Saturday, April 16, 2011

One a Penny, Two a Penny... by Barbara (Ruth)

This weekend Christians around the world will celebrate Palm Sunday, the beginning of Easter week, and although I rarely go to church anymore, I still consider myself a Christian and mark the major events of the Liturgical calendar.

I was raised in a family that was very active in the Presbyterian church, and I went to Sunday School every week that I can remember until my confirmation at age 14. I loved Sunday School – possibly because I didn’t have to sit through the entire church service (we went down to class after the Minister told a “children’s story”, but before the dreaded sermon), but more likely because I loved the Bible stories. From Adam & Eve to Noah, Moses, David and of course Ruth (I loved that I had my own book, but wasn’t too fond of the name of Ruth’s chosen man, Boaz). There were parables and poems and miracles – what child wouldn’t enjoy them?

On Palm Sunday the Minister would tell us the story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, while adoring followers lay down cloaks and branches of trees (palms) on the road in front of Him, crying “Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord!”

Of course those same people would turn against Him a few days later, but that’s a story for next week.

In Sunday school we played games, learned the day’s lesson, and did arts and crafts, and each child received a long palm frond to symbolize the special day. I used to think these exotic palms were shipped all the way from Jerusalem, because there sure wasn’t a palm tree in my home town! I found the whole day pretty exciting, just behind Christmas Eve and Easter Sunday in my ranking of special days at church.

Yesterday, a friend asked me what foods were part of my family's Palm Sunday tradition, and honestly I couldn’t think of any. Easter Sunday was (and still is) about ham and scalloped potatoes, but Palm Sunday specifically? Nothing.

However, around Easter week, there was always the appearance of jelly beans, chocolate, and… hot cross buns. Being a bread lover my whole life, I can assure you that my love for hot cross buns has never waned (GW). As I thought about these sweet and fragrant treats, I became curious about their origins so I decided to look them up, and then to bake some myself!
Today's baking effort - a success!
From what I can tell, the term “hot cross bun” made its first recorded appearance in 1733 in a children’s rhyme in Poor Robin’s Almanac:
Good Friday come this month, the old woman runs

With one or two a penny hot cross buns.

Some claim that the early Saxons ate the buns in honour of the goddess Eostre, and that the cross on the bun marked the four quarters of the moon. Others say the Greeks ate them much earlier. This innocuous (GW) bun even caused trouble in sixteenth century Elizabethan England, when Protestant English monarchs thought the buns were “too Catholic”, so they banned them! Eventually Queen Elizabeth I said it was ok to sell them, but only at Easter and Christmas.

There are superstitions too, of course. I heard on the radio that hot cross buns baked on Good Friday will not get moldy through the next year. They’re also supposed to ensure friendship when shared, protect against shipwreck, prevent fires, and, if hung in the kitchen, ensure all breads turn out perfectly.

Well, I can’t wait until Good Friday to bake these, and I don’t have a year-old bun hanging in the kitchen, so hopefully this batch will turn out. I will, however, share them with friends!

Hot Cross Buns, from Amy’s Bread
Fresh nutmeg is always best
for baking!

  1. Place ½ C of very warm (but not hot) water in a mixer bowl with 1T plus ¾ tsp yeast. Mix with a fork and let stand for 3 mins.
  2. Whisk 3 1/3 C white flour with 1 ½ tsp salt, ½ tsp fresh ground nutmeg, and ½ tsp cinnamon. Set aside.
  3. Use a whisk to mix together 3 eggs, ½ C canola oil, 1/3 C white sugar, and ¼ cup warmed milk.
  4. Add liquid mix to the yeast mixture and beat using paddle attachment until combined.
  5. Slowly add flour mixture. After 2 minutes or so, switch to dough hook attachment, and beat for 3-4 minutes.
  6. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and need by hand for 6-8 minutes. The dough will be very wet and sticky at first, and will become easier to work with as the gluten forms to make it strong and springy. Keep your surface and hands lightly floured.
  7. Shape the dough into a loose ball and allow to rest, covered with a piece of plastic wrap, for 20 minutes.
  8. Flatten the dough into a ½ inch thick rectangle. Sprinkle 2/3 C currents over the dough. Fold all the edges in, and then knead for 2-3 minutes until the currents are well distributed.
  9. Shape the dough into a ball, place into a lightly oiled bowl, then cover with plastic wrap and let rise 1 ½ - 2 hours, or until about double in size.
  10. Line two 17x12 inch baking pans (both should fit in the oven together) with parchment paper.
  11. Transfer the dough back to the floured surface, knead a few times, and then separate the dough into 16 or 18 equally sized pieces.
  12. Work each piece into a ball shape, by tucking the edges under over and over until the top is smooth and the shape is a ball.
  13. Place each piece on the parchment, spacing them a couple of inches apart.
  14. Let them rise, about 1 ½ hours, or again until double.
  15. About 15 mins before the buns are ready to bake, preheat the over to 400F. Place a cast iron skillet (or any metal baking pan) in the bottom of the oven or on the lowest rack.
  16. Cut a cross in the top of each bun, and brush with an egg wash. (One egg white mixed with a pinch of salt. Save any unused egg wash.)
  17. Carefully pour 1 cup of boiling water in the skillet in the over, put the trays of buns in quickly, and close the over door.
  18. After 2 minutes, add another ½ C of water and quickly close the door.
  19. After another 10 minutes, reduce the heat to 375F, and rotate the trays if necessary to ensure even browning.
  20. Bake another 5-10 minutes until the buns are golden brown and the surfaces feel firm but not hard when pressed lightly.
  21. Transfer to a wire rack and cool.
  22. Mix the remaining egg wash with ¾ C powdered sugar and ¼ tsp vanilla. When the buns are cooler but still a little warm, use a pastry bag or a teaspoon to make an X of frosting over the cross on each bun.
These are best eaten the same day they are baked. Unless, of course,
you're saving one to hang in your kitchen!


  1. I love Palm Sunday, and I've been looking forward to the service all week! Your hot cross buns look amazing, and I'll be sure to check out that cookbook.

  2. Did you shoot this food porn yourself? The pix are beautiful! I had no idea you were such a talented shutterbug.

  3. Ha! Thanks Larry... I'm really not, but I try!