Your Hot Cross Buns Will Taste Better with Chili
Hot cross buns work with chili because it accentuates all of the spices. With the first mouthful, you think, “That’s not super potent” but by the time you’ve eaten the whole bun, all of those flavours have built up.
All photos courtesy Lucy Richards.
I was born in Canada but my dad was a Kiwi. My mum's Danish and her parents were Danish, and they lived in New Zealand where I grew up.
My grandmother was a really great cook, so was my mum, and they always did everything properly. They made custard using egg yolks and vanilla beans and all that kind of stuff. I think I was quite a greedy child so food was always really important to me. We just all loved food and it was often a celebration. We feasted quite a lot. Whenever we had visitors, it was always open sandwiches with pickled herrings and meatballs with frikadeller [a type of dumpling]—all that kind of stuff. It definitely inspired me.
And then I rediscovered food.
Their food was always about really appreciating each ingredient completely for itself. As a foundation and starting point for my career, I don't think I could have been in a better place.
I worked for Peter Gordon next. He was more of a throw-it-all-together-and-see-what-happens type of chef. Obviously, he was far more skilled at that than I was. I had a few disasters but he taught me not to be scared about trying things out and just to explore.
The Providores [Gordon's restaurant] was incredible because obviously it was partly my restaurant so I could, in a way, decide to do whatever I wanted to do. It was more about me expressing myself completely, rather than trying to do somebody else's idea. That's one of the things I really love about fusion food because everybody who cooks fusion has a different angle on it. It's interesting because it's such a liberating way to cook.
These days, my inspiration comes from a lot of the people I work with. The kitchens are pretty multinational places so you learn about other people's cuisines probably more by hanging out with them in your own kitchen than going to their country. There's not so much time to travel these days.
Every time I go out, I get inspired to do something. We were out for brunch at The Hospital Club the other day, and I had the greatest sweet potato chips that I've had. My daughter was given chocolate ice cream and she started using these sweet potato chips as a spoon for her ice cream, and I thought, "I bet that's delicious." Then I was thinking, "I want to do sweet potato churros with a chocolate chili sauce."
I just look at flavour profiles, like salt. You can have sea salt or rock salt, but then you've got fish sauce, miso, soy sauce, and all these other ways of using salt, so it stands to reason that most of them will go well as a seasoning.
Even putting miso in a caramel, instead of sea salt, is delicious. I love aniseed but aniseed for me is anything from fennel to celery, star anise or ajwain. All of those flavours are similar so I think, "Well if this goes well with something, maybe that will as well," and I work from there.
Easter always brings hot cross buns to mind. I'm a hot cross bun addict. I think they've got to be not too sweet. That's a mistake people make—they put too much sugar in them and then you can't eat enough. It's got to be reasonably but not overly spiced. When you eat a bun, the flavours develop so with the first mouthful, you think, "That's not super potent" but then by the time you've eaten the whole bun, all of those flavours are constantly building up in your mouth. You've really got to get the right balance of not overdoing the spice. And they have to be nice and warm, but not too doughy.
We always do a bit of a twist on ours so we've got chili with our hot cross buns this time, which is really delicious. I am a fan of a traditional hot cross bun—that's what I would probably eat at home, but I love mixing it up and changing it a little bit at work. "Modern Pantry-fy" it if you like. The buns work really well with the chili because it just accentuates all of the spices.
To achieve the best buns, you need to do slow, long proving. I think anything rushed like that just doesn't tend to work out. Something I've learned recently is that lots of bakers are cold-proving dough now. They're letting things prove for a long time in a fridge and it's really effective because you get a really dense bubble without it becoming all airy.
In our kitchen, we make the dough the day before and leave it in the fridge overnight and then we can pull a sheet out and prove it, and re-prove it in the ambient air—bringing it up to that sort of temperature and then baking them. They're perfect. We do the hot cross butty too of course, with bacon, which everybody loves.
I'm not a fan of having hot cross buns all-year round though. I think that's a terrible thing to do. It takes the novelty away from it, doesn't it? It's a very festive bun. It's an Easter bun, so it should only be celebrated at Easter.
As told to Mia Holt.
Known for fusion dishes inspired by her Danish and Kiwi heritage, Anna Hansen arrived in London aged 22. In 2008, she opened The Modern Pantry—a New Zealand-inspired restaurant "fusing everyday cooking with modern ingredients"—in Clerkenwell and in 2012, was awarded an MBE for services to the restaurant industry.
A second Modern Pantry opened last year in Finsbury Square.