I saved my favorite Easter Bread for last – traditional English hot cross buns.  Full of dried fruits and scented with spices, warm hot cross buns slathered with butter are a glorious end to Lent.  Around for hundreds of years, the origins are thought to be Saxon to celebrate the goddess Eostre before they were adopted by Christians for use on Good Friday.

And they are wonderfully easy to make!  So, yesterday, I met up with my baking buddy to spend the afternoon surrounded by the smells of yeast and citrus peel and cinnamon and nibbling on dried currants, cherries and golden raisins.  With two dogs running in and out of the house, the skies a perfect blue and the temperatures in the 70s, it could not have been a more perfect day.

One thing – to make the English version of hot cross buns, you need mixed spice.  This isn’t apple pie or pumpkin spice – it’s a lot earthier than that.  Mix 1 Tbsp each of ground allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg, 2 tsp of ground mace and 1 tsp each of ground cloves, coriander and ginger.  Store it in a small jar and keep it in the pantry anytime you feel like making a spicy raisin bread.

By the way, if you don’t feel like making the shortcrust crosses, feel free to leave them off for the version I like to call my “hot agnostic buns.” 

Pull out your scales – this is done by weight – and, because it’s a British recipe, it’s mostly in metric (which is the better way to bake, so much easier to halve, double, etc)

Hot Cross Buns

Bread

  • Up to 700 g bread flour
  • 15 g instant yeast
  • 3 oz cold butter, cubed
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 tsp mixed spice
  • pinch salt
  • 100 g sugar
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 eggs at room temperature
  • 6 oz mixture currants, golden raisins, dried cherries, dried cranberries (okay, the cherries and cranberries are my addition – they’re not traditionally British)
  • 1 oz mixed peel

Shortcrust pastry

  • 200 g all-purpose flour
  • pinch salt
  • 3 1/2 oz frozen butter
  • 1/2 – 1 egg, beaten

In a large bowl, sift together 500 g of the flour, the instant yeast, spices and salt.  Add the cubed butter and rub in thoroughly – this isn’t like a pie crust where you need to worry about working quickly.  In this case, the butter adds to the richness of the bread rather than making it flaky like a pastry.  In a separate smaller bowl, mix the sugar and milk and zap it in the microwave for about 30-45 seconds, until it’s blood temperature.  Add the eggs to the milk mixture and lightly beat with a fork.  Make a well in the dry ingredients, then add the milk and egg mixture and stir well to incorporate.  You should get a wet dough – beat for a minute or two to start developing the gluten, then add the flour about a half-cup at a time until it’s just reached a consistency where you can start to knead it.  Pour it out onto a well-floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, adding flour if needed.  You want a little tackiness, but you don’t want it to be sticky.  Add the dried fruit and peel, kneading them into the dough to incorporate.  Butter a bowl – in this case, use butter rather than oil – place your well-kneaded bread in it, turn to coat with the butter and cover with plastic wrap to let rise for 1-2 hours until doubled in size.

While that’s rising, make your shortcrust pastry for the cross – in a medium bowl, toss the flour with the salt, then grate in the frozen butter and lightly rub in.  In a small bowl, beat a single egg, then add half of the liquid to the flour mixture, mixing with your hands until it starts to come together.  Place between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and roll out thinly.  Place in the fridge and chill while your bread finishes its rise.

Punch the bread down then pull apart and roll into small balls of dough, about 1.5 oz – 1.8 oz in size (bigger than a golf ball, smaller than a pool ball).  Just make sure they’re all about the same size so they’ll cook uniformly.  Place them on a parchment-paper lined baking sheet – if you place them an inch apart, they’ll attach during the second rise and bake, if you place them farther apart, they’ll remain separated.  It’s your call.  Brush with an eggwash of 2 Tbsp milk, 1 tsp sugar and an egg yolk and use a sharp knife to make a cross indent into each doughball.  Get your rolled-out pastry out of the fridge and cut into thin strips and form a cross, pressing down into the cross indents, then cover loosely with plastic wrap.  Preheat your oven to 425 and let the dough have a second rise for about 30 minutes until doubled.  Before popping in the oven, give it one last eggwash, then bake for 5 minutes before lowering the heat to 400 for another 10 minutes.  This should make about 2 dozen buns.  Enjoy them hot out of the oven or split them in half and toast them then slather with nice salty butter …

I hope this and the other Easter bread recipes have inspired you to try something a bit new this holiday – enjoy and happy Easter!

Advertisements