Cherry and Dark Chocolate Hot Cross Buns

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Hot cross buns are a major Easter tradition here in the UK. The cross, which symbolises the crucifixion, means that they are traditionally consumed on Good Friday. Every year the supermarkets are jam-packed full of every type you can imagine, from super sophisticated, generously sized buns, (supposedly designed by Heston Blumenthal) to regular own brand, slightly sad and flat looking buns. Whatever the type, if I get through the Easter period without consuming at least one, I always regret it.

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Hot cross buns, for the uninitiated, should be sweet, sticky and light, with a good helping of dried fruit and fragrant spices. Best served split through the middle, lightly toasted and slavered in butter, they should be soft, fluffy and warm in the middle and slightly crisp on the outside.

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Sadly, shop bought buns don’t always deliver on this score, so I decided it was time to brave the complicated process of making my own. The secret to light and fluffy buns is leaving the dough to rise and prove 3 times, this makes the cooking process take roughly 4 hours, but trust me, it’s worth it. And who doesn’t love a spring morning in the kitchen, baking up a storm?

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The process itself is relatively easy, you just have to have the patience to wait for the 3 separate rises. The first rise is after you’ve formed and kneaded the basic dough base. Next the fillings are added. I went with chunks of chocolate, dried cherries, chopped apple and cinnamon.

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The chopped apple adds moisture to the dough, so you don’t end up with dry buns (teehee). The cherries add little bursts of delightful bitter-sweetness and the chocolate…well why on earth not? If anything, I think I could have been a little heavier handed with the fillings, so feel free to up my quantities.

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After adding the fillings the dough rises a second time before being formed into balls and left for it’s third and final rise. After that you’ll get the chance to practice your piping skills.

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I ended up with slightly wiggly crosses but that just adds to the homemade charm.

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After a stint in the oven the buns are glazed with apricot to give them their trademark sheen and sticky crust. Gorgeous.

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All that’s left to do is boil the kettle and get the butter out of the fridge. Sooooo completely worth 4 hours in the kitchen, I promise you!

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Cherry and Dark Chocolate Hot Cross Buns
Adapted from Paul Hollywood’s How to Bake
Makes 12

Ingredients:
500g strong white bread flour
10g salt
75g caster sugar
10g instant yeast
40g softened, unsalted butter
2 free-range eggs, beaten
120ml gently warmed full fat milk
120ml cool water
100g dark chocolate chunks
100g dried cherries
1 apple, peeled, cored and diced
2tsp ground cinnamon

For the crosses:
75g plain flour
75ml water

For the glaze:
75g apricot jam

I used a stand mixer, with a dough hook attachment, to mix and knead my dough but you can just as easily do this by hand in a large bowl.

Put the flour into the bowl of the stand mixer, on one side add the salt and sugar, on the opposite side add the yeast. Next add in the butter, eggs, milk and half the water. Start the mixer on a slow speed and gradually  drizzle in the rest of the water until a rough dough has formed, you may not need all of the water.

Increase the speed of the mixer slightly and leave it to knead the dough for around 5 minutes. In the meantime lightly oil another large bowl. When the dough is smooth and silky transfer it to the oiled bowl, cover it with a clean tea towel and leave it for 1 hour to double in size.

Lightly flour a work surface and tip the dough out of the bowl into the flour. Sprinkle over the chocolate, cherries, apple and cinnamon and knead the dough until all of the chunks are incorporated. Put the dough back in the bowl, cover it and leave it to rise for another hour.

Line 1 or 2 baking trays with parchment paper (depending on size)

On a floured surface, tip out the dough and fold it inwards repeatedly to knock the air out. Form the dough into a sausage shape, divide it into 12 even pieces, shape them into balls and place them, fairly close together on the baking trays. Put each baking tray inside a clean plastic bag and leave to rest for another hour.

In the meantime, preheat the oven to 220C / 200C Fan / 430 F.  Now mix the flour and water for the crosses to a paste.

When the buns have risen again put the paste into a piping bag with a fine nozzle (or a sandwich bag with the point of one corner cut off). Slowly pipe crosses across the buns by going all the way along the row of buns in one direction and then the other.

Bake the buns in the oven for 15 – 20 minutes until golden brown. Warm the apricot jam in a small pan with a splash of water, sieve it and then brush it over the warm buns to glaze them. Cool them thoroughly on a wire rack and then serve, either as they are or cut in half and toasted, either way with lashings of butter! Enjoy!

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