- Bake your own: Karen Martini's hot cross bun recipe
Imagine sampling hot cross buns from every bakery in Victoria. It's impossible. You'd be tasting until Christmas decorations appeared in the stores. For our annual hot cross bun tasting, we shortlisted 12 bakeries - a mixture of promising newcomers, supermarket offerings and seasoned artisan performers - and put them to the taste test.
These sweet, gently spiced English buns, studded with dried fruit and marked with a cross, are traditionally eaten hot on Good Friday, and despite their diverse origins, most of the buns we sampled followed this convention, each with their requisite crosses, ground spices, currants and raisins, and definitely no chocolate.
But that's where the similarities ended. One batch contained lemon myrtle (hello, Heston Blumenthal), some had chunks of citrus peel, some were based on sourdough and some took a less conventional brioche path.
This was a blind taste test, with each sample known only by the number it had been randomly assigned. An expert in-house panel, including Good Food Guide and Good Food writers, editors and reviewers, tasted all buns untoasted, with an optional smear of Myrtleford butter. Yet, even without being heated, the buns filled the air with a festive spicy scent. We assessed each bun on its aroma, appearance, texture, spicing, fruit (amount, type, juiciness, distribution) and size, giving it an overall rating out of 10. All panellists' ratings were averaged to get a final score. Here is how they ranked.
Tivoli Road Bakery
$3.50 each, $18 for six
3 Tivoli Road, South Yarra, 9041 4345
Cute buns. One taster described these sourdough buns as the best-looking on the table, with a classic golden colour, and plenty of glaze (it left a sticky residue on the plate). Some panellists found the spice-fruit aroma a little intense, but these buns were moist, with an appealing bounciness that would be enhanced by toasting.
Baker D. Chirico
$3.30 each, $19 for six
178 Faraday Street, Carlton, 9349 3445; 3/149 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda, 9534 3777, and CBD pop-up at 24 Crossley Street.
Dark brown, square and uniformly sized, these sourdough buns had a rich, spicy aroma and plenty of juicy fruit. The spices tasted freshly ground and citrus peel added another flavour dimension. A classic.
$3 each, $18 for six
302 Burwood Road, Hawthorn, 9819 2200
Dark, sticky and syrupy, these small, glazed buns had an aroma that combined sourdough with chai spices, particularly cardamom. One taster described the dense texture as ''worthy''. The fruit (sultanas, currants and raisins) was plump, tasty and evenly distributed.
The Woodfrog Bakery
108 Barkly Street, St Kilda, 9077 5440
Small but perfectly formed, these pert, crusty buns were slightly blistered by the lick of glaze on the top. They had perhaps the highest fruit ratio of the buns sampled, a pleasant cinnamon aroma and good texture.
Rest of the field
$2.70 each, $14.20 for six
81a Hudsons Road, Spotswood, 9391 1335
A strong whiff of cinnamon was the first thing we noticed about this spongy, lightly glazed bun. It was attractive, with plenty of moist fruit, no peel and visible spices. Allspice lingered on the back palate. ''Would be great toasted,'' wrote one taster.
Vue de Monde
$3.50 each, $18 for six
Available from Cafe Vue and the online Vue Shop, vueshop.vuedemonde.com.au
A ''very monochromatic'' bun with a cross that provided little contrast in texture or colour, these spelt wholemeal buns tasted mainly of fruit, including cranberries, with a hint of cinnamon on the back palate. Some tasters appreciated the lack of obvious sweetness and the texture was good.
$3.30 each, $16.50 for six
1030 High Street, Armadale, city, and other outlets, 9576 2020
Looking less rustic than some of the samples, these soft, spongy buns were decorated with thick crosses. Inside, tasters found plenty of plump, pale sultanas and spicing reminiscent of raisin toast. Big air bubbles inside this batch got the thumbs down.
$3 each, $15 for six
223 Victoria Street, West Melbourne, 9328 1688
Handsome, glossy and uniformly sized, these buns smelt like citrus oil. Inside, the texture was pale, buttery and brioche-like, with a smattering of fruit and no discernible spice. They reminded one taster of panettone.
Zimt Patisserie Bakery Cafe
$3.20 each, $18 for six
171 Union Road, Surrey Hills, 9890 2382
''Now these are good-looking buns,'' said one taster as the plate was handed around. Golden glazed and with well-defined crosses, these buns looked the goods. They had just a suggestion of spice and plenty of fruit, although one taster complained that it was all clustered at the bottom.
$2.90 each, $17.40 for six
109 Scotchmer Street, Fitzroy North, 9403 5333
These dense, chewy unglazed buns smelt richly of citrus and were loaded with plump fruit - mainly currants - and sweet peel, which some tasters found rather (ahem) appealing. A swipe of butter enhanced their part-sourdough flavour and texture.
$1.25 each, $5 for four
Coles supermarkets nationwide
These rolls looked like crusty bread rolls embellished with crosses. The flavour, too, was like a bread roll, with a slight citrus aroma, a scattering of currants and little in the way of spice. Disappointing.
Heston for Coles
$2 each, $8 for four
Selected Coles supermarkets
Even before tasting, the unconventional aroma announced this bun as Heston Blumenthal's entry into the Australian Easter market. Locally grown sultanas, lemon myrtle and spicy ginger feature in the green-flecked dough. Tasters were not impressed, describing the lemon myrtle flavour as overpowering and the brioche-like texture as dry.
THE JUDGING PANEL: Robyn Carter, Jessica Dale, Roslyn Grundy, Jane Holroyd, Nicole Papaz, Nina Rousseau, Peter Schofield, Annabel Smith.