One a penny. Two a penny. Hot Cross Buns.
I cannot see, eat, or prepare hot cross buns without that song constantly running through my head. Only in my version, the song is not being sung; it is being played on the recorder. I vividly remember sitting cross-legged next to my classmates in Mrs. Kemp's third grade music class at Stuart Country Day School, playing Hot Cross Buns over and over again until we attained one harmonious sound. Mrs. Kemp was a perfectionist. You would think that we were preparing Vivaldi's Four Season for Lincoln Center as opposed to Hot Cross Buns for the Lower School Parents Night.
I actually found my old orecorder a few weeks ago when I was rummaging through some boxes of old toys, papers, and my collection of Sweet Valley High books (I was obsessed with those.) For some reason, I had painted a ring around the bottom of the recorder with bright pink nail polish--perhaps to distinguish my recorder from those of my friends? I don't know, but I probably thought that I was super cool to come up with something like that. Oh, and I'm still not any good at playing Hot Cross Buns on the recorder. I guess I'll stick to Guitar Hero for now.
Hot Cross Buns (I'm referring to the edible version now) are something that I make every year around Easter, when they are traditionally eaten. Each year, I try to change up my recipe just a little bit, as there are so many different ways in which it can be interpreted. My version always contains a mix of dried fruits and spices, along with the requisite criss-cross made from a mixture of confectioner's sugar and lemon juice. Some people use a cream cheese icing for the cross, but we all know how I feel about cream cheese (blech). This year, I used a combination of dried cranberries, figs, and raisins, as that is what I happened to have in the pantry. I also mixed in some slivered almond--had a huge bag from Costco just waiting to be put to use. In addition, I decided to substitute half of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour, which gave the buns a healthy boost. I usually start preparing this recipe the night before and then refrigerating the dough (see below), but they can be prepared the same day too. Here are a few extra tips for making these traditional Easter treats:
- After the dough is mixed and allowed to rise the first time, it can be refrigerated overnight, tightly covered. Bring the dough to room temperature before continuing with the recipe.
- You can experiment with many different variations of this recipe. Try using dark raisins, chopped apricots, dried figs, and chopped hazelnuts, walnuts, or pecans in place of the listed dried fruits and nuts.
- After the buns have been baked, but before they are glazed, they can be frozen, tightly wrapped, for up to 1 week. Thaw or reheat in a 325F degree oven, wrapped in foil.
- When setting dough aside to rise, I like to place it in an oven that has been heated for a few minutes and turned off. This creates a nice warm environment, perfect for rising.
Hot Cross Buns
½ cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
½ cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups whole milk
2 teaspoons salt
3 ½ cups flour
3 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground allspice
Zest of 2 oranges
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup dried cranberries
½ cup sliced almonds
2 eggs beaten with 2 tablespoons milk
For the glaze
2 cups confectioner's sugar
3-4 tablespoons lemon juice
Place the warm water, yeast, and 1 teaspoon sugar in a small bowl; stir to mix. Let the mixture stand for 5 minutes or until foamy. Meanwhile, in a saucepan, combine the butter, milk, salt, and remaining sugar; cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly until the sugar has dissolved and the butter has melted. Remove the saucepan from the heat and pour the mixture into the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the dough hook.
Add the yeast mixture to the milk mixture and stir until combined. Gradually mix in 3 cups of all-purpose flour and 3 cups whole wheat flour, mixing until the mixture forms a soft dough. Add the remaining ½ cup flour if the dough is too sticky. Remove the mixture from the bowl and knead on a lightly floured work surface for 5 minutes until the dough is smooth. Lightly oil a large bowl and place the dough in the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until the dough has doubled in bulk, 30-45 minutes.
Punch down the dough and set it aside to rest for 10 minutes. Combine the spices. orange zest, dried fruit, and almonds in a small bowl, stirring to mix. Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface and knead in the fruit mixture, a little bit at a time, until evenly distributed. Divide the mixture into 24 equal pieces and roll each piece into a ball.
Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and place the balls on the baking sheets, spacing 2 inches apart. Cover the balls loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm place for 30 minutes, until almost doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Brush the tops of the balls with the egg wash and bake for 25-30 minutes, until they are golden brown and firm to the touch. Remove the buns from the oven and allow them to cool.
For the icing, whisk together the confectioner's sugar and the lemon juice to form a thick, but pourable glaze. Drizzle a criss-cross shape on top of the rolls. Allow the glaze to dry before serving.