Buns failure makes me hot and cross

Every year on Holy Thursday, for as long as I can remember, my mom would bake more dozens of hot cross buns than I could count, from a recipe she had committed to memory eons ago.

Then, she would give most of them away to her regular, annual, non-paying customers – the number of which grew each year.

A measly three or four dozen would usually be left for our family to enjoy after the Veneration of the Cross mass on Good Friday.

I’m allergic to fish, and those hot cross buns were my Good Friday after-fast staple. I never had the privilege of tasting my mother’s pickled fish and after she passed away – a little more than two years ago while still a young and sprightly 55 – I could no longer collect a few dozen buns every Good Friday.

I also never got the recipe from her, not because my mom was stingy with recipes (quite the opposite) but because my siblings and I foolishly thought she’d be around for years to come and never asked her for it.

In my mother’s opinion, shop-bought buns on Good Friday was nothing short of sacrilegious, that is why, with much trepidation, I attended the Checkers Test Kitchen’s hot cross bun tasting event last month. My guilt was somewhat appeased when I took home a recipe – though not Checkers’ own meticulously tweaked recipe. I headed home with the full intention of finally passing the Holy Thursday mass baking baton on to my girls.

As I perused the recipe, I imagined my five daughters and I baking bun after bun after bun, in an orderly, streamlined, pleasurable, family baking experience. Well, it worked in my imagination at least.

The baking was managed, and the finished products were some crunchy, cross-less biscuity things. Clearly, baking hot cross buns was among the many things my mother made to look effortless.

As we crunched through the flops, I committed to trying again – but alone this time. After all, too many cooks spoil the broth. But, alas, the second batch was even worse. For reasons I still cannot fathom, the dough just downright refused to rise from the dead. I had even doubled the yeast on my second attempt but still it remained mysteriously unleavened.

I invite our readers to try this recipe and if you can figure out where we went wrong, please let us know.


450g white bread flour

1 tsp salt

2 tsp cinnamon spice, 1 tsp nutmeg spice, half a tsp ground cloves

50g castor sugar

100g white sugar

7g fast-action dried yeast (1 sachet)

400g dried mixed fruit (currants, sultanas, raisins)

50g diced mixed peel (candied)

50g butter

250ml fresh milk

1 medium egg, beaten

50g cake flour


Preheat oven to 190°C.

Sift the bread flour, salt and spice into a bowl.

Add 50g castor sugar and yeast to the flour mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon until just combined.

Melt the butter, add 250ml milk and heat for 1 minute till lukewarm. Pour the milk, butter and egg into the flour and stir thoroughly to form a soft dough. Add the dried fruit and mix through.

Turn out onto a lightly-floured work surface and knead for about 10 minutes until smooth and elastic.

Divide the dough into 12 equal-sized pieces and shape into balls. Then place onto the lightly greased, large baking sheets, making sure that there is space between each of the buns.

Cover with lightly-oiled cling-film. Leave to prove in a warm place for about 1-1½ hours, until doubled in size.

To make the crosses: put the cake flour in a small bowl and gradually add 5-6 tbsp cold water to form a smooth, thick paste. Spoon this mixture into a small piping bag and neatly pipe a cross over each of the buns.

Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until golden brown in colour.

To make the glaze: place 3 tbsp cold water, a pinch of mixed spice and white sugar in a small pan and heat gently for 2-3 minutes, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. When the buns are cooked, transfer them onto a cooling rack and brush the glaze over each one twice. Allow to cool.