Can I just say, first, before anything else? Guys. This weather. I know it’s supposed to get chilly again this week, but this Sunday’s weather was in-cred-ible. I’m unabashedly one of those people whose moods are starkly affected by the weather outside, and this weekend was just sublime. It finally feels like spring! And just in time for Easter.
This year’s Easter will be a bit of a special one for the Bowls — I’ll be going through adult Confirmation this Sunday. Bowl #2’s family is Catholic, and I won’t lie that pleasing his adorable mother may have played a role in why I initially explored RCIA. But in many ways (the more substantive of which I won’t get into here) this felt meant to be. Though I grew up Methodist, my father’s side has been Catholic for generations. I have distant memories of my great-grandmother (yep, this one!) sending me rosaries all the way from Shanghai, and holding the fragrant, carved beads in my hands as a small child. I know that, though they aren’t around for it, my great-grandparents are thrilled.
So, even though I know I’m joining a club that loves its traditions, I thought I’d share these not-quite-traditional hot cross buns for Good Friday, as a nod to my heritage. These are more or less standard, down to flour-paste crosses on top, but with a small Asian tweak — tangzhong. Baking these char siu pork buns a few weeks back was my first introduction to tangzhong, a gluey, roux-like paste used in a ton of Asian baked goods, things like soft, fluffy Hokkaido bread, to give the bread a pillowy, close crumb and a longer shelf life. It’s a little bit more work, but I find the texture totally addictive, and very much worth it.
Happy Monday, and happy early Easter!
- for the tangzhong:
- 2 tbsp flour
- 6 tbsp water
- for the dough:
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
- 2 3/4 cup (about 350 grams) flour (plus 1-2 tbsp more if it gets sticky)
- 2 tbsp sugar
- pinch salt
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 1/8 tsp cloves
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 2 tbsp butter, softened
- about 1/2 cup raisins, more if you like
- for the egg wash:
- 1 egg
- 1 tbsp milk or water
- for the “crosses”: (alternatively, use your favorite pipable glaze for added sweetness, piped after baking)
- 4 tbsp plain flour
- 2 tbsp water (I used coconut milk for a little extra something something)
- In a small saucepan, whisk together 6 tablespoons of water and 2 tablespoons of bread flour until no lumps remain. Heat the mixture over medium-low heat, whisking constantly. It should thicken to a gel-like consistency after just a few minutes. As soon as lines appear in the mixture when stirred, remove it from the heat and transfer it to a small, clean bowl to let cool. It will thicken upon standing.
- Next, heat the milk briefly to just above room temperature, about 110° F or lukewarm to the touch (I do this simply by microwaving it for 10 to 15 seconds). Sprinkle the yeast over the milk and set it aside for 5 to 10 minutes for the yeast to activate. The milk and yeast should foam.
- In the meantime, sift together the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves in a large bowl. When the yeast mixture is ready, add the tangzhong and the egg and whisk gently, just to incorporate. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture forms a loose, shaggy dough, then switch to using your hands. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 4-5 minutes, until it becomes semi-smooth and elastic. If the dough is too sticky, add just enough flour to continue kneading -- about one tablespoon should be enough. (Or check out Richard Bertinet's magical kneading method that I just discovered last week and am obsessed with.)
- Add the butter to the dough, one tablespoon at a time, kneading after each addition. Add the second tablespoon of butter only after the first is fully incorporated into the dough. It will be messy and squishy at first, but just keep kneading and it should come together into a dreamily silky dough that feels light and easy to work with. Continue to knead for an additional 4 to 5 minutes, until dough is smooth and elastic.
- Finally, flatten the dough into a rectangle about the size of a piece of paper, and sprinkle a handful of raisins evenly across the dough. Fold it in on itself (any way you like, really -- I just folded it in half) and flatten again, then sprinkle another handful of raisins across. Repeat until all the raisins have been added. Knead a few more times for good measure, then place the dough back into its bowl and cover with plastic wrap or damp towels, and let rise for 1-2 hours, or until well-doubled. You can also let the dough rise overnight in the fridge, which I've come to prefer. It gives extra time for the gluten to develop, and yields a better flavor, in my opinion. Plus, dividing the labor over two days makes the process more manageable. The dough should be fine for up to 24 hours. If storing in the refrigerator, cover more tightly with plastic wrap to avoid drying out.
- Once the dough has doubled, turn it out and punch it down. Divide the dough into 10-12 equal portions, and bring the edges of each portion down towards the bottom of the bun to form a neat ball. Place on a parchment- or Silpat-lined baking sheet about 3 inches apart. Let proof again until nearly doubled and an indentation bounces back slowly in the dough but remains visible -- 20-30 minutes if proofing from room temperature, and 30-40 minutes or slightly longer if proofing from an overnight rise in the fridge.
- Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Whisk together the egg and milk for the egg wash. For the cross paste, mix together the flour and water (or milk, if you feel like it) until it forms a thick paste. You may need to add a teaspoon or two more liquid to get it to a pipable consistency. Fill a piping bag or a Ziploc with the paste. When the buns are done with their second rise, brush the tops with the egg wash, then pipe crosses over them. Bake 12-14 minutes, or until golden. Enjoy warm!
Extra rolls will freeze perfectly once baked -- let cool and wrap well in a few layers of plastic wrap before freezing. To reheat, just microwave from frozen for about 30-40 seconds, or allow to thaw (still wrapped) to room temperature, then bake at 350 for a few minutes.
Instead of a flour paste cross, feel free to use your favorite pipable glaze, piped on after the buns are baked and have cooled.