Over the past week or so, a half dozen people have said to me – mostly in passing – please tell me you have a hot cross bun recipe! Which makes me partly wonder why there’s such desperation for a good recipe, and whether or not people actually do make them from scratch, or just like the idea of making their own. A hot cross bun will always in my mind be cinnamon-heavy and come from a bag, with a soft, squishy supermarket texture and rubbery not-really-icing crosses, that are only really worth eating when toasted and heavily buttered. I’ve made a few good batches in the past, but nothing worthy of looking forward to year after year.
Despite their carbiness and spices and dried fruit, most hot cross buns do not live up to their potential. (Mostly – no offense to anyone’s buns.) But a cinnamon-raisin bun should be delicious.
And so I thought it would be a good idea to take a new stab at the hot cross bun, to relieve it of its packaged grocery-store image, even free it (somewhat) from its traditional bun form. Maybe get it together with a cinnamon bun and see what happens. Maybe douse small wads of dough in cinnamon-sugar and bake them cuddled together in a muffin cup so that you can pull the pieces apart and eat them with your fingers, your other hand wrapped around a steaming coffee whilst the kids run around the living room searching for Peeps?
It seemed like a good idea.
The dough itself is loaded with raisins and candied citrus peel – or citron – I like this better than the bits of glacé mix, which I’m sure I’ve mentioned before is often made of brightly coloured rutabaga. Any dried fruit goes – chopped dried apricots, cherries, cranberries – you could scatter them between the balls of dough as you pile them, but I kneaded them in to protect them from the heat of the oven. (Raisins don’t like to get burnt.)
As soon as they come out, a bit of sugar stirred into a bit of water and brushed overtop gives them a nice shine. Don’t let the length of the recipe intimidate you – it’s all easy stuff.
And the glaze! You can drizzle it (or squeeze it out of a zip-lock baggie) into crosses if you like – or go all Jackson Pollock on your buns. This is my favourite part – everything looks better spattered in icing. (Except me.)
And it won’t be weird at all to keep on making these even when it doesn’t happen to be Easter. If you’re not a fan of candied citron, stick with raisins. Or use orange zest and swap the dried fruit for chunks of dark chocolate, then use OJ in the drizzle. Or make them with dark chocolate and dried cherries, with vanilla in the drizzle. See? Hot cross buns have potential.
Because the best part about Easter weekend is lounging with something warm and baked while watching the cousins’ Easter egg hunger games.
Cinnamon-Raisin Hot Cross Pull-apart Buns
Because these were inspired by this recipe, the dough has instant potato flakes in it, which I only happened to have as a prop for a food styling gig. (I knew we may need some quick mashed potatoes on the set.) I’m quite certain they’d work as well without – they didn’t make a noticeable difference.
1/2 cup lukewarm milk
1/2 cup lukewarm water
3 Tbsp. sugar (white or brown)
2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup instant potato flakes (optional)
1 large egg
1/4 cup butter, at room temperature
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup raisins (dark, golden or both)
1/3 cup candied citron (optional)
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. water
1/2 cup icing sugar
1 Tbsp. milk or cream
1/4 tsp. vanilla (optional)
Put the warm milk and water in a large bowl, and sprinkle a pinch of the sugar and all of the yeast overtop; let sit for 5 minutes, until it gets foamy. Add the flour, potato flakes, egg, butter and salt and blend until you have a sticky dough; add the raisins and candied citron and knead (in your stand mixer with a dough hook or on a lightly floured countertop) until smooth and elastic. It should be slightly tacky. Place in a greased bowl, cover with a tea towel and let sit for an hour, until doubled in bulk.
Punch down the dough and divide it into 12 pieces – I find this easiest to do by cutting it in half, then each half in half, then each piece in three. Then take each piece and cut it into about 6 pieces – this is easy to do with a dough scraper/bench knife, and they don’t all have to be equal.
Line 12 muffin tins with paper liners and spray the papers with nonstick spray. Mix the sugar and cinnamon together in a small bowl and roll each piece of dough in it to coat, then place in the tins – so you’ll have about 6 pieces in each tin. Sprinkle the remaining cinnamon sugar overtop.
Cover loosely with a tea towel and let sit for another hour. Toward the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F.
Bake for about 20 minutes, until golden. In a small dish, stir together the sugar and water and brush/dab over the tops of the buns while they’re still warm. Stir together the icing sugar and milk or cream and drizzle over the cooled buns.
Makes 12 pull-apart hot cross buns.