Buns and small cakes have long been tied to holidays and religious festivals. According to The Oxford Companion to Food, the Egyptians honored the goddess of the moon with tiny round cakes and the Saxons celebrated Eostre, the goddess of light, (from whom Easter gets its name) by eating buns marked with a cross. In England, eating hot cross buns on Good Friday became popular in Tudor times. It was thought that bread baked on Good Friday would never go bad, and that hanging up a cross bun would protect one from bad luck. Often served hot by street vendors, the little buns decorated with the shape of a cross were eventually called “Hot Cross Buns”.
The English version of this slightly sweet spiced bun is rarely seen with a cross of icing. Instead, earlier versions had the shape of the cross simply cut into the dough; while current versions feature the cross piped on the unbaked buns using either pastry dough or a flour and water mixture. The buns are then brushed with golden syrup or honey once baked. I even came across a few recipes that brushed the buns with apricot preserves or orange marmalade once baked. My taste buds are partial to the iced ones so that is the kind featured here.
The dough I developed for this recipe is very easy to work with. Fat equals flavor and it also equals soft dough, so the use of whole milk, butter, egg and egg yolk resulted in a pillowy little bun perfect for a Good Friday breakfast or any breakfast. Using the roller and scraper instead of the dough hook on the Ankarsrum produces the desired outcome.
Before moving on to the actual recipe, I want to talk about nutmeg and microplane graters. I call for freshly grated nutmeg in this recipe. When spices have been ground and bottled and sitting on grocery store shelves for who knows how long, they lose a lot of their flavor. The microplane graters/zesters have been around for years now, and I am constantly using mine not only to grate nutmeg (hello tasty eggnog!) but to zest citrus and finish off pasta dishes with the perfect dusting of cheese. You can, of course, substitute already ground nutmeg but I encourage you to give the freshly grated kind a try. And I was able to find whole nutmeg at my regular grocery store.
A final word on rising. Getting your dough to rise can be tricky sometimes. Dough likes a warm humid environment and that isn’t always possible. In the first rise, you are usually wanting your dough to double in size. For the second, usually not quite doubled, but almost there. A trick I use to help speed along the process is:
-Preheat oven to 170°. While preheating, bring 2-3 cups of water to a boil. Once the oven has preheated, turn it OFF, place covered rising dough and a heatproof dish in the oven and pour the boiling water in the heatproof dish and close the oven. This creates a nice steamy environment for your dough. Using this method, my first rise is usually done in 20 minutes and the second in 10-15 minutes.
Hot Cross Buns
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
246 g. (1 cup) whole milk
115 g (8 Tbsp.) unsalted butter
12 g. (1 Tbsp.) instant dry yeast
114 g (1/2 cup) sugar
1 egg, room temperature
1 egg yolk, room temperature
10 g. (2 tsp.) vanilla extract
240 g. (2 cups) all purpose flour
300 g. (2 1/2 cups) bread flour
8 g. (2 tsp.) kosher salt
2 g. (1 tsp.) cinnamon
1/2 g. (1/4 tsp.) freshly grated nutmeg
90 g. (3/4 cup) dried currants
1 egg beaten, for egg wash
115 g. (1 cup) powdered sugar
5 g. (1 tsp.) milk
17 g. (1 Tbsp.) fresh lemon juice
Heat the milk and butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until warm to the touch and butter has almost melted. Remove from heat and swirl around until butter has fully melted. Make sure to not let milk boil, too hot of temperatures will kill the yeast.
Set up your Ankarsrum mixer with the stainless steel mixing bowl and the roller/scraper. Add the warmed milk/butter, yeast, sugar, egg, egg yolk and vanilla extract. Mix on low speed (2 o’clock) until combined. Add the all-purpose and mix until incorporated.
Add the bread flour, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and currants. Continue to mix on low speed (2 o’clock) until your dough starts to come together. Once this happens, position the roller 1 inch away from the side of the bowl, set the timer for 7 minutes and let the dough knead at medium speed (3 o’clock). Once done kneading, cover the bowl and let rise for approximately 1, or until doubled in size.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead into a ball. Weigh dough and then portion into 12 equal pieces. Roll each portion into a ball and place on 2 baking sheets lined with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Cover and let rise 30-45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400°. Gently brush the tops with beaten egg. Bake for 15 minutes, rotating pans halfway through, or until browned on top. Remove from baking sheets and let cool on a wire rack.
For the glaze: Whisk together all the ingredients in a small bowl. Transfer to a small zip-top bag. Snip a small hole in one corner of the bag and pipe a cross onto each cooled bun. Let the buns remain on the rack until the icing is set.
Yield: 12 buns
Whole Wheat Version:
As is the nature of whole grain, this bun is a bit denser than the regular version, but still tasty and a much healthier breakfast choice.
Use the recipe above while making the following substitutions:
-Replace the flours with 540 g. (4 1/2 cups) whole wheat flour. If milling at home, use a hard white or hard red white.
-If desired, replace sugar with 80 g. (1/2 cup) honey granules/sucanat with honey.
-For the icing, place 186 g. (1 cup plus 2 Tbsp.) sucanat with honey in a blender for approximately 30 seconds until “powdered”.
Gluten-free yeast baking can be a tricky thing. So here are my tricks for this recipe:
Flour: These get help from my favorite gluten-free flour blend, King Arthur Gluten Free Measure for Measure Flour. I don’t get paid by them or receive free product, I have just tested several different gluten-free flours and prefer the results I get with this one.
Texture: Besides the flour, a little baking powder and psyllium husk powder help with the texture and rise of these little buns. Psyllium husk powder is a great ingredient to have in the pantry for gluten-free baking. It is a soluble fiber that is often taken as a dietary supplement when extra fiber is needed. And because of its high mucilage content, it really helps gluten-free baked goods in the texture department.
Flavor: For some reason, converting baking recipes to gluten-free often results in a lackluster flavor compared to the original version. I upped the spices to help.
Shape: Gluten-free bread does not hold it’s shape very well, so I chose to bake the buns in muffin tins.
And finally, gluten-free is always best when eaten the day it was baked. These are best eaten immediately. They do not hold well.
Using the above recipe:
-Substitute both flours with 480 g. (4 cups) gluten-free multi-purpose flour. Add 4 g. (1 tsp.) baking powder and 7 g. (1 Tbsp.) psyllium husk powder when adding the last of the flour. The dough will seem wet but the liquids will be absorbed while “rising”.
-Increase the cinnamon to 1 1/2 teaspoons and the nutmeg to 3/8 teaspoon (1/4 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon).
-Once the first rise is done, portion the dough into 12 equal pieces, roll into balls and place in a greased muffin tin to rise again.
Yield: 12 buns