How to make hot cross buns and simnel cake – Mary Berry’s fabulous Easter recipes

The Great British Bake Off judge reveals two of her favourite recipes to try this Easter

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You’d expect Mary Berry to be a traditionalist when it comes to Easter. So it’s surprising to discover that the Queen of Cakes hasn’t given anything up for Lent this year.

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“In the past, it’s been wine or chocolate,” she says, “but instead I decided to visit all the friends I don’t usually have time to see – some of whom aren’t well. I thought that would be a nice way to do it this year.

“I don’t think people have forgotten the religious significance of our traditional Easter foods,” she adds. “Every year I make a simnel cake, but sometimes I’m too busy to make hot cross buns. They take a long time – and you can buy very good ones.”

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These and other traditional foods are the subject of BBC2’s two-part Mary Berry’s Easter Feast, in which she visits places of worship to find out how Easter is celebrated by Christians of different cultures and nationalities in the UK.

“We went to a Russian Orthodox church, an Italian Catholic church, a Polish Catholic church, a Filipino Catholic Church, as well as meeting the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. It was delightful.”

How does Mary celebrate the festival at home? “I love having the whole family over for Easter Sunday lunch. It’s a time to get the family together, go to church, and remember why we celebrate. It’s important to remind people what a special day it is, that Christ rises on Easter Sunday, and that it’s a celebration of new life.” 

Mary’s hot cross buns

An Easter classic that’s loved by all, these are best made and eaten on the day. They are delicious split in half and spread with butter.

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INGREDIENTS (Makes 12)

FOR THE BUNS

  • 500g strong white flour plus extra for dusting
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 2 tsp mixed spice powder
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon 
  • finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 10g salt
  • 10g fast-action dried yeast
  • 40g butter
  • about 300 ml, milk
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 200g sultanas
  • 50g finely chopped mixed peel
  • oil, for greasing

FOR THE TOPPING

  • 75g plain flour
  • 2 tbsp golden syrup, for glazing

DIRECTIONS

  1. You will need a piping bag fitted with a fine 3mm nozzle.
  2. Measure the flour, sugar and spices into a large bowl, add the lemon zest and toss together, then add the salt and yeast, placing them on opposite sides of the bowl.
  3. Melt the butter in a pan and warm the milk in a separate pan, allowing them both to cool a little after heating. Add the melted butter and half the tepid milk to the dry ingredients in the bowl. Tip in the beaten egg and use your hands to bring the mixture together, incorporating the flour from the edges of the bowl as you go. Gradually add the rest of the milk, to make a soft pliable dough. You may not need all the milk — it is better for the dough to be on the wet side, rather than too dry.
  4. Tip the dough out on to a lightly floured work surface and knead by hand, incorporating the sultanas and mixed peel into the dough. Lightly knead for 10 minutes until silky and elastic and forming a smooth ball. Kneading can be done in a food processor using a dough hook, if you prefer. 
  5. Transfer  the ball of dough into an oiled bowl cover with cling film and leave to rise in a warm place for about 11/2 hours or until doubled in size. (This may take longer if the dough is left to rise in a cool kitchen.)
  6. Turn the risen dough out on to a lightly floured surface. Knock back and knead for a further 5 minutes. Return to the bowl, cover with cling film and leave in a warm place to rise for a further hour, or until doubled in size.
  7. Turn the dough out again on to a floured surface and divide into 12 equal pieces, shaping each of these into a ball. Line 1-2 baking sheets with baking paper and arrange the balls of dough on the sheets, placing them fairly close together and flattening them slightly.
  8. Slip each baking sheet into a large, clean polythene bag, making sure that the bag doesn’t touch the buns. Leave for 40—60 minutes until the buns have doubled in size. They should spring back when lightly pressed with a finger. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 220°C/200°C fan/gas mark 7.
  9. To make the crosses for the top of the buns, add the plain flour to a bowl with 100ml of water. Mix together to make a paste and spoon into the piping bag.
  10. When the buns have risen, remove the polythene bags and pipe a cross on top of each bun. Transfer the buns to the oven and bake for 15—20 minutes until pale golden brown, turning the baking sheets round halfway though, if necessary.
  11. Melt the golden syrup in a pan and, while the buns are still warm, brush the top of each bun with a little melted syrup to give a nice shine, before setting aside to cool on a wire rack.

Mary’s Easter simnel cake

Traditional simnel cakes can be very deep and quite rich — this one is slightly shallower and lighter. Once you’ve added the marzipan balls (11, for each of the Apostles except Judas) you can decorate further with tiny Easter eggs or fluffy chicks. Tie a yellow or green ribbon around it for the finishing touch.

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INGREDIENTS (Serves 8-10)

FOR THE CAKE

  • 175g light muscovado sugar
  • 175g butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
  • 175g self-raising flour
  • 3 large eggs
  • 50g ground almonds
  • 3 tbsp milk
  • 100g sultanas
  • 100g glacé cherries, washed and quartered
  • 100g ready-to-eat dried apricots, snipped into small pieces
  • 2 tsp mixed spice powder

FOR THE TOPPING

  • 450g golden marzipan
  • about 3 tbsp apricot jam
  • 1 egg, beaten

DIRECTIONS

  1. You will need a 20cm round, loose-bottomed cake tin with deep sides. Preheat the oven to 160°C/140°C fan/gas mark 3, then grease the tin with butter and line the base with baking paper.
  2. Measure all the cake ingredients into a large bowl and beat together well until blended. Spoon half the mixture into the prepared tin and level the surface.
  3. Take one-third of the marzipan and roll out into a disc the same size as the base of the cake tin, then place the disc on top of the cake mixture in the tin. Spoon the remaining cake mixture on top of the marzipan and level the surface.
  4. Bake in the oven for 13/4—2 hours or until golden brown on top and firm in the middle. If, towards the end of the cooking time, the cake is getting too brown, cover with a piece of foil. Allow the cake to cool for 10 minutes before removing from the tin and placing on a wire rack to finish cooling.
  5. When the cake is cool, heat through the apricot jam in a pan, then brush the top of the cake with a little warm jam. Roll out half the remaining marzipan into a disc to fit the top of the cake and place it on top of the layer of jam. Use your thumb to crimp around the edges of the marzipan. Make 11 even-sized balls from the rest of the marzipan and place these around the edge of the cake, spacing them out evenly and fixing them to the marzipan with a little beaten egg.
  6. Brush the marzipan with beaten 10g fast-action dried yeast Melt the butter in a pan and if you prefer. •8 10g salt in a food mixer using a dough hook, them slightly. egg and glaze under a hot grill for about 5 minutes (turning the cake round to ensure even browning), so the marzipan is tinged brown all over. (You can also do this with a cook’s blowtorch, if you prefer.)
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Mary Berry’s Easter Feast begins Tuesday 15 March at 8pm on BBC2