The 2014 Hot Cross Bun Competition

April 17, 2014

With Easter just around the corner, supermarket aisles are filling up with bunny-themed eggs and gifts, kids are out on school holidays and bakeries are firing up the ovens for trays and trays of hot cross buns. Affectionately trending on Instagram as ‘HCB’, these English spiced buns are undoubtedly my favourite part of the Easter period!

In celebration of these delicious buns, I embarked on a bit of an expedition yesterday, driving round Melbourne buying a handful of buns from a number of bakeries before a blind tasting in the afternoon (with the help of three fellow tasters)! There were a couple of places I stopped by which had sadly run out of buns, but we ended up with a tasting group of five.

This little one desperately wanted to be one of the tasters too!

“Please!! I can smell the cinnamon!”

In making our tasting notes, we considered the appearance of the buns, their texture (sourdough or otherwise), the smell, flavour, and fruit to bread ratio. We tasted our buns untoasted, both plain and with a swipe of Myrtleford butter. For those of you who missed the live coverage yesterday, here is a summary of our findings.

Note: Cacao Fine Chocolates don’t have HCB, I just wanted to buy some Easter eggs from there!

My day began at Baker D Chirico in Carlton, where I picked up a handful of their dark sourdough buns ($3.30 each) and ordered another half dozen for pick up on Saturday!

The tasters’ notes for these buns (blind marked ‘D’) were generally positive and included the following comments:

  • Quite a small, dark bun compared to others, a ‘rustic’ appearance, not glazed.
  • The sourdough bun was quite chewy in texture. A couple of tasters commented that the texture was at times a bit heavy, and would have preferred a slightly lighter bun.
  • Strong spicy aroma which was better than any other bun tasted.
  • Taste was slightly sour from the dough, but also included lots of very plump fruit and candied peel, obviously of a high quality.
  • ‘Very high fruit content – delicious!’
From Carlton, I made the trip across the Westgate Bridge to Candied Bakery in Spotswood (managing to get lost on my way there and somehow ending up on King’s Way after crossing the Bolte – please tell me I’m not the only one who finds that area of roads confusing!) At a table next to the front bench was a guy almost buried under a pile of pre-ordered HCB boxes, ticking each one off an order form!

Candied’s buns (marked ‘A’) were, I thought, the prettiest of the lot. Beautiful and round, gently golden with a sticky glaze and a very soft texture, they performed very well in the tasting session. At $2.70 per bun, they were also the cheapest of the ones we tried. Other comments included:

  • ‘Very attractive buns!’
  • A good fruit ratio and an excellent aroma, but there was too much nutmeg and it overwhelmed the other spices in flavour.
  • Beautiful soft texture, a ‘good mouth feel’, very sticky glaze.
  • ‘Mine has a damp bottom!’ – indeed all of the Candied buns had gone slightly damp underneath, suggesting that they’d be resting on a flat surface while still warm and had sweated slightly.
I was very keen to try Tivoli Road Bakery’s buns, as they’d taken out Epicure’s HCB competition just the week before. Alas, they had sold out! I was devastated, especially given that I’d gotten there before noon, but was told they’d sold out ‘over an hour ago’. Perhaps upping the production next year wouldn’t hurt.
I had to compromise with a hot cross bun-flavoured doughnut ($3.50), which was tasted only for interest’s sake, as they couldn’t properly be compared with the other buns. The best comments to come from the tasters on these doughnuts was that the doughnut dough itself was delicious and fluffy. However there was a consensus that the filling wasn’t anything to write home about and most tasters would have rather had them plain! Not a convincing alternative – best stick with Tivoli’s classic salted caramel, I think!
On my way through Hawthorn I also stopped by newcomer Hawthorn Common but they’d sadly sold out as well. Next year I will be much more organised with this and do it a week earlier to avoid the same problem!
Just a bit further up Glenferrie Road is a little patisserie called La Tropezienne. We often buy their cakes for family birthdays and celebrations, and their croque madame is a thing of cheesy beauty. Today though, I only had eyes for a pair of their hot cross buns!
Unfortunately, it seems hot cross bun making is best left to the English, or at least certainly not the French! These, at $2.80 a bun, didn’t fare very well with our tasters:
  • A pretty bun with a nice, even glaze and a good size.
  • Only a faint scent of cinnamon, and very light on the spices in taste, ‘a little plain’.
  • Texture was a touch dry, and definitely needed butter.
  • Very sparse on fruit content and could be improved with more orange and sultanas rather than just small currants.
Finally, I came home to find that Mum had already bought our last brand of HCB, Phillippa’s ($3.30 each): thanks Mum! These buns can be routinely found in our home around Easter, mainly because we can buy them locally and they’re predictably delicious, despite being produced in quite large quantities compared to the other bakeries we sampled.
Blind marked Bun ‘C’ in the tasting, Phillippa’s buns fared quite well against the others:
  • Much bigger than the other buns, these were probably the best value for money.
  • Consistent appearance but less ‘handsome’ than some others, also no glaze.
  • They had a lovely honeyed smell and a light spiced flavour.
  • They had quite a chewy texture which some tasters found a tad too tough and required butter.
  • No orange rind, but a reasonable amount of plump and pale sultanas and currants.

Once we’d compared our thoughts and all picked out our favourites, the winner was revealed! Or winners*, as I should say, because it was a tie between Candied’s soft and fluffy buns and Baker D Chirico’s dense sourdough version! The tasting panel was completely divided on a number of critical issues in bun theory, such as whether the dough should be sourdough, whether citrus peel should be used, and whether a glaze was necessary. Answering all the big questions, we are!

What do you all think of the results? Let me know of your favourite hot cross bun this Easter! Happy munching, everyone!

Baker D Chirico Carlton on Urbanspoon Phillippa's on Urbanspoon Tivoli Road Bakery on Urbanspoon La Tropezienne on Urbanspoon Candied Bakery on Urbanspoon