My long-time favorite recipe for Hot Cross Buns, the sweet buns topped with icing in a cross shape traditional at Easter, especially on Good Friday.
"I had to make them! ... They are irresistible." ~ Anne
"We have made them for the last couple of years. This year we glazed them with maple syrup and they turned out beautifully." ~ Krissy
"I made these last night, delicious!" ~Becki on Facebook
Birthdays aren’t birthdays without balloons. July 4th isn’t the Fourth of July without a flag-filled parade. And a particular Thursday in November isn’t Thanksgiving without a turkey.
In the Christian tradition, Good Friday’s resurrection promise begs no adornment or heraldry.
Still, in many homes around the world, Good Friday isn’t Good Friday without rich, spiced buns topped with crosses to signify Christ’s sacrifice.
One year, my sister called early Good Friday, wondering if our mother were ‘beaming from heaven’ because her daughters were each elbow-deep in dough for hot cross buns.
Though my sister and I use different recipes – and neither one use our mother’s – we still treasure the tradition. Within a few minutes of my sister’s call, Mom had reason to beam!
My friend Anne, aka the pastry whisperer, wrote after making Hot Cross Buns. "Have you ever read a recipe and just had to rush into the kitchen to make it? That happened to me today when I read about Hot Cross Buns. I had not made them in twenty years and they are delightfully yummy. The dough is a butter-egg rich dough — like a brioche — flavored with currants and spices, then iced with a powdered sugar cross. I was intrigued by the liberal use of spices in this recipe (1 teaspoon per cup of flour) ... now I understand why hot cross buns are full of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, mace, and cloves. Those aromas perfumed my kitchen while the buns were baking and they are intoxicatingly delicious." Anne soaked the currants in warm brandy, then used part bread flour and her own spice mix, all good options. Check her variation on my Hot Cross Buns.
I've become fascinated with the breads I call "Celebration Breads", ones often made just once a year to mark an occasion, often religious. It's a growing collection of recipes, from the Hot Cross Buns I've made for so many years to Armenian Easter Bread to the Latin Pan de Muerto for Day of the Dead in November.
HOT CROSS BUNS
Total time to complete: 3½ - 4 hours
Makes 24 large buns
- 1 cup whole milk
- 2 packages dry yeast (4-1/2 teaspoons)
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
- 1 cup (115g) currants
- Zests from 1 orange and 1 lemon or 1 lime
- 1/2 cup (100g) sugar
- 4 cups flour, 500g or fluffed to aerate before measuring
- 1 tablespoon allspice
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon (or Penzey's cake spice, see TIPS)
- 1 teaspoon table salt
- 10 tablespoons cold salted butter, cut in small bits
- Additional flour for kneading
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon salted butter, melted
- 2 tablespoons warm milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla or lemon extract
- 2 cups powdered sugar (icing sugar)
PROOF the YEAST In a small dish, heat milk in microwave about 1 minute to 105F – 115F. Gently stir in yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar. Set aside until foamy, about 5 minutes.
SOAK the CURRANTS In a small bowl, whisk egg and yolk well. Stir in currants and zests. Set aside.
MIX the DOUGH In large bowl, stir together 1/2 cup sugar, flour, spices and salt. With fingertips, blend butter into flour until a coarse meal forms. Make well in center, pour in yeast and currant mixtures. Blend thoroughly with hands, then form into ball and transfer to lightly floured counter. (Don't worry, the dough will be sticky. If it starts off too sticky to knead on the counter, just knead it right in the bowl.) Knead 10 minutes, adding as little flour as possible, just enough to work dough without any stickiness when the kneading is done.
FIRST RISE Transfer dough to a clean, lightly oiled bowl, first rubbing the dough mass against the bowl to lightly coat all sides with oil. Cover, let rise in warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
FORM BUNS & SECOND RISE With a fist, gently deflate dough. Cut into 24 pieces. (For buns exactly the same size, weight the pieces before forming, I like buns about 50 grams big.) Form buns and arrange on two or three baking sheets covered with parchment (recommended) or lightly greased (works okay on some baking sheets). Cover with clean towels and let rise in warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
BAKE Preheat oven to 400F/200C. Whisk egg and 2 tablespoons sugar. Brush tops of buns with egg mixture. Bake until golden, about 12 minutes per baking sheet. Let cool completely.
ICING Blend the butter, milk and extract, then stir in powdered sugar. Place icing in a zip-lock bag, snip a corner to easily mark the crosses. Squirt ribbons of icing onto each bun, forming a Christian cross as my family does, or an X to symbolize the mark early Christians used to identify themselves when Christianity was outlawed. For gifts, put dollops of icing in small bags, just enough for applying later without fear of muss or mess during transportation.
FLOUR For more whole-grain buns, I used 1 cup King Arthur whole wheat flour and 3 cups King Arthur all-purpose flour (which itself has more gluten than other all-purpose flours). The buns had a lovely pale-brown color but remained light and easy to eat. I would definitely do this again. (2009) I used 3 cups of Pillsbury all-purpose flour and 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour. Next year, I will return to the King Arthur flours again, this year's dough was a little ropey. That said, I'm not sure that the flour was the cause. The dough seemed particularly hungry for flour during the kneading process, more than I ever remember before. (2010) All bread flour worked great this year. (2012)
DRIED FRUIT A 50:50 mix of currants and dried cranberries is a nice variation. If the cranberries are large, snip them into smaller pieces otherwise they sort of take over. (2008)
FIRST RISE I have started mixing bread dough the night before, covering it and letting it rise in the refrigerator the night before. It really does rise, even in cold conditions! That 'warm place' we seek is really only to speed the rising process.(2010) When the first rise is done in the fridge, the dough becomes quite stiff and while workable, does take more time to form the buns. The second rise can take a long time too, this year it took two full hours in the oven on the bread-proofing temperature. (2012)
RISE TIME When allowed to rise properly, these hot cross buns are as light and airy as pillows. For both the first and the second rise, judge when the dough is risen by its size, which should be doubled, not by time passed. The cooler the temperature, the longer the rise time. Some people have good luck letting bread rise in an oven with the oven light on. In my cold winter house, I let bread rise in a 'proofing box' -- just a large cardboard box on its side with a small space heater blowing warm air into the open side. This year I learned that during the first rise, a double layer of towel sloooooows down the rise time, where a single layer of towel lets in just the right amount of warm air. (2008) My latest favorite way to let bread dough rise is to use a heating pad, for details, see Armenian Easter Bread. (2009)
PARCHMENT I have a favorite non-stick baking sheet and wish it were still made. It "always" bakes just perfectly. But this year I also used an inexpensive baking sheet lined with parchment and was most surprised that the bottoms were golden and crisp, even compared to my favorite baking sheet. So now I recommend parchment! (2012)
FORMING THE ROLLS When forming the rolls, make sure that no currants stick out from the dough because they'll either get hard or burn while baking.
EGG WASH If the egg/sugar mixture brushed on at the end seems a little thick and hard to brush on smoothly without glops or drips, just whisk in a couple of teaspoons of water. (2008)
ICING I use only about 1/4 the icing but intentionally list the ingredients for more so that it can be distributed into bags for delivering to friends and neighbors. I use the full amount for the Nutrition Estimate, however, in case others are more generous with the icing than I am!
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