April 03, 2015

Hot Cross Buns

Hot Crossed Buns, or Hot Cross Buns? I guess it depends on whether you prefer a noun or an adjective. I grew up saying "Hot Crossed Buns" but now I find myself saying "Hot Cross Buns" so somewhere along the line I guess I gave way to what I hear around me.

My mother used her classic bread recipe to make these buns (with a little extra sugar), but as I've lamented before, the exact formula for that is now lost to us. Over the years, I've made a few different types, from using Challah dough to plain pizza dough, and they've been fine, but never quite what I wanted. This year, I decided to go with the classic from The Joy Of Cooking, and I'm very pleased with the results (although, next time I would use altogether more fruit, and possibly be a bit more heavy-handed in the way of spices).

In any event, these are a pleasing, not-too-sweet holiday bread that is both a perfect teatime snack as well as a charmingly festive alternative to eggs, eggs, and more eggs (which I say with love, because I adore eggs, of both poultry and chocolate varieties).

Hot Cross Buns

adapted from The Joy of Cooking

Makes 18 buns

1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt (coarse sea salt would be fine)
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup raisins (or any other raisin-sized dried fruit) (next time I would use 1 cup)
1/2 cup candied orange peel (or mixed peel)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (next time I would use 1/2 teaspoon)
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg (next time, 1/4 teaspoon)
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
2 tablespoons warm water (not boiling)
1 egg, beaten, plus 1 egg, separately beaten until smooth (to be used as an egg wash at the end)
2 2/3 to 3 1/2 cups flour (depending on your flour - start with the lower amount)

Scald the milk and remove from the heat. Stir in the sugar, salt, butter, raisins, peel, and spices. Let stand to become lukewarm.

While the mixture cools, in a large, warmed mixing bowl, prove the yeast by sprinkling it over the warm water. When it foams up, sprinkle a little flour over it (no more than a half-teaspoon) to keep it "fed" while the milk mixture cools down. Add the now-lukewarm milk mixture to the yeast mixture, and stir. Add the beaten egg, and stir very thoroughly to combine. Add a cup of flour and stir it through. Add another cup of flour, and stir that through. Add 2/3 cup of flour and, if that looks like enough to bring it to being a soft but manageable dough, stop there and knead it for about five minutes. If not, keep adding flour until you have a workable dough. Living in Germany, I find I often need more flour than is called for in North American bread (and cookie) recipes. When your dough has been kneaded until nice and satiny, clean the mixing bowl, oil it lightly and put the dough, covered with plastic, someplace slightly warm to rise (such as an oven with the light bulb on for added warmth).

When the dough has doubled (about an hour, but start checking after 45 minutes), turn it out onto your workspace, and divide into 18 buns. I only got 17 because I wasn't paying attention, but it works better in the pan if you have full rows, as the buns cling together as they rise. I was short one bun, so the two buns on one end didn't keep their rows straight, and they rose a little wonkily. No matter. Shape the buns into tight, smooth balls, and lay them out in either a 9x13" glass baking dish or with sides just touching on a metal baking tray, Cover with plastic, and let rise for about 20 - 30 minutes, until not-quite doubled.

Preheat the oven to 425 F / 220 C, and while the oven pre-heats, use a table knife to gently press a cross into each bun. Do each bun separately, rather than trying to score a whole row at a time; each bun deserves individual attention. Don't press too deeply - you're just creating a guideline for adding the glaze later. (Although, in some cultures, the cross lets fairies, or variously the devil, out of the dough before it's baked.)

Brush each bun lightly with egg wash, trying to keep the egg was from pooling in the crosses.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until nicely golden brown, and remove to a rack to cool.

When they've mostly cooled, glaze the crosses:

In a small bowl, put 3/4 cup powdered sugar (or icing/confectioner's sugar). Add enough lemon or lime juice to make a thick glaze. Spoon the glaze along the crosses. You can use an icing syringe for nice, smooth crosses, if you like. Be generous enough with the glaze that it flows a little over the sides of the buns on the edge, but no so much that it just runs freely all over the top of the whole batch. Again, glaze each bun individually for best effect.

Devour at will. With some tea, would be nice.

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