Hot Cross Buns are an Easter tradition dating back to before Queen Elizabeth I. In addition to their Christian symbol of the cross, they have strong folklore traditions as well: Sailors would bring cross buns with them on sea voyages to guard against shipwrecks. Hanging a cross bun in the kitchen guaranteed that bread made there would always rise. And, sharing a cross bun with someone meant you were best friends forever.
Continue the tradition for yourself by using prepared frozen bread dough from the store. Or, if you have a favorite made-from-scratch buttery yeast dough, this is the perfect occasion for it!
Hot Cross Buns:
1 lb. good-quality white or whole-wheat yeast bread dough
¼ cup white sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. each cardamom and nutmeg
¾ cup dried fruit-and-nut combo of your choice
1 egg yolk
½ cup powdered sugar
¼ tsp. vanilla
2 to 3 tsp. milk or cream
Thaw the dough according to the package directions. When you’re ready to make the buns, bring the dough to room temperature by leaving it covered on the kitchen counter for about an hour.
Mix sugar and spices in a small bowl. In another bowl, mix together your choice of dried fruits and nuts.
Sprinkle a pastry cloth or large cutting board with a couple tablespoons of flour. With damp hands, flatten the dough into the flour so it’s roughly a one-inch-thick rectangle.
Sprinkle the sugar and spice mixture, fruit and nuts onto the dough. Roll up the dough lengthwise into a log shape.
Bring the ends of the log together and firmly massage the dough, kneading it for about two minutes and shaping it into a big, smooth ball. If the fruit falls out, just press it back into the dough. Don’t be afraid to really work the dough into a ball—you can’t hurt it!
Coat a 9-by-13-inch cake pan with cooking spray.
With damp hands, squeeze dinner roll-size dough pieces between your thumb and forefinger—you'll have about 10 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball (it doesn't need to be perfectly round) and place in the pan. The rolls will nestle cozily with their sides touching or almost touching.
Cover the pan with plastic wrap coated in cooking spray and place in a warm spot for an hour to allow the rolls to rise.
When you're ready to bake, preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Mix the egg yolk with one tablespoon of water and lightly brush the egg-and-water mixture on the top of each roll. Use a light hand and don’t use too much, or you’ll have baked egg on top of your rolls.
Bake for 15 to 25 minutes at 375 degrees—until the tops of the rolls are golden brown. To be sure that the rolls are done, check with a food thermometer. The interior temperature of the rolls should be 190 degrees.
Allow the rolls to cool thoroughly in the pan. Mix up the ingredients for the icing and spoon the icing into a small zip-close bag. Snip a narrow corner off the end of the bag and pipe the icing in a cross shape on top of each of the buns.
On the off chance that you have leftover buns, don't re-heat them in the microwave, as it will destroy the yeast bread texture. Wrap rolls in foil and reheat in the oven for a few minutes at 325 degrees.