Happy Easter holidays everyone! It’s Easter Friday – time to make Hot Cross Buns.
I’ve made Hot Cross Buns three times now – the first with regular flour (that’s when I was happily eating gluten-based products), the second with gluten-free flour, and this time with spelt flour – an ancient wheat grain which has an impressive array of nutrients and is much easier to digest than modern wheat. While spelt does contain some gluten, it operates very differently to modern wheat gluten. You see, while modern wheat gluten gets stronger the more you work it, spelt gluten starts breaking down as you work it – this is what makes it so much easier for us to digest. Many people who can’t eat modern wheat gluten, can tolerate spelt gluten which, luckily, is the case for my family and I.
So, back to the Hot Cross Bun experiments… I have to be honest and say that, having tried all three versions, the Hot Cross Buns made with regular flour had the best texture – as you’d expect, they had a great rise with a soft, light crumb. The Hot Cross Buns made with gluten-free flour differed quite markedly in terms of texture – they were heavier and drier and were, as far as we were concerned, just no substitute for the ‘real thing’. So, this year I decided to give (white) spelt flour a go to see if it was possible to achieve something akin to Hot Cross Buns made with standard wheat-based flour.
I used the exact same recipe as I used for the regular Hot Cross Buns (thanks to Food Lovers.co.nz) and while you usually need to adapt the ratio of dry to wet ingredients when using spelt (given that spelt absorbs more liquid than standard flour), I found it wasn’t needed. And the result? Well, pretty darn good actually. As you can see from the photos (which my brother took for me on his new shiny Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge mobile), the buns rose pretty well, the crumb was nice and light – though admittedly not quite as tender as the standard flour-based buns – and, with their spices, currants and mixed peel, they were most assuredly delicious.
If I was pressed to rate them in comparison with the standard wheat-based Hot Cross Buns, I’d probably give them an 8.5 – 9 out of 10. Not bad, given how much more healthy these buns are for my family and I. I’ll make them again next year, and next time I might experiment a bit with the ratios to see if I can edge them closer to 10/10. Watch this space!
Spelt Hot Cross Buns
- 1 1/2 cups currants
- 1/2 cup boiling water try it infused with fruit tea
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 2 cardamom pods
- 1 whole clove
- 1 Tbsp orange zest
- 2 teaspoons active yeast
- 2 teaspoons caster sugar
- 5 cups white spelt flour
- 1/3 cup caster sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 75 g 2.6 oz butter, melted
- 1 size 7 egg lightly beaten
- 100 g 3.5 oz mixed peel
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons mixed spice
For the topping:
- 1/2 cup gluten-free flour which is nice and white
- 4 tablespoons water
- 2 tablespoons apricot jam
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- Place the currants or sultanas in a bowl, pour over 1/2 cup boiling water (I made a strong infusion of fruit tea instead) and set aside for at least 20 minutes.
- Place the milk in a saucepan, along with cardamom pods, clove and the zest of one orange. On a low heat, bring the milk to scalding (just before it starts to simmer). Then turn off the heat and let the mixture steep until it reaches luke-warm temperature (by thermometer, that’s 38°C /100°F).
- When the milk is luke-warm, take out the cardamom pods and clove. Combine the milk with the yeast and 2 teaspoons sugar in a medium sized bowl, stir, and set aside for 5 minutes. The mixture should start to foam.
- Place the flour, sugar and salt in a bowl, mix to combine and make a well in the centre. Pour in the milk/yeast mixture, butter and lightly beaten egg. Mix until just combined – I start by mixing it with a large wooden spoon while it’s wet, then move to using my hands, bringing it together (still in the bowl) until it’s roughly a ball of dough. Don’t worry if it’s sticky – enriched dough is actually meant to be on the sticky side.
- Turn dough out to a lightly floured board and knead for about 5 minutes until smooth and pliable. Put the dough back into the bowl it came out of.
- Drain the fruit well and put into a small bowl. Add the peel, cinnamon and mixed spice and mix to combine.
- Add the fruit mix into the bowl with the dough and gently work the fruit into the dough (doing this in the bowl helps to contain the fruit). Once all the fruit is reasonably well combined into the dough, transfer the dough back to the bench and knead just enough to ensure the fruit and spices are well combined (you want to knead spelt dough as little as possible – its gluten structure is much more fragile than wheat and will break down if over-kneaded).
- Place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place in a warm spot and leave for at least 30 minutes to an hour, or until nearly double in size (don’t wait until it’s doubled in size – you can over-proof spelt dough).
- Gently depress the dough with your finger tips and turn it out onto the bench. Now measure the dough’s weight and divide the weight by 12. Divide dough into 12 balls of equal weight. Shape each ball into a nice smooth round and place alongside each other in a greased large square cake or roasting dish (we Kiwis prefer our buns pull-apart style, so place them so that they’re just touching each other). Cover lightly with greased plastic wrap and sit in a warm place until nearly doubled in size.
- Pre-heat oven to 200°C (400°F).
- For the topping: Mix together the flour and water for crosses (the mixture will be a fairly stiff glob) and place into a piping bag or plastic bag with the corner snipped. Pipe crosses on buns (it helps to pipe in each direction all the way across the buns).
- Place buns in oven and bake for 20 minutes or until golden and springy to touch (you may need to lay a piece of silver foil over top if they brown too quickly).
- Meanwhile, place the jam, water and sugar in a small saucepan and stir over medium heat for a couple of minutes until it becomes syrupy.
- Take the buns out of the oven and rest the tray on a cooling rack. While they’re still hot, brush them with the apricot glaze. When cool enough to handle, snip the piped crosses with scissors at the end of each bun, and prise apart the buns. Serve buns warm with butter.
- The buns are best served on the day they are made and will lose their soft texture if left for too long. If not eating them immediately, warm them up slightly (about 15 seconds on high in the microwave should do it).
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