Roz Crowley puts a range of hot cross buns to the taste test
The origins of hot cross buns are believed to back as far as the 12th century with a cross, made of pastry or an indentation in the dough, having religious Easter connotations.
The Oxford Companion to Food tells us that “according to superstition, hot cross buns and loaves baked on Good Friday never went mouldy and were sometimes kept as charms from one year to the next”. Shelf life without additives.
Hot cross buns should have a simple list of ingredients: flour, water, yeast, salt (as for bread), with enrichment coming from butter, milk, eggs, and flavoured with sugar, currants, and spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, mixed spice, and cloves. Without additives, they won’t have a long shelf life but are excellent halved and toasted, warmed in the oven (not microwaved), or on a plate by the fire or radiator. They freeze well.
Many bakeries don’t make hot cross buns or make them just for Good Friday, so we focused mainly on supermarket offerings. The drive for long shelf life results in additives and flours such as soy which often make the dough springy to the touch and also heavy in the mouth. Still, a hot cross bun makes a good snack for children and a nice breakfast treat with boiled or scrambled eggs.
This may look like the most expensive bun but is so large it could be shared. The rich, natural texture and taste, freshly baked, seemed additive free and combined well to make this the bun that tasters kept coming back to for more. Delicious. Baked in Cork. For a warming recipe for trifle with pears and hot cross buns see: exa.mn/HotCrossTrifle
€5.50 for 5 €1.20 each
Chunky buns here are a lot lighter than they look. A decent amount of fruit provides good balance in a lightly spiced, tasty, traditional, enriched bread dough. Made fresh every day, these were tops with our tasters. They don’t need to be toasted, but especially delicious when they are. Use leftovers in a bread and butter pudding. Baked every day in Carrigaline, Co Cork. For outlets see: hassettsbakery.ie
Nine small buns have a generous 20% dark chocolate chips for a rich change of flavour in an otherwise traditional recipe. Correctly enriched with butter and egg, there are also emulsifiers, but the texture is quite natural, given the added moistness of the chocolate. One is satisfying enough. The brand’s Made Without Wheat buns are good too.
€1 for 4
The cheapest of the selection, tasters found the after tang from mixed peel too much. A long list of ingredients includes environmentally unfriendly palm oil and palm fat and additives for long shelf life. The springy texture comes from the addition of soya flour more than the light hand of a baker. No one’s favourite, they are better toasted. Produced in Northern Ireland.
€1.99 for 4
Soya flour is used to give the spring, along with wheat and barley malt flours. Mixed spice and mixed peel provide a gentle tang which divided tasters. The mildly spiced dough, with acidity regulators and three emulsifiers, also had a little butter for a slightly rich texture. Produced in Wexford.
€3.99 for 4
The dry texture, common in gluten-free products, comes from maize starch, rice flour, tapioca starch and a number of thickeners, psyllium husk powder and potato starch. Top of the list is water to bring them together. While not attractive to tasters without a gluten intolerance, they were much better when toasted. Coeliacs still have to pay more for these treats. Made in Donegal.
€1.49 for 4
Nicely plump fruit, including citrus peel and quite a lot of cinnamon flavour, combine in this chunky bun made in Co Tipperary. While whole egg powder is used, it’s not the same as fresh egg to provide richness. Instead, we find water third on the list of ingredients, after flour and fruit, and a lot of additives are not used in fresh buns. Instead of enriching butter, there are vegetable oils.
€2 for 4
Chunky buns have a good balance of fruit and crumb. While allergen information was given on the bag (contains eggs, milk, soya, wheat, barley, sulphur dioxide), the rest of the ingredients were not. The texture was quite heavy, but tasters liked the spiciness. Better toasted.