SOURDOUGH HOT CROSS BUNS

How many times have you heard people say that 'baking is an exact science'? While it is to a certain extent (yes, there are hard and fast rules and essential techniques), intuition and observation plays an extremely important role too. For me, making sourdough is the ultimate of this.

In an ideal world, your room would be the same temperature every time you bake, your water would too. You wouldn't get distracted and forget about your dough either! I'm definitely not slap-dash when it comes to baking, but this is real life! I don't care for room thermometers or checking the temperature of my water either and I know that if I forgot to turn my dough exactly half an hour after the previous turn, it would still be ok. I would much rather observe the dough as it proves, and adjust my times rather than try and be ultra-precise. With a gorgeous little seven month babe crawling around, I really don't have another option! Once you become accustomed to the way your starter behaves, and the way your dough reacts, you too, through observations, trial and errors and experience, cast the recipe aside and find your own way! 

For me, baking and especially bread making, is my meditation – my way of being mindful! I bake at least every other day and it really centres me. Creating beautiful food from the most simple of ingredients is truly satisfying – flour, water, salt, some time and care and you are utterly rewarded. I am no sourdough expert, in fact I only began baking a few months ago after being gifted a 100 year old starter, but now all I want to do is bake bread, and pizza, and flatbread, and buns.

Since it's Easter, let's start with the buns! This recipe is an amalgamation of ideas, so feel free to add different spices or add candied fruit peel. Change the soaking liquid for the fruit or don't soak them at all or, for those new-age bun folks, sub the fruit for good quality chocolate bits. They don't look like the buns you buy from the supermarket, but that's a good thing, right? 

Makes 9-12 Buns

FOR THE PREFERMENT 

340g milk

250g strong white flour (I use organic stone-ground unbleached – it makes a big difference!)

1 tbsp 100% hydration sourdough starter

FOR THE FRUIT

250g Sultanas or a mix of Sultanas and raisins

60ml Marsala

60ml Boiling water

FOR THE DOUGH

200g Strong white flour

50g Rye or wholemeal flour

8g Salt

70g Brown sugar

1/2 tsp ground allspice

1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg

1tsp ground cinnamon

75g unsalted butter, melted and cooled

FOR THE CROSSES

50g plain flour

50g water

10g olive oil

FOR THE GLAZE

50g caster sugar

50g water

pinch of cinnamon

1. The night before you want to bake the buns, make the preferment. Mix the milk, flour and starter in a large bowl until smooth. Cover with a tea-towel and leave at room temperature overnight (approx 12 hours). 

2. In the morning, your sponge should be visibly bubbly and grown by about 20%. 

3. Soak the fruit in the marsala and boiling water. Set aside for 30 minutes and drain. 

4. For the dough, add all of the dry ingredients to the sponge and mix well. Add the fruit and cooled melted butter. Knead in the bowl until well incorporated. Continue to knead for about 5 minutes. Cover with a tea towel and let rest for 10 minutes. Knead mixture again in the bowl for a few minutes. Cover bowl with a tea towel.

5. Now leave the dough to undergo the bulk fermentation for 3-4 hours. Every half an hour, fold and turn the dough in the bowl, being gentle in the last few hours as you want to avoid knocking out the air. If it's a warm day, this timing should be just right, however on a cooler day, you may need to leave the dough for longer, maybe turning every hour.

6. Divide dough into either 9 (approx 145g each) or 12 (approx 100g each) buns. Shape into buns and arrange in a tin, greased with butter. Now you can either leave on the bench to prove for 2-3 hours or put in the fridge overnight and bake the next morning. If you leave them in the fridge overnight, allow them to sit at room temperature on the bench for 2 hours before baking.

7. Preheat oven to 200C.

8. For the crosses, mix the flour, water and oil in a small bowl. The mixture should be thick but have some viscosity so you can pipe it. Put into a piping bag with a small nozzle, or alternatively into a snap-lock bag and snip the end. 

9. Brush tops of buns with milk and pipe crosses onto the buns. Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until golden and risen. 

8. For the glaze, combine the sugar, water and cinnamon in a small pan and on a low heat, simmer until dissolved and slightly syrupy. If the bubbles become to big, the sugar has gone too far and you may need to add a little water. Mine was a little to syrupy and hardened on the buns, which isn't dire, but isn't exactly what you're looking for! Brush the warm buns with the syrup and serve, with butter, of course!