Friday, April 11, 2014

Hot Cross Buns

For many years I was scared to make bread. I have crafted many "bricks" ... both hand made and even with a bread machine! So I gave up,  I stopped trying, for a long time. Then, inspired by bread (among many other things) -making foodie friends, and a huge book called "Bread Machine" I started trying again. After some reasonable, even edible, attempts, I decided to give away my bread machine (it always undermixed and overbaked my breads, no matter the settings) and only make hand-made. I am learning, experimenting really, how to adapt bread machine recipes to hand-made (that book is full of so many amazing recipes!) and this recipe is my first real success.

Hot Cross Buns
I love fruit bread ... pretty much any fruit bread, though it has to have real fruit in it, not that candied 'fruit stuff.' My faves include raisins, dried cranberries, currants, orange peel, lemon peel, lime peel ... mmm. Oh, and (for me at least) the cross needs to be baked on, not frosted.

In Australia we always got Hot Cross Buns at Easter time ... I think I looked forward to them more than the Easter eggs. It was the only time of year we got them and it was a real treat ... toasted ... with butter ...

Flicking through the pages of "Bread Machine" the first recipe that jumped from the pages was Hot Cross Buns, with the cross baked in/on! I made them using the bread machine (as a mixer) a couple times, following the recipe to the letter — they were a little tough. So during one attempt I timed the cycles on the bread machine and then soon after, I boldly pulled out my stand mixer and — after a few more attempts and some minor adjustments — I think I have it nailed ... though is any recipe ever really final?

So here it is:

1/3 cup dried currants
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup golden raisins
1 1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup soft butter
1 egg
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup sugar
4 cups bread flour
1 1/2 tsp apple pie spice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp cardamom
2 tsp rapid rise active dry yeast
1 tbsp grated lemon or orange peel (optional)

1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 tbsp butter

2 tbsp milk
2 tbsp sugar

Soak dried fruit in hot water for 5-10 minutes. Heat milk to steaming but not boiling. Put all the wet ingredients into the bowl of your mixer (milk, butter, lightly beaten egg). Add salt & sugar. Mix until butter melts. Drain & rinse dried fruit* and add to bowl. Put all the dry ingredients (flour, yeast, spices, peel) into bowl and mix at low speed for 10 minutes with a dough hook until ingredients are incorporated to form a sticky dough.

Preheat oven 5 mins to 200­°F (warm) then turn oven off. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a lint-free tea towel. Place in oven and allow to rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hrs, until dough doubles in size.

Remove dough and lightly knead for one minute by hand. Use a sharp knife to divide dough into 12 equal size pieces. Tuck dough into balls and place in a 9"x15" glass baking dish — they might touch. Cover again and allow to rise for another 45 minutes to 1 hr.

Make the paste for the crosses by mixing the flour & butter (I use a small chopper/blender) to a fine crumbly mixture. Add enough water to bind together into a paste that you can pipe. (In a pinch you can use a small zipper plastic bag with the corner cut out.) Pipe a cross onto each bun.

Place buns in the oven on the middle shelf and set the temperature to 375°F (electric oven) — do not pre-heat! Set the timer for 20 minutes. Check buns when the timer goes off - they should be a light golden brown. Use a skewer to test that they are cooked through. Add a minute or two baking time if not.

While they are baking, mix milk and sugar and heat in the microwave or small saucepan until the sugar is dissolved. When you remove the buns from the oven, turn them onto a rack or tea towel and immediately brush the glaze over them while they are still piping hot.

Serve hot, warm, or cool. They toast beautifully (cut in half) the next day or two — if there are any left!