Hot Cross Buns

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Hot Cross Buns

Amy Scherber owns Amy's Bread in New York City.  Her latest book is Amy's Bread.

Amy's Hot Cross Buns

Hot Cross Buns

Makes 18 small buns

Be careful not to over bake these, or their delicate flavor will be lost.

1/2 cup very warm water (105º to 115ºF)
1 Tablespoon plus 3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
3 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsps kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup canola oil
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup warm milk (90F)
2/3 cup dried currants
1 large egg white, for egg wash
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla extract

1. Place the very warm water and yeast in a large bowl and stir with a fork to dissolve the yeast. Allow to stand for 3 minutes. 

2. Whisk the flour, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg together in a medium bowl. Using a wooden spoon, stir the eggs, oil, sugar, and warm milk into the yeast mixture. Gradually add the flour mixture, stirring until a shaggy mass forms and all of the flour is moistened.

3. Move the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead for 6 to 8 minutes, until it is silky-smooth and elastic. The dough is wet and sticky at first, but it becomes easier to work with as the gluten forms to make it springy and give it strength. Keep your hands and the table very lightly floured, using a dough scraper to lift the dough as needed. Shape the dough into a loose ball, cover it with oiled plastic wrap, and let it rest for 20 minutes to relax the gluten strands.

4. Flatten the dough and stretch it gently with your fingers to form a rectangle about ½ inch thick. Spread the dried currants evenly over the rectangle. Fold the dough into an envelope and knead gently for 2 to 3 minutes, until the currants are well distributed. The dough should be soft, smooth, and springy. If it resists, let it rest for 5 minutes and then continue kneading it.

5. Shape the dough into a loose ball and place it in a lightly oiled bowl. Turn to coat the dough with oil, and cover the bowl tightly with oiled plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature (75F to 77F) for 11/2 to 2 hours, or until the dough has doubled in volume. A finger pressed into the dough should leave an indentation that won’t spring back.

6. Line two 17 x 12-inch baking sheets with parchment paper. Pour the dough onto the floured work surface. Flour your hands lightly and divide the dough into 18 equal pieces weighing about 57 grams/2 ounces each. Shape into rolls and place 9 buns on each prepared baking sheet, leaving several inches between them so they won’t grow together as they rise. Cover loosely with oiled plastic wrap and let them rise about 1 hour or until almost doubled in volume. A finger pressed lightly into the dough will leave a slight indentation.

7. Whisk the egg white with a pinch of salt to make an egg wash. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

8. Thirty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 400F, and prepare the oven by placing a cast-iron skillet and a smaller pan (a mini loaf pan) on the floor of the oven or on the lowest possible rack in an electric oven. Place one oven rack in the top third of the oven and another in the bottom third. Fill a plastic water sprayer with water. Fill a teakettle with water to be boiled later, and have a metal 1-cup measure with a straight handle available near the kettle.

9. Five to 10 minutes before the buns are ready to bake, turn the water on to boil, and carefully place two or three ice cubes in the small loaf pan in the bottom of the oven. This helps to create moisture in the oven prior to baking.

10. When the buns are ready, a pair of kitchen scissors to cut a shal­low cross on the top of each one. Lightly brush them with the egg wash. (Reserve the remaining egg wash.) Place the pans in the oven. Pour 1 cup of boiling water into the skillet and immediately shut the oven door. After 2 minutes, quickly pour another 1/2 cup of boiling water into the skillet, then shut the oven door.

11. After 10 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 375F and rotate the pans to ensure even browning. Bake for another 5 to 10 minutes, until the buns have turned a nice golden brown and the surface feels slightly firm but not hard when you press it lightly. These rolls should have a thin soft covering, not a hard, crunchy crust. Transfer the rolls to a rack and let them cool for 10 minutes.

12. To make the frosting: in a small bowl, combine the powdered sugar with the reserved egg wash and the vanilla, and whisk to mix well. While the rolls are still warm, use a pastry bag fitted with a small plain tip, or a teaspoon, to make an X of frosting over the cross on each bun. The frosting will harden somewhat as the buns cool. These are best eaten the same day they are baked.