Hot cross buns are synonymous with Easter; the spiced sweet treat marked with an icing cross on top marks the end of Lent and is traditionally eaten on Good Friday.
Melissa Weller, acclaimed baker of Walnut Street Café in Philadelphia, spikes her hot cross buns with white pepper, nutmeg, cloves and orange zest. Pastry worrywarts shouldn’t fear, Weller has some pro tips for the home cook: “Always proof in a warm and humid spot,” she says. If you’re baking in a dry environment, cover the buns with a damp and lightweight linen cloth. “This helps prevent a skin from forming on the surface.”
Here’s how to make Weller’s buns at home:
Hot Cross BunsRecipe courtesy of Melissa Weller, Walnut Street Café
Yield: 15 buns
For the buns:
2 cups dried currants
3/4 cup whole milk
3 large eggs, divided
1/4 cup crème fraîche
4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
5 teaspoons instant yeast
2 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Zest of 1 orange
1 stick unsalted butter, cubed and at room temperature
For the icing:
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
2 tablespoons whole milk
1. Make the buns: Place the currants in a small bowl; cover with hot water and soak for 10 minutes; drain and reserve.
2. Pour the milk into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. In the following order, add 2 eggs, the crème fraîche, flour, brown sugar, yeast, salt, white pepper, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and orange zest. Knead the dough with the dough hook on low speed for 2 minutes. Increase the speed to medium and mix for 3 minutes more. Add the butter, reduce the speed to low, and mix until the butter is incorporated, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl and the hook once or twice with a wet hand, about 5 minutes. Add the currants and mix on low speed until they are evenly distributed throughout the dough, about 5 minutes. Turn off the mixer.
3. Remove the bowl from the mixer and cover with a dishcloth or plastic wrap. Set the bowl aside in a warm place to ferment the dough for 2 hours, turning the dough by folding the four edges in toward the center halfway through the fermentation.
4. Meanwhile, spray a quarter (9-by-13-inch) baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Line the baking sheet with parchment and spray the top of the parchment with more nonstick spray.
5. Lightly dust a flat work surface with flour. Scrape the dough onto the floured work surface and divide the dough into 15 equal pieces. Working with one piece of dough at a time, rotate the dough on your dusted work surface in a circular motion, rolling it counter clockwise if you’re right handed, and pushing against the work surface to create a ball. (The dough is not terribly sticky, so you shouldn’t need any additional flour to shape the dough into balls. If you use too much flour on your work surface the pieces of dough will slip and slide while you try to round them. If this happens, scrape the extra flour away with a bench knife and round again.) Place the balls evenly on the prepared baking sheet, three across by five long. Cover the baking sheet with a dishcloth or plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place to proof the dough until the balls look swollen, are touching each other, and have approximately doubled in size, about 2 hours.
6. Adjust the oven racks so one is in the middle position and preheat the oven to 350°F.
7. Whisk the remaining 1 egg in a small bowl to make an egg wash. Brush the tops and side of the buns with the egg wash and bake, rotating the baking sheet from front to back halfway through the cooking time, until the buns are nicely browned and hollow sounding when tapped on the top, 30 to 35 minutes.
8. Remove from the oven and immediately place buns onto a cooling rack. Use an offset spatula to do this, giving the pan a little jerk to help slide the buns onto the cooling rack. Let the buns cool for 20 to 30 minutes before icing them.
9. Make the icing: While the buns are cooling, stir the confectioners sugar together with the milk in a small bowl. Transfer the icing to a disposable pastry bag and make a small cut in the opening. Pipe the icing straight lines down and then across the centers of each line of buns to create a cross on each bun.
Photos courtesy of Walnut Street Café.