I need to start by saying I am not a baker. When a small child came home from school with that little paper plate with a piece of paper stapled to it with the instructions to return the paper plate to school with a suitable cake for an impending cake stall, I would attach money to the plate with my own note that read: “It is just better this way.”
But when it comes to Hot Cross Buns, I make the effort – for two reasons. I think it is important to mark the occasion that signifies something important in our faith calendar, the death of Christ and making and eating a sweet baked bun gives time to acknowledge this and reflect upon it.
The other reason is less significant but just as important. Every year my siblings and I take part in the great family hot cross bun bake off. As none of us live in the same town our efforts are displayed in a group chat from the baking through to the convincing seal of approval from those around them. Then a winner is declared. I don’t think I’ve ever won. Having said that two of my siblings are actual chefs. One year they were hard as rock, another year we were renovating over Easter and we didn’t have a kitchen and so I made mine in the BBQ. I should have got points for commitment.
This year the challenge is even harder. We are in lockdown and I’m missing two key ingredients – flour and yeast. There just aren’t any in the stores. So, I got a little creative and looked around to see what I had and found the answer in strange places. Our lovely chickens normally get feed wheat-based pellets as a part of their diet. However, on one occasion the pellets were sold out and so we grabbed a 10kg bag of wheat. But in the meantime, we managed to get some pellets and so the wheat was never used. This was just several weeks ago – we’re not talking months or years old as at this point I’m not quite that desperate. So, my first ‘aha’ moment was realising I had 10kg of potential flour sitting there.
I gathered all the ingredients to make a trial run of hot cross buns in the bread maker and whizzed up some wheat into a fine powder in my food processor. I used the very last of our yeast – tipping what was left of the jar in with the ingredients as it had expired at some point last year. What could go wrong – I had managed to find the recipe book for the bread maker – which was a miracle in itself around here. I’d whip up a batch and put them aside for Good Friday. The thing is I completely forgot we had upgraded our bread maker as some point in the last few years and the booklet I had was for the old machine and it said the dough setting was #9 so I set it to that with a flourish, and without checking the settings on the bread maker.
Sadly, the new machine has the dough setting at #6. I have no idea what I made as I don’t know where the recipe book is for the new bread maker, but I ended up with an edible block of hot cross bun. The family hastily gobbled it up with melted butter. Which assured me the chicken food wheat flour was good to go… The problem was I didn’t have any yeast left.
But a problem is just an opportunity to find a new solution and I decided to ‘catch’ some yeast. I had a week until Easter… plenty of time. So I whizzed up some more wheat to get a fine flour and popped a quarter of a cup into a jar with a quarter of a cup of water, mixed it together, put a cloth cover over it and put it in a warm place. Twice a day I gave it a tablespoon of water and a tablespoon more of the flour, mixed it in and waited. After about three days I noticed bubbles and then in the days that followed there was that distinct yeasty aroma. I’d done it…. But now – how do you turn that into hot cross buns….
I turned to the great big internet and searched and searched for a recipe that told me in plain English how to turn my starter into bread in a way that I could understand and with ingredients I actually had. I was running out of time to figure out how to make buttermilk with limited resources. I’m sure I would have found a way, but now was not the time.
I eventually stumbled across a recipe that had an allowance in the flour measurement if you were grinding your own and I decided that was the one for me and I whizzed up more flour and carefully measured it out and added the water as per the directions to make a crumbly looking not quite paste. Then I bravely and boldly added the starter. It was my only shot; I only had the exact amount the recipe called for. I also added some salt, mixed it in and let it sit for 10 minutes.
It was at this point the recipe and I kind of parted company as it was a recipe for sourdough bread and I was making hot cross buns, so at the knead stage I added mixed spice and cinnamon and some sugar because hot cross buns are supposed to be sweet. The recipe said after kneading it for five minutes let it rest for another 10 minutes.
During these 10 minutes I ummed and erred – when should I add the fruit mix and chocolate chips? I made another bold decision and added them to the mix at this point and kneaded them into the mix for 5 minutes. Then I set the dough on my homebrew heat pad to rise for 3 hours. And to my surprise it rose! The dough was light fluffy and full of air.
At this point the recipe was meaningless as it was going on about adding the dough to a traditional bread raising basket and other such nonsense that meant nothing to me. Besides I wanted buns not a loaf. So, I gently punched it down, divided it into 12 blobs and put them on a flour lined tray and returned them to the heat pad for another three hours.
After 3 hours, instead of rising into soft fluffy balls they merged across my tray and levelled out to about 1cm thick. Not being a baker, I held high hopes that maybe they would rise in the oven. But I had to wing this part of the process as the recipe was designed for a loaf. So, I tentatively put them in the oven and hoped for the best.
The house filled with a comforting hot cross bun aroma, and on pulling them out of the oven they were… flat. And in one piece. But I pulled them out of the tray and cut them up, made a chocolate icing and made some crosses and done… Hot cross buns for Good Friday. At least I won’t come last – my Mum burnt hers!
Come again soon – this is why I’m a gardener and not a baker!
Sarah the Gardener : o)