Saturday, April 4, 2015

Hot Cross Buns

Hot cross buns,
Hot cross buns,
One a penny,
Two a penny,
Hot cross buns.

For anyone who does not know what hot cross buns are (my sympathies to you), they are simply delicious semi-sweet buns, traditionally baked for Good Friday.

Mini History Lesson: Hot cross buns have a very long history. They are usually made with raisins or currants, with a cross on top. Queen Elizabeth I tried to outlaw them (don't ask me why). Hot cross buns were only permitted at burials, Good Friday and Christmas. King James I also tried to ban these delicious buns. Although this makes no sense, it led to them being more popular around the time of Good Friday and Easter. Hot cross buns remain popular in the UK, the Caribbean, New Zealand, India and Canada. Legend has it that if you share hot cross buns with someone, it will ensure your friendship in the upcoming year.

Ok, that's the end of the history lesson. When I was growing up, my mom always made enough hot cross buns for the feeding of the five thousand. As long as it was Good Friday, my mom was baking hot cross buns. When I asked why she made so many, she said that there would always be people to eat them. And she was right. Everyone got some, from the parish priest to the beggar outside the church. Neither my sister or I liked raisins so she made them without. They were the only things that we ate on Good Friday. Looking back, I'm not sure that they should have counted as fasting or penance on Good Friday because they were SO GOOD!! Now that I have my own home, I am still baking hot cross buns (without raisins). While I don't make enough for five thousand, I am happy that I have loved ones to share with. 

This is not a difficult recipe, but it is time consuming. This is not something you can whip up an hour before eating. You have been warned! Now, without further delay, my recipe (makes about 25 buns):

  • 2 cups milk
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 9 cups flour
  • 2 tbsp instant yeast
  • 2 large eggs
Scald milk and butter (in other words, heat but do not boil). Let cool for a few minutes then pour into a large bowl. Add sugar and salt. Stir.

In separate bowl, combine flour and yeast. Stir 6 cups of the flour mixture into the milk mixture. Add beaten egg. Mix in the remaining flour. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead for about 5-8 minutes. The dough will be somewhat sticky. Lightly coat a bowl with cooking spray and put dough into it. Cover with a towel and let it rise for about 1 hour. (Work on your patience meanwhile.)

Punch down dough (fun part) and divide it into 2 balls. Let it rest for 10 minutes. While your dough is resting, gather ingredients for the filling:
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • Optional: about 2/3 cup of raisins
Combine the sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. 

Turn your dough onto a floured surface and flatten. Sprinkle with the sugar and spices and some raisins (if you're using them). Fold the dough over onto itself, as though closing a book. Flatten it again. Repeat this about 3 or 4 times. You do not have to use all of the spices and raisins. Pinch off golf-ball sized pieces of dough and form into balls. Place two inches apart on greased baking sheets. Cover them with a towel again and go back to working on your patience for 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. After your dough is finished resting, you can go ahead and pop them into the oven or you can use a clean pair of scissors to make two perpendicular cuts (a cross) on the top of each bun before you bake them.

Bake for about 12-13 minutes. 

While the buns are baking, combine about 1/2 cup hot water with about 1 cup granulated sugar. Stir in the sugar gradually until no more sugar can dissolve. When the buns are finished baking, and still hot, brush on your sugar-water to make a nice gooey glaze.

You can end here and enjoy your hot cross buns while they're warm or work on your patience some more, in order to add an icing cross. Or you can do what I do, have one while they're hot and then let the others cool.

To make the icing, combine about 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, 1 egg white and a splash of milk. Add more powdered sugar if needed to make the icing thick.When the buns are completely cool, (I repeat, completely cool), pipe a cross on each bun. If the buns are not cool, the icing will run. 

Finally, after hours of patience, go ahead and eat your hot cross buns. Don't forget to share them with your friends. 

Happy Easter!

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