Around here, you know spring has arrived when you've spotted at least two of the following: a red-breasted robin, a blooming crocus, or a package of hot cross buns at the supermarket.
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 ¼ tsp each cloves and allspice.
- 1 ½ cups lukewarm milk
- ¼ cup melted butter
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 tbsp yeast
- 1 tbsp lemon zest
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 4 ½ cups flour
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp fresh grated nutmeg
- ¼ tsp cinnamon
- ¾ cup dried cherries
- ¼ cup candied lemon peel
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 2 tbsp warm water
- 1 cup icing sugar
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- ¼ 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 9x13 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.