Healthy Hot Cross Buns

Alright, so the title of this post is a little misleading.  I’m not entirely sure it would be possible to make healthy hot cross buns, as there is no way of getting around it- they are a treat.  But you can make them a bit healthIER.  I’ve tried to lighten them up a little with the addition of spelt flour, oats, agave and grated apple for sweetness and oil instead of butter for richness.  There’s still plenty of spice there and if you pop them in the toaster, you’ve got a perfect Easter breakfast.  This was originally a recipe I created for Women’s Health Magazine.  You can see it and other healthy treats here.  Make a large batch then freeze the rest for later.

Lighter Hot Cross Buns
Makes 16 buns

You will need:

500ml skimmed milk or dairy-free alternative
4 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
4 cloves
zest of 1 lemon
zest of 2 oranges
300g spelt flour
300g strong white bread flour, plus about 100g extra for kneading and the crosses
1 tsp salt
100g oats
1 x 7g sachet fast action yeast
50ml sunflower oil
3 tbsp agave nectar
1 large egg, beaten
1 apple, coarsely grated
2 tsp cinnamon
60g currants
2 tbsp apricot or fig jam, ideally a no added sugar brand


1. Bring the milk to boil with the cardamom pods, cloves, lemon zest and zest of 1 orange. Set to one side and allow to cool to blood temperature.  Meanwhile, sift the flours and salt into a large mixing bowl. Tip in the oats, yeast, oil, agave and beaten egg. Once the milk has cooled, remove the cloves and cardamom and pour into the bowl.  

2. Mix together until the ingredients are well incorporated. Then tip the dough onto a generously floured work surface and knead for a good 10 minutes, either by hand or using the dough attachment of a table top mixer. It will seem like a very wet dough, but keep working it, slapping it onto the work surface to develop the gluten. It will eventually come together to form a sticky, but elastic dough. Place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a tea towel. Leave to prove in warmish place for about 1 hour, until risen.

3.     Tip the dough out onto a floured work surface and flatten slightly. Mix together the apple, cinnamon, currants and remaining orange zest and sprinkle over the dough. Knead briefly to distribute all the ingredients. Divide the dough into 16 even pieces and roll into smooth balls. Arrange the buns on 2 lightly oiled baking sheets in rows of 4, about 1 cm apart. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for a further hour.

4. Heat the oven to 220C/fan 200/gas mark 7. In a small bowl mix together 30g of flour with 2 ½- 3 tbsp water, adding the water gradually until you have a thick paste. Scrape into a small sandwich bag. Once the buns have risen and puffed up, cut off the tip of one corner of the sandwich bag and use to pipe crosses over the buns. Place in the oven and bake for 15 minutes, swapping shelves halfway through. Meanwhile, heat the jam with 2 tbsp of water in a small pan until the jam has melted and is syrupy. Sieve into a small bowl and use to brush over the buns as soon as they come out of the oven. Transfer the buns to a wire rack and allow to cool before tucking in.

The Great Eccles Cake

January is really a month with little to redeem it.  The festivities are done and dusted, it’s still dark and dreary and Spring seems a lifetime away.  Not to mention the overbearing, matronly pressure of keeping those virtuous (boring) resolutions.  For those of you who haven’t given up sugar or wheat, I’d like to offer a little light at the end of the tunnel.  Something to see you through.  These gorgeous, sweet dumplings of warm, spicy dried fruit are a joy to make and eat.  The recipe I followed uses a rough puff pastry, made from scratch.  Needless to say, you can of course use shop-bought pastry if you don’t want all the hassle (and believe me, it is hard work).  But if you fancy a bit of a challenge and to practise some pastry-making skills, give it a go.  

Classic Eccles Cakes
from Leiths Cookery Bible

You will need:

For the rough puff pastry:
225g plain flour
pinch of salt
140g butter- very cold
90-135 ml ice water

For the filling:
15g butter
55g light brown sugar
110g currants
30g chopped mixed peel
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg, freshly ground
1/4 tsp ground ginger
zest of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp lemon juice

For the glaze:
1 egg white
caster sugar


1.  Sift the flour with the salt into a chilled bowl.  Cut the butter into cubes about the size of a lump of sugar.

2.  Add the butter and cut with a knife in a scissor motion until breadcrumb-like in consistency (use a food processor if you have one).  Add just enough water to bind the paste together (start with 90ml, then add the rest 1 tbsp at a time).  You know it’s ready to be brought together when you only have large flakes of dough in your bowl- no dry crumbs.

3.  Knead very lightly to come together.  Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

4.  On a floured board, very carefully roll the pastry into a sheet, about 30 x 10 cm long (use a palette knife to help it keep a rectangular shape) and 1 cm thick.   Take care to not over stretch and break the surface of the pastry.  Roll in the same direction and take care not to get too much flour on your pastry.
5.  Fold the strip into 3 like a letter (bottom section up first, then upper section down) and turn so that the folded edge is to your left, like a closed book.

6.  Again, roll out into a sheet, about 1 cm thick.  Fold into 3 again and chill, wrapped, in the fridge for a further 15 minutes.

7.  Repeat this rolling and folding procedure twice more.  If the butter still looks streaky in the dough, repeat the procedure again.  Chill for about 30-40 min.

8. Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C.  Roll out the pastry to the thickness of a £1 coin.  Cut out 12.5cm rounds using a biscuit cutter or glass.  Refrigerate until firm.

9. Melt the butter in a saucepan and stir in all the remaining filling ingredients.  Cool. 

10. Place a generous teaspoon of filling in the centre of each pastry round.  Dampen the edges of the pastry with some water and press together at the top, forming a small ball.

11. Trim away any excess pastry with a small knife.  Place on a baking sheet and turn each ball over and flatten lightly with a rolling pin until the fruit begins to shine through the slightly translucent dough.

12. Beat the egg white with a fork until frothy and brush the top of the Eccles with it.  Sprinkle with sugar before using a sharp knife to make 3 small, parallel cuts on the top of each cake .

13. Bake for approx 20 minutes until lightly browned.  Leave to cool before tucking in.