Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Hot Cross Buns for the Easter Season

Stella is in the grocery store, doing the weekly shopping for herself and the girls. She wishes she were shopping for her husband, Oliver, too, but Oliver is only half way through his year-long assignment in Dubai, helping to open a brand new branch of the hotel company with which he is employed. Oh well, she sighs, she's glad she isn't in Dubai herself - redheads tend to fry in the heat. Stella reaches the breads section of the supermarket and suddenly has a craving for Hot Cross Buns, one of Oliver's favourite treats, which appear only in late winter through Easter. She finds the rack of twelve-packs of buns and picks up a package, reading over the ingredients like she always does. "Hmmmm.." she thinks. "These sure have a lot of preservatives in them, and I'm sure this unpronounceable ingredient can't be good for me." She puts the package back on the rack and moves on.

Later, driving the groceries home, Stella becomes inspired to try her hand at baking Hot Cross Buns from scratch for the cafe. She generally purchases all her sandwich breads and buns from the excellent bakery down the road, but they don't do Hot Cross Buns. She likes a challenge in any case and is happy she thought to purchase some dark raisins and candied orange peel today.

The next morning as she downs her customary double Americano, Stella begins the time consuming but rewarding process of making any yeast bread. Many hours later, the hot cross buns, golden and aromatic with cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg are cooling on the racks. She whisks up the icing and crosses each bun. Her girls, Zoe and Kendra burst into the cafe kitchen after school, asking to try one. She lets them split a large one and makes them a steamed milk with vanilla to go with it. The rest, of course, will go to the customers, who have been commenting curiously all day on the wonderful smells floating on the air from the kitchen.

James, the book seller is the first in line. He slices his Hot Cross Bun in half and slathers it with butter - "lactose intolerance be damned" he exclaims, taking a large bite. "Mmmmm...delicious. Haven't had one of these since I was a boy. I never touch the ones in the supermarket; they look like they're made with bad fruit cake leftovers."

Stella laughs and goes back into the kitchen, raising an arm in victory to Savannah. "Success!" she whispers. Then, "We'll need more candied orange peel if I'm going to make more of these. Oh, I do hope James does not regret that butter!"

Hot Cross Buns originated in Medieval England as simple tea rolls, flavoured with dried fruit and spices and crossed with sugar, to commemorate Good Friday. Stella followed this tradition by making them with a simple milk bread dough, although they can be made using enriched doughs for Stollen or Pannetone if you prefer. 

Hot Cross Buns from The Joy of Cooking

Place in a small saucepan with just enough water to cover by 1/2 inch:
     1/2 cup dried currants or raisins
Bring the water to a boil, then drain well. Transfer the currants or raisins to a small bowl and sprinkle with:
     2 tablespoons water
Cover and let soak at least 30 minutes.

Stir together:
     1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
     1/8 teaspoon freshly grated or ground nutmeg
     1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

Prepare milk dough, adding spice mixture above to the bread flour, and adding the drained currants or raisins ( Stella also adds 3 Tablespoons candied orange peel) toward the end of the kneading.

Combine in a large mixing bowl or in the bowl of an heavy-duty mixer and let stand until the yeast is dissolved, about 5 minutes:
     1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
     3 Tablespoons warm water
     1 cup whole or low fat milk, warmed, but not hot
     5 Tablespoons melted butter or margarine
     3 Tablespoons sugar
     1 large egg
     1 teaspoon salt
Mix by hand or on low speed for 1 minute. Gradually stir in:
     2 cups bread flour*
Gradually add until the dough is moist but not sticky:
     1 1/2 to 2 cups all-purpose flour
Knead for about 10 minutes by hand or with the dough hook on low to medium speed until the dough is smooth and elastic. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and turn it over once to coat with oil. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Punch the dough down, knead briefly, and refrigerate covered for 30 minutes.
Divide the dough equally into 18 pieces, about 1 ounce each. Grease a baking sheet or line with parchment paper. On an unfloured surface, roll the dough pieces into balls and place them 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. For the egg wash, whisk together 1 egg and a pinch of salt, and brush over the tops of the rolls. Cover with oiled plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Brush the buns again with the egg wash. Bake the buns until the crust is golden brown and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped, about 15 minutes.

While the buns cool, make a glaze by stirring together:
     1/2 cup powdered sugar
     1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice, orange juice, or milk ( Stella used orange)
While rolls are still a bit warm, decorate each one with glaze in the shape of a cross.
Let icing set before serving.


*Bread flour can be made by adding 1 Tablespoon vital wheat gluten to each cup of all purpose flour.

P.S. Stella is tempted to double the spices next time, but the buns truly are good mildly spiced as written in the recipe. Besides, too much cinnamon tends to impact the rising, she's heard from a reliable source.

Photography and writing by Rebecca. 


  1. Yum. One of G's favourites.

    Actually doesn't sound beyond the realms of possibility to try this one. How many brownie points would that surprise get me.

    1. I'm happy to help you achieve those brownie points. And you can take courage by the fact that I very rarely make yeast breads. I usually let the bread machine do the work. Let me know how they turn out, and one hint: make sure the little dough balls are very neat, unless you like misshapen hot cross buns - a few of mine were.

  2. Maybe you've mentioned Stella's husband, Oliver, in another post, however, this is the first I'm hearing of him. Maybe he'll bring back some recipes from Dubai.

    Are they average sized people? Stella's recipes may not be way high in calories, but it all looks so delicious, that I'd be eating double of everything if I worked in her restaurant.