I think Easter should be more of a brunch holiday than a dinner holiday. After all, all the important parts of Easter happen in the morning – Easter baskets, Easter egg hunts, Easter services – so why not just scrap Easter dinner all together and have one big Easter brunch? I’m thinking of something that starts at around noon and maybe winds down at, say, 5:00. Something that includes bottomless mimosas, lots of egg dishes, really great croissants, and these hot cross buns.
Now, I don’t actually remember if I’ve had a hot cross bun before or not, but I have a vague, sneaking feeling that they showed up at our Easter breakfast table a couple of times, probably from one of the great local bakeries in Eugene (and yes, Eugene actually has some awesome local bakeries). Hot cross buns are a traditional spiced English bread, sold only on Good Friday and marked with a cross, for obvious reasons. But I’d like to incorporate them into my modern, secular, all-day Easter Brunch celebration for no other reason than they are delicious.
I wanted a sweet, buttery dough for my buns, so I used a brioche recipe from the excellent Baking with Julia, By Dorie Greenspan. While hot cross buns can be spiced up with raisins or currents, I decided to go with what was in season and used candied orange and lemon zest. Candying your own citrus zest may seem like an overachieving thing to do, but it’s really not – it takes all of 20 minutes, and dredging the zest in sugar is a strangely satisfying thing to do, I think because the finished zest looks so pretty. I glazed the buns with a simple lemon icing, and used long strips of lemon zest for the “cross” on the hot cross buns.
For breakfast I actually tend towards the savory stuff, so I especially appreciated that these buns are mostly all about the buttery, tender brioche dough, with the tart glaze and sweet citrus as pleasant accents. I’d serve them warm, cut open, and spread with more butter, or really good homemade lemon curd. Doesn’t that sound like a great addition to an all-day brunch?
Brioche Hot Cross Buns With Candied Citrus Peel
Adapted from Baking with Julia, By Dorie Greenspan
Makes 12 buns
For the candied citrus peel
1 1/2 cups sugar + 1 cup more for dredging
2 cups water
Remove the rind from the lemons and oranges using a vegetable peeler to cut them into long, wide strips, trying to only remove the rind and not the bitter, white pith. Set the fruit aside and reserve for another use.
In a small saucepan, bring sugar and water to a boil. Boil for two minutes, until sugar is dissolved. Add lemon and orange rind and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from syrup with a fork or slotted spoon and let drain. Place remaining 1 cup of sugar in a small bowl. Place rind in sugar and toss to coat. Toss a couple of additional times.
Take 6-8 pieces of rind and thinly slice into long strips (you’ll need 20 long strips to make the “cross” on the hot cross bun). You can finely chop the rest of the rind – you’ll need two tablespoons to incorporate into the dough. If you have any left over, store in an airtight container with the bottom lined with sugar.
For the sponge
1/3 cup warm whole milk
2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1 large egg
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
In the bowl of a heavy duty mixture, place the milk, yeast, egg and 1 cup of the flour. Mix together with a spatula, until everything is just blended. Sprinkle over the reserved 1 cup of flour to cover sponge. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for 30-40 minutes. During this time the sponge will bubble from beneath the flour covering – this is fine.
For the dough
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
6 oz (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tbs finely chopped candied citrus peel (from recipe above)
Lemon glaze (recipe follows)
20 long, thin pieces of candied lemon peel (from recipe above)
Add the sugar, salt and eggs and 1 cup of the flour to the sponge. Set the bowl in the mixer, and mix on low speed with the dough hook until a rough dough just looks like it’s coming together (1-2 minutes). Add the additional 1/2 cup of flour. When flour is incorporated increase speed to medium and beat for 15 minutes, stopping periodically to scrape down the hook and dough as needed. It will take about 7-10 minutes for the dough to come together – it will wrap itself around the hook and slap the sides of the bowl. If it doesn’t come together after 7-10 minutes, add up to 3 additional tbs of flour. Continue to beat for the full 15 minutes – no skimping! I use the stopwatch function on my cell phone to tell how long it’s been.
While the dough is kneading (keep an eye on your mixer – especially if it seems a little unsteady) you can get on with working the butter, which you want to be the same consistency as the dough. On a clean work surface, smash the dough with a rolling pin or smear it across a work surface bit by bit with a bench scraper. When it’s ready the butter will be smooth and soft, but still cool – not warm, oily or greasy.
With the mixer on medium low, add the butter a few tablespoons at a time. This will be a scary time, because your dough will begin to break apart. But never fear – continue to add the butter bit by bit. When all the butter has been added, raise the mixture speed to medium high and knead for 5 minutes, or until you hear the dough slapping against the sides of the bowl. If it’s not clearing the sides of the bowl in 2-3 minutes, add up to 1 tbs more flour. Sprinkle the dough with the candied citrus rind and knead until evenly distributed – about 1 minute. When it’s done, the dough will be cool, soft and just a little sticky – it may cling slightly to the sides and bottom of the bowl.
Place the dough into a large buttered bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled – 2 to 1 2 1/2 hours.
For the second rise, deflate the dough by gently lifting a section of the dough and letting it fall back into the bowl. Continue to work your way around the bowl, gently lifting section by section. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate dough overnight, or for at least 4-6 hours. During this time it will develop its flavor – overnight is really best flavor-wise.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove the dough to a lightly floured work surface and divide into twelve equal pieces using a bench scraper. Roll each piece into a ball and place on prepared baking sheet. Gently cover with lightly buttered plastic wrap and let rise until doubled – 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
For the egg glaze
1 egg lightly beaten with 1 tbs water
Preheat oven to 375 °F.
Lightly brush the glaze on each of the buns, being careful not to get any on the pan (it will impede the rising of the dough). Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown (if they start to brown too quickly, you can lightly tent with foil). When the buns are done, an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of a bun will register 200°. Let cool on a rack.
With a fork, lightly dribble with lemon glaze. Top each bun with two long pieces of lemon zest, crossing to form a “cross” on top.
For the lemon glaze
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cup of powdered sugar, sifted
In a small bowl whisk together lemon juice and powdered sugar until smooth.