A couple of years ago, the Critic showed us his (English) version of Hot Cross Buns. In a spirit of conjugal competition, I promised to show him MY buns the next year. Well for one reason or another (mostly having to do with being on different continents on Easter day) he didn't have the pleasure last year. But now it's once again the time of the year when I seek out Kosher Easter Eggs for dyeing and planning a nice lamb dinner.
Since I now have a beautiful red KitchenAid (have I mentioned that once or twice already?) I was twice as happy to dig out my the book of my grandmother's recipes and research my cultural heritage. To my surprise, I found that the two recipes were not as dissimilar as I had thought. With allspice in place of nutmeg and only slightly different proportions, the two were very similar until it came to the finishing touches. Nothing explains that weird pastry cross thing the English do. (Though the Critic rightly pointed out that his buns were much more photogenic.)
I had forgotten what a pleasure it is to set a lovely elastic yeast dough. I'm getting more confident with the KitchenAid and therefore better at judging the right amount of flour to add before removing the dough hook. I bought a kilo of organic bread flour at the market on Saturday and I know I'll be going back to that stand. The quality of the dough compared with the bread I made a couple of months ago was night and day. As I kneaded the dough it stayed elastic and warm in my hands. I didn't have to add much flour as I was kneading to keep it from sticking to the counter, not because it was dry but because it was so beautifully tight. Add on top of that the comforting scent of cinnamon, ginger, vanilla, cloves and allspice and you have a delightful dough.
I am not as good as my grandmother at glazing the buns, but when I first watched her doing it she had some fifty years of experience. So perhaps someday I'll be showing my granddaughter (or son) how to make them and making it look easy.
Hot Cross Buns (makes about 2 dozen buns)
1 package or 2 1/4 tsp dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 tsp sugar
2 cups milk, scalded
1 cup (225 g) butter
1/2 cup (105 g) sugar
1 tsp salt
3 eggs, beaten
3 tsp vamilla
4 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp ground cloves
approximately 1.25 kg organic bread flour
currants and rasins (a cup or more, depending on how much you like them)
Heat the milk nearly to boiling point, add the butter and half cup sugar and mix well. Allow to cool. In the meantime, mix the teaspoon of sugar and warm water water in the basin of your mixing bowl and pour the yeast over the top. When the milk and butter mixture has cooled and the yeast mixture looks frothy and lively, add the milk and butter and the eggs to the mixing bowl. Mix for a moment or two, and then start adding the flour. After about a half of a kilo of flour has gone into the bowl, add the vanilla and spices. Continue mixing and adding flour until the dough sticks to the beater (about a kilo of flour). Stop the machine, scrape down the edges of the bowl and then start it up again on about the midway point of speed. Let it knead for about five minutes. I mixed in the raisins at this point, mainly because I forgot the recipe calls for adding them after the last rising. It worked fine and so why not let the machine do the work?
Turn off the machine and remove the hook, scraping the dough down into the bowl. It should be elastic and stick together well. Place in a warm spot, covered (in the US, an oven with a pilot light is idea - here in France I usually turn on the oven for a few seconds only and then leave the oven light on) for an hour, until the dough has doubled in bulk.
Turn out onto a floured surface and knead the dough until it becomes tight and smooth. You may need to add flour to keep it from sticking to the work surface or your fingers. If you have the time, let the dough rise again for an hour in a warm place.
I forgot to mention punching down. Most recipes tell you to punch down the dough when it has finished rising but most of the time I don't bother - I just turn it out onto a floured surface and start kneading. It's kind of disturbing looking when you do. But I would guess it's therapeutic if you are going through a stressful period in your life.
When you are ready to form your buns, punch the dough, turn it out and give it a quick kneading, just enough to bring the dough together and eliminate the air. Grease a sided pan to contain the rolls. Cut of a lump of dough about the size of a small woman's fist. Pull the sides of the dough down and around to a point which will be the bottom of the roll, so that you have a nice smooth top. Plop the rolls in the pan, with about a centimeter of empty space between them. Use scissors to cut a cross in the top of each roll. Allow them to rise one last time for 45 minutes to an hour and then bake at 350/180c for 35 minutes or until they are brown on the top and the pans sound hollow when tapped on the bottom with a wooden spoon.
Allow them to cool and while they are doing so make the glaze. Bring a cup or so of water to a boil (you won't need that much, but less than that and it will all boil away before you use it). Put a cup or more of powdered sugar in a bowl. Add a few drops of vanilla extract. SLOWLY add a few drops of the hot water and stir. Add a few more drops. Continue until you have a nice thick glaze. It's very easy to add too much water and very difficult to correct unless you have loads of powdered sugar to spare. Drizzle the glaze in the cross in the dough of the cooled buns. I may get the hang of it before the boy hits puberty...
To me, this recipe is much more satisfying than the ones we had two years ago. A thick sugar glaze in concentrated areas gives a bigger sweet bite, but keeps the crisp crust of the buns. I thought the Critics buns were a little drier, though he contests this. In any case, we have discovered that - for once - we are not so culturally divided as we had thought.
Happy Easter everyone!