Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Hot Cross Buns

                                            originally posted in march of 2013
 It is a tradition amongst many Christian bakers to produce a batch of Hot Cross Buns (Click to sing the nursery rhyme!) for Good Friday.  And, if not, we stop at the local bakery and see if THEY made any.  These barely sweet firm rolls, served on a day when no meat is eaten,  are hearty tea treats of the first order--complete with a light buttery hum that is almost topped by the spice notes.  The pretty "X" snipped into the top (and often emphasized with a bit of icing painted into the grooves) lets the world--and you, too-- know what kind of bread this is.  An "X"  on bread can also be assumed to keep evil away. (Or as some might put it:  the "X" lets the devil escape from the dough ensuring great bread!)

You can see I had a bit of trouble getting this dough smooth; it finally came round.

This year, I had some time and elected to go the homemade route complete with the "X" on top....  It's been years since I made these buns, and  while they weren't difficult to make (if you are accustomed to making yeast breads and perhaps even if you're not), the dough itself is stiff and not exactly terribly easy to deal with in the mixing, I THOUGHT...   In the end, it turns out it was supposed  to be stiff.  Which I knew if I had only thought harder about it.  While warmly spicy (cinnamon, cloves, etc.), these rolls are not light and fluffy; they're dense and rather on the order of a good sturdy Kaiser roll instead of a buttery, tender dinner roll.  In other words, you know you've had something to eat when you're done with one.

While this recipe makes 20 rolls -- quite a bit for one person -- they're meant to be shared.  Enjoy one or two right out of the oven (HOT cross buns, you see), wrap some for your breakfast on Holy Saturday, but then take them to church or work and let everyone else enjoy this very traditional, hundreds of years-old treat.  (Freeze a couple for desperation afternoons.)  In fact, the story goes that if you share one:  "Half for you and half for me, Between us two shall goodwill be"-- you'll be friends for a year.  Some folks even think you need to kiss the bun before eating it, as it has a cross on it, you see.

Just for fun, and because I could, I made my buns from the gorgeous children's baking book Knead It, Punch It, Bake It!  The Ultimate Baking Book for Parents and Kids, by quintessential bakers Judith and Evan Jones.

I think the book has been published a couple of times, most recently in the late '90s.  Right now, used copies of the earlier version, illustrated by Lauren Jarrett,  are available on amazon.  If you have kids in your life--your own or those of friend or family -- this is a fantastic gift.  The ability to bake one's own bread is a beautiful present to give a kid--and adults love this book, too.  I have to admit I bought it just for me long after my kids were gone.  I have a lot of bread books, but this one is short, complete, and to the point without reading pages and pages....  It's small, lightweight, has wonderful illustrations, thanks to Mitra Modarressi, (OH, THAT'S HOW YOU DO THAT!), and is spiral bound so that it lays flat on the counter.  I hope I'm forgiven for sharing this sweet recipe here....  Do buy the book when you can!  My baking notes are in (  ).

hot cross buns   makes about 20
  •  3/4 cup milk
  • 2 packages (2 scant tablespoons) active dry yeast
  • 3 1/2 - 3 3/4 cups white flour  (I didn't need more than 3 1/2 cups--except for board.)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 large eggs (I had them at room temperature)
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup dried currants (I was out and used raisins)       
OPTIONAL GLAZE:  1/2 cup confectioners' sugar mixed with 2 teaspoons warm milk

Heat milk in a small saucepan to lukewarm and pour it over the yeast in a cup.

Mix 3 1/2 cups of the flour with the salt, sugar, and spices in a large, warm bowl.  Make a well in the center and pour in the dissolved yeast.  Stir with a large wooden spoon, then stir in the eggs, one at a time; beat in the softened butter.  Add a little more flour if necessary to make a firm dough.  (I used the Kitchen Aid mixer for all this, fyi.)

Turn out the dough onto a floured work surface and spread it out.  Sprinkle the currants over, then fold up the dough and knead it a little to distribute them evenly through the dough.

Clean out your bowl and return the dough to it.  (I buttered the bowl.)  Cover it with plastic wrap and let it rise until doubled in size.  (I sat it on the radiator in the sun.)  Punch down the risen dough, turn it out onto a floured working surface, and knead briefly -- less than a  minute.

Lightly roll the dough into a long roll and then with a knife cut off twenty even-sized pieces.  Shape these into buns by rounding them with your two cupped hands, tucking under the sides, and pinching the seams together at the bottom.  Grease two baking sheets and place the buns 2 inches apart on them.

Cover the buns lightly with waxed paper and let them rise in a fairly warm place until doubled in size -- about 35 minutes.  After the buns have risen 20 minutes, preheat the oven to 450 degrees* Fahrenheit.  Just before baking, with a pair of scissors make a cross in each bun, snipping once horizontally, once vertically, and cutting quite deep.  Put them immediately into the middle of the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes and bake until golden.  The cross will have opened up in baking.
(Watch closely; these get quite crisp on the bottom quickly--and I used a heavy baking sheet.)

If you want to emphasize the cross and give the flavor of sweet frosting, mix the confectioners' sugar and warm milk in a small bowl until smooth.  Dip a chopstick or the wrong end of a wooden spoon into the frosting and drizzle a little over the buns after they've cooked a bit, following the lines of the cross.

If you don't eat all of the buns right away, they can be reheated or split and toasted.

A blessed Good Friday to you...or a Blessed Baking Day--if that makes the most sense,

You might also make Czech Easter bread from the More Time blog...

Have fun cooking and taking care of yourself,

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