Hot cross buns are a family tradition for us in Lent and especially during Holy Week. Thick with a basic powdered sugar icing, these are great for breakfast but go well at any other time of day as well.
As my family knows, I rarely measure my yeast breads but the following recipe was tested with carefully measured amounts--except for the flour! As with any yeast bread recipe, the amount of flour needed will vary, depending on the humidity on the day you are making the rolls (really!), the brand of flour, even the size of the eggs. So start with the amount given and gradually add more as needed.
Oh, and don't miss the NOTE at the end of the recipe if you are concerned about what temperature the water should be.
Yeast doughs may take a few trials for you to feel comfortable making them, but they are also very, very forgiving and flexible!
Hot Cross Buns1 3/4 c water
1 1/2 t salt
1/4 c oil
1/4 to 1/2 c sugar
2/3 c dry milk powder
1/2 c quick oats (NOT instant--this is the stuff that comes in the traditional round cardboard boxes)
1 to 1 1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t ginger
1/4 t nutmeg (optional)
1 c raisins
1 package instant dry yeast (or about 2 t yeast from a larger package)
4-5 c flour, to start--preferably at least half bread flour, but all purpose flour will be fine as well (up to 3 cups whole wheat flour may be used if desired--if this option is chosen, the rest of the flour should be bread flour for best resiliency in the dough)
Warm the water until just comfortable to the touch--in a much larger bowl than you probably expect to need--this stuff really grows! (Please see the NOTE below on getting the water temperature "just right.")
Stir in the salt, oil, sugar, dry milk powder, oatmeal and spices. Beat in the eggs and 2 cups of flour. Stir in the raisins and yeast along with enough additional flour (1 to 2 cups) to make a thick batter. If using whole wheat flour, add that now. Beat well with a wood spoon--the batter should start to get a rather smooth, silky consistency.
Set the batter in a warm location and allow to rise until bubbly and light--maybe an hour or so. Stir down and add more flour, a cup or so at a time, beating after each addition, until the dough is still soft but begins to "clean the bowl," that is, it clings together more than it sticks to the bowl.
At this point, you can either form the dough into rolls or you can punch it down and let it rise again. Truth be told, my dough often gets punched down many times, until I am ready to make the rolls. As I said, yeast doughs are flexible and forgiving, so you can--to a degree--make them conform to your schedule!
When you are ready to form the buns, oil two baking sheets. Then, with your well-oiled hands, pull off amounts of dough about the size of a golf ball or slightly smaller, and shape into round buns. You will probably need a little extra flour as you work, to keep the dough workable. Place on the pans with plenty of room for the dough to grow. Cover the pans lightly and let rise about an hour, until the buns have doubled in size.
Bake at 375 degrees for about 13 to 15 minutes. For a soft, glossy crust, brush buns with butter as soon as removed from the oven--note the difference in appearance:
Worried about what exactly is "just comfortable to the touch?" Here's the nice thing about yeast breads in general: as long as you don't kill the yeast from too much heat, you can start with a wide range of temperature!
So how do you make sure you don't kill the yeast? Two things in this method that can keep that from being a problem. First, you are going to "touch" the water. If you feel like you're burning your fingers, that isn't "comfortable," and that is too hot, so let the water cool a bit.
The other thing is that, when you've decided the water is "comfortable," even if that is hotter than the yeast might like, you are going to be adding a lot of other ingredients before the yeast goes in. That oil, those eggs, even the dry things like sugar and dried milk powder are all going to be cooling off the mixture. By the time you stir in the yeast, you are very, very, very unlikely to kill off the yeast from too much heat.
I know that the possibility of having your rolls fail because the yeast was killed by heat is genuine, but don't worry over much about this. Indeed, what might happen is that your mixture might end up being on the cool side. No worries with that either. The only downside would be that the dough might take a little longer to raise to doubling the first time through.
Powdered Sugar Frosting
2 to 4 T softened butter
2 pounds powdered sugar
1 t pure vanilla
Stir a cup or two of the powdered sugar into the butter and add the vanilla and a tablespoon or so of milk. Beat this mixture until smooth. Then gradually add the sugar and milk alternately, beating after each. Be very careful not to add more than a teaspoon or so of milk each time, as the mixture will thin very quickly. Store covered in the refrigerator for a week or more.
Cream cheese can be substituted for all or part of the butter in this recipe. This can be used for cookies, cinnamon rolls, carrot cake, etc., with almond flavoring added to or replacing the vanilla and lemon or orange juice substituted for part of the milk.