Top bakers' tips, tricks and riffs on hot cross buns

Madame & Yves chocolate hot cross buns.
Madame & Yves chocolate hot cross buns. Photo: Supplied

Leading bakers and chefs provide an insight into their secrets for dishing (and shaking) up these Easter treats.

Christine Tran of Falco Bakery, Melbourne

The new Collingwood bakery risen from the metaphorical ashes of Rockwell & Sons is kicking Easter butt with the baking skills of Christine Tran, who has worked at San Francisco's storied Tartine and as head baker at Melbourne's Tivoli Road.

Tip: "For accuracy and consistency, always work with weights. Avoid recipes that use half teaspoons and cups of ingredients – it should be in grams and nothing else."

Trick: "Watch the proving. Because there's so much fruit and sugar it can break down pretty quickly. A good way to test it is to give the tray a gentle shake and see if the dough moves around – that means they have air inside, so they'll be nice and light."

Riff: "I'm a big believer in lots of extra fruit. It's pretty simple but effective."

288 Smith Street, Collingwood; no phone, falcobakery.com

Laura Gonzalez and Anu Haran of Flour Shop, Sydney

In January, Flour Shop was getting its plumbing, ventilation and electricity installed. Yet in a few short months, the Turramurra site has gone from an empty shopfront to one of Sydney's best bakeries. Laura Gonzalez and Anu Haran roll their pastry at midnight, so by the time they open their doors at 6.30am, the counter is filled with fresh-baked Swedish kanelbullar (cinnamon-cardamom buns), sticky caramel croissants, spiced plum turnovers and Jerusalem bagels stuffed with goat's cheese or topped with a cracked egg.

Their semi-sourdough hot cross buns might be one of the city's best takes on the Easter staple. Each serve is loaded with citrus zest and peel, as well as cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom so freshly ground you can taste the granular pop of flavour from each crushed spice. Combined with the gloriously sticky topcoat of apricot-marmalade glaze, each mouthful of Flour Shop's buns is a citrus-rich highlight.

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Tip: While it can be tempting to swap ingredients, Flour Shop's Haran advises against experimenting in this way, especially when tackling a recipe for the first time. "In my early baking days, I often tried tinkering with recipes – like using drinking chocolate instead of cocoa," she says. But cocoa has different acidity levels to drinking chocolate, which meant her cake became a dense baking fail instead of a light, fluffy triumph.

Trick: "We give our buns a good spray of water before loading them in the oven. This moistens the skin of the buns and allows them to rise more in the oven, leading to a fluffier bun. After the first 10 minutes, vent the steam out by opening the oven door," says Haran. "Then bake another 10 minutes to get a nice brown crust."

Riff: The sweet brushstrokes of apricot-marmalade glaze make Flour Shop's versions a standout. Haran has kindly shared the recipe, so you can replicate this at home. Combine one part apricot jam, one part marmalade (with rind), a couple of cinnamon sticks and a generous splash of water in a pot. Bring to the boil until the jam dissolves in the water and the mixture reaches a syrupy consistency. Once cool, transfer it to a glass or plastic container. "This glaze can last at room temperature for up to a week," says Haran. The buns should be glazed as soon as they come out of the oven.

16 Princes Street, Turramurra, flourshop.com.au

Kate Reid of Lune, Melbourne

The croissanterie to rule them all, Lune, is a shrine of pastry worship thanks to the secret recipe of aeronautical engineer turned patissiere Kate Reid. Easter sees Lune pivot to the dark arts of the hot cross cruffin.

Tip: "Invest in a good set of digital scales. Not only does it mean you can be super accurate with your measurements, but you can also save on cleaning up… for example, weigh all your dry ingredients into the same bowl, one at a time, taking the scales back to zero after each addition."

Trick: "Place the buns close enough on the baking tray that during proving and baking they 'grow' into each other, and to eat them you have to tear them apart. That soft bit where they were touching each other develops a beautiful light crust when you toast the buns; it's the textural equivalent of heaven."

Riff: "I won't expect anyone to make hot cross cruffins at home, but if you have leftover plain croissants, make a hot cross bun-inspired bread and butter pudding with them. Soak torn pieces of croissant in a spiced egg and milk mixture (my go-to spice mix is cinnamon, allspice and grated nutmeg), then mix through currants, sultanas and candied peel before baking."

119 Rose Street, Fitzroy; shop 16/161 Collins Street, Melbourne, 0467 048 540, lunecroissanterie.com

Keiran Mckay of Baked By Keiran, Sydney

Three years ago, Baked By Keiran was a wholesale-only operation – but thankfully for anyone seeking well-made sourdough and pastries, Keiran McKay eventually opened his tiny Dulwich Hill storefront to the public. Demand for his loaves, pies and caneles means he's had to expand his hours so you can pick up his raspberry mousse lamingtons and broad bean, feta and mint pizzettas any day of the week. Interest in his Easter specialties has also surged: on a recent Sunday morning, he sold out of 300 hot cross buns by 9.30am.

Tip: "Read your recipe thoroughly before starting," says McKay. It might seem obvious, but you can avert so many baking disasters this way: tricky details can be hidden in the fine print, while complicated steps and important sub-recipes can be easily missed when speed-reading. "Pre-condition your ingredients, if required, and step it out in your head prior to mixing," he says.

Trick: "Add your fruit after developing your dough," he says. "We don't want it broken down into a paste from mixing it too much." He uses dates in his hot cross buns – and they can easily become too mushy if they're not added at the right time.

Riff: McKay's bakery is known for its 72-hour sourdough, made with a starter of organic grapes that's 12 years old. With the chef so accustomed to playing the long game, it's no surprise that his hot cross buns get a lengthy fermentation. He says he doesn't like to rush things and you can taste it in his slow-fermented date, orange peel and cranberry buns, which are so wonderfully light that you can inhale two of them without even trying.

455 Marrickville Road, Dulwich Hill, instagram.com/bakedbykeiran

Madame & Yves, Yves Scherrer, Sydney

Yves Scherrer has been a pastry chef for nearly two decades. He's plated desserts for Sokyo, Berowra Waters Inn and Est, plus he's coached Australia's World Pastry Cup team (which involved ensuring enough chainsaws turned up in France for the ice-sculpting part of the competition). He opened the wonderful Madame & Yves patisserie in December.

Tip: "Pastry is very much like science: every ingredient has a specific purpose for a specific amount," he says. "Baking, however, you need to adapt to your own oven. Every oven is different; you may need 10C more or 15C less than what the recipe says. You need to understand your oven to get a good result."

Trick: "Keep them very close together when baking," he says. "That will keep them very moist and fluffy."

Riff: "You can change the fruits to use chocolate instead," he says. He offers a cocoa-heavy alternative to the traditional recipe at Madame & Yves. He suggests adding coffee to enhance the flavour of the spices in your hot cross buns, too.

343-345 Clovelly Road, Clovelly, madameandyves.com.au

Ben Shewry of Attica, Melbourne

We're surely in a topsy-turvy world when the team from one of Australia's best-known restaurants turns from fine dining to takeaways, including hot cross buns using owner-chef Ben Shewrys trademark native ingredients, including muntries, strawberry gum leaf and native rainforest cherries (see recipe below).  

Tip: If you're going to get into baking, invest in some decent baking trays that are heavier than the cheap ones. Or use a roasting pan lined with baking paper."

Trick: "I'd rather a slightly hot oven than a cold one. At least when it's running hot you can prop the door open but it's hard to drive the temperature up fast when it's cold."

Riff: "When you're making them at home, instead of the finger lime jam glaze we use to finish the Attica buns with you could try a little good-quality marmalade. Just add water and warm it then brush it on."

72 Glen Eira Road, Ripponlea, 03 9530 0111, attica.com.au

Attica's native fruit hot cross buns

Ben Shewry baked these hot cross buns for Attica's Bake Shop (which is no longer operating).

INGREDIENTS

  • 1250g strong bread flour
  • 250g sugar
  • 750ml full cream milk
  • 100g butter
  • 3 free-range eggs
  • finely grated zest of 3 lemons
  • 250g muntries (dried currants would make a good substitute)
  • 125g glazed rainforest cherry, chopped (chopped red glace cherries would make a good substitute)
  • 25g salt
  • 27g dried yeast
  • 500g raisins
  • 1.5g dried ground strawberry gum (there's not really a replacement for this but nutmeg would be nice)
  • 5g ground dried anise myrtle (cinnamon is an excellent replacement)
  • 10g native fruit spice (mixed spice would be a good substitute)

Crosses

  • 150g plain flour
  • 200ml water

Glaze

  • 200g finger lime jam (good quality marmalade or apricot jam would be a good substitute)

METHOD

  1. Sift all dry ingredients, except yeast, and add to a mixing bowl of an electric mixer. Add fruit. Warm milk to 30C, remove from the heat and whisk in yeast until dissolved. Melt butter and add to milk with eggs, whisking well.
  2. Add liquids to the electric mixer bowl containing the flour and spices, and using a dough hook, mix for 12 minutes on a low to medium speed. The dough should be smooth but still quite wet and sticky.
  3. Transfer to a container, greased with a little tray spray or oil, and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Place in a warm place for 1.5-2 hours or until doubled in size.
  4. Preheat oven to 180C 30 minutes before you need it.
  5. Turn out dough onto a floured bench and cover with a damp tea towel. Weigh the buns at 80g per bun. Roll into balls (you will need extra flour for this as it's a sticky dough) and place in a greased and baking paper-lined large baking tin or roasting pan. Allow about 2cm between each bun.
  6. Cover and place in a warm place to prove until doubled in size. Test to see if the buns are proved enough but gently pressing a finger into one. If the indentation rebounds slowly but returns to the same place, then it is ready to bake. If it is firm and springs back suddenly it is under-proved and needs more time. If it collapses under your gentle pressure, then it is over-proved. The buns will take about 1-1½ hours to prove.
  7. Whisk flour and water for cross paste together in a bowl until smooth.
  8. Pipe crosses on the buns (I find a squeezy bottle works best) and bake for 20 minutes or until dark golden and cooked through.
  9. As soon as they come from the oven brush them with plenty of hot jam. If your jam is too thick, thin it out with a tablespoon of water.

Makes about 40