I’m proud to say the sixteen hot cross buns have depleted in numbers, and (I’ll smugly add) I am not the only culprit (there has definitely been a lift in the sugar ban in the rest of the house, not that I’ll name names). However, these buns have reached a crossroads resembling unforgiving stale rocks of chewy bread, lying in wait to suck all the moisture out your mouth. No liberal spreading of butter will help now. The options are a) chuck ’em, or b) adapt them…
The word ‘adapt’ is one of my favourites (not the word as such, one of my favourite words is ‘salamdander’ it just rolls off the tongue) because its meaning holds so much promise. I even wrote my university dissertation on adapting novels for film – should the filmmakers stay true to the book *ahem Harry Potter* or are they entitled to use the narrative’s bare bones for a new story? It is a debate I still hold dear. Adapting food has a similar premise. We want to keep the familiar flavours of the dish but a little imagination and fierce internet searching can transform a stale rock of a hot cross bun into something soft, moist and indulgent. Inevitably all these options require ludicrous proportions of fat and/or sugar so if you’re determined to stick at a saintly Lent look away now.
The best recipes, in my calorie-ignoring, stodge-loving opinion, soak the halved buns in a vanilla egg custard, scatter with orange zest, and maybe some chocolate chips, then either bake them alla bread and butter pudding or fry in a vast quantity of oil like a spiced French toast, so they puff up crisp and frilly, the dough sweet and light inside.
You could also layer the base of a trifle with bun halves, the spiced bread soaking up Cointreau or Cognac, fruit juices – from maybe some pears, plums and rhubarb roasted with syrupy stem ginger – topped in thick custard and cream. Or you can pulse the stubbornly stale buns in a food processor until they become crumbs, ready to fill a spiced treacle tart or as the base for a queen of puddings.
Not only that, the traditional desserts requiring slices of bread, such as summer pudding and apple Charlottes, can easily substitute the bread for a slither of hot cross bun. If your buns are smaller than the average bread slice, line a ramekin or individual pudding moulds, fill with soft fruit puree sweetened with brown sugar and cinnamon, and top with a buttered round of bun. Once baked these become steaming golden parcels, oozing from the seams, served with lashings of clotted cream.
The simplest option I have found, however, is Bostock.
Such an abrupt name does few favours for the light and highly moreish sweet treat. The recipe I followed is by Izy Hossack and utterly transformed my stale hot cross buns. Doused in orange syrup, the buns are then piled high with frangipane, sprinkled with sliced almonds and baked. Out of the oven I coated them in icing sugar and cinnamon, and then spent the next few minutes gorging myself. As I baked I was perplexed by the flavour combination of orange with French almond but honestly it works beautifully – each flavour is sweet and delicate, accentuating the zesty spice of the hot cross bun. Meanwhile the creamy frangipane softens the bread, becoming a cake-toast hybrid. I added a cinnamon stick to my orange syrup, complimenting the warmth of the buns. The frangipane did melt and spread once in the oven, leaving a sponge-studded tray for extra nibbling, so the frangipane mixture may need more flour – or I’m just trying to squeeze too much on top of one scrawny hot cross bun half.
In other news, Fiona has just bombarded me with the announcement that Steps is having a twenty year reunion and apparently touring with THEIR NEW ALBUM in November and December. The excitement is so real and we’ve just spent the last half an hour watching all their videos on YouTube. Even though it was the late nineties, these videos were really ahead of their time (if you ignore the terrible CGI and the Casualty-themed ‘Chain Reaction’). In honour of their reunion, here is another flashback to the undisputed coolness of Steps back in the day; this time they’re in gold with Claire in a bikini, trousers and skirt combination. Also I love how H plays Leonardo DiCaprio twice in just three minutes, I imagine the producer finally snapped with, ‘No H you don’t look like him, now here’s a wig and go be Austin Powers.’ Quite the come down.