Spicing up Easter



There’s nothing nicer than the spicy aroma of hot cross buns baking. Daniel Pfyl, senior lecturer at Otago Polytechnic, shares some professional techniques to make hot cross buns just in time for Easter.

Simple hot cross buns

Chef Pfyl says an egg is traditional in this type of sweet, rich bun dough, but he has left it out in this simple version as it can make the dough heavy.

Basic sweet bun dough

500g strong (high-grade) flour

pinch salt

60g butter

3 tsp dried yeast or 6 tsp Surebake

2 Tbsp caster sugar

250ml-300ml half milk and half water at 37degC

1 egg (optional)

For egg-yolk glaze
1 egg yolk a little water (about a teaspoon)

Additional ingredients for hot cross buns
100g sultanas

1 Tbsp mixed peel, finely chopped

2-3 tsp mixed spice

For bun crosses
3 Tbsp self-raising flour

2 Tbsp-

3 Tbsp water

For hot cross bun glaze
100g sugar

125ml water


Mix the warmed milk and water and test the temperature with your finger. It should feel neither hot nor cold.

When it is the right temperature, sprinkle the yeast and caster sugar over about 150ml of the warmed milk and water mix and allow to ‘sponge’, or bubble and fluff up (about 10 minutes in a warm room).

If using an egg, beat it and combine with the remaining warm milk and water mix.

Sift the flour and salt into a warmed basin to aerate it and remove any lumps.

Add the butter and rub to a fine texture using a pastry blender or the tips of your fingers.

Add the spice and dried fruit. Pour the yeast mixture into the flour and mix to a soft dough, using the warm liquid as needed.

If the mix is too dry, add more, if too wet, add flour.

Turn the dough on to a lightly-floured bench and knead, holding the dough on the bench. Form the dough into a ball, stretching the surface round and tucking it underneath.

Leave in a warm place to proof. Once the dough has doubled in volume, punch it down gently with your fist, knead briefly, shape into a ball again and leave to rest for a few minutes under an upturned bowl.

To shape hot cross buns
Divide the dough into 12 pieces. Shape each piece into a ball by rolling it around with a flat hand, then gradually cupping your fingers like a spider and allowing to turn into a ball.

Place the buns on the prepared tray about 2cm apart. Cover with a warm damp cloth and allow to prove again until the buns are touching (about 30 minutes, depending on warmth).

To make a plaited loaf
Divide the dough in two, and roll each into a long sausage. Lay them on the bench inthe shape of a cross. Twist the two horizontal arms to opposite sides across the vertical arms. Twist the vertical arms in the same way.

To make the crosses
Mix the self-raising flour and water until the consistency of whipped cream. Pour into a cornet and cut the end off with a knife to make a small hole.

Pipe the crosses on the buns.
Bake in a preheated oven at 160degC fanbake or 180degC bake for 20-25 minutes.


Yeast doughs and breads are not difficult to make,but they do require patience and a warm place to allow the dough to rise.
Working a yeast dough is relaxing and calming, as you can’t hurry it.

These recipes can also be made in a bread-maker on dough setting, then shaped and baked as below. See your machine’s instructions for the order to add the ingredients. They can also be mixed and kneaded in a stand mixer with a dough hook.
This recipe can be made plain and shaped into Easter bunnies or plaited for a special loaf.
If you add the spice and dried fruit you have a hot cross bun mix.

Use a high-protein bread flour, sold as high-grade or strong flour in supermarkets.
This produces a strong gluten, a sticky, elastic protein which stretches when the dough is kneaded and develops the structure so it will be able to hold the gases produced by the yeast.

Flour is in high demand during the lockdown so it is advisable to shop as soon as they open in the morning to secure a packet.
This recipe can also be made with ‘‘normal’’ flour.
Cakes and biscuits use baking powder or baking soda to produce carbon dioxide chemically, which raises them. Breads and buns like these use yeast, which produces the gas by fermenting.

Yeast is a living organism and needs time and warmth to work — about 37degC (or blood temperature) is best.
Prove the dough (allow it to rise) in a warm place like an airing cupboard, a sunny window, or in a warming drawer that has been turned off.

The cooler the proofing temperature, the longer the yeast will take, but that’s not a bad thing as far as flavour goes. However, if the dough gets too hot (about 52degC), the yeast will die —which is what happens when you cook the bread, but by that time it will have done its work.
Surebake is a proprietary mix of yeast and additives or dough improvers.

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