Sunday, April 19, 2009

136. Hot Cross Buns (p. 617)

I'm always amazed at how traditions and superstitions develop over the years. I've always seen hot cross buns in the supermarket bakery around Easter time, but I had no idea what a storied history they have. According to The Oxford Companion to Food and Larousse Gastronomique, these buns are traditionally cooked in England on Good Friday, but they trace their history much further back to the Saxons, who cooked buns in honor of Eostre, the goddess of light, and marked them with an X to represent the four quarters of the moon. Well, it turns out that Easter takes its name from Eostre, and the tradition of making X-marked buns came along with the name.

There are also a number of superstitions associated with these buns. They say that hot cross buns cooked on Good Friday won't get moldy. If you hang one in your kitchen, it's supposed to protect against fire in the coming year. (It's a good thing that they're supposed to be mold-resistant, since hanging a moldy piece of bread from the kitchen ceiling doesn't seem like a good idea, even if it does prevent fires.)

This recipe was the first of the yeast breads from The Book that I've made. First I warmed some milk and put it in a bowl with some yeast and sugar and let it sit for a few minutes until it got nice and foamy. Meanwhile, I sifted together some flour, allspice, cinnamon, salt and some more sugar in a bowl. Using my fingers, I worked in some butter until it was the texture of coarse meal. Then I made a small well in the flour mixture and poured in beaten egg and the yeast mixture. I added some golden raisins, currants and lemon and orange zest and stirred it until a dough formed. Well, I actualy stirred it until I thought that my wooden spoon was going to break, and then I switched to mixing it with my hands.

I turned the dough out onto my plastic pastry mat and kneeded it for about ten minutes. I formed it into a ball and put it into a large oiled glass mixing bowl and let it rise for a while. Then I kneeded it a bit more and divided it in two. I formed each half into a log and cut each log into twelve pieces. I formed each piece into a ball and put them on cookie sheets and let them rise some more.

After they had risen for a while more, I brushed each bun with an egg-and-sugar glaze and made a cross on the top of each bun with two strips of Basic Pastry Dough. This last step is a bit controversial. Teena thought that the pie crust crosses were "absurd," and Melissa skipped this step altogether. Most of the commenters on made the crosses out of icing instead of pastry dough. But, since I'm trying to do this Project "by The Book" as much as possible, and because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about, I used pastry dough. Would I do it again? It's apparently very traditional to use pastry dough to make the crosses, but without any sugar in the dough, it doesn't add anything to the flavor of the bun, and because it's so flaky, it kind of crumbled and fell off the bun when we cut or tore them in half. If I make these again, I'll use icing.

Other than that, these were pretty good. Like Teena said, these buns are pretty dense, almost like a bagel. She found this to be a negative, but I liked that the buns were "substantial." I really liked the flavor. They were sweet, but not too sweet. The raisins and currants were sweet and chewey. The lemon and orange zest gave the buns a nice zing. As I was making these, I was a little nervous that the recipe calls for so much allspice, 1 1/2 teaspoons. That seemed like an awful lot to me, but I thought that the finished buns were just right.

I made these for Easter dinner, and (aside from some comments that they'd be better off without the pastry dough) they were a hit. I brought the leftovers to work the next day, and they went fast. (Ten seconds in the microwave does wonders for the leftover buns.)

Date Cooked: April 11, 2009
Degree of Difficulty: Medium
Rating: B+

1 comment:

Melissa Bach Palladino said...

I knew those pastry crosses were a stupid idea! I'm glad I left them off. :-)