Wholewheat Fig & Sesame Hot Cross Buns

Hot Cross Buns will forever remind me of a bakery we used to stop at on the way to school as kids. Contrary to your usual childhood nostalgia baking story, I actually never used to like them. Don't get me wrong, they smell great (seriously, give me copious amounts of cinnamon any day), but I've just never been a fan of the raisins in the dough.

This year I decided to put my own Middle Eastern twist on them, choosing to use dried figs and sesame seeds instead. I also used a mix of wheat, rye and barley malt flours which adds a lovely extra nuttiness. I suppose it's symbolic in a way, using typically Middle Eastern flavours in a very Western Christian baked good. With everything going on in the world at the moment, it's more important than ever to embrace each others cultures and traditions, and I feel like these little guys capture that pretty well.

Although my parents aren't religious, my grandmother was, and our culture and traditions are very clearly rooted in Islam. At the same time, I grew up in London, and I definitely knew way more about Christianity than I did Islam. I actually still probably do... I remember some family friends always used to ask why I didn't fast, or why we had a Christmas tree, but to me that's just who we are. We're somewhere in the middle. We grew up here and we love our British and Western traditions, but we still hold on to where we are from too. The two cultures aren't mutually exclusive, and it's totally possible to be both.

It might not be what you expect, but it works, just like these buns.

Ingredients

For the buns
250ml milk
30g unsalted butter
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
500g wholewheat bread flour (I actually used Doves Farm Malthouse Bread Flour)
1/2 tsp salt
1.5 tsp ground cardamom
1.5tsp ground cinnamon
0.5tsp mixed spice
50g caster sugar
2 tbsp sesame seeds
1 orange, zested (I used blood orange)
7g sachet fast action dried yeast
1 egg, lightly beaten
140g dried figs, roughly chopped

To finish
50g plain flour
1 egg, lightly beaten
Honey, to glaze

Recipe

1. Place the milk, vanilla extract and butter in a small saucepan and gently heat until the milk is warm and the butter has melted. Remove from the heat and set aside.
2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt, cardamom, cinnamon, sugar, orange zest and sesame seeds. Make a well in the centre and add in the yeast. Pour the milk into the well and leave for 5 minutes to let the yeast dissolve.
3. Add the beaten egg and mix together to form a rough dough. Transfer to an electric stand mixer and knead with the dough hook on a medium speed for 5-10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. If you don't have an electric mixer, knead by hand for 10-15 minutes.
4. Transfer the dough into a lightly greased bowl and cover with cling film. Leave in a warm place to rise for 1 hour, or until doubled in size. 
5. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and divide the dough into 18 equal parts with a knife. Roll each portion into a ball and place onto a lined baking tray about 3cm apart. Cover loosely with cling film and leave to rise for another hour, or until doubled in size.
6. Meanwhile, make the paste for the crosses. Place the plain flour into a small bowl and gradually add about 5-6tbsp water, one tbsp at a time, to form a thick paste. Transfer into a small piping bag and snip off the tip.
7. Once the buns have risen, preheat the oven to 190C. Brush them lightly with the beaten egg and pipe along the length and width of them all to create the famous cross pattern (I find the best way to do this is to drag the paste slightly above the buns and let it drop onto them neatly).
8. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown. Whilst they are in the oven, gently heat some honey in a small pan to loosen the consistency (or if you have runny honey, just use that as it is).
9. Remove from the oven, place onto a cooling rack, and lightly glaze with honey. Slice in half and serve toasted with a slather of butter. 

Adapted from Edd Kimber's recipe for traditional Hot Cross Buns in Waitrose Food April 2017