Place the milk in a saucepan along with the butter, cardamom pods, cloves, vanilla paste and almond extract, if using. Heat gently until the butter has melted then remove from the heat and set aside to infuse whilst you prepare the other ingredients.
120 ml milk, 40 g unsalted butter, 2 cardamom pods, 2 cloves, ½ teaspoon vanilla bean paste, a few drops of almond extract
In a large bowl (or the bowl of your stand mixer) place the flour, salt, sugar, yeast, orange zest, cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg. Remove the whole spices from the warm (not hot) milk and add to the flour mixture along with the eggs and 75 ml (¼ cup) of water. Mix until a rough dough forms, adding more water if needed (I added another tablespoon but you may need more, or less). Knead for 5-10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. The dough should be soft and a little sticky.
500 g strong white bread flour, 10 g fine sea salt, 75 g caster sugar, 10 g dried active yeast, finely grated zest of 2 blood oranges, 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom, ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, 2 large eggs, 75 ml water
Place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover tightly with cling film. Leave to prove for an hour in a warm place, though it may need longer, until doubled in size.
Whilst the dough is proving, halve the dried cherries and soak in the juice of half a blood orange.
90 g dried cherries, juice of ½ a blood orange
Once the dough has doubled in size, remove from the bowl and knock it back on a lightly floured surface (knead until all of the air has been knocked out). Drain the soaking liquid from the cherries. Sprinkle the chocolate chips and cherries onto the dough and thoroughly incorporate them by kneading and folding the dough. Leave to prove for another hour or so, until doubled in size again.
150 g dark chocolate chips, 90 g dried cherries
Preheat the oven to 200ºC (400ºF). Knock back the dough for a final time and divide into 12 pieces. Shape each piece into a ball and place onto 2 baking sheets lined with a baking mat or parchment paper - 6 on each sheet. Place them quite snug together but not touching. Place each sheet into a large plastic bag (or use more cling film) and leave in a warm place to rise for one final time, until almost doubled and the dough springs back if touched gently. Gently score a cross into the top of each bun using a sharp knife.
Mix together the flour and water for the crosses until smooth. Place into a piping bag or freezer bag with the corner snipped off and pipe crosses across the top of each bun. The flour/water mixture is sticky - confidence is the key to even crosses!
75 g plain flour, 60 ml water
Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown - keep an eye on them! Whilst the buns bake, place the juice of half a blood orange in a small saucepan along with the icing sugar and heat until the sugar is dissolved. Brush the tops of the buns with the glaze as soon as they come out of the oven.
2 tablespoons icing sugar
Wait a few minutes (if you can!) before splitting one open, spreading liberally with butter and eating joyfully!