Easter is just around the corner. Like last year, festivities may still be small-scaled, but that’s all the more reason to make the most of Easter at home! Catch up with your loved ones over the phone, bring in those spring flowers and enjoy a leisurely Easter brunch in the small circle of your nearest and dearest. The one thing that won’t be missing on our brunch table are these soft, chai-spiced Easter buns. Studded with tea-infused dried berries, they’re delicately flavoured, festive and easy to whip up, using only storecupboard ingredients.
These Easter buns are inspired by a British classic: the cinnamon-spiced, raisin-studded hot cross buns, characterised by the white crosses piped over them. My version is cross-less, though I’ve added shaping and piping instructions at the end of the recipe in case you’d like to give this traditional shape a go.
The buns are made with a simple yeast dough. I used a mixture of plain flour and whole spelt flour and slightly sweetened it with raw cane sugar. To flavour the dough, I mixed in a homemade blend of my favourite vanilla chai spices. Cinnamon, ginger, cloves, fennel seeds, vanilla and a generous dose of ground cardamom – it’s a bit of a list, but together they will make for the most delicately spiced rolls and the rising dough will fill the room with the most delicious fragrance! Depending on your taste and on the spices you have available, though, do feel free to play around and adjust the flavours and quantities to match your personal preferences.
The buns are studded with dried cranberries and yellow raisins, which have been soaked in hot green Earl Grey tea during the first rise of the dough. Soaking the dried fruits before mixing them into the dough makes them plump and juicy and brings out their natural sweetness. The green Earl Grey tea adds a fresh and citrussy note which is just wonderful with the sweet flavour of the dough.
To get the Easter buns ready for brunch, you can make them from scratch in one morning session, which means kneading the dough and letting it prove for an hour, then mixing in the soaked fruits, shaping the buns and baking them for 15 minutes. You could also opt to make the dough the night before and put it in the fridge once the rising process is on its way. While in the fridge, the dough will continue to rise, leaving it ready to mix in the soaked fruits the following morning. This not only saves you some time, but the time spent in the fridge will also add to the flavour of the dough.
I turned the dough into twirled, spiral-shaped buns. It’s a shape I love for its pretty looks and because, once warm and baked, it makes the buns such a joy to eat, peeling off layer after delicious layer with your fingers. Instead of a spiral, you can of course choose any shape to your fancy. You can make simple round buns, fold the dough into elegant mini-wreaths or braids, or go for a traditional hot cross bun shape, glazed and all. Or you can make it a fun Easter morning project with the children and shape the buns into Easter bunnies, roosters or bears.
Like any yeasted treat, these Easter buns are at their most fluffy and delicious straight from the oven and they are best enjoyed on the same day. They do keep well for a few days, though, if you store them in an airtight container after they have completely cooled down. They also freeze well. After having cooled completely, freeze them in a freezer container. Let them defrost at room temperature on the day you want to serve them, then refresh them in a low oven, or serve them toasted.
Making these buns doesn’t necessarily have to be limited or linked to Easter. Truth be told, I make them all year round. As part of family lunches when there’s a birthday to celebrate, as a special treat in a welcome-to-our-home-and-country brunch for our Syrian friends, or just as a treat to myself when I feel I deserve something special. Because if there is anything this strange year has taught us, it’s that it’s always a good idea to celebrate the little things in life.
And… if you’re up for some more spring baking, you might also like these:
Vegan chai-spiced Easter buns with bergamot-infused cranberries – makes 10
- 180 ml luke-warm water (make sure it’s not too warm, or it will deactivate the yeast)
- 2 tsp. dried instant yeast
- splash of agave syrup
- 130 g whole spelt flour (sub for regular whole-wheat flour if you haven’t got spelt at hand, or use a gluten free mixture if needed)
- 225 g plain wheat flour
- ¼ tsp. salt
- homemade chai spice mixture:
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- ½ tsp. ground cardamom
- ¼ tsp. powdered ginger
- ¼ tsp. ground fennel seeds
- ¼ tsp. ground cloves
- grating of nutmeg
- 3 tbsp. raw cane sugar
- ¼ tsp. vanilla extract
- 3 tbsp. rapeseed oil or other neutral-flavoured oil
- 40 g yellow raisins
- 40 g dried cranberries
- 2 tsp. green Earl Grey tea leaves, collected in a tea egg infuser (alternatively, use black Earl Grey tea leaves, or an Earl Grey tea bag)
- enough boiling water to cover the dried berries
Measure the 180 ml of luke-warm water in a measuring jug. Stir in the dried yeast and the agave syrup. Set aside in a warm place for about 10 minutes for the mixture to turn frothy.
In a large mixing bowl, mix the flours with the salt, ground spices and cane sugar. Add the oil, vanilla extract and yeast mixture and knead to form a smooth dough. It should be moist, but not sticky. When sticky, add a bit more flour; when too dry, add a spoonful of water.
Lightly brush the mixing bowl with oil, then place the dough in the bowl and turn until covered in oil. Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel. Leave the dough to prove in a warm spot for about an hour, until doubled in volume. Alternatively, you can make the dough the night before. In this case, cover it and put it in the fridge once the rising process has started and leave it to rise overnight. Let it come back to room temperature the following day for about half an hour, then continue with the recipe.
Meanwhile, mix the raisins and the cranberries in a small bowl. Pour over enough boiling water to cover the fruits. Leave to cool slightly, then place the tea egg or tea bag in between the berries. Leave to infuse while the dough is proving. If you chose to let the dough prove overnight, drain the berries after an hour and keep them covered in the fridge until ready to use.
Line a baking sheet with baking parchment.
Remove the tea leaves, drain the mixed berries and pat them dry with a piece of kitchen paper.
Knock back the dough. Knead briefly and fold in the dried fruits. If the addition of the berries makes the dough turn sticky, stir in an extra spoonful of flour. Divide the dough into 10 equal portions (appr. 70 g each), then shape these to your fancy.
To make the spiral buns in the picture, take a ball of dough and divide it into two equal portions. Roll both portions into a ribbon. The longer and thinner you roll them, the more swirls you’ll be able to make.
Pinch the ends of the two ribbons together. Now loosely fold the ribbons one over the other to form a long spiral shape.
Once you’ve reached the end of the ribbons, twist the spiral to roll it into a disc, starting with the end of the spiral as the centre.
Fold the loose end of the spiral under the roll to prevent it from unfolding in the oven. Repeat with the remaining balls of dough.
Divide the rolls over the baking sheet, leaving enough space between them to expand without them touching each other. Loosely cover the baking sheet and leave the rolls to rise until soft and puffy. Depending on how active the dough is, this can be almost directly after folding, or take another 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6.
Bake the rolls for 15-20 minutes until golden and hollow-sounding when tapped.
Leave to cool slightly, then enjoy straight away.
Would you like to shape these Easter rolls as traditional hot cross buns instead?
In this case, shape the dough into 12 equal-sized balls. Arrange them in rows on the baking sheet with 1-2 cm gaps between them. Leave them to rise until almost doubled in volume and touching each other.
To make the crosses, take 50 g of plain flour and mix in 3-4 tbsp. of water, a spoonful at a time, until you get a thick paste. Spoon the paste into a piping bag with a thin nozzle. Just before baking, pipe a line over each row of buns, then repeat in the other direction to create crosses.
Bake the buns for 15-20 minutes until golden. Serve them as they are, or glaze the tops right after baking with maple syrup or warmed apricot jam to make them shine.