Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Hot Cross Buns, an English Tradition

One of the in England is eating Hot Cross Buns at . At this time of year you can smell them baking when you walk past the bakeries in the cities, small towns and villages. It is traditional to eat them split, toasted and buttered on (originally for breakfast, but now people in offices tend to run out to the store and buy some for an 11 o'clock snack). The buns are a dough like mixture to which candied peel, cinnamon and nutmeg are added and this is shaped into a ball which has a pastry cross on the top (in commemoration of Christ's Crucifixion). Originally, the dough balls were marked with a cross prior to baking to ward off evil spirits that might prevent them from rising, and on Good Friday this practice is still observed. Below is the for these yummy treats.

Recipe for Hot Cross Buns - makes 6 buns

1/2 cup whole milk
2 cups bread flour, or as needed
2 tablespoons superfine sugar
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1//4 teaspoon ground mace
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1 1/2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced
1 teaspoon rapid rise yeast
1/3 cup (2oz) each, dried currants,
golden raisins (sultanas) and mixed
candied citrus peel
1 large egg, beaten

For the Pastry Cross
1/3 cup(2oz) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, diced
1 teaspoon superfine sugar

For the Glaze
2 tablespoons whole milk
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1. In a small saucepan, warm the milk to 105 degrees F (40degC). Remove from the heat and set aside.

2. Sift the 2 cups bread flour into a large bowl. Stir in the superfine sugar, salt, cinnamon, mace, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour until the mixture forms crumbs the size of fine bread crumbs. Mix in the yeast and then the currants, raisins, and candied peel. make a well in the center and stir in the egg and enough of the reserved milk to form a soft dough. It should no be too sticky; if it clings to your fingers, add more flour.

3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead thoroughly until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let stand in a warm place until the dough has risen by a third, 3-5 hours. The timing depends on the temperature of the kitchen.

4. Lightly oil a baking sheet. Turn the risen dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead for 1 minute, then divide into 6 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a neat ball and place on the prepared baking sheet, flattening each ball slightly. Cover lightly with plastic rap and set aside until the dough is very puffy, about 45 minutes.

5. Preheat the oven to 400 degreesF (200degC). To make the pastry crosses, sift the all-purpose flour into a small bowl. Using your fingertips, rub in the butter until the mixture forms fine crumbs. Mix in the superfine sugar. Stir in 1 tablespoon cold water to make a firm dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and roll into a rectangle about 8 inches by 2 inches and 1/8-inch thick. Cut the pastry into 12 strips, each about 4 inches long and 1/4-inch wide. For each bun, brush 2 strips with a little water and arrange, brushed side down, in a cross on the top of the bun. Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes.

6. Meanwhile, make the glaze. In a small saucepan over low heat, combine the milk and
granulated sugar and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes. Raise the heat to high and boil vigorously until the glaze becomes syrupy, about 30 seconds.

7. When the buns are done, transfer to a wire rack and immediately brush with the hot glaze. Serve the buns warm or at room temperature. They can also be split open and toasted.

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