I love the rich, bittersweet flavours of dark chocolate, but I’ve never actually indulged in Easter eggs. At this time of year, they always fell flat compared to the bolder tones of the hot cross bun.
I have a custom cake business called Sticky Fingers Bakery, so I’m always looking for new ideas. This Easter, I detoured from intense chocolate cakes and created a recipe as tribute to those little spiced buns we just can’t say no to.
If you tend to fear recipes involving yeast and rising of dough, then this Hot Cross Cake is made for you. You’ll get the bang of a bun without the waiting and fuss of the traditional method. Instead, the sourdough taste is cheated with the tang of buttermilk and a touch of wholemeal flour.
Warming ginger, sweet cinnamon, heady cloves, cardamom, sea salt and a hint of molasses, complement the wallop of dried fruits so every bite is a buzz of flavour. And just like the original bun, you can lather on the butter high, this time, using the creamy orange-spiked buttercream.
Hot Cross Cake
250g unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 vanilla bean
3 cinnamon sticks, or 2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
½ a nutmeg, finely grated
6 cardamom pods
1 ½ cup plain flour
½ cup wholemeal flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 pinches of sea salt
1/3 cup sultanas
1/3 cup raisins
1/3 cup currants
1/3 cup dried figs, diced
3 egg whites
3/4 cup caster sugar
1/8 cup cold water
250g butter, at room temperature
4 oranges, finely zested
Hot cross bun
Preheat oven to 175 degrees. Grease and line a 20cm cake tin. Soak dried fruits in warm water. Transfer cardamom seeds from the pods into a spice grinder or mortar. Add ginger, nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon to the seeds, and combine to form a fine powder. Transfer to mixing bowl. Deseed the vanilla bean and add to spices along with the butter, sugar and molasses. Beat for three to four minutes until fluffy. Combine eggs one at a time. Pour in buttermilk then flours and stir with a wooden spoon until well incorporated. Drain dried fruits and fold into batter. Fill cake tin and bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool before icing.
To make the buttercream, separate eggs and reserve the whites to make a meringue. Beat egg whites on medium high speed. As it thickens, add ¼ cup sugar gradually. Keep whisking until the meringue forms medium stiff peaks. Meanwhile, add cold water to a pot over high heat and stir in the remainder of the sugar. Use a candy thermometer* to measure the syrup at 245 degrees. Once it reaches this temperature slowly pour it into the meringue while still whisking. Keep whisking for six to eight minutes until cool. Add the butter and orange zest and whip until soft and creamy.
Decorate the cake with fresh figs and muscatels. For a crunchy topping, toast a hot cross bun and crumble into breadcrumbs for the top of the cake.
You can also make your own Easter crosses by mixing 60g plain white flour, 15g sugar and 15ml warm water. Pipe crosses onto baking paper and bake for 10 minutes at 175 degrees. Allow to cool before arranging on the cake.
*If you don't have a candy thermometer, let the syrup form for around six to eight minutes. To test if it has reached 245 degrees, dip a spoon into the mixture and plunge it into a cup of cold water. This will turn the test syrup into a sugar ball. Remove the sugar ball with your fingers. If you can form it into a hard ball that flattens slightly when squeezed, then you have the right temperature.