American Classics

Lost classic desserts from our wide and varied past.

American Classics: Untraditional Hot Cross Buns

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[Photograph: Alexandra Penfold]

Each year, bakeries trot out these cross-topped, yeasted buns during Lent and Eastertime. As a kid, I lived in a house divided by hot cross buns. My dad hated them. My brother hated them. My mother tolerated them. And I romanticized them. After all, they did have a song written about them: "Hot cross buns! Hot cross buns! One ha' penny, two ha' penny, Hot cross buns! If you have no daughters, give them to your sons..."

The trouble with hot cross buns, at least in my experience, is they tend to not be very good. While traditional English buns have currants or raisins, the buns where I grew up in Southern Connecticut were studded with a mixture of raisins and garishly colored citron—perhaps fruitcake leftovers? More often then not, the buns were somewhat tough and not terribly fresh. Still, when Lent rolls around, that song calls to me like a siren.

After finding sweet, sweet success using challah dough to make monkey bread, I realized that the water + yeast proofing technique used in challah dough, made for a fluffier, chewier bun than the scalded dairy technique I had tried before for other sweetened yeasted breads and this inspired me to play with the dough to make hot cross buns with the texture that I had been searching for.

These resulting buns are everything I've always wanted hot cross buns to be: soft and sweet with only real dried fruit. And fortunately I have a few weeks left of Lent to enjoy baking them.

About the author: Alexandra Penfold is mild-mannered literary agent by day, food ninja by night. Never one to skip dessert she's the Brownie half of Blondie & Brownie, a Midtown Lunch contributor, and co-author of New York à la Cart: Recipes and Stories from the Big Apple's Best Food Trucks. You can follow her on Twitter at @BlondieBrownie.

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