Hot-cross buns, full of tasty dried fruits and spices, are a long-time British Easter tradition. Although I am not British I am from New England and grew up considering many British traditions my own. Thus, I have been making hot cross buns every spring for 25 years (ok – maybe a few more years than that, but who’s counting?).
This particular recipe is not your usual hot-cross bun recipe. It's much much better. All of the other recipes from past years, the ones with vanilla or citron or just a touch of cinnamon, faded into the background like Dorothy’s Kansas, while these hot-cross buns are the new, exciting, colorful Oz.
Most recipes call for plenty of warm spices like cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg. For this version though, I used ground mace. Mace is made from the lacy covering of the nutmeg and has a less pronounced, but just as unique, flavor.
Instead of the usual purchased candied fruit peel, I made my own Candied Meyer Lemon Peel. Candied orange peel would be good here, too.
And I used currents instead of raisins. Currents are sweet as raisins, with just a touch of tartness. They taste like a cross between raisins and lingonberries. Unlike raisins, currents really come into their own once they are cooked. Save the raisins for another recipe – this one lets the currents shine. And to top the rolls off, the icing was made using orange juice instead of milk, for an added boost of flavor.
Of course, what really sets this recipe apart from its numerous siblings is the use of ripe sourdough starter. Hot-cross buns are traditionally made with commercially prepared yeast. However, sourdough starter makes the buns sing with flavor. Do make sure that you use a starter made from white or Kamut® flour. A rye or whole-wheat starter will overpower the fruit and spices.
There are many ways to make a sourdough starter. I personally prefer to use the method found on my website Make Your Own Sourdough Starter. Over the years MOTHER EARTH NEWS has published several articles about making your own sourdough starter, including Creating Homemade Sourdough Bread From a Starter Mix, and a previous blog post, A Beginner’s Guide to Sourdough.
2 cups of ripe sourdough starter
3/4 cup milk
5 Tbsp butter, melted
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 1/2 – 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground mace
1/3 cup chopped, candied Meyer lemon peel
1/3 cup currents
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 Tbsp orange juice
In a large bowl or stand mixer bowl, combine the sourdough starter, milk, egg, and melted butter until well mixed. Add the flour, brown sugar, salt and spices and knead until dough is combined. Add currents and candied lemon peel. Knead until dough has a satiny sheen; 8-10 minutes by hand, about 5 minutes when using a stand mixer.
Divide dough into 12 pieces. Roll each into a ball and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Cover and let the buns rise in a warm place 2 – 3 hours. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Brush the tops of each bun with an egg wash made from 1 beaten egg and 1 Tbsp water. Snip the top of each bun with kitchen scissors if desired.
Bake for 20 – 30 minutes or until well-browned.
Remove rolls from baking pan and let cool on a rack. When the rolls are completely cool, combine the powdered sugar and orange juice and drizzle over the rolls, forming a cross.
Note: These buns will make the whole kitchen smell wonderful while baking. They are best served the same day as they are baked, but can be also be frozen (before adding the icing) and served at a later date. Keep the dough as soft as possible and don’t over-knead it. Buns, rolls, etc. don’t require as much mixing as a loaf of bread.
Does your family have an Easter or Passover baking tradition? Do you bake your own breads from an old family recipe or do you visit a favorite baker for holiday breads?