Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Hot Cross Buns - Up Close and Personal

Most folks associate hot cross buns with Good Friday and the Easter season. Actually, these small rolls predate Christianity and were associated with pagan ceremonies that celebrated the vernal equinox and the feast of Eostre, the goddess of spring. As Christianity gained a foothold in Britain, church leaders tried to ban symbols associated with the pagan festival. The ban proved to be untenable, so some of the symbols were adopted and woven into the fabric of Christian ritual and celebration. The cross on the buns, once a symbol of the equinox and phases of the moon, came to represent the crucifixion. The buns, as part of Christian tradition, can be dated to the 12th century when monks made them to distribute to the poor who visited their monasteries on Good Friday - also known as the Day of the Cross. The distribution of the buns became a tradition and the ingredients required to make them were standardized. Traditional hot cross buns contain flour, milk, sugar, butter, eggs, currants and spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg. The cross on the top may be cut into the bun, fashioned out of icing or made out of pastry strips. According to tradition, hot cross buns were made from the same dough used to make consecrated bread and they were the only food that could be eaten by the faithful on Good Friday. Fast forward to the court of the Tudor monarchs where the buns were seen as a dangerous reminder of Catholic Easter tradition. They attempted to ban their sale but that resulted in riots that caused Queen Elizabeth I to pass a law permitting bakeries to sell them, but only during the Easter and Christmas season. That's probably why we only see them at this time of year.
Moving forward yet again, the buns were carried by monks across the Irish Sea and then taken from Ireland by the converted heathens - my relatives - to America where they ended up on my family's table. My Mother was not a baker, but we were fortunate in having neighbors who were extraordinary cooks. Unfortunately, the kitchens - German and Swedish - were engaged in an on-going rivalry. Every Easter we would receive Hot Cross Buns from each, but the rivalry demanded diplomatic skills of the highest order. Neither kitchen produced the recipe I use today. This one comes from the Gourmet Cookbook and it produces absolutely delicious rolls. There is, however, a problem with the recipe. I think the baking time is understated by several minutes; I can't get the darn things to brown in the time specified by the recipe. The rolls you see in these photos were placed under a broiler to brown and they were glazed with a syrup that's not part of the recipe. The buns are great but the browning issue drives me crazy. Any ideas? They'd be appreciated. Also, this recipe calls for an uncooked pie crust that's included at the very end of the ingredients list. It's used to make the pastry crosses. It's no big deal, but I wanted to give you a heads up, so there'll be no scrambling when the rolls complete their second rise. These really are delicious and the aroma when they bake will drive you mad.

Hot Cross Buns

1 cup warm milk (105°–115°F.)
2 (1/4-ounce) packages (5 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1/2 cup plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick + 2 tablespoons (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup dried currants
1/3 cup golden raisins
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh orange zest
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh lemon zest
3 tablespoons superfine granulated sugar
1 uncooked pastry crust

1) In a small bowl stir together milk, yeast, and 1 teaspoon granulated sugar. Let mixture stand 5 minutes, or until foamy.
2) Into a large bowl sift together flour, allspice, cinnamon, cardamom, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup granulated sugar. Cut butter into bits and with your fingertips or a pastry blender blend into flour mixture until mixture resembles coarse meal. Lightly beat 1 whole egg with egg yolk. Make a well in center of flour mixture and pour in yeast and egg mixtures, currants, raisins, and zests. Stir mixture until a dough is formed. Transfer dough to a floured surface and with floured hands knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Transfer dough to an oiled large bowl and turn to coat. Let dough rise, covered with plastic wrap, in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.
3) Butter 2 large baking sheets.
4) On a floured surface with floured hands knead dough briefly and form into two 12-inch-long logs. Cut each log crosswise into 12 equal pieces. Form each piece into a ball and arrange about 1 1/2 inches apart on baking sheets. Let buns rise, covered, in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.
5) Preheat oven to 400°F.
6) While buns are rising, lightly beat remaining egg with superfine sugar to make an egg glaze.
7) On a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin roll out pastry dough into a 20- by 6-inch rectangle (about 1/8 inch thick). With a sharp knife cut rectangle crosswise into 1/8-inch- wide strips.
8) Brush buns with egg glaze and arrange 2 pastry strips over center of each bun to form a cross. Trim ends of pastry strips flush with bottoms of buns. Bake buns in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until golden, about 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer buns to a rack to cool slightly. Buns may be made 1 week ahead and frozen, wrapped in foil and put in a sealable plastic bag. Thaw buns and reheat before serving. Serve buns warm or at room temperature. Yield: 24 rolls.

Recipe courtesy of The Gourmet Cookbook

I'm sending this recipe to Susan at Wild Yeast for her weekly Yeast Spotting event.


Donna-FFW said...

No fair I have to see this at midnight, now I am starving!! They look amazing!

allthatsparkles said...

Years ago I used to bake a lot with yeast, but after several yeast-related failures in the last few years, I now have a "baking with yeast" phobia. I have a mental block about yeast baking. It freaks me out, man!! aaaah!


Of course, the fact that our current oven is not calibrated to any reasonable degree for this planet is probably part of the problem. We'll be moving this summer, so not point in having an oven that doesn't belong to me worked on.

Tell me it'll be all right, Mary. I'll believe you. ;-)



Mary said...

Jules, take a deep breath and smile. You haven't lost your sense of humor, girl. That tells me you'll be fine. Summer will be here before you know it. Hugs...Mary

Selba said...

Interesting to learn about these hot cross buns as a Christian symbol :)

jesse said...

I love the history of hot cross buns that you've included. And those buns... oh my god, I don't think I've seen such a beautiful colour on a bun before!

Mary said...

Selba, the same thing happened with many of our Christmas symbols.

recipes2share said...

These look delicious - I must admit to not having made Hot Cross Bums yet this year and instead have devised a recipe (Easter Buns) which are a simplified version which begin life in the bread machine, after which I freeze them and my OH has fresh sweet rolls for breakfast!

mikky said...

wow, they look so amazing... bet they taste great too... :)

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Interesting these would be so difficult to get color with when they have all that sugar. They are total beautiful, lovely pie crust crosses

Martha said...

Hot cross buns are a tradition at Linderhof -- but, alas, ours are bakery made as were the ones from my childhood -- my mother NEVER baked with yeast!

Cathy said...

Hot cross buns are always on our Easter table. Beautiful, Mary. And thanks for a bit of history.

Elin said...

The hot cross buns I remember getting at home in the UK weren't really very brown on top, more slightly tanned than anything. My mum orders them in bulk from the bakery as we're a big family (and ever increasing with kids appearing at a constant rate) and go through at least a hundred over Easter weekend (breakfast, teatime and anything in between). Not there this Easter so I'll have to try and recreate them here.

Katherine Aucoin said...

The history is so fascinating, I have no idea. I knew they dated back hundreds of years but had no idea why.

Your hot crossed buns look perfect, I would love oneor two for breakfast!

Mary said...

Elin, welcome to One Perfect Bite. I hope you'll visit often.

Mariana said...

It sounds like a lot of love goes into these hot cross buns and the photos confirm that. You appear to be well and truly in the easter spirit Mary. Thanks for an informative post and happy easter to you and all your readers.

My Carolina Kitchen said...

I've never made hot cross buns. Thanks for including the history. It makes it much more meaningful.

Maria said...

I want to try these!! I hope I have time, they look incredible!

Mary said...

Mariana, I'm so glad you drop in to visit again.

Allie said...

I was really looking forward to making these this year, but I'm gonna be out of town. :(

Martha Stewart made some on her show last week and just used an egg white and they browned really nicely. I like your addition of the pie crust you're so clever!

Mary said...

Thanks, Allie. Have a grand holiday.

Netts Nook said...

Thanks you so much for the education I guess I have been in the dark. You buns look great that sounds back sorry. HAHA

danazia said...

I have been looking for the history of hot crossed buns and a good recipe and here they both are! Thank you so much. I will try this in Easter day. I like the idea of the unbaked pie crust, good idea. We have a similar writing style. Have a hoppy day!

Pam said...

You are the most incredible baker. These little buns are making me drool.

Mary said...

Dana, I'm so delightd you stopped by. I hope you'll join us often.

Natashya said...

They do look yummy! I haven't seen the pie-crust technique before, I have only used a royal type icing.
Is that common?

Mary said...

Natashya, it's quite common to use pastry strips in some areas of the country. You see it less and less, however. For professional bakers it's just one more step in the production of an item with a small return.

The Blonde Duck said...

I love the close up pics!

The Cooking Photographer said...

I have a recipe for these now! What a terrific post. You've done so much work here.

Karen said...

I haven't made my hot cross buns yet and I hope I don't run out of time! These look so good!

Lori said...

From this heathen to your relatives- nice buns.

They look nice Mary even though they were a pain in the broiler and all. I would say increasing the temperature of the oven might help. That is a guess, my best guess, but a guess nonetheless. Worth a try.

I loved the history. I could really get into a long discussion about it but there is just not enough space here. ;)

Mary said...

Lori, I did try upping the temp 25 degrees, but the rolls sheared with the higher heat. I love this recipe. Next year I'm going to try a plain egg wash and hope the rolls will accept a sweet glaze at the very end of baking.

Susan/Wild Yeast said...

Well your browning issue doesn't seem to have affected the final product -- beautiful! When I made these with a similar recipe last year they baked at 440 for 7 minutes, then at 400 for another 8. I would thing an egg wash would do the trick too.

Mary said...

Thanks, Susan. I'll give that a try.

Laura said...

Those are simply gorgeous; I can see why you want them to brown.

I had an oven once that refused to brown anything--I did a lot of broiling, etc. I wonder though if in your case just upping the temp would work?

Lovely Lacey said...

I might have to try out your recipes. I love hot cross buns but I have never made them myself.

finsmom said...

I bet these are heavenly!

Last Minute Mel said...

These look delicious, Mary...I will try them for Easter this year - I grew up with them, and yet my kids have never tried them...thanks for the inspiration!!! (and thanks also for your kind comment on my blog :)

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