Saturday, March 19, 2005

What do you get if you pour boiling water down a rabbit hole?*

Here's a little seasonal flavor for you--in my not-so-humble opinion, the very best hot cross buns recipe on earth. I came up with it by crossing a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe** with a Sunset magazine one, then adding a little bit of Florida inspiration in the form of orange flower water. If there is any smell headier and more magical than the scent of an orange grove, I don't know what it is. And orange flower water, though a pale imitation, helps me remember what it was like to stand in a grove and draw that sweet air into my lungs.

1/2 c. golden raisins
2 Tbs. brandy
125 ml cold skim milk
125 ml boiling water
pinch of sugar
1 1/2 packets yeast
500g all-purpose flour, divided into two bowls of 250g each
50g sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. powdered ginger
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
1 tsp. grated orange zest
50g melted butter
1 egg, lightly beaten and divided in half
1 Tbs. skim milk
a few drops orange flower water
3/4 c. powdered sugar

Soak the raisins in the brandy for 30 minutes or until all the liquor is absorbed.
Mix 125 ml of cold milk with the boiling water. The resulting liquid should be about 105 degrees F. Toss in the pinch of sugar and then mix in the yeast. Let the mixture sit until foamy. Add the activated yeasty liquid to one of the bowls of flour and mix well to get a sticky batter. Let rise, covered, in a warm place for 45 minutes or until doubled.
To the other bowl of flour, mix in the remaining sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, lemon and orange zests, and brandied raisins. Add this mix to the risen batter, along with the melted butter and half the beaten egg. Knead for a few minutes with floured hands. Cover the dough and let it rise for one hour in a warm place, until doubled.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Turn the risen dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gently pull it into a log shape. Without kneading or punching down, cut the dough into 16 equal pieces. Gently shape each into a ball. Space them evenly on an oiled, floured baking sheet. Let rise 15 minutes, covered with a damp towel. Brush lightly with remaining egg and bake 15 minutes. Remove and let cool slightly.
Put the 1 Tbs. milk into a medium bowl and add just two or three drops of orange flower water. (Don't overdo it--a little goes a long way!) Gradually whisk in the powdered sugar until you have a thick icing. With a rubber spatula, transfer the icing into a plastic sandwich bag. Snip off the corner and pipe crosses onto the buns.
The buns are best when warm, but they'll keep for a couple of days.

* Hot cross bunnies, of course. This is quite possibly the worst joke ever told, but it's the only one I can ever seem to remember.

** It's because of the HFW ancestry that some of the measurements are by weight and/or in metric measurements. I like the British weighing method better than cup measures anyway when it comes to baking, since it's more accurate.