Watch for next week’s post on Monday, February 11. Since Valentine’s Day is on Thursday of next week, I wanted to give you enough time to head out for ingredients and to make the dessert ahead for this quick and easy Valentine’s Dinner.
Hot Cross Buns are the harbinger of Easter and Spring. Most available during Lent, these rolls are made with fragrant spices that fill your house with an aroma that makes you want to jump in the oven with them.
The other traditional ingredient in Hot Cross Buns is raisins. A few years ago a friend of mine introduced me to “baker’s raisins” and I have used them ever since when baking. They require no soaking to plump them as do most regular raisins. That not only reduces prep time but doesn’t introduce additional liquid into your recipe which is why I love working with them. Sunsweet makes them and you might want to give them a try. There is a huge difference and I don’t think I will ever go back to regular raisins.
While Hot Cross Buns generally come once a year, their life can be extended to the remainder of the year by just coating the buns in the glaze and omitting the cross. Just that easy, they become Honey Spice Rolls.
Sweet Dough 101
Yeast breads have the unfounded reputation of being difficult to make. Nothing could be further from the truth. Forgiving to a fault, yeast breads cannot only be a treat to eat but relaxing to make. There is a reward unto itself when you see how amazed others are when they discover your new found talent. The making, shaping and baking can be spread over several days and the finished product can be frozen. An understanding of how yeast dough works can allay any fear you might have. As an added incentive sweet dough is among the easiest yeast doughs to roll and shape as they are not as recalcitrant as other yeast doughs. They hold their shape when rolled with relative ease and don’t spring back so readily. So come along as we discover Sweet Breads 101.
A few utensils will make baking easier. This recipe uses both dry and wet measuring cups. A dry measure holds the ingredient to the top rim for the proper measurement. A wet measure usually has a lip and often a pouring spout so the liquid measure is slightly below the rim. It is important to use a dry measure for dry ingredients such as flour and sugar as the cup can be filled to overflowing and the excess swept off with the back of a table knife or a spatula. Do not tamp down the cup to level it as this will give you an incorrect measurement. Professionals use scales to obtain the proper weight of ingredients. If you do any baking at all, it is worth the investment not only for accuracy but for speed. Lacking a scale, measuring is important.
A mixer with a dough hook is ideal. If you plan to make a lot of doughs a bowl scraper is ideal. It is a small plastic tool that is flexible, flat on one side and curved on the other. Using the curved side, it neatly scrapes all the dough into a pile in the bowl, balls it up and with a single stroke pushes it out of the bowl.
The first thing to a successful outcome of yeast doughs is the right flour. There are varying strengths of flour, all having their particular place in baking. When making yeast doughs, the key is to use bread flour with its high gluten content that can stand up to the expansion needed as the yeast rises. While it was difficult to find in grocery stores at one time it is now a staple in the line of flours. As this flour is kneaded, it makes an elastic gluten or protein mesh which traps the carbon dioxide given off by the yeast and causes the bread to rise. To measure flour if you have no scale, stir the flour in its container then spoon it into the measuring cup to overflowing. Sweep off the excess with the straight side of a table knife or spatula.
The next item is the yeast. It is important to watch the date on the package. If it has expired look for a current date. This recipe calls for active dry yeast. There are several brands and they are interchangeable. It comes in a unit of three – one quarter ounce packages. Only one will be used in this recipe. Store the others in the refrigerator or freeze for a longer time. There is another yeast called instant dry yeast which should not be confused with the active dry yeast called for here. Yeast is an interesting ingredient. It is a living, minute single cell organism that, when activated from its dormant stage by adding it to a liquid, converts its food into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The bubbles that carbonate beer and champagne are the very ones that make the bread rise. As the yeast ferments, it feeds upon the starchy nutrients and converts them into alcohol and carbon dioxide gas. Given moisture, and food (sugar or starch) and a warm environment (75 to 80 degrees) the yeast will multiply and grow. Oven heat will kill the yeast and evaporate the alcohol after its final burst of rising.
Three ingredients were chosen for their ability to tenderize and moisturize – milk, honey and potatoes. Two percent milk is fine to use. Clover honey is neutral and ideal here and the use of dehydrated potato flakes maintains a constant moisture level for the dough that boiled potatoes do not. Make sure the potato flakes are plain and do not have chives, garlic or added ingredients. If there is little honey left in the jar or it has sugar crystals, microwave it in brief spurts. All of the honey will pour out easily and the sugar crystals in suspension will disappear into a golden liquid again.
One last item is proofing the dough. The richer dough is in eggs, sugar and/or fat, the slower it is to rise. Often yeast doughs are made in winter and the room may be a bit cool for the dough to rise within the times given. Two things can be done to give it an assist. First, just let it rise longer. The second is to heat your oven for 30 seconds at 350 degrees. Turn the oven off and quickly place the dough shaped or unshaped into the oven. Now close the door just as quickly and you have made a mini proofer like the professionals use.
Whenever you make these Hot Cross Buns, however you finish them, they are sure to be a treat you will want more than once a year.
Hot Cross Buns with Rum Glaze
1 cup milk
4 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup potato flakes
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 package active dry yeast
1/4 cup water (90 to 100 degrees)
3 cups bread flour (454 grams or 1 pound)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
and add it to the liquid in the mixing bowl fitted with a dough hook.
Add the cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg and salt to the flour whisking to combine. Add all at once to the liquid and mix on medium until it forms a dough; continue mixing to knead the dough for 3 more minutes. Add the raisins towards the end of the kneading. Do not add additional flour. The dough will be soft but not sticky.
Lightly flour a work area and dump out the dough. Knead by hand briefly to bring it all together. Spray a bowl at least twice the size of the batter with cooking spray; place the dough in the bowl top down. Flip the dough over so the top is up and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Mark the time on it. Let it rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours in a warm place or until doubled in bulk. Punch the dough down and reshape into a ball. At this point the dough can be used immediately or it can be refrigerated up to 2 days before using. The dough will probably rise again in the refrigerator. If it does, punch down before using.
The dough weighs 1020 grams or 2 1/4 pounds. Divide into 12 rolls (85 grams or 3 ounces each). If you are not weighing, roll the dough into a log. Don’t let the ends taper off. Cut it in half, cut each half in half yielding 4 pieces. Cut each piece in 3 pieces.
Tuck the top and bottom underneath. Turn the roll over and pinch all the tucked under parts together firmly. Turn it over. You want the top and sides to be perfectly smooth. Place the ball on your work table, cup you hand over the top of the roll and around it;
rotate it counter clockwise using your cupped hand. You have now made a round roll just like artisan bakers do.Place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Cover with a tea towel and let rise until doubled, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes to a medium golden brown. Cool completely. Glaze with the Rum Glaze.
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar (170 grams or 6 ounces)
3 tablespoons butter (45 grams or 1 1/2 scant ounce)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon rum
2 to 3 tablespoon milk
Combine all except the 1 tablespoon of milk together in mixing bowl. Whisk until smooth. adding additional milk, a little at a time as necessary. It should be thick enough to maintain the cross. With a spoon, frost each bun with a cross.