10 Ways to pimp your hot cross buns

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The legendary Mary Berry likes to glaze hers with caster sugar, while perfectionist Paul Hollywood weighs each bun before baking to make sure they’re all the same. Whatever your taste, there’s every chance you’ll be baking, buying and scoffing plenty of glorious hot cross buns this spring.

A quintessentially British tradition, hot cross buns are served toasted and buttered, or cold as an indulgent snack for breakfast or afternoon tea.  Historically seen at Easter, these sweet bakes have gradually become an all-year-round treat, and their popularity’s growing.

Why not experiment with a new twist on the classic recipe? Here’s 10 ways to pimp your hot cross buns.

1. The Great British Bake Off winner Nancy Birtwhistle likes to get the whole family involved.

“Who doesn't just love hot cross buns? Buttered whilst still warm or toasted the next day, they’re delicious,” she says.

“Have a go yourself at home and get the kids to pipe over the crosses with a simple flour and water paste. Tesco now stocks French morello flavour glacé cherries which are amazing with some finely chopped marzipan in a contemporary hot cross bun.”

2. Nancy’s love of fruit buns doesn’t stop there. Traditionalists look away now, because Nancy admits she’s “always enjoyed a hot cross bun with cheese.” A popular recipe in the North of England, it’s a surprisingly good balance of tastes: the sweetness of the bread and tang of the spices pair well with a sliver of blue cheese or mature cheddar melting in the middle of a piping hot bun.

3. Belgian chocolate improves almost anything – this we know – and in recent years, chocolate fruit buns have flown off the shelves. But try adding rich caramel and a pinch of sea salt to your dough instead, and serve the hot buns with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream for the perfect spring pudding.

4. Paul ‘Blue Steel’ Hollywood champions fruit, fruit and more fruit in his hot cross buns. As well as the usual raisins, currants or sultanas, he adds mixed peel, the zest of an orange and finely chopped apple.

 “The addition of apples to the dough enhances the taste and lends a lovely, moist texture,” says Paul.

5. April Carter, author of Decorated: Sublimely Crafted Cakes for Every Occasion uses aromatic cardamom for an extra spicy punch.

“Take inspiration from the trend for Swedish-style buns and up the level of cardamom in your spice mix. Complement those warming spices by soaking your raisins in some dark rum or Cointreau,” she suggests. 

6. April adds honey to her hot cross buns, too.

“I love to use honey to sweeten the dough and for glazing, instead of sugar.”  

And when it comes to that all-important sticky, glossy glaze, there are several schools of thought. A simple sugar and water mix, golden syrup, or - Paul Hollywood’s suggestion - a slick of warmed apricot jam will all do the trick.

7. Brits have carried their love of hot cross buns all over the world, and they’re now enjoyed as far afield as Australia and Hong Kong. In America, bakers have tweaked the recipe, piping a cross with white icing or cream cheese frosting rather than the traditional flour and water paste, which may be gilding the lily…

8. Fruit buns are flexible little snacks. Did you know they freeze well? Just remember to freeze them unglazed, and once defrosted, add the glaze and warm them in the oven. When baking buns, make an extra batch of mini ones: they make great lunchbox treats for kids.

9. The Women’s Institute knows a thing or two about baking so we asked Peter Lien, Head of the WI Cookery School for advice. His best tip? Have fun with a bun.

“Play with presentation. Brush the buns with jam and, while sticky, sprinkle the cross shape with hundreds and thousands, finely chopped nuts or chocolate sprinkles.”

10. What to do with leftover hotties? Let nothing go to waste says Helen Graves, award-winning author of the Food Stories blog.

“My favourite way to give slightly stale hot cross buns a new lease of life is to make eggy bread with them. I whisk together some eggs and a splash of milk, then dip the buns into it and fry in butter."

April Carter has another delicious option:

“Soak and bake leftover buns in spiced custard to make a comforting hot cross bun bread pudding.” 

How will you enjoy your hot cross buns this spring? Are you baking, buying or both? Going traditional or trying new ideas? Tell us your ideas in the comments below.

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