Date + Coffee Hot Cross Buns.

The first batch of HCB for 2014.
Inspired by sudden rain and a Southerly change, late on a mid-March Sunday morning.  
The sun is bright but the air is cooler. The mornings are starting to smell like Easter.
It’s a time for earthy spices, treacly dates and soft, steaming-hot baked goods.
Hot Cross Buns: Date and Coffee

Based on Citrus and Candy’s wonderful, infinitely adaptable basic HCB recipe.

Gather:
310 mls milk (skim is fine)
70 g caster sugar
4 tsp dry yeast

610g plain (or baker’s*) flour
1 tsp salt
1.5–2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg

60 g butter

1.5 cups chopped dates
2 tbsp used coffee grounds (or freshly ground coffee, if you really want a kick)
2 eggs

To finish
60 g plain flour
60 mls water (room temp.)

About 4 tbsp jam**

Then:

  1. Heat the milk and sugar in a small/medium saucepan, stirring gently, until it’s warm (but not hot — you should still be able to comfortably dip your finger into it). Set aside for a few minutes.
  2. When the milk has cooled a little, use a fork to stir the yeast into it, breaking up any lumps. Leave this to sit somewhere warm for about 10 minutes, or until it’s good and frothy.
  3. While the yeast is waking up, sift all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl — or into the bowl of your stand mixer if you’re planning to use the dough hook rather than knead by hand.***
  4. Dice the butter, then rub it into the dry ingredients with your fingertips, until there are no noticeable chunks left.
  5. Chop up the dates into sultana-sized pieces, and add them to the dry ingredients, together with the coffee.
  6. Add the frothy milk mixture and the two eggs, then either stir with a wooden spoon to combine (before hand-kneading), or just turn on your stand mixer with the dough hook attached.
  7. Either way, knead for about 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. If it’s too wet and sticky, add a touch more flour; if it’s too dry, add a little more milk. You should end up with a cohesive but slightly sagging ball of dough that’s shiny/wet to the touch (rather than covered in a layer of flour).
  8. Transfer the dough to a well oiled (with vegetable/olive oil) bowl, and rub a little extra oil over the entire surface of the dough.
  9. Cover the bowl with cling wrap and leave it somewhere warm (or at least not cold) to prove for about 45 minutes, or until the dough has roughly doubled in size.
  10. Once the dough has proved, turn on the oven to 200° C, and butter the bottom and sides of a large, high-edged baking tray (or a couple of 2L Pyrex baking dishes).
  11. Punch the dough (don’t be shy!) a couple of times, then smooth it back into a ball again and give it one or two kneads.
  12. Grab a small fistful of dough, roll it into a ball, and put it near the corner of the baking tray/dish. Repeat — leaving about a 1cm gap between each bun (they’ll spread! And rise! Twice!) — until all the dough is gone.
  13. Leave the formed dough to rise again for about 10 minutes — on top of your preheating oven would be the best spot.
  14. In a small bowl, whisk the flour and water together using a fork — you want a no-lumps paste that isn’t too runny, and that you can squeeze out of a piping bag in a straight(ish) line. I usually need to add a couple more pinches of flour and a sprinkle of water until it feels right.
  15. Transfer the flour paste to a piping bag (or a ziplock bag, then cut the tip off) and pipe lines all the way across — and down — the rows of buns. (It would be folly to pipe each cross separately!)
    Hot Cross Buns: Date and Coffee
    (It’s okay if the lines are a bit… rustic. They’ll smooth out in the oven anyway.)
  16. Bake at 200° C for about 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 180° C and bake for another 15 minutes, or until the buns are evenly golden brown on top, and sound hollow when you tap the tops.
  17. Remove from the oven and leave the buns to cool — in the dish/tray, on a cooling rack — for about 5 minutes. Then brush the tops with jam, making sure it doesn’t pool in the corners.
  18. Serve warm****, with salted butter (or sharp cheddar cheese — trust me!) and milky coffee.

Notes:
*I’ve recently discovered baker’s (or “strong”) flour, so I’m experimenting with it in everything. It has more protein (gluten) than regular plain flour, so the results are more elastic, and more gravity-defying (so it’s basically the opposite of cake flour). This is all very handy when your dough is full of rise-inhibiting spices.
**I used rhubarb jam because I have plenty of it lying around after last weekend’s farm foray. But you can use any jam or jelly or marmalade. Lemon marmalade would go particularly well with the dates — just make sure it’s not too chunky. (Or pick out the chunks and eat them before using the “gel” part of the marmalade to glaze the buns. Yes, I did just suggest that.)
***I’m a huge fan of kneading by hand, but a) this dough is quite wet and b) the fruit in hot cross buns tends to get a bit messy/everywhere, so I’d recommend the dough hook/machine if you’ve got one.
****This is a Very Important Thing. After all, hot cross buns should be steaming, fluffy and soft — not hard and bready. And although it sounds mad, this means the best way to reheat your HCB is in the microwave. If, like me, you don’t have a microwave, just wrap a bun in foil — leaving a bit of “headspace” for steam to rise — and pop it in a hot oven for a few minutes.

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