"Perhaps the most impressive of all the cookbook blogs are the three devoted to the 2004 edition of Gourmet magazine's "The Gourmet Cookbook" -- all 5¼ pounds and 1,300-odd recipes of it. Befitting this culinary Everest, all three writers are overachievers in their professional lives."

--Lee Gomes, The Wall Street Journal, May 28, 2008
"I should have told you before how much I've been enjoying reading your thoughts. You seem like such a great cook."

--Ruth Reichl, Editor-in-Chief of Gourmet Magazine, June 8 2008, comment on "Chocolate Velvet Ice Cream".

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Hot Cross Buns

Until I made this recipe, I had never had Hot Cross Buns. Can you believe that? Wrong part of the country, wrong religion, I don't know, but not only had I never had them, I had never even SEEN them until I moved to New England. And then, because I saw them at the grocery store bakery I assumed they were no good, and I know that's snobby but there it is.

So I was a Hot Cross virgin until recently, and oh my god, that's making me think of a song. Hang on...YouTube help me out here...

If you've never seen Moulin Rouge, this cover of Madonna's "Like a Virgin", done by Jim Broadbent, is hysterically funny. He's trying to cover for his top showgirl by saying she's at confession.

Anyway, I digress.

So I had no idea what was involved with Hot Cross Buns, but was delighted to see that they have all kinds of goodies inside--allspice, cinnamon, lemon zest, orange zest, golden raisins and currants. It's a standard bread-baking procedure, with yeast, and risings, and all that jazz, and proceed I did until I came to some instructions that stopped me cold.

And these were:

On a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin roll out pastry dough into a 20- by 6-inch rectangle (about 1/8 inch thick). With a sharp knife cut rectangle crosswise into 1/8-inch- wide strips.

Brush buns with egg glaze and arrange 2 pastry strips over center of each bun to form a cross. Trim ends of pastry strips flush with bottoms of buns.

Pastry dough?!?!

In the headnotes they take the time to say that in the early days these buns were docked to make a cross, then they evolved to cross-shaped icing. So I was expecting some kind of icing finale and was completely baffled by this direction. And YES, I should read recipes carefully, all the way through, before I embark upon them but being a flawed individual sometimes I don't.

I just can't reconcile pastry dough with bread dough! Pastry dough is meant to be flaky, to shatter in the mouth--how does that go with springy, spicy bread? If you take one bite will the rest fall off? It just seemed totally bizarre, and after giving it some thought I decided to ignore this direction and instead try two routes--just straight baked buns, and buns that had been docked (cut) on top in the shape of a cross. I used kitchen shears to do that rather than a knife.

Here's how they turned out:

Regular buns:

Docked buns:

I liked the looks of the regular ones, but there were others who thought the docked buns looked more "rustic", which I sometimes suspect is a synonym for "amateurish". But they both tasted just the way you'd expect, which is irresistible.

I was curious to get on epicurious and see a) if the recipe was there and if so b) if reviewers had tried the pastry crosses. It is, and they didn't--every one of the 19 reviewers who mentioned crosses said that they subbed icing.

So it's still a mystery to me. I might try it sometime, just out of a mad desire to see WHY (there must be a reason!) but for now suffice it to say that if you're into sweet yeast breads you will LOVE this recipe.


Georgia (Milo & Nutella) said...

Ooh, we could host a tea party - you, me, and E - with these buns!

Adam said...

I think I'll make these for Easter. When Teena made these a while ago, I, too was surprised by the pie crust step. I admire your pluck for deep-sixing it. I'll probably make half with the pie crust, and the other half with frosting.