Hot cross buns remind us of Jesus as the Bread of life

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org

The pagans were among the first to make them. Queen Elizabeth I banned them. The British love them with tea. For centuries, hot cross buns have been a longstanding Lenten tradition. These densely toasted buns, loaded with dried fruit, spices and topped with a sweet trace of icing, have an important religious significance, according to Benedictine Father Francis Hein of St. Louis Abbey.

"They remind us that this is the bread of life that comes to us through the cross. And the icing signifies that we're rewarded with the sweetness of everlasting life."

While hot cross buns typically are made during Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent, when Catholics break for a short period of celebration amid an otherwise penitential season, they are a cherished pastry anytime.

As he does every year, Father Francis made hot cross buns this Lent for his fellow monks at St. Louis Abbey. Growing up, he kept a watchful eye as his parents baked almost every weekend. He's got a knack for taking recipes from the Internet and making a few tweaks to get them just how he likes them. He used a recipe from Allrecipes.com, and cut the sugar and increased the currants to make up the sweetness. He also added a few extra spices -- including mace, an aromatic spice taken from the coating of the nutmeg seed -- to give it a slightly spicier flavor.

Ingredients

3/4 cup warm water (110 degrees)

3 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon instant powdered milk

1/8 cup white sugar

3/8 teaspoon salt

1 egg

1 egg white

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon active dry yeast

1 cup dried currants

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon mace

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 egg yolk

2 tablespoons water

1/4 cup powdered sugar

1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2-4 tablespoons heavy whipping cream

Directions

Using a stand mixer, combine warm water, butter, skim milk powder, 1/8 cup sugar, salt, egg, egg white, yeast and flour to make the dough. Slowly add the flour until the dough is manageable and then toward the end of mixing, add the currants and spices.

Place dough on a lightly floured surface and knead by hand until the dough is no longer sticky. Father Francis said, "I really put a lot of elbow grease into the kneading, because the more you knead the more flour is incorporated and the more 'scone-like' the end product becomes."

Let the dough rise until double, and then beat down and roll into 12 balls. Place dough balls into a greased 9 x 12 inch pan. Cover and let rise in a warm place until double, about 35-40 minutes.

Mix egg yolk and two tablespoons water. Brush on dough balls.

Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove from pan and immediately cool on wire rack.

To make crosses, mix together powdered sugar, vanilla and add heavy cream (about 2-4 tablespoons) until desired thickness.

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