The best part about any holiday or celebration is the food, and more specifically, the baked goods; cakes and breads feels so much more special if you only consume them once a year. My favorite Easter bake is hot cross buns, though I do also love Simnel cake, but I have a particularly weak spot for sweet enriched breads. I generally bake at least one batch of hot cross buns around Easter time every year; I decided to do something a little different this year though and baked a hot cross bun loaf using my hokkaido milk bread recipe as the base.
Hokkaido milk bread is my absolute favorite bread, it is not the easiest bread to make by hand as the dough is very sticky and takes a long time to knead, but it is so worth the effort (and if you own a stand mixer then it is barely any effort at all). It is super soft and slightly sweet and it stays soft for several days, unlike most breads; though if you can actually make it last that long then you posses far more willpower than I! It works perfectly as a hot cross bun loaf, all you need to do is add some mixed spice, orange zest, candied peel and raisins to the basic milk bread recipe then pipe some crosses on before baking and glaze with apricot jam to give it a lovely shine.
The reason hokkaido milk bread is so soft is because it is made using a method called “tangzhong” which is a roux of water and flour which is added to the dough; I don’t understand exactly why it works (if anyone can explain please do!) but it does, so I’m not going to query it. All I know is that it makes this hot cross bun loaf so good that I was kicking myself for not doubling the recipe and making two loaves; I highly recommend that you don’t make the same mistake as me – make two because one loaf will not last long enough!
Hokkaido Milk Bread Hot Cross Bun Loaf
- 20 g (3 level tbsp) strong white bread flour
- 110 ml (1/3 + 1/8 cup) water
- 350 g (scant 3 cups) strong white bread flour
- 7 g (2 tsp) fast action yeast
- 60 g (scant 1/3 cup) caster sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tsp mixed spice
- finely grated zest of 1 large orange
- all of the tangzhong
- 2 tbsp milk powder
- 120 ml (1/2 cup) full fat milk
- 1 large egg
- 50 g (scant 1/4 cup) softened butter
- 90 g (3.2 oz) candied mixed peel
- 110 g (4 oz) raisins
- 2 tbsp plain flour
- about 2 tbsp milk
- 2 tbsp clear apricot jam to glaze
To make the tangzhong
Whisk together the flour and water in a small saucepan until smooth. Place over a medium/low heat and whisk constantly until the mixture has thickened to a paste/pudding-like consistency (think wallpaper paste...). Scrape it into a small bowl, cover with clingfilm directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming and leave to cool to room temperature.
To make the dough
Place the flour in a large bowl (or the bowl of your stand mixer, fitted with a dough hook) and add the yeast to one side, the salt, sugar, mixed spice and orange zest to the other (if the salt is added on top of the yeast it can kill it), stir to combine.
Whisk together the cooled tangzhong, milk powder, egg and milk until smooth and add it to the dry ingredients. Mix everything together until it forms a soft, shaggy dough. If you are kneading by hand, turn the dough out onto a worktop and knead for 5-10 minutes until it starts to feel smooth and a little less sticky (it will still be very sticky), don't be tempted to add any extra flour, the dough is meant to be sticky! The best way to knead a wet dough by hand is to stretch it up away from the worktop (it will stick), then slap it back down, make sure that you pull from a different section each time and keep a dough scraper handy. If you are using a stand mixer, mix for 5 minutes or so until the dough is smooth.
Add the butter and mix until it is fully incorporated, continue to knead until the dough is very elastic and begins to come away from the worktop (or sides of the stand mixer bowl) cleanly. It should pass the windowpane test - stretch the dough with your hands, you should be able to stretch it to a very thin, almost transparent membrane without it tearing. This can take up to 20 minutes of kneading, especially by hand.
Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with clingfilm, leave to rise for 1-2 hours until well doubled in size. Alternatively, place it in the fridge to rise overnight. If you refrigerate it, the following day let it come up to room temperature for about half an hour before continuing.
Line an 8.5x4.5in (or thereabouts) loaf tin with baking parchment. Once the dough has risen, punch it down and fold it in on itself a couple of times then knead in the candied peel and raisins until evenly distributed.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, divide it in to six equal pieces and roll each one into a ball.
Roll each ball out into an oval, fold one third of the oval over the middle (from the side, not the top), then the other third over the top to form a long, narrow packet. Roll over the seam to flatten it, then roll it up from one end to make a fat sausage. Repeat with the other balls of dough then arrange them in the loaf tin in two rows of three, seam side down. (You can skip this step and simply shape the dough into balls and arrange them in the tin; rolling the dough like this just gives the loaf pretty swirly sides).
Loosely cover with oiled clingfilm and leave to rise until at least doubled in size, this can take 1-2 hours (mine took nearly 2). If you press the dough gently with a finger the indentation should spring back slowly but remain visible. If it springs back quickly it needs to prove for a little longer. Preheat the oven while the dough is rising to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.
To make the crosses, place the flour in a small bowl and gradually stir in the milk until you have a thick, but pourable paste. Transfer the paste to a small disposable piping bag and snip off the tip, pipe a cross on the top of each bun.
Bake the loaf on the lower middle shelf of the oven for 40-50 minutes until well risen and the bread sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom, the internal temperature should reach at least 94C/200F on a probe thermometer. Cover the bread with foil partway through baking to stop it from becoming too dark.
Gently heat the apricot jam until runny, transfer the cooked loaf to a wire rack and brush generously all over with the jam, leave to cool completely before slicing.
I am sharing this with Saucy Saturdays hosted by The Flavour Bender, Take Two Tapas, La Petit Chef and Mid-Life Croissant, Bake Of The Week hosted by Casa Costello and Maison Cupcake, Fiesta Friday hosted by The Not So Creative Cook and Eating Well Diary , Foodie FriDIY, Foodie Friends Friday and Friday Features