The sweet roll with a mythical history.
These yeast rolls, filled with dried fruit and covered in a sweet glaze, are often eaten during the lead up to the Easter holiday. Given their long running history, it is no wonder there are so many fables surrounding their origin.
From warding off evil spirits to cementing friendships (and my favourite, protecting against shipwreck), the stories of hot cross buns can be documented back to 6th century Greece. If you are like me and find this interesting, this is a good article.
Ready for the Oven
So what is the secret to a good hot cross bun? Let's explore...
The dough for hot cross buns is an enriched dough, using dairy and eggs to give it the fluffy and rich texture. My most successful experiments have included using butter, whole milk, sour cream and eggs.
As this yeasted dough is full of such rich ingredients it will need some extra time during the rising/proofing. It may be slow to get going, but it will double in size when it is ready to be shaped.
The classic spices for Hot Cross Buns are cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. In playing with combinations I have found that the addition of cardamom enhances the orange/citrus flavour in the rolls.
You can play with the spice ratios to find the best fit for your palate, however the ratios I use are:
1 tsp Cinnamon
1/2 tsp Nutmeg (or a little more - I love nutmeg!)
1/2 tsp Cardamom
Raisins or currants are the classic fruit for hot cross buns. But for a modern twist, I used diree cherries. They give an additional sweet/tart zing that compliments the spices.
To plump the fruit, place in a bowl and barely cover with orange juice. Microwave for twenty scends and set aside. When ready to add the fruit to your dough, strain the fruit, reserving the soaking liquid.
As previously mentioned, this dough will require significant rising time, but it will vary based on your environment. During the Easter season the climate in Ontario is generally quite cool, so the rising time for this dough for me is about 90 minutes. But anywhere from 60 - 120 minutes is possible
Portion your rolls into equal sizes (a kitchen scale) Pull the dough into ball and pull the sides towards the bottom, pinching them to seal. This will create a smooth top.
Place the dough ball seam side down on a lightly floured surface. Cup your hand over the dough and circle the ball around, evening out the shape.
Place the shaped ball seam side down in a lined baking pan.
As children, we all thought of the crosses as icing, but interestingly they are made of a flour and water paste. When applied with the right consistency, it bakes in to the dough leaving the traditional cross in the top of each bun.
Again, I break from tradition here. Typically apricot jam is used to glaze the rolls when they come out of the oven. But I realized the soaking liquid from the fruit has an amazing flavour from the juice and the cherries.
To use this as a glaze, reduce it in a small saucepan while the buns are baking. Reduce the liquid by half and brush on to the hot rolls when they come out of the oven. No extra sugar required.
These rolls are a traditional holiday food, but the dough is so versatile, I feel that I will be using in for more than just Hot Cross Buns in the future (and I may make some for my next boat trip as well).
A couple of recipes that have worked well for me:
John Kanell from The Preppy Kitchen
Food52 - they recently posted one using Sourdough that I haven't tried yet!
And we can't forget Mary Berry's classic recipe
Have you ever made Hot Cross Buns? Did you make any adaptations or changes? Tell me how it worked!