The way I see it, the only purpose supermarket hot cross buns should serve is as a harbinger of spring. Like their cousin, the cheap hamburger bun, they’re but a pale imitation of the real deal – fluffy, crustless and bland, existing in a perpetual state of quasi-staleness. Short of being stranded on a desert island with nothing but packages of hot cross buns for miles around, there’s no possible way I could be talked into eating one of those abominations.
Which is why, if your idea of Easter isn’t complete without a hot cross bun or two, there’s really no option except to make your own. It’s not nearly as hard as you’d think, though… all you need is a rainy spring afternoon and some easy-to-find ingredients to achieve true hot cross bun bliss.
This year, instead of using the traditional combo of glace fruits and currants, I decided to give my buns a makeover by using dried cherries and lots of lemon zest lemon zest. I’m quite pleased with the results -they’re tender and rich and not too sweet, just like a hot cross bun ought to be, but the lemon and cherry give them a light tangy flavour that’s perfect for spring.
In fact, there’s no need to restrict these tasty treats to Easter alone. They’d fit in perfectly as part of a non-denominational spring brunch or tea party… instead of piping on the traditional x-shaped icing cross, just drizzle the icing overtop in a more random pattern or serve without any icing at all.
Note: If you’d prefer to go the more traditional route, just make the following changes – replace the cherries with an equal amount of currants or raisins, use a glace mix or mixed peel instead of candied lemon (or leave out altogether), and add 1/4 tsp each cloves and allspice.
Lemon-Cherry Hot Cross Buns
1 1/2 cups lukewarm milk
1/4 cup melted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tbsp yeast
1 tbsp lemon zest
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup dried cherries
1/4 cup candied lemon peel
2 tbsp each sugar and warm water
1 cup icing sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp vanilla
Combine milk, butter, sugar, egg, yeast, lemon zest and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Let stand for 5 minutes to allow the yeast to dissolve.
Add remaining dough ingredients, and stir until dough comes together. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until dough is soft and elastic, but still slightly sticky. Place in a large lightly oiled bowl, turning to coat the top; cover with a damp cloth and place in a warm, draft-free place to rise until doubled in size, about 90 minutes.
Turn dough out onto a clean surface, and divide into 20 evenly-sized pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, and place in a greased 9×13 pan (you can also use two 9″ round pans, if you prefer). Cover with a damp cloth and set aside to rise for 45 minutes.
Bake in a preheated 375F oven for 30-35 minutes, or until buns are golden brown.
Meanwhile, prepare glaze by combining sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves. Brush onto the buns as soon as they come out of the oven, and set aside to cool.
While buns are cooling, prepare the icing by stirring together icing sugar, lemon juice and vanilla until smooth. Scoop into a piping bag (or McGuiver one by snipping off one of the bottom corners of a sandwich bag), and pipe an icing cross onto the top of each bun.