I first became enamored with these Easter beauties when I was a baker at La Farine in Oakland, CA. Every springtime, we would dutifully mix the spiced dough with plenty of raisins and candied orange peel, then divide the fragrant dough, roll them into balls and bake them once they were perfectly puffy. Once cooled, we would pipe sweet icing in the shape of a cross over the top. Traditionally the crosses are made with a flour paste piped on before baking. But I’m just not crazy about that and frankly, I like the sticky sweet icing. Plus that’s how we always made them at La Farine.
These are not difficult to make, but they are a yeasted dough, so you’ll need to plan on them taking a few hours to rise. Remember that rising times are affected by the temperature of the room, so on a hot day, these might rise more quickly than on a cold day.
Using a stand mixer makes quick work of this dough, but you can also make it by hand in a regular bowl with a wooden spoon to mix. Once the dough comes together, just dump it on a work surface and knead it for about 10 minutes. It’s a great upper-body workout too!
Regardless of how you make them, they will fill your house with the sweet fragrance of spices and orange zest. If you like, use raisins instead of dried currants. Or add 1/2 cup chopped candied orange peel (in addition to or instead of the orange zest).
Recipe: Hot Cross Buns
Makes 16 buns
- 1 package (2 1/4 tsp) active dry yeast
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- ¾ cup whole milk, warmed to 110°F
- 3 large eggs
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tbsp finely grated orange zest
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/8 tsp ground allspice
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 6 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces
- 1 cup dried currants
- 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tbsp orange juice, plus more as needed
- To make the dough, in the bowl of a stand mixer, dissolve the yeast and granulated sugar in the warm milk and let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. Add the eggs, flour, orange zest, spices, and salt. Attach the dough hook and knead on low speed until the ingredients come together. Toss in the butter and continue to knead until the dough is smooth and springy, about 8 minutes. Add the currants and mix on low speed until they are mixed into the dough. Lightly oil a large bowl. Form the dough into a ball, put it in the oiled bowl, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise at room temperature until it doubles, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
- Dump the dough onto a clean work surface. Divide the dough into 16 equal pieces and roll each into a ball. Space the buns out on a baking sheet lined with parchment, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
- Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Remove the plastic wrap and brush the buns with the egg wash. Bake until golden brown, about 18 minutes. Let cool completely in the pan, set on a wire rack.
- To make the icing, in a bowl, beat together the powdered sugar, vanilla, and orange juice. You should have a smooth but very thick icing, but if it’s overly thick (meaning you can’t stir it easily) just add a little more orange juice. Spoon the icing into a quart-sized Ziploc bag and snip a corner off. Use the bag as a piping bag to pipe the icing over the tops of the cooled buns in the shape of a cross.