bakeries rise to the occasion

Easter time rolls around and I explore Sydney's best hot cross buns for Good Food in The Sydney Morning Herald.

They’re no longer one a penny, or even two a penny, so we’ve spared you a bad breakfast on Good Friday and found the best buns in town. We were on the hunt for traditional buns this Easter, with yeasted dough and aromatic with spice, studded with fruit. Citrus tang was optional if there was something else that wooed. We tried buns plain, then toasted and topped with unsalted butter. We looked for a satisfying balance of chewiness when toasted, and softness. The cross on top, we learned, could be too much to bear if it was thick and strappy, knocking the balance right out. Nobody wants to be faced with a hot cross brick on a plate. Sydney’s bakers are working with ginger, cloves, cherries, chocolate, sultanas, and even apricots in their dough, gilding these stalwart Easter morsels with sticky, glossy glazes.

Adriano Zumbo Patissier ($2.50 each or 6 for $14.50)

Some could argue Adriano Zumbo has been put on this earth to annoy pastry traditionalists. It’s usually the twist, the outlandish, that Zumbo is known for. This year he’s done some excellent chocolate buns with crosses on top, but our focus was on the traditional. His sourdough-base hot cross buns are reservedly conventional, but they’re also some of the best in town. Zumbo’s buns smell like a gingerbread house where the fire is crackling inside and somebody is toasting marshmallows. They’re sweet with a balance of apricots, raisins and candied peel, a hit of cinnamon, cardamom and allspice. They are moist and almost gooey when toasted and the butter melts in.

296 Darling Street Balmain, 9810 7318 (Also in Manly and Waverley) 

St Malo ($2.50 each or 6 for $14)

Tiny flecks of citrus peel are far from overpowering and give these dark wholemeal buns a festive quality. They’re sticky and dense with currants and sun muscats that have been soaked in port for a few weeks, with a gorgeous chewy quality. Anthony and Holly Marquette quit their jobs in marketing and publicity only a couple of years ago to open this quaint artisan bakery, calling on the advice and recipes of Holly’s uncle, who owned Organic Republic in Bondi. But this year’s buns are a far cry from Organic Republic’s chunkier bun and are much more traditional, fragrant with cinnamon, cardamom and other mixed spice.

83 Willoughby Road, Crows Nest, 9906 6256  

Brasserie Bread ($2.20 each or 6 for $12)

These are slightly flatter, lighter buns with a light spice flavour of cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, ginger and nutmeg. Raisins, currants and tiny studs of citrus peel are scattered sparingly throughout, but the buns are slightly drier than many of their counterparts across Sydney, even when eaten untoasted. When toasted, the buns form an outer crust that many others don’t, adding a gentle outer crunch. Brasserie also does an excellent chocolate and sour cherry Easter bun using the same dough, but they don’t have that spicy, fragrant Easter clout.

1737 Botany Road, Banksmeadow, 1300 966 845 

Organic Republic ($3.50 each)

These large, rustic looking buns are packed with apricots, “sunscats” and muscat grapes from the Riverina, which have been macerated in alcohol before they’re folded through the light yeasty dough. The heavy fruit content makes these rich and very moist, and the honey glaze gives them another sticky notch. There’s no candied citrus peel, but there is enough going on already. The spices are secret, but we’re guessing cinnamon, cloves and allspice among others. As well as being organic, these buns have a low carbon footprint being made up of local, seasonal, fair-trade ingredients. There’s no butter or oil in the dough either, making them even more virtuous.

98/100 Glenayr Avenue, Bondi, 9300 8804

Bowan Island Bakery  ($2 each or 6 for $9.50)

These moist buns are heavy without being dense, and they are just what you hoped the bunny would leave this Easter. The artisan bakery has been making them for decades, but now there is a spelt variety too. These don’t have that yeasty punch many buns have, but it makes up for that with its unique nutty flavour, created by the spelt. Buttermilk gives them a chewy texture, and they have a yellowbox honey aroma. Sultanas, mixed peel, currants, cassia, nutmeg, cloves and cardamom give these sticky numbers a kick of flavour. The peel is far from overpowering, so they might satisfy the citrus adverse as well as low-GI sticklers.

183 Victoria Road, Drummoyne, 9181 3524 (Also in Five Dock and Chatwood)

Black Star Pastry ($4 each or 6 for $18)

Christopher Thé wanted his hot cross buns to smell like Easter, and so he called on his memories of church as a child. “Burning frankincense was thick in the air, you could smell the old church pews and aged wine, that’s what Easter smells like to me,” he says. Thé has given his buns a frankincense glaze, made from the sap of a tree from Saudi Arabia, which gives them a woody tilt. The dough itself is scented with Herbie’s spices coriander, mace, nutmeg and cinnamon, and the fruit keeps the yeasty buns moist and soft. We’re not going to enter the whole hot-cross-buns-are-only-for-Easter argument. But we will say this: there may or may not be a dozen Black Star Pastry hot cross buns stashed away in our freezer for when the holiday is over and we can’t buy them any more. The Easter rabbit may go his merry way, but we’re still hoarding for the winter.

277 Australia Street, Newtown, 9557 8656

This article first appeared in Good Food magazine in The Sydney Morning Herald. See the full story here