Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Hot Cross Buns, belatedly

Okay, yes, I know my timing is off here. Hot cross bun season is now over until next spring, and here I am posting about it. But by next spring, I will not remember much about my recent experience baking hot cross buns, so I wanted to make sure it was recorded for posterity.

My timing was off in several ways, in fact. Hot cross buns are not a food of my origins, shall we say, and to have made hot cross buns during Passover, no less, appears to make me a very bad Jew. Ah well. There is also the hot cross bun story I always think of when I go by the Bakery Normand in Northampton on an early spring day to see if they have any hot cross buns. Normand's is known around town both for its excellent array of baked goods and for its exceptionally cranky counter staff. Some years ago, I went in during the spring sometime and asked when there would be hot cross buns available. The pierced and surly counter person sniffed at me and said, "I have no idea. I'm not really into religion." And I thought, "You know, I'm not really into religion either. In fact, I'm a Jew who likes hot cross buns. But given that you work in a bakery, it's probably not a bad idea to know when seasonal products are going to be around." But, of course, I didn't actually say any of that because really, what was the point.

I did, in fact, eat a hot cross bun or two from Normand's this year (that counter person having moved on to hopefully less surly climes), but I also wanted to try to make some myself. I saw a recipe in Marion Cunningham's The Breakfast Book, which was intriguing. (Although I own another Cunningham book, I'd never heard of this one until Molly at Orangette posted the ginger muffins from it, which I made and which were delicious.) And then, the lovely Anne Bramley of EatFeed linked on Facebook a Guardian article about hot cross buns, which was quite interesting. This article included Nigella Lawson's hot cross bun recipe, which was also interesting.

In the end, though, I have to admit that I didn't go with any of these. One fact I hadn't known earlier is that the British version doesn't have a sugar-based icing on top. In fact, in the comments of the Guardian piece, people were somewhat horrified at the thought and sniffed at it as being particularly American. (They were even more horrified at the thought of cream cheese frosting, which I've never had on a hot cross bun but sounded like it could be good.) But to me, the icing is half the point! That's the treat factor--the bread and dried fruit and spices part are all well and good, but it's that bit of extra sugar on top that ties it all together.

In the end, I went with Elise's recipe from Simply Recipes. I liked that it had been created from other recipes after a lot of testing. (Always nice to have someone else to test all those other recipes for you!) It turned out that it was fairly similar to Marion Cunningham's recipe with just a few minor differences.

A few comments.

It took awhile for the dough not to be sticky anymore. While the recipe says to use between 3 1/4 and 3 1/2 cups of flour, I used closer to 4. Eventually, it became tacky but not excessively sticky, and that seemed fine.

Don't skip the orange peel! Along with the spices, it really adds a nice flavor.

If you want the X to survive the baking, you need to have a firm hand with the knife before baking.

When I had to take all those IV antibiotics for Lyme, I ended up with a lot of sterile syringes (if that's what they are when there's no needle in them). I tossed most of them, but the nurses told me that some people saved them and used them to ice cakes with. Why not, I thought. After they went through the dishwasher a few times, I stuck them in a drawer and remembered them only when I was looking at the icing instructions for the buns. It worked beautifully--though on the second batch, I just pasted the icing on with a spoon, which gets you more icing per bun, if you're interested in that kind of thing.

And about that second batch. I made half of the buns the day I made the dough and the other half 3 days later. The dough spent those days in the fridge, and if I had to pick, I'd say that the second batch was a bit better. So, if you want to make the dough ahead of time and bake later, they'll still be great.

Chances are that I won't be making hot cross buns again for awhile, yummy as they were. On the other hand, since they're not the food of my origins, perhaps there's no reason not to indulge in a spicy, fruity iced bun before next spring rolls around.

Hot Cross Buns
Adapted very slightly from Simply Recipes
  • 1 1/4-ounce package instant yeast (about 2 1/2 teaspoons)
  • 3/4 cup warm milk
  • 3 1/4 to 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour (I used closer to 4 cups)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground spices (for example, 1/2 teaspoon cardamom, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon allspice, 1/4 teaspoon cloves, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 Tbsp butter, softened
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup currants or raisins (I used 1/2 cup golden raisins and 1/4 cup regular)
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange zest


  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tbsp milk


  • 1 teaspoon milk
  • 3 to 4 Tbsp powdered sugar
Baking Instructions

In a large bowl or the mixing bowl of an electric mixer, vigorously whisk together 3 cups of the flour (reserving additional flour for later step), the salt, spices, instant yeast and 1/4 cup of sugar.

Create a well in the flour and add the softened butter, eggs, and milk. Using a wooden spoon or the paddle attachment of your mixer, mix the ingredients until well incorporated. The mixture should be shaggy and quite sticky. Add in the currants or raisins and orange zest.

If you are using a standing mixer, switch to the dough hook attachment and start to knead on low speed. (If not using a mixer, use your hands to knead.) Slowly sprinkle in additional flour, a tablespoon at a time, kneading to incorporate after each addition, until the flour is still slightly tacky, but is no longer completely sticking to your fingers when you work with it.

Form a ball of dough in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let sit, covered, at room temperature (or in a warm spot) for 2 hours, until the dough has doubled in size.

If you're going to refrigerate the dough to bake it later, do that now. Otherwise, press down on the dough to gently compress it. Roll the ball of dough into a log shape and cut it into two halves. Place one half back in the bowl while you work with the other half. Take the dough half you are working with and cut it into 8 equal pieces.

Take the individual pieces and form them into mounds, placing them 1 1/2 inches apart from each other on a baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and then work the remaining dough into 8 equal pieces and place them in mounds on a baking sheet, again cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough mounds sit at room temperature (or warm place) to rise again, until the mounds have doubled in volume, about 30-40 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Prepare egg wash by whisking together one egg and a tablespoon of milk. If you want, you can score the top of the buns with a knife in a cross pattern. You will want to make fairly deep cuts, for the pattern to be noticeable after they're done. Using a pastry brush, brush on the egg wash over the dough mounds. The egg wash will give them a shiny appearance when cooked.

Place in the middle rack of the oven and cook for 10-12 minutes, until the buns are lightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool on the pan for a few minutes, then transfer the buns to a wire rack to cool.

To paint a cross on the top of the buns, wait until the buns have cooled (or the frosting will run). Whisk together the milk and the powdered sugar. Keep adding powdered sugar until you get a thick consistency. Place in a plastic sandwich bag (or handy sterile syringe!). Snip off a small piece from the corner of the bag and use the bag to pipe two lines of frosting across each bun to make a cross

Makes 16 buns.


Tatyanna M. Wilkinson said...

Wow! Thanks for this. These WILL be made in my house.

babyhellfire said...

They look wonderful. I wish I could smell them through my monitor! Thank you for the recipe :)

Sue Dickman said...

They're quite delicious and definitely worth the labor!

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