Friday, February 29, 2008

Hot Cross Buns

Even though I was Catholic growing up, I probably never would have eaten a hot cross bun if it weren't for that cute little song (see the lyrics here), which I probably learned in pre-school or someplace like that. With such a catchy tune running through my head, I naturally wanted to eat a hot cross bun. Luckily, a bakery near our house made them during lent, and I remember liking the sweet little yeast rolls studded with bits of fruit and spices.

What we know as a hot cross bun became popular in Tudor England in the 1500s, but the pagan inhabitants of the British Isles probably made similar bread marked with a cross to honor Eostre, their goddess of light for whom Easter was named, according to the Oxford Companion to Food. This tradition of offering bread to the gods goes back to the Greeks and Romans and even further to the Egyptians who took a great leap toward modern civilization when they traded blood sacrifices for far less messy offerings of bread.

Today, hot cross buns aren't really an offering, but a traditional holiday food eaten on Good Friday (also known as "the day of the cross") and throughout Lent to remind us of Jesus' cross.

When I decided to recreate this sweet little catholic-school-girl memory, I was surprised that there weren't many recipes to choose from when I looked to my cookbooks and searched online. There's a needlessly complex one here on epicurious, and you can probably turn up a few more from less reliable sources via google.

I found what looked like a good straightforward recipe on foodtv.com from Emeril of all people. Unfortunately, his recipe did not come off without a hitch. The dough was so slack and sticky that it wasn't "kneadable" until I added an extra 1/2 cup of flour. The dough took 2 hours instead of 1 to double in bulk, but I was happy that it rose at all.

Maybe I should have had more faith (bad joke, I know) because my buns turned out very well in the end. The flavor was just right with cardamom at the forefront. I couldn't resist adding a little ginger and allspice, two spices that are often included in hot cross buns. With those aromatic spices, the buns were perfect with the rose petal jam I was raving about in this post.

Here's the link to Emeril's recipe. My changes are as follows: 4 cups of flour instead of 3 1/2, but add more only if you need it; 1/3 cup of currants instead of 1/2 cup raisins (currants are more traditional); I used a generous 1/2 tsp of freshly ground cardamom and 1/4 tsp each of ginger and allspice; 2 hours for each rise. I got 19 buns and they took no more than 25 minutes to bake. If I made these again, I would reduce the milk to 1 cup. For the icing, I used just 1 tbs. of milk, otherwise it is too runny.

This is the type of thing I want to bake for breakfast, so after the second rise, I cover the buns well with a kitchen towel and put them in the refrigerator overnight. The next morning I let them come to room temperature for 1 to 2 hours, then bake. They're really good warm.

Here's another hot cross bun recipe from Levain Bakery, they of ginormous chocolate chip cookie fame. It seemed less traditional, so I opted for Emeril. Then, after all was said and done, I was flipping through Feast by Nigella Lawson looking for something totally unrelated and found her recipe for hot cross buns. Why the heck didn't I think of consulting her in the first place? If you have access to the book, give it a look.

If you have a favorite traditional Easter food, tell me about it in the comments!

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Friday, December 07, 2007

Cornbread Yeast Rolls

I absolutely love it when I try something new, not quite sure if it will work out, and end up with fantastic results. These cornbread yeast rolls are the perfect example. I say over and over how much I love cornbread. One of our favorite things to eat it with is super-slow roasted pork, shredded and topped with our favorite Memphis-style barbecue sauce.

The thing about my traditional skillet cornbread is that it's kinda crumbly. Doesn't really hold up as a sandwich bread, especially if you're filling it with luscious, spoon-tender pork smothered in sauce. After dealing with messy cornbread sandwiches one too many times, Mike had enough (I never really tried making a sandwich with cornbread in the first place, so I didn't much care). He asked if there was a recipe that existed somewhere in the wide world of food for cornbread that was better suited for sandwiches, but still deliciously corny.

I enthusiastically affirmed that such a thing does exist, since I've seen yeast cornbread recipes before, most recently here on a blog I read all the time. So, I set out to find a recipe that I could easily adapt to make big, sturdy sandwich rolls. I didn't have far to google before I found this recipe on FoodReference.com. I had no idea if it was reliable, but most of it made sense to me, and it contained all the ingredients I thought were needed to produce a tasty cornbread.

This bread is so delicious! The even crumb is fine and tender, yet sturdy enough that it doesn't turn to mush when it comes in contact with barbecue sauce and creamy coleslaw. Thanks to honey and plenty of corn in the dough, it's slightly sweet and full of corn flavor. Make no mistake, though--this does not have the cake-like texture of a quick bread--it's a sandwich roll through and through.

You can, in fact, bake it as two full-size loaves and slice it for sandwiches, but rolls give you more of that glossy, burnished crust to enjoy. The pork, by the way, is so easy to make, it barely requires a recipe.

Super-Slow Roasted Pork:
Season a 3-4 pound Boston butt pork roast (spice blends are handy for this), wrap it tightly in foil and place in a roasting pan. Roast at 275 degrees for 4 hours (or an hour per pound). You don't have to look at or even open the oven during cooking. Let it rest for at least 30 minutes, then effortlessly shred it up. You can't overcook it, and it's the finest pork roast you'll ever eat. We heard about this cooking method on the radio show (podcast actually), The Splendid Table, a few weeks ago and adapted this recipe on their website.

Cornbread Yeast Rolls
Adapted from this recipe on FoodReference.com
If you love cornbread, but want something different, try these rolls. The recipe is very friendly, so no special knowledge or tricks are required. I used my stand mixer, but I think you could make them by hand with a little elbow grease. When measuring your flour, lightly spoon it into measuring cups and level with a knife.

Makes 12 sandwich-sized rolls

1 cup warm water
1 tbs. sugar
1 (7 gram) packet active dry yeast
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour, divided
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1 2/3 c. cornmeal
4 tbs. unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup honey
2 large eggs
1 (7 oz.) can corn, drained well
2 tbs. coarse cornmeal (optional)
1 egg, beaten, for egg wash

Combine the water and sugar in a bowl. Add the yeast and gently stir. Set aside for 5 to 10 minutes, or until yeast forms a foamy layer on top of water.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine 1 cup of the whole wheat pastry flour and 1 cup of the all-purpose flour. Add the yeast mixture and mix with the dough hook attachment on low speed until combined. Add the salt, cornmeal, melted butter, honey, eggs and corn. Continue mixing on medium-low speed until combined.

With the mixer running, add the remaining 1 cup of whole wheat flour and 1 cup of the all-purpose flour. Continue mixing until you have a slightly sticky dough that pulls away from the sides of bowl. If dough is too wet, add the remaining 1/3 cup of flour slowly until the dough holds together and pulls away from the bowl. I used nearly all of the flour. Let the mixer knead the dough for about 1 minute, then transfer dough to a large bowl, coated with olive oil. Turn the dough over once inside the bowl to coat it all over with oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, then with a dish towel and leave it to rise in a warm place until roughly doubled in bulk, about 2 hours.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and sprinkle with coarse cornmeal, if using. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead for a few seconds, then divide into two pieces. You can stop here if you want to make two rustic loaves, or you can divide each piece into 6 balls to make rolls. Knead each ball once or twice and place on the prepared baking sheets with seam side down. Cover the rolls with a kitchen towel and leave them to rise a second time for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until they puff up noticeably. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Right before you put them in the oven, gently brush the rolls with the beaten egg to add a nice gloss to the finished rolls. Bake for 20 to 25, switching the positions of the baking sheets halfway through. Remove from oven when rolls are golden on top, browned on the bottom and sound hollow when tapped on the base. Cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes, then finish cooling on wire racks.


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