16 April, 2011

April recipe: Hot cross buns

Hot cross buns!
Hot cross buns!
One a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns
If you have no daughters, give them to your sons
One a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns
--Traditional rhyme

Another version uses ‘one ha-penny, two ha-penny’, ha-penny meaning half a penny. The variant I know was evidently coined in more inflationary days :-) I have no idea of the significance of the line about daughters and sons, if indeed it has any beyond a convenient rhyme and scan. Feel free to speculate.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the earliest recorded use of the phrase ‘hot cross bun’ is in 1733:

Good Friday comes this Month, the old woman runs With one or two a Penny hot cross Bunns.
--Oxford English Dictionary

It seems likely to me that some form of enriched sweet bread baked to celebrate a spring festival goes back a lot further than 1733, though in the absence of evidence you can choose your own favourite theory about the origin of the recipe and the significance of the cross. Wikipedia has a few to choose from. It would be terribly prosaic to suggest that two intersecting cuts across the top of a loaf may have started out as a convenient way of dividing it into four pieces.

There are as many variants of hot cross buns as there are cooks. You can vary the dried fruit (some recipes even substitute chocolate chips), you can vary the spices, you can glaze the buns with honey or icing, and the cross can be marked with pastry, flour-and-water-paste, icing or simply slashed with a knife. Take your pick. Here’s my recipe, and a happy Easter to you when it comes.

Hot cross buns

Half a cup (about 2 fluid ounces, or abut 50 ml) tepid water
1 teaspoon (1 x 5 ml spoon) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons (2 x 5 ml spoons) dried yeast*
1 lb (approx 450 g) strong white flour
2 oz (approx 50 g) light brown soft sugar
2 oz (approx 50 g) butter
2 teaspoons (2 x 5 ml spoons) ground mixed spice
0.5 teaspoon (0.5 x 5 ml spoon) salt
2 oz (approx 50 g) sultanas
1 oz (approx 25 g) currants
1 oz (approx 25 g) cut mixed peel**
1 egg
Milk to mix

Dissolve the granulated sugar in the tepid water and sprinkle the yeast on top. Set aside in a warm place for about 20 minutes until frothy on top. (If using the kind of dried yeast that needs no activation, follow the instructions on the packet).

Mix the light brown soft sugar, flour, salt and spices in a bowl, and rub in the butter. Stir in the dried fruit and peel.

Pour in the yeast liquid, then the beaten egg. Mix well. Add milk until the mixture forms a soft dough. (If it is floury and flaky, add a little more milk. If it is sticky, you have added too much milk; add a bit more flour).

Turn the dough onto a floured work surface and knead for a few minutes until smooth.

Put the dough back in the bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and leave in a warm place to rise for about 1 hour. It should roughly double in size.

Knead again for a few minutes, then shape the dough into 12 buns. Place the buns on a greased baking sheet so they are just touching. Make two intersecting cuts with a knife on the top of each bun to form a cross.

Cover with a damp cloth and leave to rise in a warm place for about 1 hour.

Bake in a hot oven, about 220 C, for about 20-25 minutes until golden brown.

Cool on a wire rack. If liked, brush the tops of the warm buns with honey to make them sticky.

Serve warm or cold, with butter. Any left over will keep for a day or so in an airtight tin, or can be frozen.

*This is the kind of dried yeast you have to activate in warm water before using.
**Cut mixed peel is the UK name. I think it may be called ‘candied citrus peel’ or similar in the US..


Rick said...

Judging from the OED, the price always varied!

I can't even begin to speculate about daughters and sons.

Gabriele Campbell said...

Hey, I don't need any sweet temptations after 11 days of dessert buffets on the cruise ship. ;)

Carla said...

Rick - and talking of inflation, the local bakery was advertising them at 4 for £2.30 the other day :-)

Gabriele - welcome back, and I hope you had a lovely holiday! (Edit: just looked at your photo posts, and it seems you did). Hot cross buns aren't especially sweet, unless you eat them with jam :-)

Gabriele Campbell said...

I certainly did. :)

BTW, here's blog you might find interesting.

Carla said...

Gabriele - thanks for the link. Looks fascinating for anyone into medieval food, and who knows Song of Ice and Fire well enough to get all the references :-)