Sometime in elementary school, I believe around 3rd grade, I was taught to play the recorder in music class. I do not know why. Perhaps it was to introduce our young, nimble minds to the joys of music but it probably sounded more like a big, squawky nightmare. There’s a special place in heaven for elementary school music teachers and I’m sure it’s a very quiet place. For the unaware, the recorder is a plastic flute type instrument that comes in a little drawstring bag that we loved to swing around, often hitting each other upside the head. The most interesting part of this new toy (to my friends and I at least) was the plastic stick and cloth that came with it. We were told this was to clean out the spit that accumulated in the instrument during playing. Being 8 years old, this was equally disgusting and fascinating. We spent an inordinate amount of time cleaning our recorders.
Once I moved beyond the spit rag, I quickly mastered this little plastic instrument. Well, one song in particular. I was quite the one-hit maestro. So what was the tune? Why the ever popular, Hot Cross Buns, of course. In fact, to this day I can still rock out this 3-note wonder on a plastic recorder. Don’t tempt me. Hot cross buns, hot cross buns. One a penny, two a penny. Hot cross buns. I still got it.
As a kid, I’d get excited around Easter because the real hot cross buns would make an appearance in the bakery at our local supermarket (not to mention the onslaught of chocolate bunnies and marshmallow eggs.) I’ve always loved hot cross buns. Soft, lightly spiced rolls with a sweet icing cross. Sometimes that “X” was made with weird gooey lemon stuff or an even stranger rubbery custard substance. There were raisins inside certainly and sometimes that odd chewy unidentifiable fruit that shows up in fruitcakes. Yet, I gobbled them up just the same. I still do but like most things these days, it’s getting harder to find the good ones.
My attempts at hot cross buns have been rather disappointing. I’ve made some real clunkers. This year I decided to finally get it right. No more goopey crosses and the lightly spiced equivalent of squishy white bread. And no unidentifiable fruit. I had a project.
I adore homemade candied orange peel but didn’t want to take the time to make my own so I simplified things by adding orange zest to the dough and soaking some currants in the juice to plump them up and impart a delicious flavor. I enriched the dough with some milk, eggs and butter and also added a lovely mix of spices – cloves, allspice, cinnamon and ginger. The mixing technique is a bit unusual, more like making a cake than a bread dough, but I found it works best. With a light sugar glaze added halfway through baking and an icing cross made with powdered sugar (no strange rubbery stuff), I finally have my hot cross bun. They’re delicious.
Now that I have these mastered, I think I’m going to root around in my basement for that old recorder. My neighbors will be thrilled. And if I can’t find it, there’s always Amazon. Such a selection! A Strawberry Shortcake recorder anyone? Anyone?
STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: Two sticky thumbs up! Baking from a memory is so very soul satisfying. Most especially when it turns out better than you remember. These are perfect to bring to an Easter brunch and make everyone smile. Though this may seem a little weird with the icing and all, I bet they’d make a fantastic sandwich with leftover Easter ham.
HOT CROSS BUNS
Makes 12 buns
A quick hint – zest the oranges before juicing them. For ¼ cup juice, you’ll need 1 large or 2 medium oranges.
for the dough:
¼ cup orange juice
½ cup currants (or raisins)
1 package of active dry yeast (or 2 ¼ teaspoons)
½ cup whole milk
2 ½ cups all-purpose unbleached flour
½ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 Tablespoons sugar
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cold cut into ½” pieces (¾ stick/3oz )
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons orange zest
for the glaze:
3 Tablespoons sugar
2 Tablespoons hot water
for the icing:
½ cup powdered sugar
1 ½ teaspoons water
½ teaspoon milk
- For the dough: In a small saucepan bring the currants and the orange juice to a boil and let steep, off heat, for 15-30 minutes, until softened.
- Strain the remaining juice from the currants and let cool.
- In a small bowl stir together milk and yeast, and let mixture stand 5 minutes or until foamy.
- In the bowl of a standing mixer, combine the flour, allspice, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, salt and sugar.
- Add the cubed butter and mix with the paddle attachment on medium-high speed until the butter pieces break up and the mixture resembles coarse meal.
- On medium speed, add the yeast mixture, strained cooled orange juice, orange zest and egg/egg yolk. Mix until combined.
- Add the currants and mix until just combined.
- Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead to evenly distribute the currants and bring the mixture together.
- First rise: Spray the work bowl with cooking spray, place the dough back in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, cozy place until doubled – about 1 ½ hours.
- Line a sheet pan with parchment paper, a Silpat mat or butter well.
- Shape: On a floured surface with floured hands knead dough briefly and form into a 12” log.
- Cut the log crosswise into 12 equal pieces.
- Form each piece into a ball and arrange about 1 ½” apart on prepared sheet pan.
- Second rise: Let the buns rise, covered, in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- With a sharp knife, make a cross in each bun.
- Bake: for 15 minutes.
- While the buns are baking make the glaze – dissolve the sugar in the hot water and set aside.
- Glaze: After 15 minutes of baking, brush the buns with a pastry brush, evenly coating each bun with the sugar glaze.
- Rotate the pan and bake for an additional 10 minutes until golden brown.
- Let cool for at least 10 minutes, while you make the icing.
- For the icing: a small bowl, combine the powdered sugar, water and milk; whisk until combined.
- Transfer the mixture to a Ziploc bag, seal and cut off one corner.
- Pipe icing into the crosshatch on each bun.
- Let cool until icing sets.
- Buns best consumed the day they’re made but keep, tightly wrapped, for 2-3 days or longer in the freezer.