Not content to rest on our laurels following the success (and enjoyment) of taste-testing the range of mince pies on offer, the Phipps team decided to turn its attention to the Easter classic, the Hot Cross Bun.
The Hot Cross Bun is a sweet dough enriched with spice, dried fruits and decorated with a flour-paste cross. The origins of this traditional Easter treat are a hotly (forgive me) disputed topic. Some link them back to the ancient Greeks, others to St Albans… In recent years, people have started to experiment with the classic recipe – adding chocolate, fresh fruits and other flavourings. Personally, I am a traditionalist with my Easter baked goods and think that these new versions all risk gilding the lily, but, to be thorough, we threw in a wild-card new version too, to see if it could displace the classic.
Although these humble baked goods have sparked controversy in their time, being banned by for a short time by Queen Elizabeth I , they are generally seen as a force for good. Hot Cross Buns were once used to shield against evil and were hung in houses to ward off bad spirits or taken on voyages to prevent shipwrecks. Sharing a bun with someone is also said to guarantee friendship with that person for the coming year – so good news for the Phipps office all round following the taste test!
Read on for tasting notes and thorough scoring …
These buns had a savoury tang to them which earned them high scores from some of the team. They were dense, rich but perhaps a little on the doughy side. Most disappointingly, there was a lack of spice, which led to a shorter aftertaste. The fruit (including the extra mixed peel) could be more evenly distributed. (£1.50 for 4, 2 packets for £2)
Right from the off these were looking good: an even, pleasing shape, neat cross and decent size. Reassuringly, in order to fit half a bun into the toaster it needed a gentle press – always a good sign. In the bun itself, there was a good distribution of fruit and a great ratio of peel to raisins and sultanas. On the spice front, again, entirely satisfying – it had a beautiful balance of spices (neither cinnamon nor clove overpowering) and an enjoyably long aftertaste. Overall, my top choice, and pretty close to bun perfection – if only they had been fresh from the oven! (£1.70, 2 for £2.50)
Initial impressions were not favourable. They were flat. Stood-on-by-something-heavy flat – absolutely no need for the toaster squish here! However, it did claw back some points for its spice – rich, warming and made for delicious aromas when toasting. However, the deficiency in size and rise made even buttering an issue and definitely hindered enjoyment overall. The price was very reasonable, but not as low as it should have been for the quantity of dough provided! (£1 for 6)
Gazing upon these, expectations were high – a darker dough promised rich spices and the glaze shone promisingly. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a promise it couldn’t fulfil – the glaze was actually extremely sticky to the touch, not ideal for a discreet snack and a quick burner in the toaster (leading to very uneven cooking). In terms of taste, the fruit distribution was good, salt on the heavy side and the blend of spice pleasant, but nothing to write home about. (£1.50 for 4)
These looked the part, shiny, even and thick – perhaps just a shade darker than I would go for. When it came to the taste I was bracing myself for the disappointment of a non-traditional pastry but was actually pleasantly surprised. Instead of gently, citrus-y spice these buns had a sharp, raspberry-jam-like taste. This did help to cut through some of the sweetness usually associated with a Hot Cross Bun, although perhaps masking the taste of the sugar you are treating yourself to is unwise/unfair in some way! The texture was also a little dense, although this was a strong contender for some on the team. It was definitely not a disaster, but this having been said, the warming spice of a Hot Cross definitely took the back seat to the sharp fruit which tasted a little freeze-dried. (£1.50 for 4, 2 packets for £2)
This offering from Waitrose was a disappointment, almost from the word go. The buns had no discernible shine and they didn’t have the biggest rise. However, the real issue was that they committed the cardinal Hot Cross Bun sin: they seemed to have forgotten the spice! In addition, they had no more fruit than other buns, although the packed promised something ‘richly fruited’. In their favour, the dough was not too dense, retaining lightness even when toasted, but this was too little, too late and not the quality promised by the price. (£1.69, 2 for £2.50)
In conclusion, nothing can come close to the classic and the key to a good Hot Cross Bun lies in the balance of spice and the distribution of your fruits. If you bear this in mind and don’t make a pancake rather than a risen bun, you’ll be well on your way to perfection. All that remains is for me to wish you all a Happy Easter, I hope you find a bun you enjoy!