Hot Cross Buns: A Comparative Study

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Now that Easter weekend has been and gone, it’s time to answer the question on all of our minds here at ISE: Which variety of hot cross bun is the most delicious?

Supermarkets have offered assorted flavours of these spring time delights, and would have us believe that variety is the ‘spiced dough’ of life, but do any of the new buns on the block really stand up to culinary scrutiny? We simply had to know.

I was particularly eager to conduct this research. When it comes to food, I'll admit that I prefer to stick to the classics. They're called 'classic' for a reason – tried, taste-tested and approved by generations. You can’t go wrong. According to Mary Berry, the unprecedented master of all baked goods, traditional (‘classic’!) hot cross buns have a spiced dough laced with juicy sultanas and citrus peel, are painted with a cross made from a flour and water paste, and are then covered in a delightfully sticky glaze. And, of course, as it’s Mary Berry, there best not be any skimping on the sultanas – she likes her buns juicy.

Since this blog is basically science, I’ll starts with a definition of the ‘classic’, the much-loved, the original HCB (I enjoy a nickname; speaking of which, I have called this, my all-time favourite, the OG. I was told ‘Big Daddy’ was too ‘90s). For clarity, and because no highly methodical report is complete without one, a diagram:

Again, let’s remain serious about this – my hypothesis: As a traditionalist, I am dubious that any recipe will trump the classic hot cross bun (depicted above). I am going to proposition that variation of ingredients will result in a less enjoyable baked good experience.

Methodology: With any scientific experiment, it's important to have a strict method. Every bun in the test pool was savoured on more than one occasion – to ensure reliability of course (#summerbodygoals). Each was prepared with a consistent approach: Toasted (toaster used, no grill available) and buttered with two strokes of a standard table knife (unsalted Lurpak; other brands would serve just as effectively). All were consumed within five minutes of preparation. Genius, I know. I’m exceptionally pleased to have finally found a use for my triple science and food technology GSCEs.

The results – drumroll, please…

Chocolate Orange: The most drastically different HCB, completely flouting tradition with its bright orange cross, lack of any spice, and NO FRUIT whatsoever. Really. You can see that I really threw myself in the deep end here. I found that they didn't toast as well as standard doughs, so there was a slightly stodgier result (obviously, if Mary had made them, they would have been double-proved to produce a more open texture, but I’m assuming she was busy the day these were conceptualised). They were tasty, however I felt they were definitely more suited to a dessert-type situation, rather than a mid-morning snack. Overall rating: 2/5  #toomessytotoast

P.S. It was my intention to provide diagrams for all subjects, but my bosses suggested that there may be a better use of my time…

Cranberry and Orange: A great option! Fruit definitely works best for hot cross buns; the juiciness compliments the warm spiced dough and melted butter more than chocolate ever could. The orange twang stood out for me more than the cranberries – a subtle and welcome innovation. I have found that fruity HCBs come with a much more satisfying glaze too, and is it really a hot cross bun if your hands aren’t sticky for half an hour after eating? Also, just putting it out there, but wouldn’t cranberry lend itself excellently to a Christmas HCB? Too much? Overall rating: 4/5             #versatile #pseudoclassic #thinkingoutsidetheboxbutnottoofar

Cheese: Don't get me wrong, cheese is my favourite thing on the planet; but, to me, this felt all kinds of wrong. Yes, it had fruit, yes, it had spice (peculiar cacophony of flavours, I know), but it won’t satisfy your true HCB desires. Whilst the taste wasn’t offensive, I feel these would be better used as an exciting bread alternative for a bacon bap, or ham sandwich – though, as a vegetarian, this is of little to no use to me, and, therefore, bias has inevitably come into play. The flavors muddled along together like a bad match on a speed-date. It’s a no from me. Overall rating: 2/5
#sorrynotsorry #awkardmoments

Toffee, Fudge and Chocolate: I was incredibly excited to try these. How can you go wrong with this trio of deliciousness? Keen to maintain a strict methodology for testing, I made sure to toast these, and I fear this was a mistake. It feels strange to say that melted chocolate is a problem in any situation, but it kind of was. A hot cross bun should be a practical snack, and the melted chocolate chips made it a little too messy. Also, the chips of chocolate, fudge, and toffee would have impeded the work of any golden syrup glaze, as the trio created a very dry result. Clearly, the team heading up this bake were not aware of the pitfall, otherwise would have implemented an extra-thick layer of glaze. The juiciness to stickiness ratio just didn’t work. All in all, a massive let down and a particularly dark period in this experiment. Overall rating: 1/5
#gutted #alsotoomessytotoast #savechocolatefortheeggs

Bramley Apple: I think the ISE office might be a little tired of me raving about these, but they are my favourite by a mile! With a hint of cinnamon, it’s like your favourite apple pie and a hot cross bun had a baby. I felt that these remained true to the classic, yet injected a subtle, and greatly appreciated, twist. Fruit to dough ratio was also ideal, and the glaze remained delightfully adhesive – a welcome pick-me-up after the previous disasters. I’m just going to say it: These are my new 'classic'. Overall rating: 5/5                                                                               #theoldclassicisdead #makinguptherulesasigo #winner #spoileralert

Conclusion: In the end, there was no competition. Taking into account practicality, flavour, and respect for the original HCB, the Bramley Apple passes with flying colours, ticking all of the boxes. I’m ready for my internship, Queen Mary! #bramleyisbest #nobaconneededhere #pickmepickme

Having completed my research, I feel more equipped to make suggestions for future flavour combinations, and, if any supermarket giants are reading (and why wouldn’t you be?), I suggest you make a Summer Fruits HCB (strawberries, cherries, apple and a little vanilla). I am happy to volunteer with quality control (and we’re at 21 Ganton Street for deliveries of free samples!). Another I would be eager to see is a Tropical HCB – maybe some lime and coconut, or mango and passionfruit. I’m sure my good pal, Mary, will be happy to assist with developing a Pina Colada variety.

Finally, please note that this report does not represent a definitive list of available HCB varieties. I am aware that there are other recipes yet to try, and have heard rumours of a cream cheese filled carrot cake version… Whilst this sounds spectacular, I couldn't include it in my research for fears of setting the office toaster, and perhaps myself, alight. I am happy to sacrifice my time in the name of food, but I draw the line at sacrificing my eyebrows. Besides, I’m now banned from the office kitchen, after getting melted chocolate everywhere.

Until the next seasonal food review,

Lauren