It's officially spring, Easter is less than a week away, and the current weather forecast for New York states that today, Monday, we will be experiencing more wintery mix. What. Is. Going. On. Seriously. I had to wear my puffy winter jacket and scarf all weekend, and like most other New Yorkers', I'm so over this cold weather! There are signs of the promise of "real" spring though. I was in midtown this weekend, and the planters that lined the sidewalk outside of Macy's actually had green things growing in them. Yes. GREEN THINGS WERE GROWING. I have no idea what was actually growing in the planters, but there were little green plants sprouting out of the soil all around the little evergreen trees (or bushes maybe? I have no idea what they were).
Easter is one of my favorite holidays. Easter egg hunts were probably one of my favorite things about the holiday when I was little, and Easter candy is just the best thing ever, and I know that in the coming days I'm going to be getting at least three bags of Easter candy (hopefully, I won't consume all the candy by myself...). Aside from Easter candy, I can't really say that I love "Easter food." I mean, sure it's delicious and all, and I love getting to have lighter, more "spring-like" dishes, but I just don't think any of the things I tend to eat for Easter dinner really stand out. I always associated only Easter candy as the best Easter food, but that was only because I had never actually had a hot cross bun. But, now that I have, and because I'm now older and wiser, I am switching things up, and hot cross buns are officially my new favorite thing about Easter. Why did it take me nearly 22 years to try a hot cross bun? I seriously wonder what's wrong with me at times.
These hot cross buns are officially, without a doubt, 100% the BEST things I have ever made. Period. No questions asked. I feel like sometimes I say that about lots of other recipes that I've tried, but I really mean it for this one. I was able to make brioche successfully, that was light and perfectly fluffy, and I was so pleased with how the brioche came out, especially because I am not an expert on making bread at all. I still have trouble getting the texture in my breads to come out just right sometimes (in my case, breads sometimes end up being a little more dense than I'd like), but this one was completely different. It was just so fluffy! My dad loved the buns (although he says he could have done without the icing, but this was expected), and my mom said they were perfect, and her favorite thing that I've made so far. Everyone else I gave a hot cross bun to had similar reactions, and with that, I knew I couldn't wait to post this recipe!
One thing you'll notice about this recipe is that all the ingredients are listed by weight. Baking with measurements by weight, rather than volume, is definitely a much more accurate way of baking, as it ensures that the amounts of ingredients you use are exact and precise, which also gives you a sense that your baking is more closely lined up with the recipe you are following. It's important to keep in mind that not all measuring cups are created equal! I have several different sets of measuring cups, and one day, I actually took a couple minutes to test this out. I measured out a cup of flour using three different measuring cups, making sure to fill them completely and level them with a knife, and then I weighed the amount of flour in each measuring cup...and they all weighed different amounts! Measuring out ingredients by weight may seem a bit tedious, but it's worth it. If you're adding multiple ingredients together in the same bowl, simply tare the bowl on your scale as you add a new ingredient. To weigh out the eggs, Thomas Keller recommends gently beating a few eggs together, and then passing them through a strainer as you weigh them out (this helps to get rid of the white part of the egg).
Hot cross buns are traditionally served on Good Friday, but because they take a while to prepare and require some planning in advance, I'm posting them a little early, so that you can plan a few hours to set aside to make them (because you actually need to go on a hot-cross-bun-making endeavor, these are just that good). This was my first time making brioche, and I'll be honest, I was a bit intimidated! I'm always a little nervous about kneading the dough for too long in my mixer, so I was happy to see that Keller's recipe included specific amounts of time to knead the dough for each step of the process. I crossed my fingers and put all my confidence in Thomas Keller, and followed the mixing times he indicated exactly, regardless of how suspicious I was (at one point, you have to leave the mixer on for a full thirty minutes!). Following the recipe exactly worked! I did make a few small adjustments to the recipe though. For starters, I substituted raisins for the same amount of cranberries and currents listed in the recipe, and mixed them with a teaspoon of vanilla extract, rather than using vanilla paste (only because I only had raisins on hand, and no vanilla paste). I followed the recipe to make the icing for the buns, but I felt that it was a bit too stiff, so I just added a small splash of milk to the icing to loosen it up a bit. I also think that you can get away with making half a batch of icing- you don't need very much to "cross" the buns, and I was left with half a pastry bag full of icing when I was done (I've listed the ingredients for the full batch of icing below). Other than that, I followed the recipe to the letter, and ended up with a dozen beautiful, golden brown, fluffy, lightly sweetened hot cross buns. Ahh, moments like these are what I love most about baking!
These hot cross buns are definitely going to become a tradition. Even though they took a bit of work, it was all worth it at the end, and I can't wait until the next time I make them! My mom suggested that next time I make the buns a little bit smaller, and make maybe 18 instead of 12, just for the sake of portion control. Regardless of what size I make them next time, I know they're going to be simply amazing. Don't let the thought of making brioche from scratch intimidate you; make sure to give these a try!
Hot Cross Buns
recipe slightly adapted from Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery Cookbook
For the Hot Cross Buns
372 grams (2 1/2 cups + 2 1/2 tablespoons) all purpose flour
8 grams (2 3/8 teaspoons) yeast
44 grams (3 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) granulated sugar
9 grams (1 1/2 teaspoons) salt
186 grams (1/2 cup + 3 1/2 tablespoons) eggs, at room temperature
63 grams (1/4 cup) whole milk, at room temperature
167 grams (5.8 oz) butter, at room temperature, cubed
183 grams (1 1/4 cup) raisins
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg, beaten (for egg wash)
For the Icing
258 grams (2 1/4 cups) powdered sugar
1 gram (3/8 teaspoon) ground cinnamon
40 grams (2 1/2 tablespoons) milk
Begin by preparing the brioche dough. Place the flour and yeast in the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, and mix for about 15 seconds to distribute the yeast evenly. Add the sugar, salt, eggs, and whole milk, and mix on low speed for about 4 minutes, and then continue to mix on low speed for an additional 30 minutes (the dough will begin to stick to the sides of the bowl, but that's ok). Begin to add the cubes of butter to the dough a few at a time, making sure to incorporate each addition before the next. Stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl and push the dough off of the dough hook as necessary. Once all the butter has been added, continue to mix the dough for an additional 10 minutes.
While the dough is mixing in the last 10 minutes, place all the raisins in a medium sized bowl. Pour 2 cups of boiling water over them, and allow them to soak in the hot water for about 5 minutes to plump them. Drain the fruit, pat it dry, and return it to a clean bowl. Add the vanilla extract, and toss together.
Spray a large bowl with nonstick spray. Turn the brioche dough out of the bowl and onto a lightly floured work surface. With lightly floured hands, gently shape the dough into a rectangle. Pour the raisins on top of the dough, and gently knead them into the dough (the dough will be very sticky at this point, but only use the smallest amount of additional flour necessary to be able to work with the dough). Once the raisins have been distributed evenly, shape the dough again into a rectangle.
Stretch the left side of the dough out, and fold it over itself, going two-thirds of the way in. Repeat with the right side, as though you were folding a letter in thirds. Turn the dough over, seam side down, and repeat the folding process, this time folding the top and bottom sides of the dough. Lift the dough from the work surface, and place seam-side down in the prepared bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let it sit at room temperature for 45 minutes.
After 45 minutes, repeat the same stretching and folding process, and return the dough to the bowl. Cover, and let it sit for an additional 45 minutes at room temperature.
Spray a quarter sheet pan with nonstick spray. Line the pan with parchment paper, and then spray the paper with nonstick spray.
After the second set of 45 minutes, turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. With a sharp knife, divide the dough into 12 equal portions (use a scale for this!). Gently roll each portion of dough with your hand against the work surface, until you form a completely smooth ball. Repeat with the remaining 11 portions of dough. Arrange the balls of dough on the prepared sheet pan in 4 rows of 3. Brush the tops of the balls with the lightly beaten egg. Cover the pan with a plastic bin or cardboard box (I used the plastic cover of my Wilton cupcake carrier) and let the balls proof for an hour and a half (they will have grown in size, and will be touching one another).
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Brush the tops of the buns with more beaten egg, and then bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the tops are golden brown and the centers are baked through when tested with a toothpick. Place the sheet pan on a baking sheet, and allow them to cool completely.
While the buns are cooling, prepare the icing. Sift the confectioner's sugar and cinnamon into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. With the mixer running, slowly pour in the milk. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, and mix on low speed for about a minute, or just until the icing is smooth.
Transfer the icing to a piping bag, and snip off about 1/4 inch off the tip (I used a disposable piping bag with no tip, but if you want to use a tip, use a plain round one). Beginning at one end of the sheet pan, pipe a continuous line across the row of buns, repeating for each row. Pipe another line of icing in the opposite direction, to create a cross, and repeat for each remaining row.
Serve the buns as the are in the pan, or pull them apart to serve individually. The buns are definitely best the day they are baked, but will keep if stored in a single layer in an airtight container without icing. Enjoy!
Makes 12 buns