Local, in-season are guidelines when choosing ingredients and recipes. That way, we get produce at its peak, sate ourselves, and then look forward to the next harvest. I would put asparagus, strawberries - in fact, any berry, into this eat-at-its-peak-then-wait category. And I would add Hot Cross Buns.
A sweet Easter bread from Great Britain, in my lifetime Hot Cross Buns have gone from being available only in the run-up to Easter, to being on-sale year-round. This really spoils the anticipation! But, if we can't roll back the clock on their omni-presence in the bakery department, we can certainly mark the season with a batch of homemade. You may never go back to those squishy bought ones, no matter the time of year.
Hot Cross Buns aren't hard to make - I think the trickiest part is gaining confidence with a soft dough. But once you're comfortable just keeping your fingers dusted with flour as you shape the buns, and resist the temptation to add more flour to firm up the dough, you will be well on your way to a pan of tender, fragrant buns to serve for breakfast - or toasted, buttered and offered up as a post Easter treat.
Hot Cross Buns
1/3 cup (75 mL) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (125 mL) lukewarm water
4 tsp. (20 mL) active dry yeast (traditional)
3/4 cup (175 mL) milk
1/4 cup (50 mL) butter
1 tsp (5 mL) salt
2 large eggs plus 1 egg yolk
1-1/2 tsp (7 mL) cinnamon
1/2 tsp (2 mL) nutmeg
Generous pinch each ground cloves and allspice (or 1/4 tsp/1 mL ground cloves)
4 cups (1 L) all-purpose flour
1 cup (250 mL) currants
3 tbsp (45 mL) liquid honey
. Stir 1 tsp. (5 mL) of the sugar into the water. Sprinkle yeast over the top and stir with a fork. Let stand until bubbly and yeast has softened, about 15 minutes, stirring as necessary to break up soft clumps of yeast.
. Meanwhile, heat together the remaining sugar with milk, butter and salt, stirring, until butter melts and sugar dissolves. Let cool to lukewarm.
. In a large bowl, beat the eggs, egg yolk, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and allspice together. Beat in the milk and yeast mixtures.
. Beat in 2 cups (500 mL) of the flour, 1 cup (250 mL) at a time. Beat at medium speed for 3 minutes to make a smooth batter. (This is where a stand mixer is handy, but you can use a hand mixer or even your good beating arm and a wooden spoon. Consider it part of your fitness program.)
. By hand, stir in currants, and the remaining flour, 1 cup (250 mL) at a time to make a soft rather sticky dough.
. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface to shape into a very soft round of dough. Rather than adding a lot of flour to the surface, use a dough scraper of knife blade to unstick the dough from the surface. Dust your hands with flour to prevent sticking.
. Place dough in a lightly buttered bowl; turn to coat the dough with a light film of butter. Cover bowl and let dough rise in warm spot until doubled in bulk, about 1-1/2 hours. Press gently and let rest for 10 minutes.
. Meanwhile, line large rimmed baking sheet with silicone mat or parchment paper, or grease; set aside.
. Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface. Cut in half; roll each half to 16-inch (40 cm) log. Cut each log into 8 sections to make 16 pieces of dough.
. One at a time, shape the pieces of dough into smooth round balls, keeping the smooth surface on top, pulling and pinching the dough underneath. Lightly dust your fingers with flour if necessary. Space balls evenly on prepared baking sheet. Let rest for about 5 minutes. Press each ball into an even round puck, about 3/4-inch (2 cm) thick.
. Cover and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes. Using a very sharp knife, and with deft light strokes, cut shallow cross in top of each bun. Let stand for 5 minutes.
. Bake in centre of 375°F (190°C) oven until golden brown on top and buns sound hollow when tapped on bottom, about 15 minutes. Transfer pan to rack. Warm honey; brush over buns. Transfer buns to rack to cool. Best still warm from the oven, Hot Cross Buns stay fresh for about 3 days, and taste like just-baked if reheated in a toaster oven or oven.)
. Makes 16 buns.
. Tip: You can freeze Hot Cross Buns, but do so before glazing with honey.