Hot Cross Buns

Hot cross buns are an Easter tradition I had never tried before, preferring to stick to the equally traditional chocolate (while avoiding frightening things like Peeps). But in the weeks approaching Easter, various food blogs and forums I read were full of hot cross buns and terrifying recipe ideas for Peeps and suddenly the hot cross buns looked fairly attractive. I saw a lot of unpleasant attempts with melty-looking frosting crosses, but quickly found a more traditional pastry-crossed recipe at A Spoonful of Sugar.

I knew the buns were pagan in origin - isn't it fun how traditions like these, and Christmas trees, have shifted so we can still practice them thousands (?) of years later? - but learned during my recipe search that they were originally meant to symbolise the sun, quartered to represent the four seasons.

They were fairly easy to make. The most time-consuming part was cutting the pastry and attaching it to the buns. The dough was supposed to take candied citrus peel, but I didn't have any and just used an equal amount of lemon and orange zest. I was probably more generous with spices than the recipe was (even though it claims to be 'extra spicy'), and just like the original blogger said, I didn't end up using all the milk the recipe called for. I'll post the recipe with the American measurements I used, but the original has the metric.

Extra Spicy Hot Cross Buns
Recipe (paraphrased) from Linda Collister, Bread

makes 12

3 1/4 cups unbleached strong white bread flour
1/3 cup stoneground wholemeal bread flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground mixed spice (I just tossed in a bunch of cinnamon and cloves and allspice)
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
1/3 cup currants
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup citrus peel (about 1/2 lemon, 2 oranges)
1 package instant yeast
3/4 cup room temperature milk (This is how much I used, the recipe calls for about 1 cup)
1 large egg, beaten
Optional one cup of hot tea

pastry cross
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
2 teaspoons powdered sugar

4 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons powdered sugar

Cover the raisins and currants with hot black tea and let plump.

Put the flours, yeast, sugar, salt and spices in a large bowl and mix well.

Add the diced butter and rub into the flour using the tips of your fingers until the mixture looks like fine crumbs.

Mix in the dried fruit (sans tea) and mixed peel, then make a well in the centre of the mixture.

Add the beaten egg to the well and approximately half the milk. Gradually draw in the flour to make a soft but not sticky dough. Add more milk if necessary , or extra flour (a tablespoon at a time) if the dough is too sticky.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead throughly for 10 minutes.

Return the dough to the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm spot in the kitchen until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.

Punch down the risen dough a couple of times to deflate.

Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces. Shape each into a neat ball and set well apart on a baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise as before until doubled in size, 45 minutes - 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 400*F.

To make the pastry for the cross, put the flour, butter and sugar into a small bowl and rub the butter into the flour with the tips of your fingers until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs. Stir in 1-2 tablespoons cold water to make a firm dough. Roll the dough out thin on a floured work surface, then cut into thin strips long enough to go over the rolls.

Uncover the risen buns, brush the pastry strips with a little water to dampen, then arrange, sticky side down, in a cross on top of the buns.

Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes until golden brown.

Meanwhile, to prepare the sticky glaze, heat the milk and sugar in a small pan until dissolved, then boil for 1 minute until syrupy.

As soon as the buns are cooked, lift them out onto a cooling rack and brush immediately with the hot glaze. (Place a tea towel (or wax paper, suggests TFB) under the rack to catch the drips!)

Eat warm or toasted, or freeze for up to 1 month.