WEB EXCLUSIVE: Bay Hot Cross Buns

| February/March 2009

Though hot cross buns are a traditional Easter and Lenten bread, these handsome buns are so good we make them several times a year. We have found that all yeast breads except batter breads benefit by an overnight rise in the refrigerator. The slow rise allows the yeast to interact well with the gluten protein in flour, which produces an evenly-spaced structure and a light crumb. In addition, a slow rise allows the gaseous by- products of yeast to escape, which results in fewer off-flavors in the bread. Breads like these buns or brioche, enriched with butter, eggs, and milk, also have the time to let the yeast/protein interactions occur completely in all of the dough mass, which lightens the baked bread. If you like a stronger wheat flavor, substitute up to 2 cups of the white flour for whole wheat flour.

Makes about 36 buns

• 1 cup milk
• 3 large bay leaves, preferably fresh
• 1/4 cup light honey
• 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
• 2/3 cup currants
• 2 1/2 cups warm water 
• 2 tablespoons active dry yeast
• About 8 cups unbleached white flour
• 2 large eggs
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 cup water
• 1 egg white
1. Scald the milk with 3 of the bay leaves. Remove it from the heat and dissolve the honey in it. Soak the currants in 2 cups of the warm water for 15 minutes, then drain and squeeze the excess water from them. Discard the soaking water.
2. Dissolve the yeast in the remaining 1/2 cup warm water. Sift 8 cups of flour into a large bowl. Beat the eggs lightly and add them, along with the salt and 1/2 cup water, to the milk and honey.
3. When the yeast is active, add it to the flour along with the milk mixture, melted butter, and currants. Stir the liquid with a wooden spoon to incorporate about half of the flour. Remove the dough to a smooth surface and knead in the rest of the flour. Knead for about 5 minutes after the flour has been incorporated. The dough should be smooth and soft but not sticky. Knead in more flour if necessary.

4. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise in the refrigerator overnight, or for up to 24 hours. Or let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 to 2 hours.

5. Punch the dough down and divide it in half. Remove the bay leaves as you come across them. Roll each portion into a long cylinder about 3 inches in diameter. Cut the cylinders into 1-inch slices and roll each slice into a ball. Place the balls on lightly buttered baking sheets. Cover the balls with a tea towel and let them rise in a warm place until almost doubled in size. Preheat the oven to 375 º F.

6. Slash the top of each bun in a cross-shape with a sharp knife. Beat the egg white until frothy and brush each bun lightly with it.

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