25 March 2013

Hot Cross Bun Loaf for Easter Brunch

Hot Cross Bun Loaf
I love everything about spring! It is a time of renewal when everything seems to come alive!!!!! The days are longer and the markets begin to burst with the colours of  bountiful fruits and vegetables of the pending season. It will soon be time to enjoy fresh rhubarb, the pop of a fresh garden pea and lightly sauteed furled fiddleheads. Spring is the season for asparagus and escarole and a wide variety of lettuce hand plucked from the garden for the perfect green salad. The delightful fragrance of chives, mint, chervil and tarragon fill the air to season our dishes. The forsythia and magnolia are in full bloom so all of these tastes of Spring will soon be bursting from our gardens, forests, markets and window boxes. If I sound over zealous, it is because I am! 

The Easter holiday is the perfect time to celebrate all this lovely bright optimism. I remember past seasons when as young girls growing up my sister and I would wear our latest Spring finery and Easter bonnets for celebrations with our family and neighbours. Fast forward to motherhood and I have visions of the bright rosy cheeked face of my own daughter whose face lit up like the sunny faced daffodils surrounding her as she scoured the gardens for Easter eggs and played hide and seek among the willows. The one thread that ties these memories together with the present is the heavenly spicy fragrance of a traditional British currant-studded Easter treat.  Hot Cross Buns graced the table Easter morning piping hot, fresh from the oven and filling the air with their comforting spicy aroma. The perfect bun is sticky and sweet on the outside and soft and moist on the inside packed full of real fruit goodness and a hint of mixed spice.

Despite their deep-rooted and well-revered history, the delightful simplicity of these seasonal treats is often forgotten. Back in the early eighteenth century street vendors cries rang out through the streets of towns and villages in England every Good Friday. They were hugely popular. People ran from their homes to buy warm Hot Cross Buns from the baker’s baskets as they passed by and would keep a bun drying in their kitchen all year to bring the household good luck.

Although they have been a Lenten and Good Friday tradition for centuries, Hot Cross Buns were not always associated with Christianity. Their origins lie in pagan traditions of ancient cultures, with the cross representing the four quarters of the moon. Eventually the Christian church adopted the buns and re-interpreted the icing cross. Queen Elizabeth 1 even passed a law banning the consumption of Hot Cross Buns except during festivals such as Easter and Christmas and at funerals.

All the best Hot Cross Buns are made from a traditional recipe, passed down for generations, mixed and shaped by hand and topped with a cross made from pastry strips, just as they have been for centuries. The sweet, buttery, yeast-leavened buns are dotted with currants and a little candied citrus peel and spiced just right with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves. Why not modernize them and used dried cranberries, or dried papaya, mango or pineapple instead of candied peel.

You can begin an Easter tradition in your own home. If you have not made Hot Cross Buns before you will be amazed by the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction baking them brings. Previous years I have made these ahead of time, frozen them and then reheated them in the oven for a few minutes just before serving time. They come out beautifully!

This year I decided to shake things up a bit and make a currant studded loaf instead based on a recipe from Williams and Sonoma. Toasted slices slathered in butter will satisfy any cravings you might have. To the filling you could add any peel or dried fruit that you desire.

If you still have your heart set on classic hot cross buns, after the dough has risen the first time, divide it into 12 to 16 equal pieces (depending on how big you want the buns to be) and roll each into a ball. Space the rolls out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and let rise until doubled. Bake until golden brown, about 18 minutes.

**Hot Cross Bun Loaf**

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup whole milk
1⁄4 cup granulated sugar
1 package active dry yeast
4 cups all-purpose flour
3⁄4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1⁄8 teaspoon ground allspice
1⁄8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup dried currants
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest

For the filling:

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2⁄3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 egg white, beaten with a little warm water

For the glaze (optional):

1⁄2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon pure white vanilla extract
1 teaspoon whole milk

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Stir in the milk and granulated sugar, and warm to 110°F. (You may have to allow the mixture to cool down to 110°F). Pour into the bowl of a stand mixer and add the yeast. Let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.

In another bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and salt. Add to the yeast mixture along with the eggs, currants, and orange zest. Attach the dough hook and knead the dough on medium-low speed for about 10 minutes. Scrape the dough into a ball, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm, draft-free spot until doubled, about 1 1⁄2 hours.

Meanwhile, make the filling: In a bowl, stir together the softened butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon.

Butter two 9-by-5-inch loaf pans. Dump the dough onto a floured work surface. Divide the dough in half. Roll each half into an 8 1⁄2-inch square. Smear each square with half of the filling. Roll up the dough, pinch the seam to seal, and place seam side down in a prepared pan. Let rise until puffy and the dough rises above the pan sides, 1 to 1 1⁄2 hours.

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Brush the loaves with the egg white wash. Bake until the loaves are golden brown and pull away from the pan sides, about 35 minutes. Turn out onto racks and let cool completely.

To make the glaze, if you like, in a small bowl, stir together the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, and milk. Drizzle the glaze over the tops of the cooled loaves before cutting into thick, yummy slices.

Makes 2 loaves.

You are reading this post on More Than Burnt Toast at http://morethanburnttoast.blogspot.com. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author/owner of More Than Burnt Toast. All rights reserved by Valerie Harrison.
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  1. It looks absolutely delicious! A great idea.



  2. I agree what a nice change..It's fun to switch it up sometimes..Thank you.

  3. I have never seen hot cross buns as a loaf, but I love the idea! I think I'm going to do this for a nice change this year!

  4. You enthusiasm for the season is contagious! GREG

  5. Looks so yum, Val!

  6. Look amazing and delicious!!

  7. Es uno de los dulces que me gusta, está increíble y su apariencia es estupenda!

  8. A beautiful loaf for a joyous day! :)

  9. It's like a cinnamon roll in loaf form! What could be better than that!

  10. this is so cool, my attempt at hot cross buns failed but will try again

  11. So interesting to learn about the history of hot cross buns! I'm planning to make some for Easter. Love the idea of a loaf version!

  12. Hopefully snow will melt soon and it will feel a bit more Spring. I've made hot cross buns couple years ago and they were delicious. I like the idea of a loaf.

  13. I don't regret having a boy for any reason except the lack of Easter Bonnets

  14. SO much better than handling a bunch of little balls of dough. i love it. :)


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