I love to cook, and I generally cook everything in my house from scratch. I’ll admit to cheating periodically with a good peanut sauce, but we don’t eat a whole lot of packaged or frozen food. I love slow roasting a bird and generously applying olive oil to nearly anything. My hasbrown casserole is divine and my wife calls my potato soup “potato crack” because it’s so addictive. Despite my love of cooking, I’m a terrible baker. In fact I only bake once a year, and that once a year is today. It’s time to once again wheel out Pauline Campanelli’s very simple yet effective ritual for hot-cross buns.
(Not familiar with Pauline Campanelli? Then I suggest you remedy that by picking up her books Ancient Ways: Reclaiming Pagan Traditions and The Wheel of the Year. Both are perennial Pagan-book bestsellers full of ritual advice, legend and lore, recipes, and all kinds of artsy/craftsy type of things. When I’m stuck and unable to come up with good ideas for sabbat rituals, it’s to Campanelli that I turn. Mrs. Campanelli we all miss you, but your art and words live on.)
While the Spring Equinox actually fell on Wednesday this year, all of my rituals for it are this weekend, and besides I got sidetracked the other day with another thing. So yeah, I realize that this isn’t my most timely post, but you can also make hot cross buns for Beltane, or possibly Easter if you are so inclined.
Baking hot cross buns is relatively easy, but a bit time consuming. For this recipe you will need:
7 to 8 cups of floor
Half a cup of sugar
1 teaspoon of salt
2 packages of dry yeast
2 cups of milk
1 stick of (softened) butter
3 Tablespoons of honey
Half a cup of powdered sugar (for icing)
2 tablespoons of milk (for icing)
Cooking hot-cross buns is fun, and mostly because you get to play with yeast, which is where this recipe starts. Add your yeast to a quarter cup of warm water and your half cup of sugar. Set that aside until it magically doubles in volume. While that’s working heat your milk, but don’t let it get to boiling, set aside until it’s lukewarm, and then add to your sugar-yeast petri dish.
Now mix your sugar-milk-yeast with 3 cups of flour, and all of your butter, honey, eggs, and salt. If you want to be real magickal here you can do it by hand, or you can be more practical like I tend to be and get out the electric mixer. As you are mixing your ingredients slowly add the remaining floor. During this process I often find that my dough is far too dry and will periodically add a splash or four of milk to it. (If you are more adventurous than I am, this would be a good time to add a drop or two of almond extract.)
Once all of your ingredients are mixed, you should kneed your dough for about ten minutes. I’m kind of a nerd so I enjoy punching mine around the kitchen while pretending I’m a super-hero fighting a blob like villain. I probably used another cup of floor while kneading my dough today, it was stickier than usual. Make sure whatever you knead your dough on is well floured. After kneading the dough, put it in a large greased bowl and place in a warm space for about an hour until doubled in size. I tend to wrap my dough up in a blanket and put it in a sunny window or next to a heater.
After your dough has magickally grown for the second time (I told you yeast was neat-o!), kneed the dough some more and then divide it up into 22 or so ball shaped pieces. Place those on a greased cookie sheet, and again let them grow for an hour in a warm spot (I typically wrap them loosely with a towel once more). When you are putting the dough on the cookie sheets, watch your spacing because everything is going to get a lot bigger. I usually use two cookie sheets here, sometimes half of a third depending on how kind the yeast was to me.
After your dough balls have doubled in size (again!) create a cross on them by slashing the tops of the balls with a kitchen knife, athame, or boline. While creating the solar cross image on the dough, try to say something magickal. I usually use a rhyme like “Spring is here, bring good cheer!” and then try to go unnoticed while singing it. Your hot-cross buns will take about a half an hour to bake in a 350 degree oven. I’m always paranoid about whatever I’m baking burning on the bottom, so after about twenty minutes of baking I tend to flip my hot-cross buns over. Even after the flipping, the solar cross is still visible.
I like a little sweetness on my hot-cross buns, so I make a simple icing out of half a cup of powdered sugar and two tablespoons of milk (sometimes a drop or two more if I’m having trouble mixing the two). If you go for the icing, take your hot-cross buns out of the oven, flip them back to the cross side, and then brush the icing on top of them. Bake them for another minute or so after applying the icing. When done your hot-cross buns should be a nice golden brown, and sound hollow when flicked with a finger.
A lot of Christian bakers tend to apply the icing heavily along the cross, accentuating it so to speak. I like to brush my icing all over the bun (doesn’t that just a little sexual?). You can also add other ingredients to your hot cross buns. Raisins make sense, but chocolate chips would probably be more fun, though you’d want to add them during the balling process (my next blog will be called “Cooking with Sexual Innuendo,” watch for it on the Patheos Cooking Channel). My wife is an almond milk drinker, which actually sounds really good in this recipe. The ingredients are simple, feel free to mix and match, especially if you are vegan.
That’s it, how easy! Enjoy your baking and Blessed Equinox.