Bread of the Month: Weighing in on fluffy buns

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Its appearance is simple; its diminutive texture, light as air. Yet the hot cross bun carries a lot of symbolic weight. Originally a little tea roll created to celebrate spring, it was adorned with a cross and — if eaten during the Easter season, usually on Good Friday — has been credited with helping one’s health, keeping ships at sea from sinking, cementing friendships and, if hung on the kitchen wall and replaced (thankfully) each year, ensuring one’s breads will all bake successfully.

The bread even inspired a nursery rhyme, originating from the song sung by the English street bread vendors promoting their wares years ago:

“Hot cross buns! Hot cross buns!/
One a penny, two a penny/hot cross buns/
If you have no daughters, give them to your sons/
One a penny, two a penny/hot cross buns!”

With the arrival of tulips and daffodils, bunnies and baskets, so too, come the hot cross buns, an egg-and-butter-based sweet yeast roll, flavored with cinnamon and sometimes other spices, along with raisins and currants and perhaps citrus zest. Usually, the rolls are topped with a cross made of icing, but the traditional method has often been to use a separate dough of pastry crust to fashion the symbol on the roll.

batter01A few years ago, I made hot cross buns for the first time from a recipe I found in Southern Living magazine. I could not believe how easy they were, how light and spongy the dough was (almost a batter) and how airy and delicate the finished rolls baked up to be. Having seen the buns for sale at the market VERY EARLY in the Easter season (actually, shortly following St. Patrick’s) Day, I was reminded and urged to make them again in my own kitchen.

batter02I returned to the Southern Living recipe, but this time decided to add about 1 teaspoon of lemon zest during the mixing of the yeast, liquids, butter and flavorings. It occurred to me as I did this that I could probably add lemon zest to anything and it would turn out just fine (maybe even outstanding). In addition to raisins, I wanted to incorporate something somewhat old world and European, so I also added some dried currants. I was thinking of currant buns and tea and Beatrix Potter….oh, the imaginative swirl of images that come with springtime!

Before making this recipe, one must be prepared for a lot of rising. If you have a have the time, it is worth it. The first rising alone is about 2 hours (during which I took a snooze), although I found my dough to sufficient height (and in fact, nearly crawling out of the bowl) after about an hour and a half (perhaps I slept too long!). Punch the dough down (fun!), then another short rising, then the dough is rolled out and the buns are cut in biscuit-like fashion. The dough is delicate, so be prepared to dust the board and dough significantly to keep all from sticking.cutbuns01

With 5 cups of flour, this will make plenty of buns (share them with friends whose camaraderie you wish to secure). You can also cut the recipe in half (which I did the first time I made them). With the full recipe, I ended up with three round (9-inch) cake pans and a pullman loaf pan full of buns. You can also spread the rolls out on baking sheets so they rise individually, unconnected to each other. All fit very nicely in the oven for both rising and baking, the latter making my home smell like a dream bakery, between the rich buttery notes of bread and the litlting sweet spice of cinnamon.

unglazbun01The rolls would be fine, uncrossed, fresh from the oven, and I do hope I did not commit some blasphemy by ripping into the ones from the loaf pan with narry a thought of glaze in my wee brain. Warm, earthy, spicy, light as air, jewels of sweet dried fruit. Delicious! Why glaze? Well, there was tradition to consider…

So, once they were cool, I set about to glaze. I found the Sugar Glaze recipe for the buns to be slightly off in that I had to add a bit more liquid (milk and also lemon juice) than what was listed. I have found in frosting and glazes that one’s kitchen conditions, etc., often contribute to needed adjustments in the confectioner’s sugar-to-liquid ratio. Once I got the glaze to what I considered to be just the right thickness (I did not want it too runny, so that it would hold its shape), I discovered the best methodcrossses01 of application was the plastic bag with corner snipped off. The crosses came into being, some of them rather crude and off-kilter, some looking more as if they came from the flower bed than the church. They were fine, all was just right because all that is needed in any final creation is meaning and heart.

Hot Cross Buns
From Southern Living
Makes about 4 dozen rolls

2 (1/4-ounce) envelopes active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water (100° to 110°)
1 cup warm milk (100° to 110°)
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 cup raisins
Sugar Glaze (recipe follows)

Combine yeast and 1/2 cup warm water in a large mixing bowl; let stand 5 minutes. Add warm milk and next 5 ingredients. Beat at medium speed with an electric mixer until blended.

Combine flour and cinnamon, and gradually add to yeast mixture, beating at medium speed for 2 minutes. Stir in raisins.

Place dough in a well-greased bowl, turning to grease top.

Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 2 hours or until doubled in bulk.

Punch dough down; cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 30 minutes.

Turn dough out onto a well-floured surface, and roll to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut with a 2-inch round cutter.

Place on a lightly greased 15- x 10-inch jellyroll pan. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 45 minutes or until doubled in bulk.

Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 20 to 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Let rolls cool 10 minutes. Pipe Sugar Glaze over rolls in an “X” shape.

Sugar Glaze

1 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whisk together all ingredients until smooth.

Blogger’s Note: For the buns, I included about 1 teaspoon lemon zest when mixing the liquid ingredients. For the glaze, I added about 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice.
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