Easter just isn't Easter without Hot Cross Buns. I've had some wonderful ones and some really tough and chewy ones, some filled with all sorts of dried fruits and some rather plain. But they are so easy to make that I tend to make them myself for an Easter treat.
Traditionally, Hot Cross Buns are served in Great Britian for breakfast on Good Friday, the cross representing the cross that Jesus died on. But in the US they are served throughout the period of Lent, and many families have them on Easter.
I've tried multiple recipes, but I like this one that I base on the Sweet Dough recipe in the America's Test Kitchen cookbook. The dough includes butter and has a brioche-like texture to it, it's very good. My 4 year old daughter won't have dried fruits of any kind in her baked goods, so I leave them out, but I add some spices and lemon zest for more depth of flavor.
3/4 cup buttermilk, warm
6 Tb. unsalted butter, melted and cooled until warm
3 large eggs, lighty beaten
4 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 envelope instant or rapid rise yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
2 Tb. grated lemon peel
2 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 1/4 tsp salt
(1 cup currants or raisins, optional)
1 large egg beaten (for the top of the buns)
1 Tb water
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1 Tb milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Whisk together the buttermilk, butter and eggs in a medium bowl.
Mix 4 cups of the flour, the sugar, yeast and salt, lemon peel, nutmeg and cinnamon in a mixer fitted with dough hook. Slowly add the buttermilk mixture (and dried fruit if you are using it) and mix until it all comes together, one minute or so.
Increase the speed to medium-low and mix for about 10 minutes, adding flour if needed.
Turn the dough out on a clean surface and knead by hand for about 1 minute. Place in a lightly oiled bowl and wrap tightly. Let dough rise until doubled in size, about 2 - 2 1/2 hours
Turn the dough onto a floured counter and divide into 12 equal pieces. Rollthe dough into tight balls and arrange on a greased 9 x 13 baking dish, wrapping tightly in greased plastic wrap. Let buns rise again until doubled in size, about 1 - 1 1/2 hours
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Using a sharp or serrated knife, mark an "x" in the top of each bun. Whisk the egg and water together, and brush it over the tops of the buns and bake until golden brown, about 25 - 30 minutes.
Let cool in pan for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together the sugar, milk and vanilla and with a spoon or small knife fill in the "x" on each bun with this glaze.
Serve warm or cool completely.
* To make these ahead of time, do everything up to the shaping and place the shaped buns in the refrigerator overnight. The following morning, let the rolls rise for 1 - 1.5 hours, mark the x and bake as instructed.