Saffron and sourdough Ostara buns (or hot cross buns for hipsters)

sticky and sweet sourdough buns

(sweet and sticky sugar syrup drenched sourdough and saffron Ostara buns pretty much straight out of the oven)

For the past umpteen years, around this time in the calender I’ve made spiced fruited buns….even though I can’t really tolerate wheat and grains anymore I felt it would be a bit mean to the boyfriend to not make them and to be honest, I wanted to make them for myself.  Even though I’m not going to be eating them, the pleasure of making certain foods at particular points of the year is incredibly pleasurable.  Even though I could make these any old time of the year, I never do…it’s the same with gingerbread cake and biscuits, once it’s January then I want citrusy smells in the kitchen rather than the spiced warm aroma of sticky gingerbread.  (Unless it’s snowy then in that case a big tray of sticky ginger scented cake seems perfectly acceptable).

I thought I’d experiment a bit this year, normally I use a recipe adapted from an Elizabeth David one, but thought to try and make some using our sourdough starter.

As I’m really only making them for the beloved one, I’m just making a small amount but I’m sure you could easily tinker with this recipe to make a larger batch…….if reading through you think, what a complete and utter palaver and hoo-hah…..let me assure you that these really are very easy to make, mostly they are made up in stages, so you can potter about in the kitchen then leave the dough to do whatever then come back and potter a bit more….

Saffron and Sourdough Ostara buns


For the buns

170 ml milk

100 g sourdough starter

40 g soft brown sugar

380 g bread flour

1/2 level teaspoon of dry yeast (barely even that to be honest)

1 egg (I used a large one)

45 g melted butter

50 g currents

25 g mixed peel

1 1/2 teaspoons of spice mix (I used a blend of ginger, star anise, mace and a pinch of freshly ground cumin)

For the egg wash

a little left of the egg from the bread mix

a dribble or so of milk

For the flour paint

a couple heaped tablespoons of plain flour

a teaspoon of castor sugar

couple of tablespoons of water

For the sugar glaze

a tablespoon of castor sugar

a tablespoon of just boiled water

sourdough buns after a night in the fridge

(sourdough buns after a night in the fridge…)


Weigh out the sourdough starter, cover with a clean tea towel, set it to one side and allow it to come to room temperature.

Using just a few strands of saffron, scatter them into some milk and gently warm it so that the saffron infuses the milk with both it’s colour and scent.  Allow to stand for half an hour or so.

In a large bowl, mix 100g of the bread flour with the starter.

Warm the milk through a little, and then pour into the starter and flour mix.  Sprinkle the dry yeast over the wet ingredients and then stir in the brown sugar.  Cover and leave to one side for about an hour.

Break and beat one egg, (save about a teaspoon or so of it and keep to one side for the egg wash) stir into the sponge, add the currents and fruit peel, melted butter, spice mix, salt and about 2/3rds of the remaining flour and then stir together before turning on to lightly floured work surface and kneed together, adding more flour as the dough requires it.

Once the dough is ready, place it into a large bowl that has been lightly oiled and then cover with a clean tea towel.

Allow to prove for at least 3 hours and then gently knock the risen dough back down.

Cut the dough into half and then half again, before dividing the dough into smaller walnut or clementine sized pieces.  (I found this was enough to make 16 small sized balls)

Roll out into small balls and place on a baking sheet that has been lined with baking parchment.

With the blunt edge of a plastic spatular, press across the centre of each ball of dough and then across ways, pressing down pretty firmly to make a “cross” pattern in the middle of the bun.  (you might find the spatula sticks a bit, so dabbing it in flour every few buns helps to stop this)…At this point the buns are about the size of flattened walnuts and somewhat doll sized….don’t worry, just let them do their thing.

Place in the fridge and leave overnight.

allow the buns to rise at room temp for about an hour and a half

(allow the sourdough buns to rise at room temp for about an hour and a half)

First thing in the morning, remove buns out of the fridge.  I know, they don’t look very impressive but they just need to wake up…. allow them to rise for about an hour and a half.

After about an hour and ten minutes turn on your oven to around gas 6 and let it heat up for about 20 minutes or so.

Beat the little bit of egg and a splash of milk to make the egg wash, coat the buns .

paint the buns with flour and sugar water crosses

(dribble over the flour and sugar water to highlight the cross pattern in the centre of the buns…)

Mix together the flour and caster sugar, add enough warm water to form a paste, try not to make it too runny.  Drizzle the paste over the buns so that you are high-lighting the cross quarters on top.  (you don’t have to do this, Elizabeth David calls it unnecessary fiddling, and I didn’t make up quite enough to mark all mine, so figure if Elizabeth David says not to worry then I’m not going to lose any sleep over 5 unmarked buns…I would suggest still giving the buns an egg wash and then basting with the sugar syrup when they come out of the oven though)

Place the tray in the oven and bake for between 17 and 20 minutes.

A few minutes before the buns are due to come out of the oven, mix the tablespoon of caster sugar with a little boiled water and stir well so that the sugar completely dissolves.

As soon as the buns come out of the oven, cover them with the sugar glaze.

Tear the buns open and spread with salty butter.

We’ve just had these for breakfast, they smelt amazing when I took them out of the oven, and the boyfriend said they were so light and delicious that I had to taste a little bit of one for myself (a complete lack of self control found me then eating one all to myself so expect I’ll have an achy tummy later…but it was worth it.)  They really are light, but not in that filled with airy insipidness that the supermarket ones seems to have. Not too sweet, just nice and spicy.

This ended up making 16 small sized buns.