Hot Cross Buns

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Hot cross buns
Hot cross buns
One ha’ penny, two ha’ penny
Hot cross buns

Hot cross buns 6

My mom knows every nursery rhyme in the history of Western civilization, so of course I grew up hearing “Hot Cross Buns.”  But I never knew what said buns actually were until recipes for them started popping up a few years ago.  Hot cross buns are an English treat.  They’re slightly sweet, cinnamon-scented rolls studded with raisins or currents.  Because the buns are traditionally baked on Good Friday, they’re marked with a cross.

For my first attempt at hot cross buns, I wanted to try an older recipe.  The earliest record of the nursery rhyme dates as far back as 1798, so the tradition is probably even older.  I wasn’t looking for a recipe from the 1700s, but hoped to find one that was maybe more like the original buns and less like a Panera adaptation.  The recipe I ended up using was published in the New York Times in 1897 – close enough!

These yummy rolls don’t require a lot of work, but they do spend a lot of time going through three different rises.  Although it takes several hours to make them, they’re definitely worth the time.  Hot cross buns are a thoughtful way to mark Good Friday and look ahead toward Easter Sunday.

Hot Cross Buns
adapted from The Essential New York Times Cookbook

1 cup whole milk
1 tbs. unsalted butter
3/4 cup + 1 tbs. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. active dry yeast
3 tbs water, divided
3 1/2 cups flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 cup raisings
1 large egg

1. Bring the milk almost to a boil in a small saucepan.  Take it off the heat as soon as you see bubbles around the edge but before the milk starts to simmer. (This is called ‘scalding.’)

2. In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook OR a medium-sized mixing bowl, add the scalded milk, butter, 1/4 cup of the sugar, and the salt.  Stir the ingredients together and let them cool to lukewarm.

3. While the milk mixture is cooling, place the yeast and 1 tbs. of lukewarm water in a small bowl.  Let stand until foamy.

4. Add the yeast to the milk mixture and stir.  Stir in 2 cups of flour.  Set the dough in a warm place, cover, and let rise until doubled in size, 30-45 minutes.

5. Mix the remaining 1/2 cup sugar with the cinnamon, nutmeg, and raisins.  Mix at medium speed using the dough hook, then add the egg.  Beat in the remaining 1 1/2 cups flour.  Knead with the dough hook at medium speed for about 7 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic.  (Alternatively, mix in the sugar and egg with a regular mixer.  Then beat in the rest of the flour.  Scrape the beaters and knead on a floured surface until the dough is smooth and elastic, around 10 minutes.)  Place the dough in a clean bowl, cover, and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

6. Punch down the dough and turn out onto a floured surface. Divide the dough into 18 equal pieces, and shape the pieces into round balls.  Set them a couple of inches apart on a lightly greased cookie sheet.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until expanded but not quite doubled, about 1 hour.  Preheat the oven to 350 F.

7. Using a sharp paring knife, cut a cross in the top of each bun.  (I didn’t cut mine deep enough, which is why you can only see the crosses in some of them.)  Bake for 18-20 minutes.

8. While the rolls are baking, dissolve the remaining 1 tbs. of sugar in 2 tbs. of lukewarm water.  When the buns come out, brush the tops with the sugar glaze.  Return to the oven for 3-5 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown.  Remove and let them cool on a baking rack.