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Elderflower Sumac Hot Cross Bun recipe with Chef Robin – From harvest to baking

Come bake and forage with me!  Try this elderflower sumac hot cross bun recipe, I guarantee you’ve never tasted these beauties before.  My family are hot cross bun lovers, my grandma makes amazing ones and I get voracious cravings for them every year.  I had a lot of fun playing with a recent sourdough hot cross bun recipe posted by Emilie Raffa of the Clever Carrot.  Everyone is looking for more fun ways to use their newly acquired sourdough starter skills, right:)  So, I thought I’d put a local and foraged spin with elderflower and sumac.  The orange and floral notes added to the recipe create an aroma that is heavenly and make them well worth the work.  You do need to make the dough and then let it rise overnight, so give yourself time to put some love into these buns.  Notes on foraging for elderflower or sumac are at the end of the blog post, but you can purchase sumac in Iranian grocery stores and elderflower syrup at Ikea or specialty food stores if you want.

Elderflower & Sumac Hot Cross Buns

  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup elderflower syrup or other floral syrup
  • 500 g bread flour
  • 50 g sugar
  •  1 tsp salt
  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup active starter
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup raisins, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup pecans, chopped roughly
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp elderflower syrup (for the glaze)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp sumac
  • 2 tsp orange peel (use a peeler to remove strips of peel from 1 large orange, remove any the white pith, dice fine)

For the Buns

  1. Warm the milk in a saucepan or microwave. ie. don’t use cold milk from the fridge, your starter will take longer to rise.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the flour, sugar, and salt with the paddle attachment. Add the softened butter, cube by cube, with the machine running. The goal is to evenly disperse the butter throughout the flour; rub any large pieces together with your fingertips. 
  3. Add the warm milk, 1/4 cup elderflower syrup, starter, and egg to the bowl. Mix for 1 minute to combine. With your hands, work the dough into a rough ball incorporating any dry bits of flour at the bottom.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and rest for 30 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, soak the chopped raisins, sumac, cinnamon, orange peel and pecans in the vanilla and1 tsp elderflower syrup.
  5. After the dough has rested, add the raisin mix (and any liquid) to the bowl.
  6. Using the dough hook, mix on medium-low speed, about 3 on a Kitchen-Aid for 8 minutes. If the dough starts to climb up the side of the bowl, stop the machine and push it back down. The dough will be smooth and supple when finished. It should not stick to your hands. If it does, add a sprinkle of flour and remix till it comes together.
  7. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise overnight at room temperature (about 68 F) for 12-18 hours. The dough is ready when it has tripled in size. Optional Step: about 1 hour into the bulk rise, I like to do 1 set of stretch and folds. I’ll do another set about 1 hour later. This technique will speed up the bulk rise time and the overall volume of the baked buns. 
  8. The following day, generously coat the bottom and sides of a 9×13-inch pan with butter.
  9. Remove the dough onto your work surface- no need to flour the surface first. Gently shape the dough into a log. Cut into 12 equal pieces, about 92 g each
  10. To shape into balls: working with one piece of dough at a time, fold the sides over towards the center. Flip it over, keep it on the counter, and roll it into a ball with the palm of your hand. Place the balls into the pan, evenly spaced, 3 across and 4 down.
  11. Cover the pan with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel, and let rise at room temperature until the dough has doubled in size. This can take up to 2-3 hours at 68 F. Personally, I like to use the proofing box or oven trick at this point. The rise will only take about 1 1/2- 2 hours @ 75-80 F. The dough should look very puffy and plump when ready. Do not rush this step; the buns will be dense.
  12. While the dough is resting, make the icing for the cross. In a small bowl, whisk the softened cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, and half-n-half. Add additional liquid as needed; the texture should be thick enough to pipe. Put the icing into a ziplock bag with the tip snipped off, or in a squeeze bottle and refrigerate to firm up before using. You will not use all of the icing. Save the rest for another use.
  13. Preheat your oven to 400 F.  Place the dough inside, center rack. Reduce the heat to 350. Bake for 28-30 minutes.
  14. Meanwhile, combine the marmalade and elderflower syrup in saucepan or microwave and warm.
  15. Remove the buns from the oven. Brush the tops with some of the glaze while they’re still hot.
  16. When the buns are COMPLETELY COOL, pipe the cream cheese icing on top going in one direction first, and then the other. Do not make an individual cross on top of each as you go- it will drive you crazy.
  17. Serve the buns fresh at room temperature.

For the Glaze

  • 1 tbsp marmalade
  • 1 tbsp elderflower syrup

For the Cross

  • 4 tbsp cream cheese, softened
  • 2 tbsp butter, softened
  • 1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
  • 6 tsp milk

Here is the original recipe posted by the Clever Carrot if you want to check it out.  She does some amazing baking – https://www.theclevercarrot.com/2020/03/sourdough-hot-cross-buns/

Foraging for Elderberry & Sumac

Elderflowers are best harvested from blue elderberry plants (Sambucus cerulea or Sambucus nigra) in spring (april).  Note that elderberry leaves, stems and seeds are toxic.  I tend to only harvest the flowers, though some people do harvest the berries be aware that you must cook them for safety.  Sumac is harvested in August from the red drupes (pictured below) of Staghorn sumac trees by placing a bag over the flowering heads and shaking the red powder off the blooms.  Here’s my blog post on harvesting sumac in the Pacific Northwest. 

To learn more about what you can harvest and cook with in the Pacific Northwest in spring, join me for my Virtual Spring Foraging Course, more info here.

How I make elderflower syrup

Boil a mixture of 50/50 sugar and water and pour over harvested flowers packed into mason jar.  Leave the mixture, covered in the fridge for a week.  Remove from the fridge and strain the flowers out, et voila, elderflower syrup!  I usually make a big batch up and freeze it for use in cocktails and recipes throughout the year.

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