Friday, April 04, 2008


I know I’m too late for Easter, but didn’t Easter take everyone by surprise this year? According to my uncle the pastor, this year was the earliest that Easter will occur in our lifetimes—the next March 23 Easter will be in 2180—so if you were feeling harried about it, you had good reason. Just do yourself a favor and put these on your list to make next year. Or, heck, just make them now, because these spiced, raisiny, gently sweet buns really should be eaten more than once a year.

I must be in a nostalgic mood, because pre-Easter I suddenly became obsessed with the need to make hot cross buns, one of the few homemade foods I associate with the holiday besides ham and hard-boiled eggs (I’m mainly a fan of the Easter candies—oh, Cadbury eggs and mini-eggs, and Whoppers Robin Eggs, you complete me!), but one lodged mainly in my childhood—I’m not sure when I last ate one, but it seems at least 5 years ago. I’d thought I had my mom’s recipe tucked away somewhere, but when the day before Easter rolled around, I realized I was mistaken and scrambled online to see if any bloggers had a tried-and-true recipe to offer. It turns out hot cross buns aren’t quite as popular as I had imagined; they seem to be mainly a British (and Australian) phenomenon. Thanks to the awesome Food Blog Search, however, I managed to find a few options and at last settled on this one, from Emeril Lagasse via A Mingling of Tastes. This is where food blogs come in handy, because the original recipe is slightly insane. As most of the Food Network site commenters note, it calls for way too little flour in the dough (resulting in sticky goo that’s impossible to roll and manipulate as described) and way too much milk in the icing, and yields far more than the 12 rolls it claims to. Thanks to A Mingling of Tastes, I was amply forewarned about these problems (though I panicked and overcompensated with too much flour, probably 4½ cups, and my dough was a bit too stiff, and instead of getting 1 or even 1½ dozen, I got something like 30 rolls out of it, which I hastily had to pawn off on A’s and my coworkers before they got too stale). A Mingling of Tastes also suggested a heaping ½ teaspoon cardamom, which I happily embraced, because I adore cardamom and find it wildly underused; and adding ginger, allspice, and cinnamon to the mix, which I’m so glad I did. I also recalled reading that traditional hot cross bun recipes often involve candied citrus peel (yuck), and another recipe I’d seen on some other site had added orange zest instead, which sounded tasty, so I went for it and I’m so glad I did. Basically, despite the many weirdnesses of the recipe and my possible screw-ups (besides the extra flour thing, I got lazy and didn’t follow Emeril’s detailed instructions for rolling the dough into buns, and my frosting was a little runny, making my crosses more like squiggles), these hot cross buns were (sorry, mom) the best I’ve had—with the citrus and the spice, the flavor was just so delicious and they weren’t too sweet. The better to eat more Easter candy!

P.S. Also, I got to use my new silicon pastry brush, an early birthday gift, to brush on the beaten egg wash. It was so simple and easy to clean—I joyfully threw away my clumpy, oily, real-bristle one.

1 envelope (¼ ounce, or 2¼ teaspoons) dry yeast
¾ cup sugar
1½ cups warm milk (about 110 degrees F)
1 stick (½ cup) of butter, melted
1 egg
½ cup raisins
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon orange zest
3½ to 4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 large egg, beaten
1 cup powdered sugar
1–3 tablespoons milk

1. Combine the yeast, sugar, and milk in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Beat on low speed for 1 minute. Add the butter, egg, and raisins. Mix for 1 minute. Add the salt, spices, orange zest, and 3½ cups flour. Beat on low speed until all the flour is incorporated, about 1 minute. Then, beat at medium speed until the mixture forms a ball, leaves the sides of the bowl, and climbs up the dough hook. If the dough seems too wet and sticky, add up to another ½ cup of flour (or as needed).

2. Using your hands, form the dough into a smooth ball. Lightly oil a large bowl with the vegetable oil, place the dough in the bowl, and turn it to oil all sides. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm, draft-free place until it doubles in size, about 1 hour.

3. Remove the dough from the bowl and invert it onto a lightly floured surface. Pat the dough into a rectangle about ¾ inch thick. Roll up the dough, beginning with the long side and stopping after each full turn to press the edge of the roll firmly into the flat sheet of dough to seal. Tuck and roll so that any seams disappear into the dough. Cut the dough into 1-inch pieces and roll each piece into a smooth, round ball. (If you’re really lazy like me, you can just remove the dough from the bowl, pinch off 1-inch pieces, and roll them into balls.)

4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the rolls on the baking sheet, ½ inch apart. With a pastry brush, spread the beaten egg evenly over the rolls. Cover rolls with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm, draft-free place until they double in size, about 1 hour.

5. While rolls are rising for the second time, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. When oven is hot, bake rolls until lightly brown, about 25 to 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool slightly on a rack.

6. In a mixing bowl, combine the powdered sugar and 1 tablespoon milk. Mix until smooth. Add additional milk as needed until icing reaches desired consistency (but remember, if you want to pipe it in a cross shape, it will need to be fairly thick—otherwise it’ll turn into more of a glaze). Ice rolls with frosting in the shape of a cross. Serve warm (leftover rolls can be reheated for 20 seconds in the microwave).

Yields: 1 to 2 dozen
Time: 3½ hours

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