Easter this year is going to be very different. No big family get-togethers, no local Easter Egg trails and no televised Easter Sunday church services. This Easter’s gatherings will be more virtual than actual. COVID-19 has touched every part of our lives and while fear, loss and uncertainty are at the heart of the epidemic, not everything is negatively impacted. The environment is already cleaner. Many people are managing to do the same jobs they would normally do but without hours of commuting. Families are re-connecting, off the sofa. Life for most of us is carrying on, just differently. Different but the same. And the same might mean less money but maybe also fewer commitments. Or even just a different appreciation of what is important.
Food will always be a constant in life. It doesn’t just sustain us, it can bring us joy. Now the panic buying and stockpiling have calmed down a little we can reassess and enjoy it again. We can stop worrying about how we will live off three tins of out-of-date sardines for the next few months. Food is available and people have gone back to basics with flour, eggs and fresh fruit and vegetables being some of the hardest things to come by currently. Assuming we can get the ingredients we now have the time to bake and cook our own food from scratch and – bonus – it’s something to fill the time with the kids…
Easter wouldn’t quite be the same without hot cross buns and virtual ones don’t have the same effect. Baking, and bread making in particular, can be a type of therapy when you are stressed or anxious and are perfect for the times we find ourselves in. Not only does kneading dough give you something physical on which to take out your frustrations, it can also be quite meditative. Bread is not created quickly: it takes time and patience. Add in the somehow magical transformation of basic ingredients into something more than the sum of its parts and the rewards are many.
So whether you’re hungry, bored, stressed and anxious or simply looking for something to do with the kids, give these apricot and cranberry hot cross buns a go. Fill your house with the smell of Easter and enjoy a bit of normality.
75g butter or non-dairy margarine
450g strong white flour
1 and half teaspoons dried yeast
Half a teaspoon of salt
1 tablespoon mixed spice
200ml milk (dairy or non-dairy)
75g apricots, chopped
For the crosses: 50g plain flour
To glaze: a tablespoon of apricot jam
Melt the butter and leave to cool slightly.
Put the flour, yeast, sugar, salt and mixed spice into a large bowl, making sure to keep the yeast separate from the salt and sugar until you are ready to mix in the wet ingredients.
Mix the dry ingredients together and add the melted butter, milk and eggs.
Mix well in the bowl before turning out onto your work surface: there is no need to add any extra flour. It will start out very wet and sticky.
Knead for at least five minutes, until the dough becomes smooth and silky.
Put the dough into a large oiled bowl and cover with oiled clingfilm or a tea towel.
Leave to rise until roughly doubled in size.
Turn the dough out on to a lightly floured surface and add the apricots and cranberries. Knead to evenly incorporate the dried fruit.
Divide the dough into a dozen equal sized pieces and roll them into balls. You can do this roughly and use scales to check if you wish. Weigh the dough before you divide it, divide the total by 12 and you will have the weight per bun.
Put the buns into a lined rectangular baking tray and cover lightly. (My tin was slightly too small so I ended up with very tall hot cross buns…)
Leave to prove for about half an hour: they will have increased in size again.
Set the oven to 185°C.
Make a paste for the crosses: add enough water to the plain flour to mix to a smooth paste with roughly the consistency of toothpaste.
Put into a piping bag with a small nozzle (or snip the tip off a disposable one) and pipe crosses across the top of the buns, a row and a column at a time. (I forgot to take a picture of this step).
Bake for around 20-25 minutes, until they are well risen and browned and sound hollow if you tap the base.
Add a little boiling water to the jam and mix well. Use the thinned jam to glaze the top of the buns using a pastry brush while they are still hot.
Remove from the tin and allow to cool on a wire rack.