Easter dinner is heaped in traditions all over the world, both because of the religious meaning of Easter, and the fact that it roughly coincides with the beginning of spring. Easter dinners of my childhood featured glistening hams as the table centerpiece, glazed with a sweet-savory maple and mustard concoction my mom whipped up. My favorite, a creamy potato gratin oozing with gooey cheese, and crisp asparagus topped with lemony breadcrumbs rounded off the meal, along with soft Parker rolls. For once, there wasn’t anything at the table I was trying to avoid. No dreaded peas to try to hide under my plate, no yucky carrots to slip to our dog, Duke, always planted at my feet under the table. No fool he.
Mom was a great cook, and loved to experiment on us with things like veal scaloppini, chicken croquettes, and oysters Rockefeller (served in shells!), all very daring fare in the 60’s in western Pennsylvania. But one area she eyed with great trepidation was making yeasted breads. Her own mother hadn’t been a baker either, and at that time there wasn’t the wealth of cookbooks we now enjoy, complete with tutorials with step-by-step photos. So all of our breads were store-bought, and likely baked somewhere across the country in some mega factory, as this was the beginning of mass-produced food on a large scale.
I followed suit for years, ok, for decades, until the third week of culinary school, when I was suddenly plunged into the world of yeast, and it was instant love. I relaxed into the meditation of kneading dough, lulled by the constant motion of my bench scraper across the worn wooden workspace, and watched the magic of yeast billow dough into large soft bubbles. I learned ways to build structure, techniques for shaping and molding, and how to get a thick crust. And I’ve never looked back.
I mastered whole wheat breads and Parker rolls, and boldly graduated to braided breads and brioche. I spent long peaceful hours making laminated doughs for puff pastry and croissants, and confidently began to develop my own bread recipes. But one bread I hadn’t tried yet was hot cross buns, my only reference to them some half-forgotten nursery rhyme. With Easter on the horizon, I knew I had to make them.
Hot cross buns, traditionally eaten on Good Friday, the Friday before Easter Sunday, are spiced, sweet yeasted rolls, made with currants or raisins, and topped by a piped white cross as a symbol of a crucifix. Many variations of this theme abound, and after some fun experimenting, my favorite version now includes dried cherries and dates along with the traditional currants, and a mixture of cinnamon and cardamom spices.
I strongly recommend only making this dough using a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook. Like many sweet yeast doughs, it’s fairly sticky, and difficult to knead by hand without a fair amount of additional flour.
Feel free to use dried fruits to your choosing. Dried apricots would be another wonderful option.
Like my other yeasted breads, I like to do the first rise by tucking the dough into a bowl, covering it loosely with plastic, and sliding it into the cavity of the microwave oven. I place a cup of very hot water in the cavity with it, to keep the space nice and warm; and once you close the door, it’s free of any drafts.
This recipe was part of an article I authored that was published on Ask Miss A this morning. Ask Miss A is a web based magazine that focuses on the intersection of style and charity. Please click here for the recipe! Hope you give it a try!Pin It