The hot cross bun test

2015-03-29 15:00

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A great hot cross bun (HCB) can – and should be – a celebratory joy of rich golden dough, luscious with butter, eggs, sugar, dried fruit and spices. A horrible HCB can make even the most reasonable of Easter eaters very, very cross indeed.

In order to save others from the pain of a bad bun, Anna Trapido purchased a pile of supermarket offerings and enlisted her family as valiant taste-testers. Buns were blind-tasted with attention paid to colour, texture, balance of fruit and spice, taste and aroma

Woolworths has taken HCBs well out of their comfort zone this year. Several of their culinary contributions seem to have been deliberately designed to annoy the purists.

In addition to the traditional and extra spicy varieties of yesteryear, they are also selling apricot and white chocolate HCBs and dark and milk chocolate HCBs – because, hey, in the past there has never been quite enough chocolate around at Easter, has there? Woolworths Traditional HCBs were admired by all the tasters.

One wrote that they had “a good old-fashioned taste and texture with nice plump fruit”. Curiously the Extra Spicy variant had a doughy, claggy, dense quality with no discernable supersizing of spices.

The overly damp mouth-feel was greatly improved by toasting. Woolies’ inclusion of chocolate proved divisive. My husband didn’t appreciate having his HCB expectations challenged. “Why must they mess with the classics? It’s too sickly sweet,” he whined plaintively.

My gripe was the chocolate-piped cross on top, because my favourite part of the HCB-eating experience is the contrast of slightly salty plain cross with the sweetness of the bun below.

Although its lack of traditional flavour was precisely what put the adults off, my seven-year-old son relished the chocolate fragments in the soft doughy bun. My toaster may never recover from the experience.

WOOLWORTHS TRADITIONAL 19.19 for 6

WOOLWORTHS EXTRA SPICY 19.95 for 6

WOOLWORTHS CHOCOLATE 21.95 for 6

Checkers’ buns are emblazoned with a sticker stating “our exclusive recipe!”. Perhaps because no one else wants it. My horrible husband wrote that it was “lacking everything: flavour, currants and spices”.

I found an overly yeasty taste that overwhelmed the spices. They didn’t seem to have risen properly and the solid texture did not allow for enough contrast between the dough and dried fruit – and there was a weird gritty texture.

We tried toasting them, which reduced the claggyness, but did not bring out any additional flavour. “Are you sure this is supposed to be a hot cross bun? It’s like toast,” said my hot and cross son.

CHECKERS 13.99 for 6

Spar’s mini-traditional offer up 9, rather than 6, in a packet. One man’s bland is another man’s “nice, light and subtle flavours” and so it was in our house. We all agreed that these buns had good texture and toasting accentuated the spices, which were initially reticent.

Spar’s Extra Spicy came with a sticker that said “new and improved”.

They were soft and substantial without being doughy. The fruit was plump and tasty. They were lighter in flavour than one would expect for buns that purport to be extra spicy but nutmeg, cinnamon and clove aromas were subtly discernable. Of all the ones we tried, these were nicest to eat untoasted.

SPAR MINI 16.99 for 9

SPAR EXTRA SPICY 16.99 for 6

Pick n Pay’s HCBs were the prettiest of all the buns – bouffant and golden – but ultimately disappointing on so many levels. When first removed from their clingwrap, the buns had a faint hint of rancid oil.

This partially dissipated after a while – especially after being toasted – and might have been forgiven, but for a lingering and off-putting sour taste. All three of us commented on the lack of spice and the particularly mean allocation of currants.

The sticky top was divisive, with younger brethren expressing admiration for the glaze while the old fogeys remained unconvinced.

PICK N PAY 12.95 for 6

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