hot cross buns and the rabbit of easter

I decorated Easter eggs this year for the first time in more than a decade.  And no, this was not a result of taking care of someone else’s children for the weekend, this was just me, John, and my furry four-legged companion together in the kitchen with a box of food coloring and a dozen hard boiled eggs.  The result was some very pretty eggs and a few permanently tinted finger tips.  We used a nifty technique I remember doing with my Dad as a kid for speckling the eggs by swirling canola oil through the dye.  I saw it recently featured on Martha Stewart, and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Martha was my dad’s original source way back when.

While we decorated, John played me a David Sedaris clip, taken from an old episode of This American Life, in which Mr. Sedaris describes his experience as the only American in a French language class in Paris.  In this particular story, he and his fellow students – making use their very rudimentary French speaking sills – attempt to explain Easter to a Moroccan student who’s never heard of the holiday.  If you’ve ever read or heard David Sedaris before, I’m sure you can imagine how hysterically funny this is.  Probably my favorite moment is Sedaris explaining the American Easter Bunny (“The Rabbit of Easter – HE bring of the chocolate!”) to his international classmates.  What makes the Sedaris piece so priceless is not just what gets lost in translation, it’s what isn’t lost.  It’s hard to weave together Jesus’ death and resurrection, chocolate bearing bunnies, colored eggs, and lamb for dinner into one coherent story without sounding a little absurd.

The Easter eggs and the Sedaris piece got us talking about holidays, traditions, religion, secularity, etc.  Maybe because we haven’t known each other that long in the scheme of things, when any holiday rolls around, there’s still some question of how or if to celebrate.  The answer, for John and me and for all of us, is a wonderful and absurd hodgepodge of our family traditions, cultural backgrounds, and religious beliefs.

For me, the Easter hodgepodge includes dyeing eggs, tulips, chocolate covered marshmallow, roasted lamb, asparagus, and hot cross buns.  The sum total is a celebration of the spring – the changing season, the return of green, and all the possibility to come.  Where thanksgiving is all about the harvest – reaping what you sow – Easter is about the sowing itself.  It’s the time to plant, nurture, and grow.

I thought today I’d share a little piece of that hodgepodge with you in the form of my recipe for hot cross buns.  Hot cross buns – sweet breads flavored with cinnamon and citrus and studded with dried fruit – were typical Easter brunch fair growing up.  Now when I make them, I simply doctor up my standard brioche recipe and finish them with a lemon-cinnamon glaze.  Like any bread making, you need a little time to make these.  Not much active work, but all said and done it’s a two day process, which means to make Sunday morning rolls, you’ll need to start on Saturday.

Happy Easter, Passover, and Spring everyone!

*The egg photos in this post were taken by John.

This time last year: mango-gingerbread upside down cake, buttermilk scones with ginger and mango.  (Do you detect a theme here?)

Hot Cross Buns

  • ½ cup assorted mixed dried fruit (such as dried currants, raisins, sultanas, dried cranberries, dried cherries, chopped dried pears, chopped dried apricots, and/or chopped dried figs.)
  • 360g, 2 ½ c + 2 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 36g, 3 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon or ½ an orange; or 3 tbsp finely chopped candied citrus rind
  • 120g, ½ c whole milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 5g, ½ tbsp dry active yeast
  • 10g, 1 tbsp warm water
  • 6g, ½ tbsp salt
  • 172g, ¾ c unsalted butter, cut in small pieces and at room temperature
  • 1 egg for egg wash

Mixing

Cover the dried fruit with boiling water and let soak for 10 minutes.  Drain and set aside.  Place the flour, sugar, cinnamon, zest or candied rind in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook and mix to combine.  Add the milk, eggs, yolks, and soaked dried fruit and mix on low speed until well combined, 4-5 minutes.  Meanwhile, hydrate the yeast with the water in a small bowl to form a paste.  Using a rubber spatula, spread the yeast on the dough and mix an additional 2-3 minutes on low speed.  Add the salt and mix to incorporate, about 1 minute.  Turn the mixer to medium-low (speed 2) and mix until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and gathers around the hook – this should take 10-15 minutes.  Essentially, you’re having the mixer do the work of kneading the dough for you here – developing protein and structure before you add all that butter.  Once the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl (see photo above), add the butter and continue mixing on speed two until the butter is fully incorporated and the dough once again pulls away from the sides of the bowl, 5-10 minutes.

Proofing

Place the dough in a clean well-oiled bowl and cover with a kitchen towel.  Set in a warm place (I usually use the back of the stove) and let sit at room temperature until it has doubled in size, about 2 hours.  Cover with saran wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Shaping

The next day, remove the dough from the refrigerator and punch down the dough.  Dump out onto a floured work surface and divide into 12 even pieces, 2.25 oz each.

Butter a 9×13 inch baking dish.  Roll each piece of dough into a ball using the palm of your hand.  Place the balls in the prepared pan, leaving plenty of space between – 3 across and 4 down.  Cover with a clean dish towel and let sit at room temperature until doubled in size, 1-2 hours.

Baking

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Make your egg wash by beating one egg with a ½ tbsp of cold water.  Once risen, lightly brush the brioche with the egg wash.  Bake 35-40 minutes until golden brown.  Cool until cold to the touch and then glaze (see below.)

Lemon-Cinnamon Glaze

  • ½ cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice

If you prefer a more traditional white glaze, omit the cinnamon and replace the lemon juice with milk or cream. Whisk together the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.  Add the lemon juice and mix to combine.  (You can add a little extra juice if you find the glaze too thick.)  Place the glaze in a piping bag fitted with a round tip or a ziplock bag with a small hole cut out of the corner.  Pipe the top of each bun with a cross.  Serve at once.  The rolls are best eaten the same day they are made.  Leftovers can be kept covered at room temperature – I recommend warming them briefly in the oven or toaster the next day.