These spiced, sweet rolls, filled with fruit, marked with a paste cross and brushed with a sugar glaze to glorious perfection are an Easter tradition in much of the Christian world, and consumed on Good Friday here in the US. They are also traditionally thrown at the “peasants” in Abingdon, Oxfordshire to celebrate royal weddings. But this soft and relatively easily made pastry need not be relegated to holiday or trebucheting solitude. Serving the same purpose as any sweet roll, hot cross buns might quickly replace your other, more complicated dessert breads, through sheer simplicity.
Unlike other breads, hot cross buns begin with the butter being cut into the flour, much like pastry dough. The fruit and other dry ingredients are mixed in with the flour before any of the liquids are added to the bowl. But from here on out, the rest is bread-making sorcery at its best. Keeping the total flour to a minimum and allowing the bread to go for a long time kneading will produce the softest, chewiest buns. Even though a cup and a quarter of dried fruit seems like a lot, and indeed looks like a lot of fruit, once these buns rise, any less fruit wouldn’t be enough.
Traditionally, dried currants or raisins are used in these buns, but any dried fruit will work. We’re using a combination of currants, golden raisins and craisins in this recipe. Dried tart cherries, blueberries and chopped apricots would not only taste delicious, they’d also look beautiful, representing the primary colors in one delightful bite.
Because they are loaded with fruit, you might find that the super soft dough doesn’t rise as well as you might expect. This is normal, and not a problem. Once these buns hit the heat of the oven, they will puff up to their more expected size. Be sure to use a half sheet pan to place these buns on. They are prettiest when they bake without touching one another. They also bake at a slightly higher oven temp than more rolls, 400°F but for a shorter time. The buns attain a deep brown color that appears dull when they are first removed from the oven, but once brushed with the sugar and cream glaze, they shine to glorious perfection.
These buns are best eaten fresh and warm from the oven, but they are delicious the second day, split, toasted and buttered. At just around two and a half hours from start to finish with most of that time spent rising and very little elbow grease involved, hot cross buns are an easy and delicious tradition you can start this year, or another sweet roll to add to your pastry repertoire.
Hot Cross Buns
- 3½ – 4 cups all purpose flour
- ½ cup warm milk, 115°F-120°F
- ½ cup warm water, 115°F-120°F
- ½ cup butter, cubed
- 1 egg beaten
- ¼ cup white sugar
- 1½ tablespoons yeast
- 1 teaspoon finely ground kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
- (or use 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice)
- 1¼ cups dried fruit such as currants, raisins, craisins, cherries, blueberries or apricots
- ⅔ cup all purpose flour
- 6-8 tablespoons cold water
- ¼ cup powdered sugar
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream
Cut the butter into 2 cups of flour in a mixing bowl of a heavy stand mixer using a pastry knife. Add the sugar, salt, spices, yeast and fruit and mix with a rubber scraper to combine. Add the water and milk and mix by hand using the paddle attachment until the flour has been moistened. This will prevent dry flour from flying out of the bowl when the mixer is used. Place the bowl in the mixer with the paddle attachment and mix on medium-low (speed 3 out of 10) until the butter has been completely incorporated and the flour mixture becomes ropey. This should take about 5 minutes.
Remove the bowl and scrape down the sides using a rubber scraper or the paddle attachment. Add a cup of flour to the mixing bowl and change over to the dough hook. Knead on low (speed 2) until the dough pulls away cleanly from the sides of the mixing bowl adding ¼ cup of flour at a time. Allow the mixer to thoroughly incorporate the flour before adding more. The dough should be very soft but not sticky. Kneading should take about 10-12 minutes total.
Turn the dough out onto a dry surface and knead into a ball shape. Spray a large bowl with cooking spray. Place the dough in the bowl, greasing both sides. Place this in an unheated oven with a pan of boiling water for heat and moisture. Allow the dough to rise for 1 hour.
Punch down the dough and cut into 12 even pieces. Roll each piece on the dry surface until it’s a tight ball. Press the ball flat and place it on a baking sheet treated with non stick cooking spray. Return the rolls to the unheated oven with the pan of water. Allow the rolls to rise for 45-50 minutes.
Remove the rolls and the water from the oven. Preheat the oven to 400 °F. Mix the flour and water for the paste until it’s smooth. Using a piping bag or squeeze bottle, carefully pipe a strip of paste into a cross on top of each roll. Bake the rolls for 15 minutes.
Mix the powdered sugar and cream together until it’s smooth. When the rolls come out of the oven, brush the glaze onto the rolls using a silicone brush completely covering each roll.