Hot Cross Buns

22 March 2022

Image: “Hot Cross Buns, Easter” by Rod Waddington is marked with CC BY-SA 2.0.

Hot cross buns taste like a combination of a dinner roll and cinnamon bun.

In the ultra-conservative Catholic middle ages, the dietary rules for Lent were very restrictive, including no dairy products. Hot cross buns were developed to be served after mid-day on Good Friday, when the restrictions were loosened. They contain spices (symbolizing the spices used in Christ’s embalming) and orange peel (bitterness of the suffering on the cross).

These are yeasted rolls and topped with icing piped in the form of a cross. Most bakeries will only offer them for sale during Lent (in 2022 that is from Ash Wednesday, March 2, until Easter Sunday, April 17). With the Protestant Reformation, many of the Papist traditions were abandoned or banned and hot cross buns were not to be found.

Hot cross buns, after all, are a very tasty treat and, if you don’t mind a little work, you can make them any time of the year you want. You can use the dough hook on a stand mixer to combine the ingredients and your bread maker machine to do all the proofing (the time it takes for the yeast to ferment and make the dough rise).

You can adjust the spices to your palate and can include cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, and cardamom. The fruit can include raisins, currants, dried apricots, but you can include some candied orange peel, or any type of candied citrus. Its nice if you soak the dried fruit in rum before incorporating it into the dough. If you have objection to using a cross on top, just drizzle the icing.

Ingredients:

Buns:

  • 1/4 cup rum (or apple juice)
  • 1/2 cup dried fruit, mixed or citrus
  • 1/2 cup raisins or dried currants, or combination
  • 1 1/4 cups milk, room temperature
  • 3 large eggs, 1 separated
  • 6 tablespoons butter, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves or allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 4 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

Topping:

  • 1 large egg white, reserved from above
  • 1 tablespoon milk

Icing:

  • 1 cup + 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 teaspoons milk, or enough to make a thick, pipeable icing

Directions:

  • Lightly grease a 10″ square pan or 9″ x 13″ pan.
  • Mix the rum or juice with the dried fruit and raisins, cover with plastic wrap or a glass lid, and microwave briefly, just till the fruit and liquid are very warm. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
  • When the fruit is cool, mix together all of the dough ingredients except the fruit, and knead by hand or by using an electric mixer dough hook or bread machine, until the dough is soft and elastic. Mix in the fruit and any liquid not absorbed.
  • Let the dough rise for 1 hour, covered. It should become puffy, though may not double in size.
  • Divide the dough into billiard ball-sized pieces, about 3 3/4 ounces each. A heaped muffin scoop (about 1/3 cup) makes about the right portion. You’ll make 12 to 14 buns. Use your greased hands to round them into balls. Arrange them in the prepared pan.
  • Cover the pan, and let the buns rise for 1 hour, or until they’ve puffed up and are touching one another. While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 375°F.
  • Whisk together the reserved egg white and milk, and brush it over the buns.
  • Bake the buns for 20 minutes, until they’re golden brown. Remove from the oven, and transfer to a rack to cool.
  • Mix together the icing ingredients, and when the buns are completely cool, pipe it in a cross shape atop each bun.

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