Stir the butter into the milk until melted. Leave to cool for 5 minutes, then stir in the beaten egg. Sift the flour, sugar, yeast and spices into a mixing bowl with a pinch of salt; stir. Make a well in the centre, then gradually pour in the milk mixture, stirring to form a slightly sticky dough.
Tip the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead for 10 minutes, or until soft and shiny (the dough should spring back when you press your thumb in). Transfer to an oiled bowl and cover with a clean cloth. Set aside to prove in a warm place for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
Punch back the dough to knock out any air bubbles. Flatten slightly, then scatter the raisins and mixed peel, if using, into the centre; bring up the sides to enclose the fruit. Knead, on a floured surface, for 5 minutes more. Roll into a ball, flatten slightly, then divide into 12 equal pieces.
Shape each piece of dough into a smooth ball. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with nonstick baking paper, leaving a 3-5cm (1-2in) gap between each one. Cover with a tea towel and leave to prove for about 20 minutes, or until a fingertip leaves a small impression in the dough.
Preheat the oven to gas 6, 200°C, fan 180°C. Mix the plain flour with 6 tbsp water to make a thick paste. Spoon into a piping bag fitted with a 5mm (1/4in) round nozzle. Pipe a cross onto each bun, then bake for 20 minutes, or until golden with the bases sounding hollow when tapped.
Leave the buns to cool a little on the baking tray. Meanwhile, heat the marmalade in a small pan to make a runny glaze. Dip a pastry brush in the glaze and brush over the surface of each bun. Enjoy warm, from the oven or toasted, and spread with butter, if you like.
Raisins and mixed peel may be the traditional hot cross bun additions, but these fruity pairings make a nice alternative. Simply replace with one of the combinations below.
Chocolate and cherry: Add 100g (31⁄2oz) dark chocolate chips and 50g (11⁄4oz) roughly chopped sour cherries.
Apricot and almond: Fold in 75g (3oz) each chopped dried apricots and toasted almonds, plus 1/4 tsp almond extract.
Cranberry and orange: Add 100g (3 1/2oz) dried cranberries and the zest of 1 orange.
To plump up the dried fruit and make it extra juicy, soak in hot water or warmed orange juice for 20 minutes before draining and adding to the dough.
Kneading by hand, rather than using a mixer, will give better results, as the gluten will be properly worked.
The warmer the room, the more effective the proving. To keep the dough warm, sit the baking tray on top of a large mixing bowl half-filled with hot water.
The longer you leave the dough to prove, the lighter the buns will be. Leaving it to slowly rise in the fridge overnight will give a richer dough.
No piping bag? Make your own by shaping a piece of nonstick baking paper into a cone and cutting a small hole at the pointed end.
For a sweeter result, try making the cross with marzipan or royal icing.
Freezing and defrosting guidelines
Bake the buns according to the recipe and allow to cool completely. Before glazing, wrap well in clingfilm and tin foil (to prevent freezer burn) and freeze for up to 3 months. Loosen the tin foil and clingfilm but leave to defrost in packaging at room temperature for several hours before serving. If you wish to serve the baked goods warm, place them on a baking sheet for 10 minutes in a moderate oven.
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