There are many stories regarding the history of Hot Cross Buns. One interesting one comes from Alan Davidson's "The Oxford Companion to Food". He says that the Saxon invaders in Britain chomped on buns adorned with impressions of crosses in honor of the pagan goddess of light, Eostre, from whom the name Easter is derived. Today they are traditionally served at Easter and there is a superstition that Hot Cross Buns baked on Good Friday never became moldy and in the past, one Hot Cross Bun would be saved as a good luck charm until the next year's buns were made. Whatever the history, these sweet tender buttery buns are a delicious treat and should be enjoyed all year long. This is adapted from a Cook’s Country recipe for Sweet Dough.
3/4 cup buttermilk, warmed (around 110 degrees)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter (3/4 stick), melted and cooled until warm
3 large eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground spices, optional (if using, try this mixture - 1/2 teaspoon cardamom, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon allspice, 1/4 teaspoon cloves, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg)
1/4 cup sugar
1 envelope instant yeast or rapid-rise yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
1 1/4 teaspoons table salt
Extra flour for the counter
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon water
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Whisk the butter, buttermilk, and eggs together in a large liquid measuring cup. Mix 4 cups of the flour, the sugar, yeast, spices (if using) and salt in a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook. With the mixer on low speed, add the buttermilk mixture and mix until the dough comes together, about 1 minute.
2. Increase the speed to medium-low and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. (If, after five minutes, more flour is needed, add the remaining 1/4 cup flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough clears the side of the bowl but sticks to the bottom.
3. Turn the dough out onto a clean counter and knead by hand to form a smooth, round ball, about 1 minute. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and divide into 12 even pieces. Roll the pieces of dough into tight balls. Arrange the balls in a greased 9 by 13-inch metal baking dish and wrap tightly in greased plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until the rolls have nearly doubled in size and are pressed against one another, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
5. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Using a sharp knife, cut an X through the top 1/4 inch of each bun. Whisk the egg and water together and brush over the buns. Bake until golden and puffed, 25 to 30 minutes.
6. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Whisk the sugar, milk, and vanilla together and drizzle in an X into the cut grooves of the buns. Serve warm or let cool completely.