Hot Cross Buns: A Lesson in Bread Baking

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Bread baking is something I have always wanted to try my hand at. The problem is, I am by no means a master pastry chef. Think of me of more as a follow the directions and throw it in the bowl food enthusiast. Baking, on the other hand, requires a lot more skill than just following and throwing. Needless to say, I was daunted.

The weeks leading up to Easter, my Instagram and YouTube feeds were jammed with a wealth of variations on hot cross buns. I remember one Easter when I was a kid my mom bought hot cross buns for our brunch. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement. The two meek streaks of icing and chunks of candied fruit did not live up to the splendor that my mom had described the buns to be. However, this year’s inundation of recipes for these traditional Easter rolls had me, the daunted bread maker, intrigued.

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My mom’s kitchen was the perfect backdrop to test my skills. Truthfully, I was eager for her to supervise and give a few pointers. In my often wrecked effort to eat clean I decided to make Cardamom and Apricot Hot Cross Buns, a recipe that I found on Honestly Healthy Food. They opt for spelt flour, coconut sugar, and almond milk. Spelt is a species of wheat, so it isn’t technically gluten free, but is a healthier alternative to use while baking. I would say it is suitable for all the stylishly “gluten free” people in out there.

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Star Anise Pod

Plot twist! The recipe calls for cardamon pods, which I thought we had. However, I goofed and used star anise instead, thinking it was cardamom. It ended up being a happy accident and lent a nice licorice spice flavor. Bread making is definitely a science, but as long as you don’t mess up the fundamental chemical reactions between the yeast and the gluten, it’s ok to switch up ingredients (unintentionally in my case!) based on what you do and don’t have on hand.

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Proofing the dough.

My mom, ever the skeptic, began to doubt my efforts when the dough did not rise to double its original size. In the event that my first attempt at bread making was a wash, we started another batch of traditional hot cross buns I had seen on SORTEDfood.

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Allowing the buns to proof for the second time.

I was grateful for her interjection, because it turned into a lesson. She threw together all the ingredients in a bowl within seconds. Sometimes I am convinced she is a wizard. This was one of those times. She explained that when you bake bread you have to add sugar because the yeast feeds off of it, which enables the dough to rise. She started off the kneading, and let me take over the methodic movement of pulling and pushing. Through pushes and pulls, she told me that this motion stretches out the strands of gluten in the dough, which gives the end result the desired supple and springy consistency. According to the master, when the dough is aptly kneaded it should feel like a babies bottom. Oddly enough, this analogy is so true, and fool proof. Definitely tucking this seed of bread baking wisdom into my back pocket.

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It’s a lot harder than it looks.

Ever since my weekend long truffle making endeavor, as a child, which had us up to our elbows in ganache, my mom has been weary of my kitchen antics, especially when they come from Pinterest. However, I aim to impress in all that I do, and that is exactly what these rolls did! We decided to cheat and have a bun while they were still hot from the oven. It was truly a symphony of flavors in the most cliche way possible. The wholesomeness of the spelt and the sweetness from the dried fruit with a little butter melted on top…it was an Easter brunch miracle.

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Hot Cross Buns with a Fig glaze.

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Hot from the oven!

Both bun recipes were an A+ and can be found here and here.

Happy Easter!

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