A week or so ago, I began to see packages of hot cross buns at my local Whole Foods Market. Easter must be just around the corner.
I've always been interested in traditional foods, and especially traditional holiday foods. When I was a kid, Easter always meant colored eggs, chocolate bunnies, coconut cake, and ham for dinner. We were unaware of the Easter traditions of other countries and cultures, so I was an adult before I began to enjoy hot cross buns for Easter.
Many cultures have some sort of sweet bread that is associated with Easter. The Czechs eat a cake filled with almonds, raisins, and citron called Mazanec. In parts of Germany, it's customary to bake a cake shaped like a lamb. Greek easter bread, tsoureki, is a yeast bread made with with anis, braided into a wreath and baked with with red-dyed eggs pressed into the dough. The Brits make a rich fruitcake with marzipan in the middle called simnel cake.
Hot Cross Buns are British, too, and I always associate them with Easter, though I believe they are actually supposed to be eaten on Good Friday. Whenever you eat them, they are a treat, especially warm from the oven, the frosting still warm and gooey. Have one with a cup of tea
Hot Cross Buns
Dissolve 2 tablespoons of yeast in 1 cup of warm milk and let it sit for 5 minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup of sugar, 2 teaspoons of salt, 1/3 cup of melted butter, 1 1/2 tsp of cinnamon and 1/2 tsp of nutmeg. Gradually mix in 5 cups of flour until you have a sticky dough. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, until it is smooth. Cover the bowl and let it sit in a warm corner of the kitchen for 30 to 45 minutes. Knead the dough again for just a couple of minutes, then add and a half cups of raisins or currents, or a cup of raisins and 1/2 cup of candied citrus peel. Form the dough into a ball and let it rise overnight in the bowl.
When you're ready to bake, divide the dough into 24 equal-sized balls and arrange on a baking sheet, allowing about 1/2 inch between each bun. Cover with a towel and let rise until doubled in size, about an hour and a half. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Brush the buns with egg white before baking for ten minutes, then reduce heat to 350 and bake about 15 minutes more, or until golden. When the buns are done, remove them to a wire rack to cool and spoon vanilla icing over the top in a cross pattern.