Don’t you just love the smell of fresh bread warm from the oven?
Me too. Especially those little Easter buns with currents and old fashioned spices and sticky butter on top. I don’t remember eating Hot Cross Buns when I was a little girl but, for some reason, the warm spicy flavor and yeasty aroma seem to call to me every springtime. Dare I say that they are in my DNA?
The rich history and colorful traditions of the little buns are a definite bonus when Easter rolls around and I’m trying to decide what to bake for brunch. But, until recently, I had no idea that Hot Cross Buns had anything to do with me. After spending many years of insomnia filled nights pecking around on the computer and tracing my family roots, I have found a distant grandfather directly tied to Hot Cross Buns. I know! It’s great! A foodie like me with bread in my history… who would have guessed?
Apparently, the dangerous little buns became especially popular in Northern England during the Tudor era. Fearing the symbolism of the cross cut into the bun and defiance to his laws, the buns were declared illegal by Henry VIII. Later, they were made legal by his daughter Mary and illegal again (except Easter and Christmas) by Elizabeth I. Well… so was Granddad! Granddad was declared a fugitive for teaching Catholicism by Henry VIII. After finding himself on both sides of the law (just like the little buns) King James declared Granddad an outlaw and beheaded him right there on the public square. On the steps of the York Cathedral to be exact … the hot bed of the War of the Roses, Catholic uprisings and dangerous little buns.
Now, how’s that for a foodie family history minute? I’ve obviously never met Granddad (Bl. Thomas Welbourne) and I don’t consider myself English but… I sure do love those Hot Cross Buns. I’ve made loads of them the last few Easters and stuck them in the freezer for later—for anytime I need a warm, homey feeling treat.
It’s Good Friday today. That means there is plenty of time to make Hot Cross Buns this weekend. Don’t worry, you don’t have to be Catholic (I’m not) and you don’t even have to celebrate Easter (I do) to love these little treats.
I like to make mine as traditional as possible so I bake the “cross” into the bun. Piping icing on top after they are finished is a modern addition. I also like to use the traditional English mixed spice. It’s a little difficult to find so I included a recipe for it. The mix does include seven different spices so, if you don’t have all of them in your cupboard, or you don’t want to buy a spice that you don’t use often, please feel free to use the spices you do have. If you do want to add a new spice to your cabinet, consider buying mace. You can often find it in small bottles. I think it gives the most “English” taste of the spices. Don’t worry about not being able to use it again, mace is wonderful in sweet bread and cookies, especially holiday breads.
- ½ cup orange juice
- ½ dried currants
- ¼ cup warm water
- 1 envelope dry yeast
- ½ cup milk
- ¼ cup plus one teaspoon sugar, divided
- ½ cup butter
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 3 to 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon mixed spice (recipe follows)
- 1 cup additional flour
- ½ cup additional water
- ½ cup additional melted butter for brushing the buns
- 1 tablespoon honey
- For Orange Marmalade Butter
- 1 cup butter, softened
- ¼ cup orange marmalade
- Heat orange juice to a simmer in a small saucepan, pour over currants and set aside.
- Pour warm water, yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar into a large mixing bowl. Until the sugar dissolves and the yeast begins to bubble, about 10 minutes.
- Scald the milk in a saucepan over medium heat until little bubbles appear around the edges of the milk. Remove from heat. Add the remaining sugar and ½ cup butter, stir until melted then add salt and beaten eggs. When the mixture has cooled to luke warm, pour into the yeast mixture.
- Add mixed spice to 2 cups flour and combine. Stir milk into the flour mixture.
- Drain the currants and stir into the mixture.
- Work ¾ cup flour into the mixture to make a sticky dough. If the dough does not come together to form a ball, add remaining flour ¼ cup at a time. The dough should be moist and sticky, it may not require all of the flour.
- Remove the dough from the bowl and kneed lightly to shape into a ball.
- Butter the bowl and return the dough to the bowl. Turn the dough over so that all sides are coated with butter.
- Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until double in size, 1 to 1½ hours.
- Turn out the dough onto a very lightly covered surface. Stretch or roll the dough to ½ inch thick. Cut out the dough with a 2½ inch biscuit cutter. Form each circle into a ball by drawing the edges into the middle and pinching edges together. Cup your hand over the ball of dough and roll in circular motion until the dough forms a smooth ball. Place 1 inch apart on a greased cookie sheets or in a round, greased cake pans. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 1 hour.
- Meanwhile, mix the remaining cup flour and water into a paste. Pour into a pipping bag or zip top bag with a very small whole cut in one corner.
- Mix the remaining butter and honey and heat in the microwave until it begins to bubble.
- When the dough has risen, cut a cross in the top of the buns with a sharp knife. Pipe a thin line of flour paste into the cross of each bun.
- Brush the top of the buns with a little melted butter without getting the butter on the flour paste.
- Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown.
- Heat the remaining butter and honey together until bubbly. Baste the warm buns with the honey mixture.
- Remove the buns from the baking sheet and serve with Orange Marmalade Butter.
- Orange Marmalade Butter
- Mix butter and marmalade together and chill until ready to use.
- Mixed Spice
- tablespoon ground allspice
- tablespoon ground cinnamon
- tablespoon ground nutmeg
- teaspoons ground mace
- teaspoon ground cloves
- teaspoon ground coriander
- teaspoon ground ginger
- Blend together and store in an airtight container.
I hope you like this recipe. Give it a try and let me know what you think.
—posted by Sandy
If you’d like to put a different spin on these traditional buns, here are some recipes you might like to try:
Hot Cross Easter Bunny Buns by Just Hungry
Hot Cross Biscuits by Joy the Baker
Hot Cross Buns with Dark Chocolate and Dried Cherries by Cookin’ Canuck
Hot Cross Buns with White Chocolate, Dates and Pistachios by Chocolate and Zuccchini