Despite living together for many years, we have a great divide in our household. One person believes in the old ways – traditional ways – where Hot Cross Buns are only eaten on the Friday Bank Holiday before Easter – that’s why it is Good Friday. The remainder of the household believes that they are to be eaten as soon as they enter the shops and some even put away in the freezer for when you want “a little something with a cup of tea”.
This year there was a compromise mainly because we visited M&S and saw their new varieties. It was never going to be possible to try them all on one day without feeling very ill afterwards, so this is a review over a few days. The M&S varieties are shown in the main picture. The telltale sign that they can be called Hot Cross Buns is the cross on top ……. although the traditionalist thinks that all should have fruit and spice for the real McCoy……. that discussion took more than half an hour.
Your intrepid reviewers risking their waist (and their credibility) have decided to taste the lot. But there are other varieties so we included a whole research team who ventured far and wide and bought two packets of hot cross buns from – Lidl, the Co-op, Morrisons, Aldi, Sainsbury’s, Asda, M&S and Gails. We also bought some from a local bakery in Brixton. It turned out that some members of the team were nubies – never having tasted a hot cross bun before and some had tasted and didn’t like them – but read on we had a few converts.
What do you look for in a Hot Cross Bun (apart from the cross, the fruit and the spice – argument still going on with the traditionalist). It needs to smell like a hot cross bun and toast like one too. So a light toasting is required which means watching the toaster or grill very carefully. Then it needs butter or a non-dairy spread of your choice. This is important as most hot cross buns are vegan – even though M&S sells a vegan variety. All this means that it can’t be too dense, it has to be soft and airy, a shiny top (burns easily) and not too sweet (this was the key factor in decisions about which was best).
So here we go – We are starting with traditional where we had representatives from – Asda, M&S, Aldi, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Co-op Limited edition and a local bakery. This wasn’t a tasting based on a Latin square design (for the statisticians among you) so this is just their comparison test with A.N. Other bun. Everyone who had the M&S one liked it better than others but the Lidl one was also good especially after toasting. The Co-op one had too much fruit. No-one who had a choice chose the one from Sainsbury’s. It was described as too dry, which was also a fault of the one from the local bakery. The Asda one was OK, which is not a ringing endorsement. The Morrison’s one was too dense and didn’t have enough spice. The Aldi one was chosen by someone who isn’t keen on hot cross buns, so chose them because they were smaller (I don’t think that is a realistic endorsement).
Now we are going to take a look at the other varieties with a cross on top. The sweet ones are – M&S salted caramel and chocolate, Asda “scaramel”, M&S apple, M&S blueberry, M&S extra chocolately, Gails Candied Orange, and M&S Gluten free and Vegan. If you are going to call something by a specific name then it needs to live up to it. All managed that except the Asda salted caramel which didn’t have enough caramel. The M&S salted caramel and chocolate was unsurprisingly described as sickly – you really do need a sweet tooth. All the others got a positive vote by anyone who tasted them. The gluten free one achieved “structural integrity” so it could take butter and didn’t fall apart like many kinds of gluten free produce. The blueberry was recommended for anyone who doesn’t like raisins. The M&S extra chocolaty was described as “well balanced” – I think that was the bitterness of the chocolate so it wasn’t too sweet. The apple and blueberry really smelt of apple and blueberry when you open the packet – making them inviting.
But it doesn’t stop there – M&S expanded into non-fruity, not-at-all sweet varieties. We tried the cheese and chilli and the cheese and Marmite. You probably do need to like Marmite, but it just adds saltiness to a cheesy bun and I liked it but this was a split decision……. guess which side the traditionalist was on. If you like chili then this is just the right for a rainy lunchtime watching Bargain Hunt.
We don’t really have an overall winner to offer – if you have a sweet tooth then you will be looking forward to a happy Easter with lots to choose from. If you thought you didn’t like Hot Cross Buns then there are more varieties to try and we did have converts to the fruity-but-not-raisin varieties. If they are in the shops we do advise freezing as you may want to eat one on May Day and they will vanish from the shelves until 2022. In my view their appearance should herald the spring like the John Lewis advert announces Christmas