Hot Cross Buns, the Sourdough Version
Our favorite treat of the Easter season is not a chocolate bunny or a jelly bean or even a sickly sweet cream egg. No. Our favorite treat to eat during holy week is a bun. A hot cross bun. Go ahead. You can sing the song, now.
I have made several versions over the years and we have loved them all, even the ones that go stale almost as soon as they cool. It’s something about the sweet fruit mingled with the spices in the dough. I think the spices are supposed to represent the spices they used to use in Jesus’ time for dead bodies so that you wouldn’t notice the smell too much.
Fortunately, here, there are only sweet smells. And let’s not forget the sugary glaze that makes it all shiny and the frosting cross piped on each bun. Every once in awhile, I toy with the idea of making the crosses out of dough, but then I shake myself. Who am I kidding? If I left off that sugary cross, there might be some mutiny at the Easter table. When my younger son was younger and he had less self-control, he would always eat the frosting cross first, then the sticky sweet top portion of the bun, and then he would sometimes leave the rest on the plate. Nowadays, he eats the whole bun and sometimes asks for another. So, I wouldn’t think of leaving off the frosting top. Besides, I think it’s a sweet reminder of what the season is all about.
This year, I used a recipe from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. The recipe is based on the Greek Celebration Bread, but with a few changes. There’s more sourdough starter and I used butter instead of oil and left out the almond extract and I changed the mixing method and….oh. Forget it. Here’s the recipe.
Sourdough Hot Cross Buns
adapted from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice
This recipe makes about 40 buns at 2.5 ounces each. For less, you can half the recipe for 20 buns and space them on one half-sheet pan.
1 cup dried currants
1 cup dried sweetened cranberries
1 cup golden raisins
3 tablespoons of dark rum or water or orange juice
1 cup candied citron or orange peel (optional)
12 ounces or 1.5 cups whole milk
4 ounces or 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 large eggs
5.25 ounces or 1/2 cup honey
2 teaspoons orange extract
16 ounces 100% hydration sourdough starter
1 tablespoon instant yeast, preferably SAF gold osmotolerant yeast
2 pounds or 7 cups unbleached bread flour, plus more for kneading and shaping
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
2 teaspoons fround cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
2 tablespoons water
4 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons orange extract
8 ounces or 2 cups powdered sugar
1 ounce or 2 tablespoons whole milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
To prepare the fruit:
Combine the raisins, cranberries, currants, and rum in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave on high for 1 minute. If your bowl is tightly sealed, shake (or stir) the fruit in the bowl. The fruit should be warm, but not hot. This step helps to plump the fruit a bit so that they don’t suck up moisture from the dough. Set aside, covered, to cool, stirring or shaking occasionally, while you are making the dough.
To prepare the dough:
Scald the milk in a pot or in the microwave until bubbles appear around the edges, it starts to steam, and smells of cooked milk. watch it like a hawk and stop the microwave before it boils over. Cut up your butter into tablespoon sized pieces and toss them into the milk. Stir the mixture until all the butter is melted. Pour into your mixing bowl and set aside to cool until it is around 100 degrees, but not more than 105.
When your milk mixture is cool enough, add the honey, eggs, orange extract, yeast, and sourdough starter. Stir with a spatula to combine. Add the flour, salt and spices. By hand or in the mixer on the slowest speed, mix until a rough dough forms. Then, knead for 10 minutes by hand or in the mixer on medium low. The dough should clean the edges of the bowl, but still be fairly soft and sticky. Add flour, 2 tablespoons at a time, if it is too sticky. I added about 6 tablespoons of extra flour.
During the last two minutes of mixing, add the fruit mixture and the citron. You may have to add additional flour here if your fruit did not soak up all the rum. I added another two tablespoons. This is a lot of dough, so there is a good chance that the fruit will not distribute evenly. If this happens, just turn it out onto your counter/kneading board and give it a few turns by hand to distrubute the fruit better. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise in a warm area until almost doubled, about 90 minutes.
Have a generous amount of flour nearby. Scrape the dough onto your counter and knead for a few seconds to deflate it. Divide the dough into 2.5 ounce pieces using a scale. This approximately 1/4 cup. Or, you can divide the dough into quarters and then cut each quarter into ten pieces. Dust all the dough with a little flour. Roll each portion into a ball and set on your baking sheet. One half-sheet pan can fit 20-24 depending on how close you’d like to squish them together. I put 24 in one pan to save for Easter Sunday and put the rest on another for us to eat right away.
Cover the pans with plastic wrap and set them in a warm place to rise. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. After about 90 minutes, they should be puffy and doubled. Remove the covers and bake for 20-22 minutes or until they are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. If you have two pans, bake the pans in the order in which you shaped them, one after another, instead of both pans at once. They will bake more evenly this way.
While the buns are baking, combine the ingredients for the glaze in a small microwavable bowl. Microwave on high for 30 seconds or until it begins to boil. Stir until all the sugar is disolved and the glaze is clear. Once you take the buns out of the oven, brush them generously with glaze right away. Then, let the buns cool completely in the pans.
Once the buns are cool, whisk together the icing ingredients until nice and smooth. It should be thick and similar to the consistency of wet mustard, not runny. In other words, it should hold its shape when piped and not run all over the place. Scrape your frosting into a disposable pastry bag or a quart sized freezer bag. Snip the tip of the bag to make a 1/4 inch hole and pipe the frosting crosses onto the buns. If your buns are all nicely lined up in rows, this will be easier.
Serve. If you plane to freeze some buns, wait to frost the buns until after they are thawed. Frosted, the buns will stay soft, loosely covered for a day. After that, store in a plastic bag. On the second day, they will be a little drier, but still soft and excellent with tea or coffee. On the third and fourth day, they will be best warmed slightly in an oven, but the frosting will melt and go all crackly (just as yummy!) when you do this, so make sure you put it on a piece of foil or on a pan to do this. Five minutes in a 300 degree oven should make them soft and heavenly again.