Sourdough Hot Cross Buns
Hot Cross Buns have a long history, but, traditionally, they are eaten during Lent and especially on Good Friday. The buns are marked with a cross on the top, sometimes with a knife imprint and other times with dough or an icing. Some stories have the buns going back to ancient Greece and pagan times. Queen Elizabeth I wanted to keep hot cross buns special and in 1592 decreed that that the buns could be sold only on Good Friday, Christmas, or for burials. If, during Elizabethan times, the authorities caught you baking the hot cross buns in your own kitchen, you had to give up your illegal buns to the poor. Some of the stories that have evolved around hot cross buns include that the buns will stay fresh and mold-free for a year, protect your kitchen from harm, and ensure bonds of friendship for the next year. An old rhyme describing the sharing of a hot cross bun says, "Half for you and half for me, between us two, good luck shall be.”
I'm offering you a recipe today for hot cross buns made with sourdough starter, which I think is more authentic than a commercial yeast version. The buns also have more flavor and will keep longer than buns made with commercial yeast. Traditionally, hot cross buns are studded with raisins or currants, but I've strayed to other dried fruits, which I prefer. You can use a knife to mark your buns with a cross before you bake them or use icing, after the buns cool, to make a cross, if you like. My preference is to drizzle or pour the icing on the buns or dust them with powdered sugar, which is faster. Besides, to me, the image of the cross on the buns is far less important than sharing the buns with others. How many times did Jesus sit down and share a meal with others or call for the feeding of the hungry? So make the buns--give them crosses and call them Hot Cross Buns or just dust them with sugar and call them Easter Buns, if you like--but share them!
Sourdough Hot Cross Buns or Easter Buns -- Makes 24+
2 cups of sourdough starter
2 cups of white whole-wheat flour
1/4 cup of canola oil
1/4 cup of dark brown sugar
1/2 cup of water
1-2 teaspoons of grated orange zest
In a large bowl, mix together the starter, the white whole-wheat flour, the canola oil, the dark brown sugar, the water, and the orange zest until well combined. Let the mixture sit for at least an hour or up to half a day until it rises at least a little. Then add:
1/2 cup of all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons of salt
1/2 cup of dried cranberries
1/2 cup of chopped dried apricots
1/2 cup of chopped dried dates
1/2 cup of golden raisins
Stir the mixture with a wooden spoon and then use your hands to knead in 1/2 cup more all-purpose flour gradually. You can knead the dough in the bowl or on a lightly floured counter, if you'd prefer. The dough should be slightly damp but not sticky. Tear off bits of dough a little larger than golf balls and roll them into balls. Place the balls on baking sheets coated with non-stick cooking spray or lined with parchment. Spray the tops of the buns with non-stick cooking spray and cover the buns with plastic wrap. Let the buns rise for 2-3 hours. Dust the tops of the buns lightly with cinnamon (don't add the cinnamon to the dough, as it will inhibit the rising process) and bake the buns in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes or until barely golden. Let the buns cool first if you want to decorate them with icing crosses, or ice them warm if you want a frosting glaze. Or let the buns cool a little and dust them with powdered sugar.
2-3 tablespoons of orange juice
1 tablespoon of butter
2 - 2 1/2 cups of confectioners' sugar
Heat the orange juice and butter in a microwave-safe bowl until hot and the butter melts. Beat in the confectioners' sugar gradually until the frosting is smooth and the consistency you like. If the icing hardens up too quickly, zap it in the microwave for 15-30 seconds, and stir it well, or dribble in a little more orange juice--a teaspoon at a time--and stir the mixture again.