Well really, most of the hot cross buns I've had have not been all that wonderful. I don't suppose I've ever really had any from a particularly good bakery, and I associate them with a sort of supermarket cottony kind of sweetroll. Nonetheless, I have a strange fondness for them, toasted, possibly also buttered, with a cup of tea.
I wonder why I know they are supposed to be eaten on Good Friday, when this was not a holiday we observed in my childhood. My mother was always one for very restrained sweet treats- a plain cookie, at the most a "garibaldi"-a flat raisiny biscuit- was as far as she would go towards dessert, or sweet snack, in the absence of a special occasion. The presence of raisins, candied peel, and a tiny bit of icing, sketched on top, took the hot cross bun just out of the realm of the ordinary, and into the category of a small thrill.
Sooo, since I'm stuck on the topic of small breads anyway, I thought I'd have a shot at making some really nice hot cross buns. I wound up making them twice. My first effort, seen in the second picture here, was not what I had in mind, being a heavier, more scone-like item. Apparently, although I'd never had a really good hot cross bun in my life, and although the first set was tasty, there was lurking in my brain a hypothetical, idealized hot cross bun. And the first , from Nick Malgieri's Baker's Tour , was not that bun.
It is quite probable that the first lot would have been fine, if I hadn't deviated from the recipe. I used a bit of white whole wheat flour in place of a small part of the allpurpose flour. There is a picture in the book in which the buns look far smoother than these, and more like the HCB of my imagination. Everything else I've made from this book has turned out well, tasted fine, and looked the way it was supposed to. And, as I said, these were quite tasty and they have all been eaten for breakfasts, despite being slightly heartier than one might wish. If I were a sensible person, I might have tried the recipe a second time, and followed it closely. Instead, I decided, quite unscientifically, to try a different recipe. The second recipe, which you see on top, was from Bernard Clayton's Small Breads.
I had already used up my small supply of nice, soft, european candied peels in my first batch of buns. I picked up some more candied orange peel at the Iggle*, but when opened, it proved pellet-like and dire. So, I substituted some Sunmaid mixed dried fruit, chopped-it was much nicer, though the taste was slightly different. (Not so's you'd really notice, the dough being so spicy.)
To make my slightly adapted version you need:
eggs, separated 2
butter melted 2 tbsp
sugar 1/4 cup
instant yeast 2 tsps
salt 1 tsp
flour 2 1/2 cups
milk 1/2 cup
ground cloves 1/4 tsp
nutmeg-pref freshly ground 1 tsp
diced candied peel or dried fruit 1/4 cup
dried zante currants 1/2 cup
Glaze: 1 egg yolk, beaten with water
Icing- a bit of confections sugar, mixed with lemon juice or water (or lime juice-which I used, to notable effect, I thought-very nice), and put in a little plastic ziploc bag.
In a small bowl, mix together the sugar, egg yolks, milk (room temp), and melted butter (cooled). In the bowl of a stand mixer,with the whisk, beat the egg whites to soft peaks. Transfer to a small bowl. Put the mixer bowl back on the mixer, with the paddle on, and combine 2 cups of the flour, the spices, the yeast, and the salt. Add liquids, and mix on medium, until combined. Add egg whites, and combine. Mix in the fruit and currants, until evenly distributed. Add the 1/2 cup reserved flour, and put the dough hook on the mixer. Knead on medium, with hook for about 6-8 minutes. The dough is slightly sticky.
Generously butter a medium bowl, transfer the dough to it, cover and let rise til doubled. This takes about an hour and a half. Cut the dough into 15 pieces. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Form each piece of dough into a round, by pulling the sides down to the bottom of the round, and pinching the dough together. You are trying to pull a thin skin of dough around the slightly swollen center. Try to deflate it as little as possible.
Before setting each roll on the parchment, swipe it gently over the buttery surface of the rising bowl. Cover with parchment, and let it rise until doubled, about 1 hour, meanwhile preheating the oven to 375F. Brush each roll with the yolk glaze, and press the back of a knife blade into each roll twice, forming an indented cross. Bake til nicely browned- about 20 minutes. Cool on a rack. Cut a tiny corner off the baggie with the icing, and pipe a cross into the indentation on each bun. Let it set up- it won't take long.
These are really charming little buns-not very sweet, spicy, light but chewy-in short, just what I had in mind. Fresh, they are great with some tea in a china cup...when they get stale, I'll split, toast and butter them, and have them for breakfast.
*note: "Iggle" is Pittsburghese for "Giant Eagle", a phrase meaning "pretty much the only supermarket in town."