Rock-solid snowbanks still dot my street. I think I must be allergic to the cold, because as I’m standing here looking out my front window, a nasty rash is forming.
Luckily, it’s only on the inside. The best therapy I know is the kitchen variety.
First, hot cross buns.
In spite of the cold weather, warm buns with tropical spices and sweet fruit pull me into spring — not that I’m resisting much, mind you.
I’ve shared a couple of versions of these seasonal specialties with you over the years, but this is not one of those recipes that stays static, and you keep telling me you would like more help with yeast and bread doughs, so today is your day.
The recipe I started with is marked up and crossed out and has balloons drawn around it with little notes.
I tweak dishes to update flavours or techniques that I figure out by trial and error or that I learn from other cooks, and it’s especially the case for anything made with yeast.
I’ve tried to include plenty of detail so even if you’ve never so much as bought an envelope of yeast, you should be able to conquer these.
Choose a quiet morning when you aren’t rushing to get out the door for work, shopping or hockey practice, and enjoy a second or third cup of coffee as you tend to your buns.
If you’re an experienced bread maker then you can probably judge the 100 F you need for optimal yeast growth. If you’re not, or like me, tend to drift towards the heat, then check with a meat thermometer.
Warm up the milk and water to where you think it should be, then take its temperature.
Last time I did it I was a full 15 degrees over. Good thing it wasn’t a baby’s bottle.
Hot cross buns
1 tbsp. sugar
1/2 cup each water and milk, at 100 F
1 package active dry yeast (2-1/4 tsp.)
1/4 cup melted unsalted butter
3 tbsp. liquid honey
2 eggs, well beaten
4 cups all-purpose flour (divided)
1 tsp. salt (reduce by half if using salted butter or
1-1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. each freshly ground nutmeg, ginger, allspice
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 cup candied mixed peel
1/4 cup currants
1 egg yolk
2 tsp. water
1 tsp. each honey and lemon juice
2 tbsp. melted unsalted butter
1-1/2 cups icing sugar
1 tbsp. milk
1 tsp. each vanilla and lemon juice
1/8 tsp. salt (omit if using salted butter or margarine)
Whisk sugar into water and milk, stirring until dissolved. Stir in yeast and let stand somewhere warm for 10 minutes, until creamy and frothy. I put the whole bowl in a sinkful of lukewarm water.
Whisk butter, honey, eggs and yeast mixture together lightly. Sift together 3-1/2 cups of the flour, salt and spices and make a well in the centre. Pour in liquid ingredients and stir with a large spoon until most of the flour is incorporated.
Place remaining 1/2 cup of flour on a clean work surface and dump the dough out, scraping the bowl clean. Begin to work
the mixture with your hands until it comes
together in a cohesive mass.
As you knead, the dough will tighten and
stop leaving trails behind — you may need a
couple of more spoonfuls of flour, but add it
sparingly because you are looking for a soft,
tender and not-too-dry dough.
Set the timer for 5 minutes and fold the
dough onto itself over and over again until
the surface is smooth, without bulges and
bumps, and the texture is elastic. If you don’t
use the timer, you will think you’re done in
about 2 minutes.
Place mixed peel and currants on the
work surface and begin to work the dough
over and around the fruit, picking up the
bits as you go. Continue kneading for another
3 or 4 minutes, until the peel and currants
are evenly distributed and the dough has
become pliable but still pushes back when
you poke it with a finger.
Coat an 8-cup measuring cup or large
bowl with non-stick spray and drop in the
ball of dough, bottom up. Roll it over to coat
in oil then press it down gently so the surface
Cover tightly with plastic wrap that has
also been sprayed and put it in a warm
place—I use the sinkful of warm water for
this step, too.
Leave it alone until it is doubled — that’s
where the measuring cup comes in handy
because you should have started with pretty
close to 4 cups of dough and you should end
with 8. Allow one and a half hours. Don’t cut
it short and don’t go over the mark — either
could ruin the result.
Punch down the dough and knead lightly
for a minute or two. Divide into 12 portions.
Roll them in your hands — a little oil makes
the job easier — and form tight balls, pulling
the surface towards the bottoms so the tops
Place on a parchment paper lined baking
sheet about 1 inch apart and press down
with your fingers to flatten slightly.
Cover again with greased plastic wrap.
Allow to rise about an hour, until roughly
doubled, in a warm spot.
Preheat the oven to 375 F, 30 minutes
before you are ready to bake. Some cooks
cut a cross into the top of each bun with a
sharp knife, but I prefer the smooth surface
— your choice.
Whisk together the egg yolk and water
and very lightly brush the tops of the buns
with this mixture — a pastry brush is easier
but with a gentle touch your fingertips will
Place the rack in the middle of the oven
and bake 18 to 20 minutes, until golden
brown. While they are baking, combine the
honey and lemon juice. Place buns a cooling
While they are still warm, brush the tops
with the honey-lemon mixture. Stir together
melted butter, icing sugar, milk, vanilla,
lemon juice and salt.
If mixture is too stiff, add a little more
milk, but you don’t want it too runny, either.
Spoon into a plastic bag and cut off one
corner. Squeeze out the icing into a cross on
top of each cooled bun. You can just spread
it on top if you prefer, of course.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in
St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her c/o
The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John’s, NL, A1E 4N1.