Hot Cross Buns

Inspired by the spring equinox and the happiness it brings, I decided to bake something nice (as has become the tradition). This time, I decided to make Hot cross buns. :)

This is a traditional English recipe and I have to admit that I have never heard of it before since it obviously isn't made where I come from. Now buns usually contain raisins so I stuck to that, but I don't understand why they're called "hot" because they really aren't spicy at all. The only thing that could give it a "spicy" spell could be the cinnamon and nutmeg. I believe you understand why they are called "cross" buns though (just have a look at the cross-shaped decoration on the buns in the picture).

These buns are traditionally eaten on Good Friday (the Friday just before Easter). Because of this, these buns may seem like an extremely Christian food but this cross symbol has a different meaning to Pagans; that of the wheel of the year (which resembles the Celtic cross a great deal). What I find cute is that the bun itself can symbolize the wheel of the year. I emphasize this symbol because it holds in itself the very essence of the meaning of the spring equinox, and that is harmony.

Just like practically any other desert, this one didn't just appear from nowhere. They appeared even before Christianity touched English soil, but Queen Elizabeth I came to realize that she couldn't get rid of this Pagan tradition so she simply decided to "christen" it. 
But I won't bore you any more with the history of this cake, so let's just go on to the cooking part. :)

You will need:

For the dough: 

  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 spoons yeast (I use the instant kind)
  • 1/2 (half) cup normal sugar (I always use a bit less)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/3 (third) cup butter (melted and cooled down)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 (half) teaspoon nutmeg
  • 4 eggs
  • 5 cups plain flour
  • 1 1/3 (one and one third) cup raisins
  • 1 egg white

For the glaze: 

  • 1 1/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
  • I added a few more spoons of flour (so the glaze is thick enough to be squeezed out of the icing syringe)

How to prepare:

Note: don't put normal endings on your electric mixer. You will need the spiral endings (if you have them) which look like the ones in the picture on the right. :) If you don't have them, then I recommend you knead the dough with your hands (of course, not until it is thick enough for you to be able to do so) or with a wooden spoon.
  1. Heat up the milk so it is very warm (but not hot).
  2. Mix together (with your mixer in a bowl) the milk and yeast and let it sit for 5 minutes (make sure there are no clots.
  3. Keep mixing gradually and add sugar, salt, butter, cinnamon, nutmeg and eggs. Add flour bit by bit. The dough will still be wet and sticky so don't let that surprise you.
  4. Keep mixing the dough until it is more consistent and less sticky (about 5 more minutes).
  5. Cover the bowl with cling film and let the dough sit for another 35-40 minutes at room temperature.
  6. After the dough has rested enough, continue mixing it until it gets even softer and even more elastic (about 3 more minutes). Add raisins and continue mixing.
  7. The dough will now be less sticky but still not ready for baking. Get the dough out and put it into an oiled up bowl, cover with cling film again and leave it overnight to rise in the fridge (during this period, all of the access moisture will evaporate).
  8. The next day, leave the dough at room temperature for about half an hour so it can adapt to the new temperature (remember that it has just come out of the fridge, after all).
  9. Cover your pan with baking paper or oil it up (though I always use the baking paper...it's a life-saver!).
  10. Separate the dough into 24 even (or as even as they can get) balls. You can do this by cutting every ball in half until you get the desired number (though you can choose to have smaller or larger buns and then the number will vary according to this).
  11. Form each piece into a ball and put it on the pan (or rather the baking paper). Make sure you put them a few centimeters apart because they will rise during baking and you don't want them to conjoin. Cover the whole pan with a clean kitchen cloth and let it rise in a warm place for about an hour and a half (but not in the oven! Preferably in a warm room).
  12. Heat up the oven to 200°C.
  13. After the dough has risen, get a small serrated knife and cut a very shallow cross shape into each bun.
  14. Spread egg white on the buns (not whipped!) and bake buns for 10 minutes.
  15. Now turn down the heat to 175°C and keep baking the buns until they turn golden-brown (that could be about 15 more minutes but that depends on how strong your oven is...I baked them quite a bit less).
  16. Get the buns out of the oven and leave them somewhere to cool down. In the meantime make the glaze (simply mix the ingredients together). Put the glaze into an icing syringe and squeeze out the glaze on the buns once they have cooled down in a cross shape (following the cross shape you made with your knife). If you don't have an icing syringe, you can use a spoon but that is much more complicated.
  17. Serve while they are still warm (preferably) and enjoy!!! :D :D
Happy Ostara to you all! :) which just so happens to fall on this exact day in 2013! :)

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