Sunday, December 19, 2010

Hot Cross Buns ...they're not just for Easter anymore.

...or were they ever just for Easter?  Actually no.  They are most often associated with Easter, but a more accurate time to associate them with could be Good Friday.  In Christian lore, since the cross represents the crucifixion, people eat them on Good Friday and Easter.  But if you dig back even further, you'll find the Saxons eating buns marked with a cross that represented the four quarters of the moon in honor of the goddess Eostre (hmmm...Easter...Eostre...the perfect example of that golden thread that weaves its way through all the traditions, beliefs, and religions of the world.  Eostre is often referred to as the goddess of the rising dawn or uprising light.  So.  Easter.  Rising.  But, I digress...)*. Whatever its roots, the hot cross bun is popular in one version or another throughout the world today.  Whether it contains the traditional raisins or currants...or chocolate chips...or dried, candied fruits...you can pretty much bet that it will be pleasantly sweet, yeast-leavened, and flecked with warming spice.  And if you're lucky, you can find them throughout the year.

Hot Cross Buns
makes 8 buns

2 c. (250 g) white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
2 c. (250 g) ap white flour
½ c. warm water
½ c. warm milk
1½ tsp. (5g) instant yeast
2 tsp. (10g) fine sea salt
3½ Tbs. (50g) superfine sugar
1 medium egg
3½  Tbs. (50g) butter
2/3 c. (100g) mix of yellow raisins, cranberries, chopped dates
finely grated zest of an orange
 heaping ¼ tsp. each cinnamon, nutmeg, & allspice

for the crosses (optional)
6 Tbs. (50g) ap white flour
7 Tbs. water

to finish
1 Tbs. apricot jam, sieved
1 Tbs. water

In large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine flours, water, milk, yeast, salt, and sugar.  Add egg and butter and mix to a sticky dough.  Add orange zest, dried fruit, and spices and knead on low until silky and smooth.  Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, ~1 hr.
Deflate risen dough and divide into eight equal pieces.  Shape into rounds and dust with flour.  Place on a floured board (I covered mine in parchment for easy sliding), cover with plastic and let proof about 30 minutes, until roughly doubled in size. Mine didn't really rise too much this time.
 Preheat oven to 400° F.  If you're making crosses, toss the flour and water into a baggie and massage them until they form a paste.  Snip a tiny bit from the corner of the baggie and pipe crosses across the top of the buns.  Since I just wanted to see how this recipe worked out, I piped crosses on half of the buns and left the other half plain.  Transfer risen buns to baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes.  I simply slid the parchment from my cutting board straight onto my baking stone in the oven.
While the buns are baking, melt the jam with the water in a pan.  Brush the resulting glaze over the buns as soon as you remove them from the oven.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool.  I was a bit disappointed by the buns with crosses piped on them.  You can see them...but just faintly.  Perhaps less water or more flour next time??  Although, it may just be that I'm used to seeing hot cross buns with a cross of piped icing after baking...or ones that were slashed before baking.  Yeah, the more I think about it, the more I like the subtlety of the cross.  It's a good option.  Okay.  Thanks for letting me talk that out.
Serve the buns warm, cooled, or toasted.  
Honestly, they're pretty fabulous any way you slice 'em...but I love them warm.  Mine seemed a bit dense, so perhaps next time I'll bake them longer...I think the density resulted from being a bit undercooked. But the flecks of orange and spice that dot the sweet bread are so seductive.  Normally hot cross buns are made with either raisins or currants...but the mixture of raisins, cranberries, and dates is out of this world!  And that glaze. Oh my. It serves for more than just sheen.  It's a bit of sticky goodness left on your fingers to remind you of how good they were once they've disappeared!
*source: Wikipedia
*This post is linked to:
Bread Baking Day #35 (Bread w/ Dry Fruits) is being hosted at Taste of Pearl City this month.
Bread Baking Day #35 - Bread with dry fruits (last day of submission January 1st 2011) BYOB
*Yeastspotting!