Last week, as the days ticked by before Easter, I kept thinking about the hot cross buns my mom used to buy at the Fremont bakery when we were kids. They were always a treat back then, and, since I hadn't eaten one in years and had never made them myself, I thought it was high time.
There are a variety of stories about the history of these buns, a topic I'll let you research for yourself.
Popular in many countries, particularly with the Brits, these lightly spiced, yeasted, fruit-studded sweet buns are traditionally served during the Lenten period leading up to Easter, particularly on Good Friday.
They are usually baked with raisins or currants mixed into the dough, although some recipes suggest other dried fruits or candied citron. I considered dried tart cherries and apricots for a somewhat more modern switch, but ultimately went with currants, orange zest and spices.
As usual, I did a bit of recipe research, including checking out Joy of Cooking (which has been sitting on my cookbook shelf for years). Joy's recipe is basically a Parker House roll with a few tweaks. I found a few other sources and compared amounts of sugar and egg, opting for less of those two ingredients in creating my own version.
Here I'm working in my mom's kitchen since ours is currently under renovation. Just a couple more weeks, and I'm back into the baking swing at home. Can't wait!
This dough is a straight forward direct dough, meaning there is no starter, pre-ferment, poolish or sponge (for all you bread bakers out there). It comes together easily, is on the moist side once mixed, and kneads up into a luscious, soft, silky dough.
First I briefly microwaved 3/4 cup currants in 1/4 orange juice to plump them up, then let them cool.
Add 10 grams instant yeast to 240 ml (1 cup) tepid whole milk, along with a pinch of brown sugar and let sit for 10 minutes or so until foamy. Whisk in 75 grams melted (but not hot!) unsalted butter, 1 egg yolk and 1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract.
In a separate large mixing bowl whisk together 390 grams (3 cups) all purpose flour, 50 grams (1/4 cup) brown sugar, zest of two oranges, 3/4 tsp kosher salt, 1/2 tsp coriander, 1/4 tsp allspice, 1/4 tsp powdered ginger and a few fresh grates of nutmeg (or more according to your taste).
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the liquid in.
|yup - wet and dry|
Mix with a wooden spoon or spatula until moistened and the dough comes together in shaggy ball.
Drain the currants and briefly knead them in.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead by hand for about 8 minutes until the dough becomes soft and elastic.
I love kneading by hand and getting a real feel for the dough, but you can also knead in a stand mixer with the dough hook for about 4-5 minutes.
Place the dough in a lightly buttered bowl . . . .
cover and let rise in a warm environment for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours until about doubled. I planned it so I could go out for my daily walk during the rise. Not a bad deal, eh?
|after the first rise|
Now divide the dough into 15 pieces of sixty grams each (about 2 ounces) and form into balls.
Place them in a buttered 9x13 pan . . . .
cover with buttered plastic wrap and let rise about 45-60 minutes until puffed and touching.
|after the second rise|
Heat the oven to 375ºF.
Brush the rolls with egg wash or milk and bake about 25 minutes until nicely browned.
|right out of the oven - smells great!|
Once cooled a bit, gently pull the rolls apart and finish cooling them on a wire rack.
|looks just like a good roll should|
To make the icing I mixed 1 cup confectioner's sugar with 1 tablespoon milk and a teaspoon of vanilla extract, yielding a consistency just right for piping.
Soft, lightly sweetened, citrus scented, spiced pillows of goodness indeed.
Not bad for my first hot cross buns.