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.