Thank you, Oz

Hot Cross Buns

Hot Cross Buns

The last stop before Grand Central Station on the Metro-North commuter train is 125th Street. Once passed, there is a sense of relief and anticipation that you’re almost “there” (that’s the relief)—but that “there” is our jumping, jiving city (that’s the anticipation).

In the case of the Easter and Good Friday holidays, the relief and anticipation are all about spring and summer and nice weather – an all too important consideration after the rough winter we’ve had this year.

Of course, at this time of year it is easy to get over confident about the weather, but Mother Nature tends to be a tricky, moody, old biddy, so we really don’t know what she has in store, but the days are just that much longer, and even the coldest mornings are just that much warmer.

Alongside seasonal weather changes are seasonal supermarket changes, for the spring heralds the arrival of the Passover food on your grocer’s doily-lined shelves, and Hot Cross Buns in the bakery section. The latter were always a curiosity to me. I had tried them and found that their spiced- icky, sticky bun-candied fruit allures held no sway over me. They always struck me as sticky buns gone wrong; bread that wanted to be fruitcake, but realized it had arrived four or five months too late and missed Christmas; dough that took the wrong path. (Has this gotten a bit film noir? Sorry.)

Purely out of a sense of duty then, I felt compelled to make Hot Cross Buns for this blog. My conscience was bothering me: can one write a baking-centric blog and ignore Hot Cross Buns? I think not.

So with that great burden weighing on me (heavy sigh), I started researching them. The great thing about the internet is that if you think it, someone, somewhere, has, at some point in time, written about it. I had an art professor in college – a tough cookie—who liked to say, “There truly is nothing new under the sun.” Surely he was talking about the internet too.

What the internet revealed to me filled me with a great deal of relief. I had expected the basic flavors and ingredients of Hot Cross Buns to be as tightly proscribed as the placement of medals on a military uniform. Turns out I was wrong. The only constants I found amongst all the variations were 1.) duh: there’s always a cross on the top (although not always sweet) and 2.) Hot Cross Buns are sweet.

While Hot Cross Buns may traditionally have been a Good Friday treat, in recent years they have broken off from their niche purpose and become a year-round bakery staple. If I ever needed an excuse to make the long trip down under to Australia (I didn’t), the revelation that the Aussies add chocolate chips to their Hot Cross Buns could certainly have been one. Bravo, Aussies, for that was the inspiration I needed to bring some enthusiasm to the project.

While the Aussies add more than just chocolate chips to their Hot Cross Buns, the allure of chocolate cannot be overstated. After reading this blog each week, my sister-in-law will often write me a short email consisting solely of the words, “Can I put chocolate on that?” I could write about sauerkraut and she would likely ask the same question, for, like me, chocolate is her cure-all. (I even crave it when I have, uh…digestive distress.) This week, the answer is a happy, “Yes, but there’s already chocolate there.”

The internet also revealed a bit of discussion about the texture of the buns. Should they be hearty and dense, or light and puffy? I have come down clearly on the side of light and puffy, and this dictated a lot of technical issues about the recipe. Light and puffy means two rises, and, because we want something just slightly sweet, a little richness in the ingredients is called for. While some bread doughs get by with only water and oil or butter, a whole egg plus a little milk and butter will give our Hot Cross Buns a supple richness that will support the sugar without making the gentle sweetness seem “thin.”

The result reminds me of the wonderful Parisian-inspired subtly sweet rolls they sell at the extraordinary Silver Moon Bakery on New York’s Upper West Side.

The process of baking bread seems intimidating to some, but the truth is, if you can plug in a Kitchen-Aid stand mixer you can bake bread. (Sounds like a sales pitch, no?) Measure a few ingredients, turn on the mixer, then leave the dough to rise. Yes, it can be three or four hours from plugging in the mixer to taking the Hot Cross Buns out of the oven. But you only work for about a half an hour. The rest of the time the yeast and your oven are doing the work. (Sorry, I shout this every time I bake any form of bread.)

I love a recipe that serves more than one purpose. It is a perverse form of recycling, but next week’s Hot Cross Buns could show up at a special holiday weekend breakfast next fall. (Well, not the same actual rolls. I’ll make a fresh batch.) All I have to do is make a squiggle with the icing instead of a cross.

But even that amount of change isn’t needed.

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Click here for my recipe for Hot Cross Buns.

…and don’t miss these great Passover recipes (they’re great any time of the year):

Coconut Macaroons

Passover Honey Cake

Torta di Mandorla per la Pasqua. (A very light Passover chocolate – almond torte)

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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