Friday, June 08, 2007


Hot Cross Buns

I cannot tell you how much I look forward to Easter every year only so I can eat these sweet buns. Even as a child I would choose to eat these over chocolate. Although there are many good commercial versions around, they are "seasonal", and I have eaten all the bags of buns I froze (!).

I cannot wait until Easter next year to have them again, so I decided to make my own, tradition be damned.

I am purposefully dipping into the Nigella pool this month, having long had all of her books but not made enough use of them. My source for hot cross buns is La Lawson's Feast: Food That Celebrates Life, a fabulous and densely-packed cookery book that covers appropriate dishes for festive celebrations, traditional, sentimental, and in-between. I only veered from her list of ingredients three times: I couldn't locate cardamom pods before making the buns, so I decided to forego them as an ingredient altogether (I have since found them!); in place of bread flour, which Ms. Lawson insists upon, I used all-purpose flour, adding an extra tablespoon per cup for the extra gluten; and I substituted icing sugar for superfine sugar.

Hot Cross Buns
(from Nigella Lawson's Feast: Food That Celebrates Life

For the dough:
2/3 cup milk
57g/2oz butter
zest of an orange
1 clove
3 cups and 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour (or 3 cups bread flour)
7.5g/1/4oz active dry yeast
3/4 cup mixed dried fruit (I used apple, pineapple, sultanas, apricot, and peach)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 egg

For the crosses:
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 tablespoon icing sugar
2 tablespoons water

For the glaze:
1 tablespoon icing sugar
1 tablespoon boiling water

The procedure seems long but no step is very difficult, unless you're a wuss when it comes to kneading (in which case I hope you have an electric mixer with a dough hook):

1) Heat the milk, butter, orange zest, and clove (and three split cardamom pods, if using) until scalding point. Take off the heat, cover, and leave to infuse. 2) Dump into a bowl and mix together the flour, yeast, dried fruit and spices, and stir together.
3) When the aromatic milk has cooled down to 37 C/98.6 F, take out the clove (and cardamom pods), beat in the egg, then mix into the dry ingredients.
4) On a floured surface knead the dough by hand, or in an electric mixer, knead with a dough hook. Stop when the dough is silky and like elastic, though it will not be entirely smooth because of the dried fruit (Ms. Lawson's logical input).
5) Form dough into a ball, then place it in a buttered bowl. You can cover it with cling-film and pop it in the fridge over night, or you can cover it with a kitchen towel and leave in a warm place for 1 - 1 1/2 hours.
6) Bring dough to room temperature if removing it from fridge.
7) Punch down the dough and knead on a floured surface until smooth and elastic, as before.
8) Make around sixteen buns. I did this by dividing the dough first into halves, each half into half again (quarters), then each quarter into half once more (eighths), and finally each eighth in half (sixteenths). Sorry for the lame math, but it is easier than figuring it out one-by-one and the resulting size of each ball is more or less equivalent.
9) Snugly fit the buns on a baking tray covered with parchment paper.
10) Preheat oven to 200 C/425 F.
11) With the back of knife, imprint a cross on each bun, cover with a kitchen towel, and leave to prove for 45 minutes.
12) Make an egg wash and brush the buns with it.

To make the crosses:
1) Make a smooth and thick paste by mixing together the flour, sugar, and water in a small bowl.
2) Use a spoon to dribble the paste into the cross-shaped indentations on the buns.

Bake the buns for 15-20 minutes. To ensure buns are baked, pierce a skewer or toothpick into the centre of a chosen bun, and if it comes out clean, the baking is done. The buns should be fragrant by then (the nose knows...).

To make the glaze:
1) Mix icing sugar and boiling water together, ensuring a smooth consistency.
2) Brush onto the hot buns, rendering them glossy and sweeter.

You cannot beat the aroma that comes out of the oven. The fluffy interior is alive with spicy, sweet goodness (the hint of ginger is always dizzying to me). They are incredible once cooled and reheated in the microwave, for they are more easily halved to be spread with the jam or preserves of your choice, but they are just amazing slathered with butter or eaten plain (as I often have them). After a few more attempts, my hot cross buns will look perfect for Easter 2008!

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Hang tradition. We had shrimp and artichoke hearts for Easter. (OK, so we DID have a cheesecake, too!)

Now that you've scored some cardamom, I expect you'll be ferreting out all kinds of uses for it. It's deservedly all the rage w/ bloggers. I love how it's popular in Scandinavian as well as Indian cooking.

This recipe reminds me very much of the Italian panettone. It's no wonder you don't want to wait until next year. Well done, Shaun!
I really like hot cross buns too, and actually if I am ever to make them it will have to be out of season - Easter time always seems to be to busy!

They look wonderful, I can almost ssmell them, mmm. Nigella also suggests using hot cross buns in place of the bread in one of her stuffings in Feast, an idea I'd like to try. I cooked a huge amount from Feast when it came out, it didn't leave my weekly using pile for over a year. Can't wait for her new one later this year :)
Susan, lovie - Eric and I first set out to buy cardamom pods earlier this year before making Ana Sortun's Arabic Coffee Pots de Creme. Since then, I have been meaning to reuse it but haven't, and I have also since moved to New Zealand. Anyway, I did by cardamom pods not long ago and promptly misplaced them. Of course, I found them within hours of making the hot cross buns - isn't that always the way? Well, I hope never again because I was really curious about how they would temper/complement the orange, though I could imagine how they would. I don't know what they were doing in the drawer for kitchen untensils.

I, too, have oddly remarked the inclusion of cardamom in both Scandinavian and Indian cooking. I am also intrigued by the Danish and Hungarian uses of caraway seeds. Still so much to learn and experience in the kitchen...

Um...what cheesecake did you have at Easter? Eric doesn't care for cheesecake much, last proclaiming my key lime pie (the closest thing to a cheesecake I have made) too tart. What is a traditional Philadelphia cheesecake, and why is it so special? Is it of German origin? If so, are there traditional German recipes for it? LOL Maybe I should just look the answers up myself instead of treating you as my encyclopedia.


Kelly-Kane - I guess I missed the recipe in which Nigella suggests using hot cross buns as stuffing - what an intriguing notion! Let me know what you think of it should you do it. Maybe I'll do it sooner because I have already had requests from family members and friends to make another batch or two of these amazing buns. Oh, and I have found my cardamom pods, so I will try as best I can to stick to the Nigella recipe, though I will still use all-purpose flour.
Arabic Pots de Creme? To swoon for.

Cheesecake always will have a bit of tang no matter how sweet or creamy it is; it's just the nature of the cheeses used. Key lime probably enhanced that tartness. I suspect we use VERY sweet, loose fruit jams on top to balance it as much as possible. Philadelphia is a brand of cream cheese w/ a long history, widely popular world wide.

German cheese cake uses cottage, pot or farmer's cheese, all quite tangy, curd cheeses w/ varying degrees of dryness. My Easter recipe was a NY style (Jewish deli origins aka Yiddish(German)) w/ heavy cream (sometimes sour cream, too) to make it denser and creamier still. I topped it w/ lemon curd. It's one of my posts.

And speaking of posts, you are quite the dear, Shaun, to comment on many of my older ones. I shall reply to every single one of them.
Susan - I really have no idea what pot or farmers' cheese is. I have thought of buying the Murrays book on cheese to see what different cheeses are out there, but I should look at other books that are perhaps more encylopedic in breadth and depth (it's the academic in me). I will check out the post that you reference, but I will give you a break first - sorry for the barrage of comments! Don't feel obligated to respond to them all.

If you are curious about the Arabic Coffee Pots de Creme, check out my January 2007 archive for my post...The exact date of the post is January 12th. I have made it several times since; it is always exquisite.





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