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.
Since my less-than-stellar attempt to make brioche a couple of weekends ago, I have moved on to a couple of other more successful recipes. I soothed my bruised ego with a batch of good ol’ back-to-basics Chocolate Chip Cookies, put together a pretty decent Bread Pudding from the least disastrous batch of brioche, and padded down memory lane with some paw-printed Macarons for my May Mactweets challenge. All of these have helped to boost my confidence and fade the memory of defeat just enough to make it possible for me to head back into battle once more.~ That was just a taste. Click here for more...
I am finally getting back into my food-blogging groove after two weeks of “life” has gotten in the way. It feels so good to be back, checking in with all my new blog buddies around the globe – an incredible collection of kind, funny, food-focused people like me. These are the people I am looking forward to meeting in person and getting to know better when I head to London in early June for my very first Food Blogger Connect conference.~ That was just a taste. Click here for more...
On Sunday, my parents returned from their annual holiday in Hawaii. Every winter for more than 20 years now, they leave the cold, bleak winters of Alberta for a month of sun and sand in Oahu. I can only imagine how difficult it must be some years, to leave the ocean and warm breezes of Hawaii and return to bundling up in layers and shoveling snow until spring arrives. I would hope that the month of reprieve from the cold makes the last few months of winter that much easier to bear.
When she returned home this year, my mom brought me a few little treats in the form of flavourful syrups. Hawaiian Ginger syrup, Thai Ginger syrup and Coconut syrup – tasty treats for me to play with in the kitchen. Perhaps I should have waited a few days for my Rice Pudding experiment – guess I’ll just have to try again and see if I can improve the results – but that will have to wait for another day. Being short on time this morning, I decided to try out one of my new ingredients in a much quicker recipe…
Cream Scones are incredibly simple to make and taste like home. A friend made these for us when we arrived in London for a visit, served up with strawberry jam and double cream (the likes of which I have yet to taste again outside of the UK). I myself make these at least once a month and enjoy them with a nice hot cup of coffee on a Saturday or Sunday morning. Omit the ginger and you have a simple biscuit that is still elegant enough to be served as dessert, split open and served with fresh berries and softly whipped cream. Add some dried currants or cranberries to the dough and you won’t need a thing to serve with them, they’re delicious and flavourful. The trick is to work the dough as little as possible once you add the cream and you will be rewarded with scones that are light and fluffy and delectable. Overwork that dough and you’ll end up with something you should probably use as a door-stop. In this case, the candied ginger makes them as much a treat as any cookie would be.
Ginger Cream Scones
(makes 8 scones)
2 Cups (284 g) all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp (16 g) baking powder
3 Tbsp (45 g) sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 Cup (60 g) crystallized ginger, minced
5 Tbsp (71 g) unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces
1 Cup (240 ml) heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 Tbsp heavy cream
1 1/2 tsp ginger syrup
1. Preheat oven to 425F and move rack to middle position in oven.
2. In the bowl of a food processor, (you can also make these by hand in a large bowl), blend together the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and ginger.
3. Add in the butter pieces and blend with three or four 1-second pulses (or cut the butter in by hand as you would for pie dough).
4. Pour in the cream and vanilla and pulse three more times, until the cream is just barely incorporated into the flour mixture (you will still have some pockets of dry ingredients).
5. Turn the mixture out onto a clean countertop and gently knead by hand just until the dough comes together in one cohesive ball – remember not to overwork it! Flatten the dough out into a rectangle or circle about 3/4 inch thick. Cut into equal sized pieces and place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing them about 2 inches apart.
In a small bowl, mix together the 3 Tbsp cream and syrup. Brush mixture onto each of the raw scones and then sprinkle them with sugar. Place in oven for 11-15 minutes, until puffy and the tops are just golden brown around the edges. Serve when still warm from the oven.
NOTE: Because these are so simple, they don’t keep long. If you wish to make a smaller batch, follow steps 1 through 3 as above. Take half of the flour and butter mixture, cover and refrigerate for use at a later date. This mixture will keep for up to 5 days. To the remaining half of the mixture, add 1/2 Cup of cream and 1/2 tsp of vanilla and prepare as as directed. Ditto for the “leftover” batch, when you are ready to make them.