Wake up Christmas morning and pop this pretty-as-a-picture bread in the oven for a fresh-baked…
Hot Cross Buns remind me of this nursery rhyme, but besides the song which is from English literature, there are more traditions wrapped around these raisin-spice buns than the stripes on top. Typically served during lent and especially on Good Friday, the origin is a mix of Christian and Pagan traditions. Aztecs and Incas considered the buns a sacred food of the gods: to other ancient cultures the cross represented four quarters of the moon; others believed the cross held supernatural healing powers. Christians interpreted the ‘cross’ of icing as the cross of Jesus, and in the 12th century it’s said an Anglican monk placed the sign of the cross on buns to honor Good Friday, which at that time was known as “Day of the Cross”. There’s even the tradition that Hot Cross Buns were the only food one could eat on Good Friday.
Raisins or currants are characteristic to Hot Cross Buns, which set me to wondering about the history of raisins. Since I have created recipes for Sun-Maid, I checked with them. Their historical fact checking has found evidence of grape leaves in fossilized remains from roughly 12 million years ago, and earliest recorded mention of dried fruits on Mesopotamian tablets from 1700 BC. At that time dried fruits were used in breads and on spiced honey cakes for royalty. So, compared to the first dried fruits, hot cross buns in the 12th century are a relative new-comer!
For today’s baker, this Hot Cross Bun recipe is made with a dough you can let rise overnight in the refrigerator, then shape and bake in the morning. Or bake the rolls ahead, freeze, and set out for a few hours to thaw and lightly reheat for Good Friday and Easter gatherings.
Recipe adapted from Sun-Maid.
Recipe up-date: If you like an extra soft bun, try the Tangzhong method mentioned in the notes. It works great!
Hot Cross Buns
- 1 cup milk
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup salted butter, (1 cube) cut in pieces
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 pkgs. (1/4 oz each) instant or active dry yeast, or 4-1/2 tsp.
- 1 large egg
- scant 4 cups (510g) all-purpose flour, or up to 1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour. Measure flour lightly in measuring cups if not using a scale. Too much flour will make the rolls denser.
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 3/4 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. nutmeg, optional
- 1 cup natural or golden raisins or combination with chopped dried apricots
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 1 Tbsp. milk
- 1/2 tsp. vanilla
- Combine milk (minus 1/2 cup if using the Tangzhong method in note below), the water, butter and sugar in a saucepan or microwave-safe bowl or measuring cup. Heat to 110-115F. Butter doesn't have to fully melt. Pour into a mixing bowl or stand mixer bowl.
- Stir in yeast while liquid is warm. Let stand until bubbly, about 5 minutes.
- Add egg, 2 cups flour, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg to the yeast mixture. (If using Tzanghong method, add the slurry here). Beat with dough hook or wooden spoon until dough until smooth.
- Gradually mix in remaining flour, mixing until very smooth, about 3 minutes with dough hook. Stir in raisins. Dough will be soft and slightly sticky.
- Cover and let rise in warm place (70-75F is best) for one hour until about doubled in bulk. Or, cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight. If chilled, let stand at room temp about 1 hour before proceeding. If you're short on time, I've shaped directly from the refrigerator but the dough is easier to shape if not so cold.
- Punch down dough and divide into 20-22 equal pieces, about golf ball size. Or put the dough on a clean work surface and use a floured dough scraper to divide the dough. Roll into balls, tucking the raisins in as much as you can. Place on two parchment lined or well-greased baking sheets. Or in two 9-inch round lined or greased cake pans for pull-apart rolls.
- Mix egg yolk with 2 teaspoons water; brush on tops of dough balls. Let rise 30-60 minutes until slightly puffy and about 40% larger.
- Bake in preheated 375°F oven for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.
- Stir glaze ingredients to make a thick, smooth frosting like consistency. Scoop into a zip-top plastic sandwich bag and snip one corner. Squeeze in a cross over cooled rolls.