked good and – most importantly – tasted like the perfect little sugar clouds that they are.

The ingredient list for meringues is short and sweet (hey… kind of like the final product!): granulated sugar, icing sugar, egg whites, cream of tartar, and a wee bit of sea salt. The Dorie’s Cookies cookbook offers some flavourful variations – mint chocolate chip! rose! green tea and pistachio! Wanting to add a little something – but not wanting to make a trip to the grocery store – I opted to make the Vanilla Snowball iteration (just add vanilla… easy as that).

Although the recipe is easy, you do have to be a little careful in the preparation. For one, the sugars must be sifted. Second, all of your baking gear must be perfectly clean – fat is the murderer of meringues, so be ultra careful when separating your whites from your yolks. I always break each egg individually before putting them in a communal bowl – that way, if you mess one up and break the yolk, you won’t contaminate all the other whites.

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The whites, cream of tartar, and salt get sent to the stand mixer, where they whisk away until they start forming soft peaks. At this point, all but one tablespoon of the sugar is slowly added until the mixture is stiff and perfectly shiny. (This is where I added the vanilla, too.)

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I always mix a little longer than I think I’ll need to – otherwise, I tend to end up with a mixture that is slightly too runny. I think I nailed it on this go. Once the mix is looking good, you gently – gently – fold in the last bit of sugar.

At this point, I divided the glossy goop into a few different bowls and played around with some of the colours. The book suggests spooning the meringue out onto your silicone mat-covered baking sheet, but I knew they were look prettier if I took a little extra time to pipe them. I didn’t bother washing out the bags between colours because I figured a little marble/tie dye effect would look kind of cool and very dip-dyed Easter eggy.

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Don’t these look like these dot candies from your childhood?

I couldn’t decide whether the tame the little cowlicks or to leave them as is. I tried patting a few down (I do this by wetting my finger and tapping the tops), but ultimately I decided to leave most of them up. I kind of like the look.

Slow and steady is the name of the meringue game: these puppies baked at 250 degrees for 75 minutes, then I propped open the oven door and left them in there overnight.

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They kept their colour nicely and didn’t brown at all.

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What do you think? I think they’re a cute – if not quite traditional – Easter option. Bookmark this one for next year, perhaps?

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