These doughy, raisin-studded delights are traditionally eaten during Lent, especially in the week leading up to Easter. Marked with an icing or dough cross on top, they've been a holiday staple of some communities for centuries. (Versions of the hot cross bun even appeared in ancient Greece.) Given the baked good's long history, legends and superstitions have had ample time to develop and grow around them.
Here is my favorite recipe:
1/2 cup raisins, currants, or craisins + 1 cup boiling hot water
3/4 cup very warm milk, divided into 1/2 cup and 1/4 cup (I used whole milk, 2% is fine)
1/2 cup white sugar + 1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 cup (4 Tbsp) unsalted butter, softened 15 seconds in microwave
1/2 tsp salt
1 envelope active dry yeast (about 3/4 Tbsp or 2 1/4 tsp) – I used Red Star Yeast
2 large eggs, well beaten
3 1/2 cups unsifted all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp (a large pinch) ground nutmeg
For the Egg Wash:
1 egg, well beaten with 1 tsp water
For the Glaze:
1/2 cup powdered sugar mixed with 2 1/2 tsp Milk
1- In a small bowl, combine ½ cup raisins/craisins with 1 cup boiling hot water. Let sit 10 min then drain well and set aside.
2- In a large measuring cup, combine ¼ cup very warm milk with ½ tsp sugar and sprinkle ¾ Tbsp yeast over the top. Stir and let sit at room temp until bubbly and doubled in volume (10 min).
3- In a large mixing bowl (I use my KitchenAid mixer), combine ½ cup very warm milk with ½ cup sugar, 4 Tbsp softened butter and ½ tsp salt. Stir until butter is melted. Add 2 well beaten eggs and proofed yeast mixture. Stir in ¼ tsp ground cinnamon and pinch of ground nutmeg.
4- Using the dough hook attachment mix in 3½ cups flour, 1 cup at a time until soft dough forms. Knead 8-12 min or until smooth and elastic. Dough will still stick a little to the bowl but not to your fingers.
5- Add drained raisins/craisins (pat them dry with paper towels if they still seem too wet) and transfer dough to a large buttered bowl, turning it to bring the buttered side-up. Cover with a tea towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free room 1½ hours or until doubled in volume (you can also proof in a warm 100˚F oven).
6- Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and cut in half then continue cutting dough until you have 12 equal sized pieces. Roll dough into balls and transfer to a buttered 9x13" baking pan. Cover with a tea towel and let them sit in a warm, draft-free room 30 min until puffed.
7- Now you should preheat your oven to 375˚F. Generously brush the tops with egg wash and bake for 15-17 minutes or until tops are golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool in the pan.
Once buns are just warm (not hot), stir together the ½ cup powdered sugar and about 2½ tsp milk. You can add more powdered sugar to thicken it up if needed. Transfer glaze to a ziploc bag, cut off the tip of the bag and pipe a cross shape over each of the buns. Serve warm or at room temperature.
If kneading by hand, use a wooden spoon to stir at step 4, then turn out onto a well-floured surface and knead 8-12 min using just enough flour to prevent sticking to your hands.
Happy Easter – Felices Pascuas
Chef Martin Lopez