Friday, April 6, 2012

Recipe: Old-Fashioned Hot Cross Buns

When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it. – Gospel of St. Mark, 15:25

Light, fluffy, spicy and sweet. What more can one ask?
Here’s a Nova Scotia favourite at Easter. Although not exactly the same, this recipe is very similar to one in my Great Aunt Hilda’s hand-written cookbook. That would date this to at the latest around 1960. How much earlier than that her recipe dates would be pure conjecture… The reason it’s not the same is due to my, shall we say, “influence.”

After kneading, before first rise. Currants will fall out as you
knead. Just stick them back in the dough.
Hot cross buns are never served as a dinner roll but as a “dessert,” due to the sweet egg dough, currants and (if you’re lucky) copious amount of icing. The amount of currants and spice can be adjusted to your own liking. I find “store-bought” very frugal on both ingredients.

There’s actually some interesting history surrounding these spiced, buttery buns. Read on.

History and Folklore
Abridged from Wikipedia
Hot cross buns are traditionally eaten on Good Friday, with the cross standing as a symbol of the Crucifixion. They are believed by some to pre-date Christianity, although the first recorded use of the term "hot cross bun" was not until 1733.

After first rise.
It is believed that buns marked with a cross were eaten by Saxons in honour of the goddess Eostre (the cross is thought to have symbolized the four quarters of the moon); "Eostre" is probably the origin of the name "Easter". Others claim that the Greeks marked cakes with a cross, much earlier.

One superstition says that buns baked and served on Good Friday will not spoil or become mouldy during the subsequent year. Another encourages keeping such a bun for medicinal purposes. A piece of it given to someone who is ill was said to help them recover.

Sharing a hot cross bun with another person is supposed to ensure friendship throughout the coming year, particularly if "Half for you and half for me, Between us two shall goodwill be" is said at the time.  If taken on a sea voyage, hot cross buns are said to protect against shipwreck. If hung in the kitchen, they are said to protect against fires and ensure that all breads turn out perfectly. 

Now that was interesting. I actually learned some things myself. I also learned something important from making these buns: double this recipe. These are excellent, and 8-12 will be nowhere near enough.

Hot cross buns only take a few hours to make, and most of that time is in waiting for the dough to rise, so there’s really no reason you can’t start them, do whatever you need to do today, and come back and finish the process.

They’re well worth the minimal effort.

Dividing into 8 makes larg-ish buns...12 makes smaller.
Old-Fashioned Hot Cross Buns
Prep: 20 min  |  Rise: 2-2.5 hours  |  Makes 8-12 buns
3/4 cup water, heated to 110°F
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup powdered milk
1/4 cup white sugar
1 tbsp active dry yeast 
1 cup dried currants
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon 
1/2 tsp allspice (or nutmeg)
2 lg eggs 
3 cups white flour
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 
3 tsp coffee cream

Heat the water, powdered milk, butter and sugar in a small saucepan until the butter is melted and the liquid reaches a temperature of 100°F. Do not exceed that temperature. If you do let the liquid cool down to 110° before adding the yeast (or you’ll kill it).

Sprinkle the yeast over the top of the liquid. Stir gently, cover and let sit for between 10-15 minutes to “proof.” At the end of the time the yeast should be creamy. If not, start again – sadly – with fresh yeast.

Icing in a bag ready to apply.
Place the currants in a large bowl. Add the salt, cinnamon, allspice, eggs and proofed yeast liquid. Mix well and then add the flour. Stir until it comes together, then transfer to a board and knead for 5 minutes. The dough will still be “wet” but won’t stick to your hands or the board.

Place back in the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and a tea towel and let rise in a warm spot until doubled. This will take about 2 hours. (I didn't have as warm a spot as usual for my bread and my first rise was 2.5 hours...)

At the end of the rise, punch down and divide into 8-12 equal balls. 8 balls make good sized buns, 12 make the number of apostles…

Arrange the balls in an 8” x 8” oven-proof dish. Let rise again until doubled, about 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 375°F. Just before baking cut a small cross in the top of each bun. This will hemp the icing stay on top.

Bake for 20-25 minutes (30 min if making 8). Remove from the oven and rub with butter. Let the buns cool for 10 minutes.

Mix together the confectioner’s sugar, vanilla and cream. Place in a plastic bag, snip off the end, and squeeze a cross on the top of each bun.

I love baking when it turns out well. Proofing your yeast and letting rise
fully will almost guarantee a great result.

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