Recently, I felt like I have had a breakthrough with my approach to vegan baking thanks to the MsCupcakes book. So I have been leaning into it. The book helped me reevaluate how I approach the free-from baking category. I’ve noticed that many vegan recipes have adapted an existing recipe purely with substitutions for ingredients, like ground flaxseed instead of an egg, or oil instead of butter. Sometimes the ingredient can seem peculiar and unusual, depending on where you live. For example, flax seeds were difficult to get hold of for a while. However, the book helped to start thinking that rather than finding substitutions for things, I should try to think about what that particular ingredient brings and whether I can replicate that texture or flavour in another plant-based way.
Therefore in the last month, I have been testing out vegan hot cross buns because it’s Easter and because enriched bread should, in theory, be quite simple to adapt. Spare a thought for the family that I live with. They have been through five iterations of a vegan hot cross bun recipe in my quest to perfect them.
The first time, I substituted soy milk for milk and oil for butter and omitted the apples. They were alright but under-proved and missing the freshness from the apple. Next, I made buttermilk, using soy milk and cider vinegar in order to create a softer, rich dough. Buttermilk helps to create a soft texture normally in bread. They were better but the texture was a bit dense. Then I used the tangzhong method to create springy soft buns that would last longer and they were amazing. Why didn’t I stop there? They took 3 rises. One for the dough, then an overnight one with the fruit added in, and a final prove once the buns were shaped. The buns were cracking a bit as if they were underproved. As amazing as they were in flavour and texture, I wanted to simplify and shorten the method. (You can, of course, still do this recipe in 3 rises.) The fourth time, I decided to try reducing the number of rises to two, but they ended up under-proving and cracking at the top. I left it for a week while my brain mulled over it. Do plant-based enriched bread recipes generally take longer to prove than non-vegan recipes? I felt like they shouldn’t as they don’t contain eggs that can slow down the rise. Perhaps it has just been my impatience to get them baked that has resulted in under proved buns. I almost hit publish on the recipe at the end of March but then my perfectionism kicked in. A few days later, I hit on an easy solution – double the yeast in the recipe. It is such a simple answer that you wonder why I hadn’t thought of it earlier. Anyhow, that is what I did and this is what I present to you now.
I adapted this by adding the tangzhong knowledge I learned from last year’s sticky apple and raisin hot cross bun recipe to Paul Hollywood Hot Cross Bun recipe because mixed peel is back in the shops this year. However, I reduced the amount because I think that 50g is just fine. Some more notes on how you can vary the method. I like making this in the stand mixer as the tangzhong makes it a wetter dough. You can knead by hand but it will take longer.
I’ve also been trying out different ways of mixing in the fruit with varying degrees of messy success. Method 1 is the put the fruit and the dough into the same bowl and mix it in. A slightly more detailed explanation of this is in my non-vegan version of Paul Hollywood’s Hot Cross Buns. Method 2 is to roll out the dough into a rectangle, scatter the fruit evenly over the top and then to take hold of one of the shorter sides and fold it a third into middle, and repeat on the other side so that it looks like a long rectangle. Next take one short end of the rectangle and repeat the folds again, so that it becomes a more compact rectangle. It is a neater process until the point when I roll it out into a long sausage shape in order to portion out 15 buns. At which point the dough starts breaking and the fruit spills out and away from the dough like runaway gems onto the countertop. Maybe I just need to work on my method 2. Finally, you can also make this with three rises or two, depending on your schedule. If going for three then reduce the yeast to 7g to allow for the overnight rise. The first rise is just the dough, the second as an overnight one after the fruit is mixed in and the third after the buns have been shaped. The method below details it for two.
Ingredients for vegan hot cross buns. This makes 15.
- 500g strong white bread flour
- 125ml water for the tangzhong
- 250ml soya milk (or any unsweetened plant-based one) + 20ml apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
- 60g caster sugar
- 14g instant yeast
- 1tsp (10g) salt
- 2tsp cinnamon
- 1tsp mixed spice
- 70g dairy free margarine (I used vitalite) or vegan butter
- 1 apple
- Zest of 2 oranges
- 150g sultanas
- 50g mixed peel
Ingredients for the crosses
- 45g plain flour
- 2-3 tbsp cold water
Ingredients for the orange glaze
- 1.5 tbsp granulated sugar
- Juice of half an orange
- First, make the buttermilk. Mix 250ml of soya milk and 20ml of apple cider vinegar in a measuring jug. Stir and leave to coagulate.
- Next make the tangzhong. Weigh out 500g of bread flour into a mixing bowl and from it take 25g (about 1 heaped tablespoon) of flour and put it in a small saucepan. Add 125ml of cold water, put it on the hob at medium heat and whisk or stir to combine the flour and water together in order to make a roux, or a paste. Keep stirring until it comes together and your whisk or spatula leaves a line. It’ll take about 1.5-2 mins. Leave to cool while measuring out the dry ingredients.
- In the mixing bowl with the flour, add in the yeast, sugar, salt and spices. Stir to mix.
- In the saucepan with the tangzhong, add the margarine and buttermilk and stir to combine. The margarine won’t melt completely and the buttermilk will make it look bitty and curdled but that’s okay. It will all get mixed in.
- Now add the wet ingredients to the flour and knead. I knead it in the stand mixer. I start at low (1) until all the ingredients are mixed in and then continue at medium (3) for about 9-10 minutes until the dough is stretchy and smooth. Take the dough out of the mixing bowl to form into a ball. Put a bit of oil in the bowl and place the dough back in there and cover. Leave for about an hour or until doubled in size.
- In the meantime, chop the apples, zest the oranges and stir to combine in a small bowl with the sultanas and mixed peel. Line two baking trays (or one large one).
- When the dough is ready, lightly flour the surface and turn the dough out onto it. Gently make it into a rough rectangle using your fingers to gently knock the air out of the dough. Take one long end, fold into the middle and press down with the heel of your hand. Repeat it with the other side. Then fold it in half and gently roll. The dough should feel stronger.
- As you know, I’ve been trying out a new way to incorporate the fruit with varying degrees of messy success. Here, I’m going to say to go with the second method because I think that with practice and tweaking, it will be easier. Roll out the dough into a rectangle, scatter the fruit evenly over the top and then take hold of one of the shorter sides and fold it a third into the middle, and repeat on the other side so that it looks like a long rectangle. Next, take one short end of the rectangle and repeat the folds again, so that it becomes a more compact rectangle. Then roll it out into a long sausage shape, divide into 3 equal parts, and then each part into 5. Each piece of dough will roughly weigh 90g. Cover the little portions with a tea towel as your form the buns.
- Add more flour to your surface. I like to have a little mound of it to dip into. Form the buns by taking each corner into the middle so it is a tighter round shape. Then flour the palm of your hand, or dip the top of the bun into some flour. With the dough in the middle of your hand, make your hand into the shape of a claw and move it around quickly in a circular shape. I’ve included a video of it below because it’s easier to show it.
- Then put each bun onto the baking trays, leaving 2-3cms between each bun. Cover and leave to rise.
- As you wait, make the paste for the crosses by mixing the flour and water together. Put it into a piping bag and snip a little hole off the end.
- The buns will have finished their second rise after about an hour, when most of them will be almost touching each other or if you press down slightly on them, they will spring back gently but leave a small indent. Of course, this depends on the weather. In a hotter climate, this will take about 30 mins. About 15 mins before you think they’ll have finished rising, preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6.
- Pipe crosses on them by piping a line along each row of buns and then repeating in the other direction. The crosses want to hug the sides of the buns.
- Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 10 mins and then lower the temperature to 180°C. Bake for another 15-20 minutes, until golden brown. My oven has hot spots, so I turn the tray around after the first 20 mins.
- As they bake, make the orange glaze. Measure out the sugar and juice from half an orange into a small saucepan and melt the sugar over a gentle heat. Then turn it up to a medium heat for a few minutes so that some of the water evaporates and it thickens slightly. Brush the sugar syrup over the warm buns and leave them to cool.
The verdict? I can’t resist one, still hot from the oven, sticky with the glaze and too hot for my mouth. They are full of flavour from the orange zest, fresh apple, spices and dried fruit and the kitchen smells delicious as you’re making them. The texture is springy and soft and they stay like that for 3 days. I love the sticky glaze on them. They are yummy toasted and buttered but honestly, I prefer to just eat them as they are. So, after day 3, when they are a little hard, I will heat them on high (800W) in the microwave for 15 seconds and they’re perfect.
Finally, everyone who has tried them tells me that they can’t tell that they are vegan.