Easter is such a welcome four-day extra-long weekend which we get just as our energy levels start to lag after a few months back at work following the Christmas break. Easter: four straight days of mild autumn weather in Canberra, along with hot cross buns, chocolate eggs and something wonderful like the National Folk Festival.
At the beginning of the year, I commented on the very early arrival of hot cross buns on local supermarket shelves. One reader thought it if they bought buns in January, the buns would be very stale by Easter, and another was determined not to eat one until Easter Sunday. To sort out that little bit of confusion, hot cross buns are special buns for Easter: fruit buns with crosses on them. Reputedly around in England from the 12th century, the cross has a specific religious significance that may not necessarily be relevant to all. It represents the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on Good Friday, therefore we traditionally eat hot cross buns on that day. As a child, I found it was the most boring day of the year as absolutely nothing happened, and the only treat was the aforementioned bun. Absolutely everything was closed! That has changed somewhat, although I note newspapers are still not printed on Good Friday. What followed closely on from a national day of contemplation was the bliss of Easter Sunday with chocolate eggs, with luck something like Red Tulip, and they were never consumed, let alone even seen, before the appropriate day. As we know, both buns and eggs are now readily available pretty much straight after the Christmas. They can be consumed immediately and simply replaced for Easter.
Following suggestions from some readers and other foodie friends, I have spent a few weeks seeking out and consuming a variety of locally baked hot cross buns. Choice Magazine has saved me the trouble of completing part of my research with the recent publication of their very comprehensive survey of supermarket and franchise bakery buns. Choice Magazine testers agree with me that Coles traditional buns are quite good, and more than a couple of friends told me they found the Apple and Cinnamon hot cross buns from Bakers Delight especially appealing.
So I turned my attention to some of Canberra’s excellent independent bakeries. It took me a long time to recover from Cornucopia closing in 2014, and more recently Autolyse and the Yarralumla Bakery. However, after visiting half a dozen different bakeries in recent weeks, I do believe the future of wonderful artisan bread, and seasonal specialties such as hot cross buns, are in excellent hands. I haven’t visited all of Canberra’s independent bakeries, so I really hope readers will feel free to fill in any gaps. My plan wasn’t to decide who has the fruitiest and tastiest hot cross buns because they are all different and all good! I feel judging things like a hot cross bun is such a personal thing, but along the road, I have so enjoyed some serious bun-munching. I just wanted to let RiotACT readers know who was baking what so you can all put hot cross bun shopping on your essential Easter ‘to do’ list.
For everyone who wants to support our excellent local bakeries, here is a rundown of some of the best. There are lots of small bakeries out there, so please feel free to write about your favourite bakery in the comments section.
The Flute @ 8 Barrier Street, Fyshwick. Always busy, Flute sells to the hungry of Fyshwick and many more from further afield. Their buns are quite flat, almost like a Scottish bap which makes halving and toasting very easy. Full of currants and sultanas, they are naturally sweet, with a nice spicy flavour that could possibly be cloves or allspice.When I enquired, I was told the spices used were ‘secret’, but Flute does admit to using pure orange oil instead of peel. These tasty treats are $2.50 each.
Silo Bakery @ Kingston Shops: Silo’s buns have a slightly denser texture than most, and also have a serious cult following. After mixing the flour, yeast, fruit and spices together, the yeast is left to ferment. Currants, sultanas, and peel are used along with a secret spice mix. According to Silo, “the Druids are known to come out of the woods to get their hands on these buns”. Available from this coming Saturday, then Tuesday to Saturday until Maundy Thursday 13 April, Silo’s iconic hot cross buns are $4.00.
Three Mills @Lancaster Place, Majura Park: I love the atmosphere of this recently discovered bakery-cum-café cosily tucked away at Majura Park. There are big bags of flour and the different varieties of artisan bread are interestingly displayed on the wall. I bought a ‘six pack’ of buns for $15.00 ($3.00 individually) as I had friends for afternoon tea. The buns were not overly moist, naturally sweet with sultanas and I liked the addition of tiny pieces of fresh lemon peel, with a delicate spice flavour. Three Mills will also be trying out some specialty buns between now and Easter, possibly with chocolate, and sour cherry.
A. Baker @2/15 Edinburgh Avenue, NewActon: I toasted their delicious yeasty bun and munched into it before remembering that Three Mills (see above) now provides A Baker bread, and of course hot cross buns. Great Easter buns from two easy locations.
Knead Patisserie @ Belconnen Fresh Food Markets: this market bakery is a great favourite when I am ‘northside’. Unfortunately, they had not started baking buns last week but they still have a wonderful range of pastries and bread and are much loved by regulars at the markets. Hot cross buns will be on the menu this week.
Danny’s Bakery @ Narrabundah Shops: Danny has been baking at the Narrabundah shops for 30 years, producing great Dutch-style sourdough bread and popular seasonal hot cross buns. This was definitely the biggest bun, with lots of big fat juicy sultanas, a nice level of spice, but no peel. A longtime favourite bun for many, they are $2.50 or 6 for $8.80.
Sweet Bones @ 8/18 Lonsdale Street, Braddon: this cute little bit of vegan heaven is actually situated on Eloura Street near the roundabout. Sweet Bones didn’t have any buns the day I visited but promised buns this coming Saturday 1 and Sunday 2 April and Friday, Saturday and Sunday for the following two weeks. Sweet Bones will have two flavors: traditional and chocolate cherry, and they are happy to take orders.
Hot cross buns! Eat them fresh from the baker in the car on the way home, or toast and butter them for breakfast, morning or afternoon tea. Or if you have a few left over, why not make a make a hot cross bun and butter pudding?
I don’t often use a recipe, so for each hot cross bun, sliced vertically and buttered, I use a custard mix of one egg and half- to three-quarters of a cup of full cream milk, even adding cream for a richer taste. For anyone with a sweet tooth, spread the slices of bun with your favourite jam. I used freshly grated nutmeg and a pinch of cloves, but sparingly as the buns were already deliciously spicy. Baked in a moderate about 170 degrees until golden – approximately 30 minutes. This dish is always voted ‘yum’!
I can’t leave this article without the joke shared with me this week. Question: What do you get if you pour hot water down a rabbit hole? Answer: Hot Cross Bunnies.
Photos: Top; Danny’s Bakery Dutch-style sourdough hot cross buns, Middle; The Flute hot cross buns, Bottom; Devastatingly delicious hot cross bun and butter pudding. All photos provided by Maryann Mussared.