Hot Cross Bun-embouche
Easter is one of my most favourite times of the year. It makes me think of waking up with the sunshine and the fresh, homely scent of my Mum’s clean washing blowing on the line. Easter is also of course the next best food festivity time after Christmas!
For those of you successful in your penance during Lent, congratulations, you are no doubt about the burst with eagerness at the thought of eating chocolate and drinking wine. For those of you, like me who decided long ago that repenting though food is a futile endeavor you will be looking forward to cooking and baking with new Spring produce and to rustling up traditional Easter treats for family gatherings and celebrations.
In this house, and I assume many around the country, the first appearance of food for the celebration is a batch of Hot Cross Buns! Not those sorry, soggy, doughy supermarket kind but a proper fresh homemade batch that fills the kitchen with the most amazing scent, the scent, the likes of which has not been filling the air since Christmas! The mouthwatering, baked-good yearning feeling in the pit of your stomach created by this smell alone, is the huge craving and desire for a bun, hot and fresh from the oven. It is the singular fleeting moment that you are waiting for and the only reason you set about baking them in the first place.
The moment arrives and there is nothing for it, you must forgo the intense burning in your fingertips, (the only food related penance that is worth suffering for) tear open the bun and proceed to cover in butter and polish it off before the rest of the batch hits the cooling wrack. By which time the scent has given you away and all the usual kitchen dodgers descend to devour the rest.
So this year I decided that more of an occassion should be made of this marvelous little bun, so I made a stack of marvelous little buns. After resisting the temptation to throw each bite-sized morsel in hand over fist I sacrificed my fingertips to a pan of bubbling hot caramel to create a centre piece fit for any Easter celebration, a beautiful, Hot Cross Bun-embouche. This towering delight is made up of tiny hot cross buns, each of which is stuffed with sweet marzipan, another time old Easter treat. I opted for caramel and candied fruits to decorate, in keeping with the glossy faces of each bun, but you could use any sweets or chocolates that take your fancy.
I have to thank the Fabulous Baker Brothers for their tried and tested Hot Cross Bun recipe, which to much delight never fails. I have adapted it here, with a few tweaks to suit my over zealous fancy for cardamom, cinnamon and candied peel in hot sweet dough. I prefer to make my own marzipan, based on a recipe from Dan Lepard, adapted many festivities ago, it creates a fistful and a half, plenty for the bun-embouche and more besides, ideal for extra Easter confectionary treats. However for ease and convenience you can use shop bought, natural coloured marzipan if you wish.
Makes enough buns for 1 bun-embouche plus a few extra buns for leftovers.
I fashioned a cone shaped mould to structure the bun-embouche from a large piece of card, sticky tape and foil. You can make it as large or small as you like but bear in mind that your buns will need to be the right proportion for your chosen height.
For the Mini Hot Cross Buns
Adapted from ‘The Fabulous Baker Brothers’
480g strong white bread flour
200g plain spelt flour
10g sea salt
15g dried yeast
80g caster sugar
80g unsalted butter, softened
2 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp fresh ground cardamom
1 tsp cinnamon
175ml whole milk
80g sultanas (roughly chopped if large)
50g mixed candied peel (cut into very fine pieces)
zest of 1 lemon
zest of 1 orange
Approximately 250g homemade or shop bought marzipan
For the Bun Cross Mixture
150g strong white flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
25g butter, softened
For the Bun Glaze
4 tbsp clear honey
75g unsalted butter
For the Caramel
250g caster sugar
4 tbsp water
Candied fruit, sweets or chocolates of your choosing.
1. Begin by preparing the bun dough. Place all of the ingredients for the dough, with the exception of the fruit, peel and zest in the bowl of a free standing mixer, (you can do it by hand if you are a purist) mix with the dough hook until the ingredients come together and continue to mix the dough for around ten minutes until it is soft and elastic. Once you reach this stage turn the dough out onto a florured surface and gently knead in the fruit, peel and zest, bring together, to a smooth round ball and place in a large, lightly greased, mixing bowl. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave in a toasty place until it has doubled in size.
2. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees celcius and line numerous baking trays with baking paper. The next task is somewhat laborious, you need to work out how large each bun needs to be and divide the dough into buns of that size. In my case each was roughly the size of a whole walnut (with shell), for the marzipan I rolled tiny morsels, the size of large hazelnuts. Flatten out each piece of dough and place the marzipan in the centre, cover with the dough and round to a smooth little bun. Continue to use up all of the dough.
3. Place the buns on the baking sheets, cover again with a clean tea towel, place somewhere toasty and allow them to double in size. By the time I got round to rolling the last few buns the first few trays were ready to go.
4. Mix up the ingredients for the bun cross mixture to form a thick paste and place in a piping bag fitted with a small round nozzle. Pipe each bun with it’s customary cross and bake in the oven for approximately 10 minutes, until lightly golden brown and baked through.
5. Remove from the oven, (resist temptation) and allow them to cool on a wire rack.
6. Whilst the buns are baking you can make the glaze by placing the honey and butter in a small saucepan, gently heat to melt together. Once combined brush the buns with the glaze.
7. For the caramel, place the caster sugar and water in a heavy based saucepan and heat very gently to dissolve the sugar, allow it to caramelise very slowly, swirling the pan from time to time to ensure it caramelises evenly. Once it has remove from the heat, you need to work pretty quickly here before the caramel begins to set up, but fear not, if it does just return the pan to the heat to return it to its molten stage or if possible keep the pan oven a very gentle heat whilst you construct the bun-embouche.
8. Using your cone construction as a mould take each bun in turn and being very careful of your fingertips dip the base of each bun in the molten caramel and attach the first layer around the base of the cone. Continue to build up the cone, dipping the edge of each bun into the caramel to stick it to the bun below until you reach the top.
9. The remaining caramel can be used to attach the fruits, sweets or chocolates or to make spun sugar for additional adornment.