It's hard to go back

One of the traditions that I love around Easter is hot cross buns.  Most bakeries make them this time of year, but I've got a stand-up hot cross bun recipe from the bread book that has taught me so much in the past year.  I love this book.  I may have told you already, but for a while, I was just checking it out of the library, renewing it, bringing it back, checking it out, renewing it, etc.  I may very well be the only person to have checked it out.  And yes, those are my flour granules and doughy fingerprints in there.  I finally got my own copy for my birthday.  

I love this recipe because it is super simple and super delicious.  I made a double batch last week to bring to work, and our house smelled like a bakery.  When that apricot glaze hits those warm, spice-induced buns, it lets off this crazy good aroma that will make you want to break into one before it even gets crossed (totally legit).  You can make these any time of year, really, and just leave the crosses off, but they definitely have a season of their own.  They are great for breakfast or a snack, but I've been known to make it into a sandwich with a slice of cheese or two.  Last year I made a ridiculous size batch of buns for our family's Easter dinner, served right alongside the spiral ham and sweet potato casserole.  And, they were a hit.  Beware:  once you start the tradition of homemade hot cross buns, it's hard to go back.

Adapted from the River Cottage Bread Handbook by Daniel Stevens
Makes 8

2 c. white bread flour
2 c. all-purpose white flour
1/2 c. warm water
1/2 c. warm milk
1 1/2 t. instant yeast
2 t. fine salt
3 1/2 T. sugar
1 egg
3 1/2 T. butter
2/3 c. raisins, currents, or golden raisins
Finely grated zest of 1/2 orange
1/4 heaping t. each of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice

To finish:
1 T apricot jam
1 T water

For the crosses:
icing sugar
juice of an orange (or milk)

Combine the flours, water, milk,  yeast, salt, and sugar in a bowl or stand mixer (fit with dough hook).  Add the egg and butter and mix to a sticky dough.  Add the dried fruit, orange zest, and spices and knead on low speed (or by hand) until silky and smooth. Dough will be sticky to handle.  Cover the dough (at this point, you can cover and refrigerate overnight, to be shaped and baked the next day - the dough will rise slowly in the refrigerator) and let rise in a warm place for about 1 hour, until doubled in size.

Deflate the risen dough and divide into 8 equal pieces.  Shape into rounds and dust with flour.  Place on a floured board, cover with plastic wrap or linen, and let proof for about 30 minutes, until roughly doubled in size.  I like to egg wash (yolk + splash of water) my rolls for added moisture before proofing and because working at a bakery has taught me to egg wash everything (but don't bother flouring and egg washing your buns...then you just have a sticky paste).  Also, to speed up the proofing process (especially if your dough is cold), in lieu of a proofer, I create my own little "proofer" by turning the oven on for a minute or two, at it's lowest possible temp, just to heat up a bit.  Then I put a pan of hot, steaming water in the bottom and slide my board of lovely egg washed rolls onto the grate (be sure it's not TOO hot!).  All that moisture and heat will help these suckers plump beautifully!

Once they're near doubled in size, remove rolls from the "proofer" (ie. oven) and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Give the beauties another egg wash, so they turn out golden brown and shiny.  Gently transfer the risen buns to a baking sheet or stone and bake for 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt the jam with water in a bowl or pan, and run it through a sieve.  Brush over the buns to glaze as you take them from the oven.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool. While the buns are cooling, make your icing for the crosses, mixing icing sugar and a couple tablespoons of fresh orange juice (from that orange you just zested!) or milk until the right consistency.  You want it thin enough to pipe, but thick enough so that it won't drip all over.  Fill a piping bag or plastic sandwich bag with the icing and snip a small opening in the corner.  Pipe the crosses onto the cooled buns.  Serve warm if at all possible with a dab of butter or a wedge of good cheese.  Your neighbors will come calling.

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