‘Tis the season once again for this traditional springtime treat.
Hot cross buns—yeasty rolls flavored with spice and dried fruit and marked with a cross on top—have been so popular that we still sing about them in a nursery rhyme hundreds of years old.
“One ha-penny, two ha-penny, hot cross buns.”
Today, they’re mainly baked and eaten at Easter.
What’s new about this traditional bread is that it can now be made with a no-knead dough that lets extra liquid take the place of kneading. You can simply mix the dough together, let it rise, then roll out, cut, and form the dough into balls. When the buns have baked, you can paint on the distinctive cross with white icing, using a clean watercolor brush or a squeeze bottle.
No Knead? No Worries!
The new trend in bread baking is the no-knead method, which is not new but has been revived now that instant or bread machine yeast is readily available.
Instant yeast has a small granule that does not have to be “proofed” by sprinkling it over water first before mixing into a dough. With instant or bread machine yeast, you simply stir the dry yeast into the flour. By adding more liquid to a dough, you also eliminate the need to knead. The extra liquid activates the gluten in the flour to do the kneading for you. If you like, you can use a utensil known as a Danish dough whisk to mix the dough easily, but you can also mix with a spoon.
A no-knead dough will be spongier-looking (as you can see below), looser to work with, and will not make precise shapes after it has risen. But once you've tried this dough, you'll be hooked on how simple it is to make.
Hot Cross Bun dough made with this no-knead method feels soft—like a baby’s skin—and is a pleasure to form. And the taste? Yum!
Hot Cross Buns
Makes 14 to 16 hot cross buns
For the Dough:
1 tablespoon instant or bread machine yeast
2 teaspoons fine kosher salt
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ cup dried currants (or use small raisins or dried cranberries or cherries)
1 cup lukewarm milk, about 100°F
½ cup lukewarm water, about 100°F
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg
For the Egg Wash:
1 large egg, beaten
For the Icing Paint:
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons milk
1. Measure. Spoon the flour into a measuring cup, level with a knife or your finger, then dump the flour into a large mixing bowl.
2. Mix. Add the yeast, salt, cinnamon, and currants to the flour. Stir together with a wooden spoon or Danish dough whisk. Combine the warm milk, water, sugar, and melted butter in a 4-cup measuring cup and stir to combine. Using a fork, beat the egg into the milk mixture. Pour the milk mixture into the flour mixture, stir to combine, then beat 40 strokes, scraping the bottom and the sides of the bowl, until the dough forms a lumpy, sticky mass.
3. Rise. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature 72°F for 2 hours or until the dough has risen about 2 inches under the rim of the bowl and has a sponge-like appearance.
4. Use Right Away or Refrigerate. Use that day or place the bowl, covered with plastic wrap, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days before baking.
5. Form. To form rolls, transfer the dough to a floured surface and dust very lightly with flour. Flour your hands. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into a 12 by 8-inch rectangle. If the dough begins to stick to the surface, use the dough scraper to push flour under the dough and scrape it up. Starting with a long end and using your hands, roll the dough into 12 to 14-inch cylinder. Pinch any seams together. With the dough scraper, slice the cylinder into 1-inch pieces. Roll the pieces into balls.
6. Rest. Line a small cookie sheet with parchment paper. Place the balls, about 1 inch apart, [buns stay moister if they’re touching as they bake] on the prepared sheet. Cover with a tea towel and let rest at room temperature for 1 hour.
7. Brush with Egg Wash. About 20 minutes before baking, preheat to 350°F. In a small bowl, beat the egg and brush the tops of the rolls with it.
8. Bake. Bake for 30 to 34 minutes or until the rolls have browned. Cool on a wire rack. Paint the rolls when cool.
9. Paint. For the paint, whisk the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, and milk together in a bowl until smooth. Using a clean watercolor paint brush, paint a cross on each roll.