I absolutely love hot cross buns, the smell of the spices as they’re cooking makes it very hard to be patient… the kneading, rising, kneading, shaping, rising again…. Yes, they’re a faff – Mary Berry herself admits it – but to get a lighter version, and to be able to have them any time of the year, it’s got to be done! I used my typical substitutes to reduce the calories, but also found that since sultanas are really calorie dense, a substitute of dried apricots worked really well because they carry the sweetness and texture but with far fewer calories (also since Hubby prefers apricots to sultanas anyway it was a double victory for me!). I made the first batch in my stand mixer and the second I kneaded by hand – the second had a marginally better texture, and I got a teeny bit of exercise through all the kneading! Your call! Go on, give them a try… Hot Cross Buns are for life, not just for Easter!!
Start by warming the milk till it’s not quite steaming – nowhere near a boil, but warmer then tepid (25 seconds in the microwave worked for me) – then add 10g (1 teaspoon) of real sugar and 5g of quick rise yeast. Stir it up and leave the yeast to activate… it should start foaming up as the yeast feasts on the sweet milk! If it hasn’t done anything after 5 minutes, it means your yeast is dead, so you’ll need to start afresh. Once the yeast starts to foam, add the margarine so it melts in the warm milk.
Sift the flour, spices and sugar substitute into a large bowl. Add the egg and stir to begin combining the ingredients. Pour in the warmed milk-yeast-margarine mixture and stir to combine. Now knead the dough for about 10 minutes (either in the stand mixer with the hook attachment, or by hand on a lightly floured surface) till you have a smooth pliable dough.
Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with cling film and leave in a warm place for about 60-90 minutes or until doubled in size. I put mine in the oven on its lowest setting.
Meanwhile measure out 50g of dried apricots and 10g of sultanas. Cut up the apricots into smaller (sultana-sized) pieces – I use scissors for this, it’s so quick and easy. Now, as you’re still waiting for the dough to prove, you can prepare the baking sheet by lining it with parchment paper. You’ll also need to find a large polythene bag that will fit loosely over the whole sheet.
Once the dough has doubled in size, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knock out the air. Flatten it with your fingers and scatter over the apricots and sultanas. Fold the dough over the fruit a few times and gently knead it all together for 5 minutes till well combined and the fruit is evenly distributed.
Shape the dough into a narrow oblong and divide it into 8 equal portions. Shape them into balls, tucking the edges under leaving you with a smooth rounded top, and place them on the baking sheet flattening the tops a little. Space them out so that when they expand during the last prove and the baking they will touch each other slightly.
Now put the tray inside the bag, puffing the bag out so it doesn’t touch the dough, and return to its warm place to prove for a final 45-60 minutes.
Just before the end of this final proving time, prepare the “cross” ingredients. In a small bowl or mug, place a tablespoon of plain flour. Add a spoon of water at a time and mix till you have a smooth, thick but pourable consistency (think runny toothpaste gel). Put the paste into a small plastic bag, angling it towards one corner – I rest the bag inside a cup to make it easier to fill. Twist the top of the bag closed so you have a cone shape.
Preheat the oven to 200°C / 400°F / Gas 6
Remove the baking sheet from the proving bag. Take your bag of paste and snip a tiny corner of the plastic to allow a thin stream of paste through. Pipe a line of the paste all the way down a row of buns, then all the way down the next row, finally all the way across them to make a cross on each bun.
Bake at 200°C / 400°F / Gas 6 in the centre of the oven for 15-20 minutes or until lightly browned.
Remove them from the oven and gently pull the buns apart where they’ve expanded into each other.
Put a teaspoon of apricot jam into a small dish and warm in the microwave for 5 seconds at a time till it’s runny. Brush lightly over each bun to glaze.
Transfer the buns to a wire rack to cool and try to resist eating them for at least a minute or two!! Best sliced in half, toasted till just crispy and spread with butter or jam (for extra calories, sadly).
Recipe: Light Hot Cross Buns 170cals
Makes 8 buns
You will need a parchment-lined baking sheet and a proving bag/plastic bag that will fit loosely over the whole sheet.
- 125ml skimmed milk
- 10g (1 teaspoon) regular white sugar
- 5g quick action yeast
- 20g light margarine
- 250g bread flour
- 1 tsp mixed spice powder
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- 60g lakanto classic white sugar substitute
- 1 small egg (beaten)
- 50g dried apricots
- 10g sultanas
For the toppings:
- 1 tbsp plain flour
- 3 tbsp water
- ½ tsp apricot jam
- Warm the milk till just before steaming
- Add 10g (1tsp) of sugar and 5g of fast action dried yeast. Stir to activate the yeast. After about 5 minutes, once the yeast has begun to froth up, add the margarine and allow it to melt in the warm milk.
- Meanwhile sift the bread flour, mixed spice, cinnamon and sugar substitute into a large bowl, or the bowl of your stand mixer.
- Add the lightly beaten egg and begin to mix into the dry ingredients.
- Add the milk-yeast-margarine mixture and stir well to combine
- Knead, either with a mixer hook attachment or by hand, for about 10 minutes until you have a smooth pliable dough. Have some extra plain flour to hand in case the dough is sticky.
- Once kneaded till smooth and elastic, shape the dough into a smooth ball on a lightly floured surface.
- Place into a lightly oiled bowl, cover with cling film and leave in a warm place for 60 – 90 minutes or until doubled in size.
- Meanwhile measure out 50g of dried apricots and 10g of sultanas. Snip the apricots into small pieces using scissors – super quick and easy.
- After the full proving time, knock the air our of the dough, flatten it with your fingers and scatter over the dried fruit.
- Fold the dough over the fruit a few times, then knead it gently for 5 minutes.
- Divide into 8 equal portions, roll each into a ball tucking the edges under till you have a smooth top.
- Place the balls onto the parchment-lined baking sheet, flattening the tops slightly. Space them apart so that when they prove again they’ll touch each other slightly.
- Now put the baking sheet into a large plastic bag, puffing up the bag so it doesn’t touch the buns. Return it to its warm place to prove for another 45-60 minutes.
- Just before the end of this last proving time, put 1 tablespoon of plain flour into a mug and add a tablespoon of water at a time. Blend it well after each addition to smooth out any lumps. Add less water at a time when it starts to get more liquid – it needs to be a very thick but pourable paste.
- Remove the baking tray from the proving bag. Heat the oven to 200°C / 400°F / Gas 6
- Put the paste into one corner of a small plastic bag and snip off a tiny bit of the corner to allow a thin stream of paste to come out.
- Draw a continuous line of paste all the way down the centre of one column of buns, then again down the next column. Now draw a line of paste across each row to make a cross on each bun.
- Bake the buns in the centre of the oven for 15-20 minutes or until browned.
- Remove from the oven, gently pull the buns apart and place on a cooling rack
- Melt a teaspoon of apricot jam until runny, and brush over the top of each bun while they’re still hot.
- Cool for a few minutes (if you can!)
- Delicious sliced in half and toasted with a little butter or strawberry jam (but those are extra calories!).
This recipe doubles perfectly to make 16 buns. However, the dough can be quite sticky with 2 eggs in it. If you’re being very calorie conscious, keep it to one egg. If you’re not too bothered by a few extra calories, just keep 2-3 tablespoons of plain flour to hand so that you can add it while kneading.