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Hot cross muffins, hot cross muffins, one ha’ penny, two ha’ penny…

April 4, 2012

My grandma loved hot cross buns. LOVED them. Every spring, she had to have her hot cross buns for Easter. It was tradition, yes, but more so she just really enjoyed them. However I never really knew the full meaning behind them until I decided to make a batch in her honor this year. Thanks Wikipedia!

A hot cross bun, or cross-bun,[1] is a sweet, yeast-leavened, spiced bun made with currants or raisins, often with candied citrus fruits,[2] marked with a cross on the top. The cross can be made in a variety of ways including: of pastry; flour and water mixture; rice paper; icing; two intersecting cuts. They are traditionally eaten on Good Friday but in the UK they are now sold all year round.[3]

In many historically Christian countries, buns are traditionally eaten hot or toasted on Good Friday, with the cross standing as a symbol of the Crucifixion. They are believed by some to pre-date Christianity, although the first recorded use of the term “hot cross bun” was not until 1733;[1] it is believed that buns marked with a cross were eaten by Saxons in honour of the goddess Eostre (the cross is thought to have symbolised the four quarters of the moon);[4] “Eostre” is probably the origin of the name “Easter”.[1] Others claim that the Greeks marked cakes with a cross, much earlier.[5]

According to cookery writer Elizabeth David, Protestant English monarchs saw the buns as a dangerous hold-over of Catholic belief in England, being baked from the dough used in making the communion wafer. Protestant England attempted to ban the sale of the buns by bakers but they were too popular, and instead Elizabeth I passed a law permitting bakeries to sell them, but only at Easter and Christmas.

English folklore includes many superstitions surrounding hot cross buns. One of them says that buns baked and served on Good Friday will not spoil or become mouldy during the subsequent year. Another encourages keeping such a bun for medicinal purposes. A piece of it given to someone who is ill is said to help them recover.[6]

Sharing a hot cross bun with another is supposed to ensure friendship throughout the coming year, particularly if “Half for you and half for me, Between us two shall goodwill be” is said at the time. Because of the cross on the buns, some say they should be kissed before being eaten. If taken on a sea voyage, hot cross buns are said to protect against shipwreck. If hung in the kitchen, they are said to protect against fires and ensure that all breads turn out perfectly. The hanging bun is replaced each year.[6]

Amazing. As a self-admitted total history nerd, the part about Elizabeth I blew my mind! It also cemented my desire to make my own hot cross buns. But see, my idea was to translate them into a muffin type of deal. Not really, since they’re really just hot cross buns, except baked in buttered paper in muffin tins. But they resemble muffins more than buns this way. I got the idea from the panettone I made for Christmas which was both much talked about and much devoured. Is that proper grammar? Doesn’t sound like it. But you get the idea. Either way, hot cross buns are incredibly similar to panettones in terms of the dough & ingredients, so there wasn’t really much difference in making them.

HOT CROSS BUNS (adapted slightly from Ree Drummond/Pioneer Woman)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • ½ cup canola oil
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 package (2 ¼ teaspoons) Active Dry Yeast
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup (additional) flour
  • ½ teaspoon (heaping) baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon (scant) baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • spices: cardamom, nutmeg, allspice (optional)
  • ½ cup golden raisins
Glaze:
  • 1 whole egg white
  • splash of milk

;

Icing:
  • 1 whole egg white
  • powdered sugar
  • splash of milk

Directions:

  1. Combine 2 cups milk, canola oil, and ½ cup sugar in a saucepan. Stir and heat until very warm but not boiling. Turn off the heat and allow to cool until mixture is still warm, but not hot–about 30 minutes. Sprinkle yeast over mixture. Add 4 cups of flour and stir to combine. Mixture will be very sticky. Cover with a towel and set aside for 1 hour.
  2. Meanwhile, cut large squarish circles out of brown paper bags. Melt two tablespoons butter and brush each one with some butter. Line muffin tins with them and press down, making them fit.
  3. Add ½ cup flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir till combined. Combine ¼ cup sugar with cinnamon and whatever other spices you want to use. Lightly flour surface. Press to slightly flatten dough. Sprinkle a couple tablespoons of the sugar/cinnamon mixture. Sprinkle on about a third of the raisins. Then fold the dough over on itself and flatten again so the dough is “plain” again. Repeat the sugar/raisin process, then fold the dough again. Repeat a third time until all the raisins are used. (You won’t use all the sugar/cinnamon mixture.)
  4. Pinch off ping pong or golf ball-size bunches of dough. With floured hands, quickly roll it into a ball, then turn the edges under themselves slightly. Place each ball in the buttered paper. Cover and allow to rise in a warm place for at least 30 minutes, an hour-plus is better. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  5. Make glaze: mix 1 egg white with a splash of milk. Brush onto each roll. Bake for 20 minutes, give or take, or until tops of buns have turned nice and golden brown. Remove from pan and allow to cool on a cooling rack.
  6. Make the icing: Mix 1 egg white with enough powdered sugar for icing to be very thick. Splash in milk as needed for consistency. Add icing to a small Ziploc bag or disposable pastry bag and snip the corner. Make icing crosses on each roll, making sure they’re completely cooled first.

I halved the above recipe and ended up with 14 total: 6 in the buttered-brown-paper-muffin version, without raisins, and 8 in an 8″-inch cake pan with raisins. As soon as the dough was made, I split it in half after adding the cinnamon mix and just added raisins to one lump and left them out of the other one. Makes sense, right?

These are the original buns that were baked in a pan & contain raisins

If you’re making the full batch, you could easily use brownie pans instead of a round cake pan, if you’re not into the buttered paper idea. You also don’t have to use golden raisins, or even raisins at all. Dried currants work too, as does citron if you’re into that. I’m definitely not. I’m sure any kind of small dried fruit would do the trick. And if you’d really like to, I’m sure little mini chocolate chips would taste delicious too. And if you’re really adventurous, why not soak the raisins in a bit of liquor first?

I have to say these were much easier than I anticipated. I made them while watching a few episodes of Shameless & before I knew it they were ready to eat. Best hot cross bun muffins ever!

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