In all the years I’ve celebrated Easter and been a baker, I’ve never tried my hand at Hot Cross Buns. Sure, I played enough of the song to drive anyone mad on all the instruments I learned to play as a kid, but I never really had much interest in making them. (Perhaps the song itself is the reason?)
This year, however, something feels different. Maybe it’s the early spring weather, maybe it’s my desire to branch out into new recipes, or maybe it’s just the lucky coincidence that the first East Asheville Market takes place on Good Friday this year, and it just feels wrong not to have them available.
(Fun fact: for a time during Elizabeth I’s reign, bakeries were forbidden from selling hot cross buns except at burials, Good Friday, and Christmas. Aren’t you lucky?)
Traditionally, the cross on buns was made with pastry shortcrust, or a simple mixture of flour and water. Some recipes even simply have you cut the cross into the buns themselves, with no extra adornment. However, most versions I see today use icing, and I’m keeping it simple today with that.
So, whether you’re celebrating Easter or the spring season, why not try your hand at some tasty pastries to share with friends and family? Let’s bake!
Hot Cross Buns
These are very similar to my basic pastry dough recipe for cinnamon rolls and the like, with the addition of extra spices and dried fruit. You can soak your dried fruit in rum, orange juice, or other liquid beforehand for extra flavor - just be sure to adjust for moisture.
you will need:
- For the rolls:
- 4 ½ tsp dried yeast
- ½ c warm water
- 1 ½ c whole milk, warmed
- ½ c softened butter
- ½ c sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 large eggs, plus one egg for glazing
- 5 ½ – 6 ½ c all-purpose flour
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ¼ tsp ground allspice
- ¼ tsp nutmeg
- ½ c dried currants
- ½ c raisins or other dried fruit (you can also double the currants)
- zest of 1 orange (optional)
- 2 c powdered sugar
- ¼ tsp vanilla extract
- 3-4 tbsp water or milk (just enough to make a thick icing to make crosses – this will be much thicker than a cinnamon roll glaze!)
For the icing:
- In a large bowl or bowl of a stand mixer, dissolve the yeast in the warm water, and allow to bloom for 5 minutes. Stir in milk, butter, sugar, salt, spices, orange zest, and 2 eggs, and mix well.
- Add the flour, 1 cup at a time, beating well with each addition, until the mixture cannot readily absorb more flour and it becomes hard to stir. Cover with a cloth and allow to rest for 15 minutes. Stir in dried fruit. (The dough will be a little stickier than cinnamon roll dough, and that’s okay.)
- If hand-kneading, turn dough out onto a lightly-floured countertop, and knead dough until smooth and elastic, about 8-10 minutes, adding just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking. You can also knead the dough in your mixer using a dough hook, adding just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to the bowl. Grease a large clean bowl, form the dough into a smooth ball, and place the dough into the greased bowl, smooth side up. Cover with a cloth and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 to 1 ½ hours, depending on the warmth of your kitchen.
- Turn dough out onto a lightly floured or greased surface. Split dough into two even pieces. Roll out one piece of the dough into long ropes (about 24 inches) and cut into 10-12 even pieces. Shape the dough pieces into smooth balls and place onto a lined baking sheet about 1-2 inches apart (depending on how distinct you want the edges to be – if you want perfectly round, browned buns, place them farther apart. If you want soft edges, place them closer together so the dough gets friendly with other dough balls.) Repeat with remaining dough. Cover and allow to rise until doubled, about 30 minutes to 1 hour.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Beat the remaining egg, and brush each roll with egg glaze. Cut a cross into each roll using a sharp knife, if desired. Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden. Cool completely on wire racks before icing.
- To prepare the icing: Whisk together 1 c sifted powdered sugar with 1 tsp of vanilla extract. Add milk or water, 1 tsp at a time, until you get a relatively thick glaze that can either be piped or spread onto the buns in a cross (or other desired) shape.