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When I think back to Easter’s past I don’t really remember the food. This isn’t to say that my mom didn’t prepare an amazing meal. I am sure she did. Instead my memories are very kidcentric. I remember the baskets, the chocolate bunnies, looking for the colorful plastic eggs full candy, and especially dying hard boiled eggs. In short, I remember all the bright colors and the fun family activities that revolved around them.
That nostalgia hit me pretty hard this year. It isn’t like I haven’t celebrate easter since living away from my parents. I have in small ways. But this year in particular I wanted bright colors and easter foods. This thought inspired me to make these funfetti hot cross buns.
Hot cross buns have so many traditions surrounding them and Easter. Which, to me, makes them even more interesting to make. I love traditions, and stories, and meaning behind my food. Plus it turns out The French Chef in Private American Families by Xavier Raskin, has a super old school hot cross buns recipe. (If you want to know more about this cookbook, I talked a bit in my Veganized Holiday Nutmeg Cookie recipe). It was published in 1922 and makes you work for your baked goods. This hot cross bun recipe had no rise times, told me to use a yeast cake (which now I kind of want to find out what that is), and no bake temperatures. But that made figuring at this recipe and making it my own, all the more fun!
Two things I learned through the trial and error of baking this recipe and a little baking experiment:
- Scalding milk is really important – It turns out that milk protein isn’t good for yeast. Luckily for us, heat degrades protein! I had always heated up liquids before adding instant yeast. I always thought this was because yeast like it warmer so I usually only heated them to 110° F. But the first batch made this way just didn’t have the fluffiness I wanted. It turns out it is more than that. Milk protein denatures at 180° F (plus other bacteria die and the enzymes are destroyed too)yay wikipedia. This means to get the best rise out of your buns and to make them the most fluffy, you need to scald that milk (get it to 180° F) then cool it down to a temperature that makes your yeast happy (110° F is what I suggest – warmer means more active yeast but that temperature won’t kill it!).
- Kneading vs Baking Powder – When trying to figure out how to bake a recipe without a lot of directions you really need to let your dough do the talking. I tried the dough two different ways – a fast way with baking powder and a slow way with lots of kneading. I did both to see which I liked better and wrote both ways into the baking instructions below:
- Kneading – This matches the recipe in the book. I watched the dough and felt it and waited until I thought the dough was ready. Turns out for this recipe this means kneading a decently long time. Which without something that can knead for you sucks. I get it. I have kneaded bread for 30 minutes by hand before (Caveat, I now have a Kitchenaide stand mixer so I didn’t for this recipe). But feel it out as you go. Once the dough feels like you can stretch about an inch without really tearing it, it is good to go.
- Baking Powder – Use 2 teaspoons of baking powder added into step #5 below. You will only need to knead it just enough to incorporate everything together well. This can take a while though because the butter and flour mixture is very grainy.
Which did I like better? I prefer the kneaded over the baking powder ones. They looked rounder and had more of that hard crust, soft inside feel. The baking powder ones were super moist and fluffy but, probably because I kneaded less, they looked and felt more like scones or biscuits and a little less like buns. They also had this baking powder taste too them a little bit. Still delicious but when I make them again, I won’t use baking powder.
- The last test I want to do is bread flour vs. all purpose flour. The current recipe uses all all purpose flour because that is what the traditional 1922 recipe called for. I am curious how much using half bread flour would change it. But Mr. Physics says he is tired of eating hot cross buns and I can’t blame him. We usually don’t eat many baked goods and we are up to our ears right now…even if he did take the first batch to work…any other food bloggers start to get overwhelmed with their recipe by the end???
Funfetti Hot Cross Buns
Recipe modified from Hot Cross Buns in The French Chef in Private American Families
Makes 12 buns.
This recipe takes about 3 and a 1/2 to 4 hours to complete but doesn’t need to be done all at once.
1 ½ teaspoons instant yeast
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon + ¼ cup sugar
4 tablespoons butter
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/3 cups + 2 cups flour
Optional: 2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ cup sprinkles1For the sprinkles in this recipe I used Parlor Perfect for two main reasons. 1. I read the post from Molly Yeh on her funfetti cake. She researched the best sprinkles for her cake and blogged about it. It is SUPER helpful for deciding what to use for different recipes. From her research I knew I wanted to look for the store bought, bright as I could get sprinkles. 2. I then knew I wanted something that didn’t have chocolate in it because I didn’t want chocolate flavor in the hot cross buns…and at my local super market that left me one option!
- Put milk in sauce pan. Heat milk to 180° F. You can tell the temperature with a thermometer (which is what I did) or heat it until just before simmer point. Then turn off heat, add 1 tablespoon of sugar, and allow to cool to 110° F. This takes around 30 minutes.
- Add yeast to milk mixture and allow to sit for 15 minutes. The yeast should be very bubbly at this point.
- Add 1¼ cups flour and mix together. You can do this just with a spoon, your hands, or with a pastry hook on the blender. It will be very sticky. Set aside to rise for an hour.
- In stand mixer/bowl beat butter until creamy, ~1 minute, then add in ¼ cup sugar. Beat until creamed, ~2-3 minutes. Add in cinnamon, salt, 2 cups of flour and eggs. Mix until well combined.
- Add in the risen flour mixture (and baking powder if you choose to use it) and switch to dough hook if you are using a stand mixer. Mix with until well combined. Take out of bowl and knead with your hands for a few minutes. If you are not using the baking powder, put back in bowl and knead with dough hook for another 15 minutes (you can also do this by hand it just is a harder process). Can’t do this all in one day? Click here!At this point you can set the dough aside and do the rest of the process later. You could do steps 1-5 Saturday night then do steps 6-8 the next morning. I would recommend keeping the dough in the fridge. I would also recommend giving it time to warm up before rolling it out and working with it.
- Roll dough out about a 3rd of an inch thick. Add in 2 tablespoons of sprinkles. Fold over then roll out again. Add the rest of the sprinkles and fold over. Then knead with dough with your hands until you feel the sprinkles are well enough distributed.
- Separate the dough out into 12 equally sized balls (for me they were 75g-80g a piece) and place on baking sheet equal distance apart. Cover with plastic wrap or a slightly damp towel and allow to rise in a warm place for an hour to an hour and a half (close to double to start size).
- While the buns are rising, preheat the oven to 375° F. Once buns are ready place buns in the oven and cook for 18 minutes. Remove and allow to cool completely if you are going to ice them or just enough to eat them if you aren’t!
Decoration choices: There are a few ways you can choose to decorate these buns in “traditional” hot cross bun fashion. I tried them all out to see which I liked the best!
- Browned bun top: Combine the white of one egg with 1 tablespoon milk. Brush on the top of the buns right before you put them in the oven.
- Traditional cross indent: This is what the old cookbook I used told you to do. Take a knife or other object and indent the stop of the buns in a cross pattern right before you put them in the oven. If you want this to stand out even more combine with #1 and just brush around, but not in, the indent. When I tried this with the baking powder it didn’t seem to work that well.
- Traditional Cross with Flour Paste: This it he one that you see where it seems like the cross is “inside” the dough. Combine 1/3 cup flour with ¼ cup water. Mix together and then pipe on the dough in a cross pattern before putting it in the oven. Oh and be careful piping it so you don’t end up with feet like mine had 😛. (This also shows that the baking powder ones didn’t rise a lot in baking or the cross rose with it because it didn’t intend like some I see online do)
- More modern cross icing: combine 1 cup confectioner’s sugar with 1 teaspoon matcha powder/confectioner’s sugar and 3 teaspoon milk. Stir together. Add more milk or sugar depending on thickness. The matcha is to make the stripes green and colorful naturally but it does add a matcha flavor. If you don’t like that you can use food coloring or just leave the icing white. Put in piping bag or plastic bag with corner cut off and put on bun in cross pattern. Allow to harden.
Happy Easter! Or really Happy anytime you want a bright, colorful bun day! These would be perfect for a birthday brunch or gifts to anyone!