I am so excited the way these Hot Cross buns turned out. This is my first time baking them, rather first time baking any kind of buns. So had all my doubts whether I am using the correct proportion of flour, yeast and water? Am I kneading the dough right and have I kept it for a sufficient time in the refrigerator? Is the oven pre-heated fine and I hope I am not going to burn these? That will be terrible after all the planning that I have been doing to ensure that they are ready to be baked first thing in the morning when I get up today.
Now the reason I say planning is because besides being a Good Friday tradition, these buns bring back the good times during my school days. In particular, there is a quaint little bakery called “Royal Bakery” near my school where they used to sell the most awesome, best ever hot cross buns piping hot and fresh from the oven. There was a plump and jolly old Parsi man who used to run the bakery then and he was the man driving the whole exercise. Really on Good Friday hordes of people would crowd the bakery as early as 7:30 a.m to buy the buns. The bakery would keep baking buns in batches throughout the day and everyone would be eagerly awaiting to buy a fresh batch right from the oven. On my last visit to the bakery, I heard the jolly old baker had passed away and I literally had a tear in my eye. The first question that came to my mind was “Who takes care of baking the Hot Cross buns on Good Friday now?”
Mr. Baker would only bake these buns on Good Friday. Once I was out-of-town the week of Good Friday and went in the following week to check if he had any buns. In a rather bellowing voice he said “ Hot Cross Buns baked and sold to the nation, lady. Everything only on Good Friday here.” And then suddenly he goes inside and comes out with a beaming smile and a brown bag in one hand. He hands me the brown bag and says “Four is all I have. So you can buy these.” Yay!!! I was thrilled since I had not missed my share of hot cross buns for that year :) As a matter of fact, I was reading this wonderful site and look what I found on hot cross buns – Read the below excerpt. I think I now know why Mr. Baker made them only on Good Friday. Click here for the entire link.
“Superstitions regarding bread that was baked on Good Friday date back to a very early period. In England particulary, people believed that bread baked on this day could be hardened in the oven and kept all year to protect the house from fire…………. In England nowadays, hot cross buns are served at break are served at breakfast on Good Friday morning. They are small, usually spiced buns whose sugary surface is marked with a cross. The English believe that hanging a hot cross bun in the house on this day offers protection from bad luck in the coming year.…..”
—Holiday Symbols and Customs, Sue Ellen Thompson, 3rd edition [Omnigraphics:Detroit] 2003, (p. 233)
I know the traditional English buns are sweet , soft and buttery filled with currants, raisins and spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. And these days I have seen new additions like chocolate, nuts, apricots and other dried fruit. I however decided to make them savory with herbs, onions and cheese (Some of my favorite combinations). Don’t get me worong – I love the sweet ones. No I really love eating the sweet buns – They especially bring back such fond memories of Mr. Baker :) . But for the purpose of experimenting, I decided to go with the savoury option this time now.
The ingredients and mix I made are pretty straight forward as if you are trying to bake some flavored bread – Only thing that you shape the dough into small buns. However my biggest worry were the crosses – What if the dough gets over baked and burnt in the oven? I really hoped I could see the white crosses once I got them out of the oven.
For the buns:
300 grams all purpose flour
100 grams wholemeal flour
2 teaspoons yeast
1 cup milk
3-4 fresh rosemary sprigs
Bunch of spring onions finely chopped
120 grams good quality parmigiano reggiano cheese grated
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
For the crosses:
All purpose flour
On the previous night, first mix in the flour, yeast and milk in one bowl to form a sticky mixture. In a separate bowl mix in the chopped rosemary, spring onions, grated cheese, honey, olive oil, salt and black pepper to form a consistent mixture. Then add it to the sticky dough and fold the mixture for a while until all the ingredients are mixed in well. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate over night for about 10-12 hours.
The next day the dough would have risen. Now put it in on a floured surface and break it into round balls – about 9-10. Roll them quickly and lay on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. The dough will be sticky so work on in it quickly. Cover with a slightly wet towel and set aside for about 2 hours. These buns will now start rising. I actually made only 6 round buns and as a result after 2 hours the buns had risen so much that they all were literally sticking to each other breathing for air :) So guess I should have evenly distributed them better by creating about 10 instead of 6, I guess.
In the meanwhile take some all purpose flour, water and start working on the crosses. Knead the dough. You want it to be stiff. Roll a small ball of the kneaded dough and cut thin rectangular strips to put as a cross over the buns before popping them in the oven. Once the strips have been laid on the buns, preheat the oven and bake at 180 degree centigrade for about 30-35 minutes.
The buns turned out more squarish and flatter rather than round as I had wanted them to be. Anyway better luck next time on that I guess. I hope I have not defied any English tradition by making them savory and infusing Italian flavors like the cheese and herbs instead of making them sweet with currants. They were delish though and we enjoyed them with scrambled eggs for breakfast. Guess butter and jam spread on them with hot coffee will make a good snack as well.
I think other savoury combos like sun-dried tomatoes, mustard, different varieties of cheeses and other herbs would also perhaps do well. Let me know if any of you guys do try this. Or any ideas and suggestions to improve my bread making skills ? Like I said I have never baked any kind of buns before. Happy Easter everyone !!