Preheat the oven to 200° C (400° F)
Prep. time: 30 minutes
Rising time: 3 hours
Baking time: 20 minutes
"Hot cross buns, Hot cross buns
One a penny, Two a penny, Hot cross buns."
Old English children's song
Traditionally eaten on Good Friday but now popular all around the Easter season, these buns, fragrant with fruit and spices, are an English treat with roots that date far back into the pre-Christian era. It is thought that they are the descendants of the small cakes offered to Eostre, the goddess of spring. They may have been marked with a cross even in ancient times, to represent the four quarters of the moon. In later centuries the church, unable to stamp out ancient pagan traditions, decided instead to "Christianize" the buns by associating the cross with that of Jesus.
- Combine the raisins, peel, orange zest and rum in a small bowl. Cover and let macerate for at least one hour.
- Sprinkle the dry yeast over the warm water and let sit until it begins to foam.
- In a large bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook), combine the milk, butter, egg, sugar, salt and vanilla. Stir in the yeast mixture.
- Combine half of the flour with the spices. Mix into the liquid ingredients.
- Gradually add as much of the remaining flour as necessary to make a smooth workable dough. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead in the macerated fruit mixture. Knead the dough until smooth and satiny.
- Place into a greased bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place for about 1 hour, or until doubled in volume.
- Punch the dough down and divide into 12 equal pieces. Form into buns and place them about 5 cm (2") apart on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. With a sharp knife or razor blade, cut a cross into the surface of each bun (optional). Cover and let rise in a warm place for 30-45 minutes, or until doubled in volume.
- Brush the buns with egg wash (egg beaten with a little cold water).
- Bake in a preheated 200°C (400°F) oven for 15-20 minutes, or until nicely browned.
- Cool thoroughly on a rack.
- Combine the icing sugar with the milk or orange juice. Apply the icing to each bun in the form of a cross.
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