Everything has a season, even hot cross buns; it’s probably a good thing though, otherwise we’d tire of them, or eat too many. Clearly, with Easter it’s hot cross bun season and while every magazine and website has comparisons (we even do it ourselves at times), there are two sides to the bun: those you buy at the bakery and those you make at home. We’d like to indulge the idea of both.

The sourdough hot cross bun is a wonderful example of the work of the artisan baker. Each bakery with its own sourdough starter (an intangible fingerprint of that bakery) will choose what to add to the dough and in what quantities to make the buns that may well populate our homes over Easter. These buns will be toasted, buttered, enjoyed with tea or coffee, and begin or maintain a tradition.

La Madre Bakery in Geelong, owned by Tez Kemp and Anna Spurling since October 2006, has given us a recipe that doesn’t involve a sourdough starter but could be a lot of fun to attempt at home (see recipe below). “If you want to make at hot cross buns at home,” says Kemp, “ always use good organic flour, always use filtered water, a good commercial yeast and salt.”

It sounds simple and with the produce stores we have available to us, is very achievable but the chewy, weighty, distinctive sourdough buns that come out at this time of year alleviate the inclination to bake at home.

“Each year we’ve needed a slightly different flour,” says Kemp of the deliciously intense, fruity buns produced by La Madre. “Then you’ve got to be careful of how much spice you use. If too much spice gets added to the sourdough there is a chemical reaction and that impacts on the rise [of the yeast].”

Don’t ever think it’s as simple as a bit of bread dough mixed with some dried fruit, rolled and baked. The hot cross bun is personal, not only for the consumer but for the baker and in La Madre’s case they use fruit from Mildura, organic flour, sea salt, filtered water and no preservatives. To put the icing on the cake (or the cross on the bun) they are also 100 per cent carbon neutral on all their Easter products.

“We work with the Carbon Reduction Institute for our Easter products,” says Kemp. “They measure our emissions and transport costs and audit us in terms of emissions and overheads.”

This turns into credits from the bakery for a renewable energy project. “Bakeries have a huge environmental impact and we have a moral and social responsibility to the community,” explains Kemp as to why they do what they do.

Whether your favourite hot cross buns are carbon neutral, filled with fruit or otherwise, there is a growing demand for the handmade artisan sourdough bun. “Our demand increases every year,” notes Kemp. “We have a savvy audience who are conscious of their product and are aware of where it comes from; if they’re not aware they want to know.”

The only issue now is whether you want fruit peel or not. Kemp says no. “It’s personal, but I don’t like peel as it can overpower the spice flavour and the butter when you add it. Just use good fruit and good spice. We use cinnamon, nutmeg and clove.”

Take two weeks of the year or so to indulge in hot cross buns. Like anything else quality will always win over quantity but it is hard to go past a carbon neutral bun (without peel).

La Madre hot cross buns are sold at Leo’s supermarkets, Thomas Dux supermarkets, La Manna Direct and Essendon Fields.

Hot Cross Buns

Makes 12 buns

Bread dough
630g strong bread flour
420ml water
6g sea salt
4g dry yeast
Fruit & Spice Mix
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
110g sultanas
110g raisins
110g currants
* Soak the vine fruits in water for 30 minutes and drain before use

Cross Mix
60g plain white flour
15g caster sugar
15ml tepid water
Sugar Glaze
50g caster sugar
30ml water

Place the flour and salt into a bowl. Dissolve the yeast in the tepid water and pour into the bowl. Use your hand to mix the flour and water together until dough is formed. Once the flour and water has come together place the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead by hand for 10 to 15 minutes. If the mixture appears dry then add a little water. If you’re using a domestic mixer, mix for 5 to 10 minutes. The dough is ready once it has become silky and elastic.

Add the fruit and spice mix and knead until it’s fully combined with the dough.

Place the dough into a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave for 60 to 70 minutes or until the dough has grown significantly.

Divide the dough into 115g pieces and mould into small balls using the palm of your hand in a rolling motion on the work surface. Dust your hands with flour to stop the dough from sticking. Place the buns half a centimetre apart in a greased cake tin or tray and cover with a tea towel for another 30 minutes.

Gently push your finger in to the dough; if it springs back they are ready to bake.

Mix the cross mix ingredients together in a small bowl. Place the cross mix in a piping bag and cross the buns. You will need a steady hand for this!

Place the buns in a preheated 180c oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown. Remove the buns from the oven and brush generously with the sugar glaze immediately. Allow to cool and enjoy!

Recipe by Tez Kemp, La Madre Bakery, Geelong


Other bakeries we like to get our buns:

Babka, Fitzroy
Dench, North Fitzroy
Noisette, Port Melbourne
Baker D. Chirico St Kilda (& very soon in Carlton)
Phillippa's, Malvern