Hot Cross Buns

I’m really a sorry case when it comes to holiday preparedness.   True to form, I’ve had to remind myself several times as to what day Easter is coming.  (I’m not so bad about Christmas, but then again, it’s the same day every year, so I can’t take too much pride in that).  I’m even worse about decorations.  I always mean to, but then I don’t feel like spending the money and I procrastinate.  By the time that interlude is over, so little time remians before the big day that I realize I’ll be taking things down moments after putting them up.  Ideally, at least.  Our Christmas wreath is, well, still on the door.  Nothing says springtime like brown-tipped dried-out evergreens and holly berries, non?

I’ve been trying to do better, now that my boys are getting older.   I’m only making halting progress:  while we’ve decorated eggs, I haven’t bought baskets yet.

At least there’s one area where I don’t fall short, which is remembering to do holiday baking.

Hot Cross Buns (4 of 4)

Each year I try new recipes–this year, full of nostalgia for an Easter trip I took to Kiev while we lived in London, I made Anastasia’s Kulich–but I always come back to hot cross buns for some reason.  No reason you can’t bake more than one festive treat, right?

I’m not entirely sure why:  while we’d have hot cross buns from time to time on Easter growing up (sometimes bought, sometimes homemade) I can’t quite say it’s a strong family holiday tradition–that would have been watching Fred Astaire and Judy Garland in Easter Parade.  But there’s something charming about making a treat from a nursery rhyme.  And it’s the soft-focus pull of memory — perhaps there’s more than a bit of nostalgia for something British to remind me of the few years my husband and I lived in London.

Hot Cross Buns (2 of 4)

So this year I’m revisiting a post I made a few years back, based on a Nigella Lawson recipe, with some tweaks and hopefully some much improved photos.  And let’s just lay it all out on the table about those photos–there’s no lovely backdrop of a burnt toaster oven this year (I am sorry to disappoint).  On the other hand, my lack of decorating skill means that as much as I scoured the house, no charming Easter props to gussy up these photos were to be found.  (We have some window decals from the dollar store, which my kids think of as giant stickers, but desperate as  I was, I went with my gut on this one).

Hot Cross Buns (1 of 4)

More importantly, it’s not just new pictures.  I find nothing so festive as the warm heady aroma of a mix of spices, so I’ve added allspice and vanilla to Lawson’s original recipe.  I’ve also substituted in spelt flour to enrich the backdrop that sets off these flavors.  I didn’t add much, however.  Spelt flour is somewhat lower in gluten, and consequently doesn’t rise as easily as regular bread flour.  Given that this dough is so heavily studded, and consequently weighed down by, fruit, I proceeded with caution.   Nigella Lawson notes the importance of using bread flour (as opposed to all-purpose) for this very reason–it’s strong enough to support the dense sweetness of currants and raisins.

And these are even more delicious than they were last year.  At a minimum, next year’s tweak will be doubling the recipe.  And hopefully by then I’ll mend my ways, so that these buns won’t be the only sign of Easter in our house.

Hot Cross Buns adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Feast

Notes on the recipe

I’ve included a recipe with U.S. measurements below, but if you want metrics or want to proceed using a kitchen scale, head on over here.

Feel free to vary the spices as you wish.  And if you only have the ground spices on hand rather than whole cardamom pods, allspice berries, and cloves, just add them along with the cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger.

Dough

  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 2 ounces (1/2 stick) butter
  • zest of a lemon, meyer lemon, or orange
  • 2 cloves
  • 2 allspice berries
  • 2 cardamom pods
  • 1 vanilla bean (optional)
  • 3 cups bread flour (substitute up to 3/4 c with spelt or whole wheat flour)
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast or 1 package active dry yeast (1/4 oz)
  • 3/4 cup currants (or dried fruit)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 egg

Egg wash

  • 1 egg, well beaten

Icing for crosses

  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water

Glaze

  • 1 tablespoon superfine sugar
  • 1 tablespoon boiling water

Heat the milk, butter, zest, clove, cardamom, allspice, and vanilla bean (if using) in a saucepan until the butter melts, then let infuse as it cools to body temperature.

Measure the flour, yeast (if using instant) and dried fruit into a bowl, add the remaining spices, and stir. When the milk is ready, remove the spices and vanilla bean and beat in the egg.  If using active dry yeast, dissolve this into the milk-egg mixture.  Add this mixture to the flour.

Knead the dough either by hand or in a stand mixer.  (I use speed 2 and mixed for about 8 minutes).  Add extra milk if necessary.  Knead until the dough holds together and becomes elastic, though the fruit in the dough will mean you won’t achieve a perfectly smooth dough.    (The fruit may take some time to fully incorporate, don’t worry.  You could also add the fruit halfway through kneading if you like).

Form the dough into a ball and set in a buttered bowl.  Let rise overnight in the refrigerator or otherwise let it rise at room temperature (about an hour to an hour and a half, it will not quite double).

If refrigerating, remove the dough from the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature (about an hour and a half).

Dump the dough onto a work surface, and divide in half; divide each piece in half again, then again, and yet again–you will have 16 pieces.  Form into balls (don’t worry if you can’t get perfectly round; although that is the ideal, this dough is so studded with fruit it makes it difficult to do).  The pieces will seem very small–don’t worry as they will rise as they rest and rise even more in the oven.

Set the buns about 3/4″ apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Use a butter knife to make a cross-shaped indentation on the top of each roll.  Cover with plastic and set to rise for 45 minutes to an hour; preheat the oven to 450 while you wait.

When the rolls have risen and are almost touching, brush with the egg wash.  Then mix the icing for the crosses:  stir the flour, sugar, and water into a smooth thick paste.  If it’s too thick to work with you can sprinkle a bit more water in, but go slowly–a little goes a long way in this case.  Drizzle the frosting along the crosses you marked in each bun.

Bake for 15-20 minutes.   Remove the buns from the oven, and make the glaze by mixing the sugar and boiling water together.  Brush each hot bun with the glaze, and allow to cool.

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