The Hot Cross Bun Epiphany
Easter is upon us, and the weatherman says we will *finally* break the double-digit temperature mark this weekend! About time! The snow storm that hit last week has all disappeared, leaving only the mounds of snow and dirt that have compiled over the winter. And while most of the people around here are starting to shop the garden centers and greenhouses, the smart ones know we still have a month to go before we can safely put those lovely spring flowers outside…
Having made a lot of headway in my fear of yeast breads, I decided this year I would make one of my favourite Easter treats: Hot Cross Buns. A soft, spiced bread with dried fruit and citrus strewn throughout and iced with a cross on top, they have been as much an Easter staple for me as chocolate bunnies. As kids, Easter breakfast was always a mixture of chocolate bunny parts, jelly beans, gnarly-coloured hard-boiled eggs and hot cross buns. Mom would always buy a tray of buns for the holiday, and in the morning, she’d split open a few and put them under the broiler until they were perfectly toasted. As soon as they came out of the oven, they were slathered with butter and devoured… salty melted butter mixing with the candied citrus and raisins and spices…. mmmmmmm.
Finding a recipe for Hot Cross Buns proved much harder than I anticipated. After all, every grocery store bakery in town has had racks and racks of them out for weeks now – so I would have imagined that any cookbooks that do anything with yeast breads would have a recipe for these. HA! Nope. I went through my entire stack of books before I managed to find one, in A Baker’s Tour; Nick Malgieri’s Favourite Baking Recipes from Around the World of all places. Huh? Yep – seems these lovelies originally hail from England. Who would have guessed? (not me apparently…)
I made the first batch of buns exactly as Chef Nick instructed, and they turned out lovely. I sent the majority of the bins to work with hubby, where I am told they disappeared fast. As for the two small buns I saved for my own taste test – well, they disappeared rather quickly as well, though they did have more raisins than I like. Raisins aren’t my favourite dried fruit, but they are a very traditional ingredient in Hot Cross Buns, so naturally I included them. Still, I craved more, so I went back into the kitchen to make another batch to enjoy over the weekend, and that’s when it hit me; what is my favourite way to eat hot cross buns? Answer: split, toasted and buttered. What’s the biggest problem with that? Hot cross buns don’t exactly fit in the toaster very well, and firing up the broiler for one bun seems sort of wasteful. So, why not bake the dough as a loaf? That way I can enjoy an even, perfectly toasted slice whenever the urge strikes! Brilliant! Oh, and this time, I’m omitting the raisins and bulking up on those sweet and chewy little pieces of candied citrus, and maybe some candied ginger to make up the difference. Oooooh – this was going to be good!
The waiting was the hardest part. Patience is an absolute requirement when baking anything involving yeast (perhaps that’s one reason yeast and I have not always gotten along in the past). All the kneading and rising and waiting and rising time was torturous, and the anticipation was killing me. In the end, however, I was rewarded with a sweet, spiced bread that was everything I had hoped it would be. And since hubby does not share my affection for Hot Cross Buns (even in loaf form), I have been able to have the entire thing to myself – enjoying a slice of it each morning over this long weekend.
So – however you prefer your hot cross buns, or even if they are something completely new you want to try, here is Nick Malgieri’s recipe, in all it’s perfection… Happy Baking and Happy Easter!
Hot Cross Buns
From A Baker’s Tour: Nick Malgieri’s Favorite Recipes from Around the World
Makes 12 Buns
- 120 ml (1/2 Cup) milk
- 2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
- 71 g (1/2 Cup) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 237 g (1 2/3 Cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 67 g (1/3 Cup) granulated sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp each; ground cinnamon, ground cloves, ground nutmeg and ground ginger
- 57 g (4 Tbsp or 1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened and cut into 10 pieces
- 1 large egg
- 120 g (2/3 Cup) currants or raisins, or a mixture of the two)
- 60 g (1/4 Cup) finely diced candied citron or orange peel
- 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
- 1 Tbsp water
- 2/3 Cup confectioners’ sugar
- 2 tsp water
For the sponge, heat the milk in a small saucepan until it is just lukewarm, no more than 110˚F. Pour the warm milk into a medium bowl and whisk in the yeast. Use a rubber spatula to stir in the flour, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the sponge ferment until it is bubbly: 15 to 20 minutes.
Once the sponge is ready, prepare the dough. Combine the flour, sugar, salt and spices in the bowl of an electric mixer and stir well to mix. Place on the mixer with the paddle attachment and add the butter. Mix until the butter is finely worked in, about 2 minutes.
Remove the bowl from the mixer and scrape in the sponge. Add the egg and return to the mixer with the paddle, Mix on the lowest speed for 2 minutes. Stop the mixer and allow the dough to rest for 10 minutes.
Mix the dough again on medium speed until it smooth and elastic, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to lowest and add the dried fruits. Mix until they are evenly distributed in the dough.
Scrape the dough into a buttered bowl and turn the dough over so that the top is buttered. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise until is doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Turn the risen dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and press it into a rough square. Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces with a knife or bench scraper.
Round the dough by pressing it under the palm of your hand as your rotate your hand around the dough. Arrange the buns on a cookie sheet lined with parchment, and press a cross into the top of each bun with the back of the blade of a table knife. Cover with a towel or buttered plastic wrap and allow the buns to rise until they are almost doubled, about 45 minutes
About 15 minutes before the buns are completely risen, set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375˚F.
Bake the buns until they are a deep golden brown and feel light, about 15-20 minutes. Just before the buns are finished baking, bring the water and sugar for the glaze to a boil. Brush the glaze on the buns as soon as they come out of the oven.
Slide the paper from the pan to a rack to cool the buns
For the icing, combine the confectioners’ sugar and water in a small saucepan and stir well to mix. Place over low heat until the icing is just warm to the touch. Scrape the icing into a paper cone or small plastic bag and snip the corner. Pipe a cross on top of each cooled bun, following the indentation made before baking. Let the icing dry for 30 minutes before serving.