March 29, 2021

Tangzhong Hot Cross Buns


When Easter rolls around there's nothing better than a really good hot cross bun.  You can't beat the combination of a bread roll spiced with cinnamon and studded with raisins.  My only complaint about traditional buns is the flour and water paste that adorns the top.  When it bakes up I've found it to be too hard and too tasteless.  I made this comment recently on Instagram and someone suggested making the cross out of an Asian bun topping.  It was such a brilliant idea that I wish I had thought of it myself.

I was then inspired make Tangzhong Hot Cross Buns, a variation of the traditional Easter bread made with tangzhong dough.  I started with my favorite tangzhong dough from Cook's Illustrated and simply added cinnamon, nutmeg and raisins. For the cross that goes on top I used a modified version of the sugary topping for pineapple buns, another favorite from Cook's Illustrated.   

When the buns baked up the cross on top wasn't as clearly distinct as you would find in other buns, but I was more than ok with that because they tasted amazing!!  Tangzhong breads are popular because of their soft and fluffy texture and these buns had it in spades.  Add in spice and raisin and I think I've found the perfect hot cross bun.  I'll definitely be making these every year.

Hot Cross Buns
Makes 12 buns

Tangzhong Flour Paste
1/2 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons bread flour

1/2 cup cold milk
1 large egg
2 cups (11 oz) bread flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons instant or rapid-rise yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus 1/2 tablespoon, melted 
1 cup raisins 
Cross Topping (recipe below)

Simple Syrup
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water

For the Flour Paste: Whisk milk and flour together in small bowl until no lumps remain. Microwave, whisking every 20 seconds, until mixture thickens to stiff, smooth, pudding-like consistency that forms mound when dropped from end of whisk into bowl, 40 to 80 seconds.

For the Dough: In bowl of stand mixer, whisk flour paste and milk together until smooth. Add egg and whisk until incorporated. Add flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and yeast. Fit stand mixer with dough hook and mix on low speed until all flour is moistened, 1 to 2 minutes. Let stand for 15 minutes.

Add sugar and salt and mix on medium-low speed for 5 minutes. With mixer running, add softened butter, 1 tablespoon at a time. Add in raisins. Continue to mix on medium-low speed 5 minutes longer, scraping down dough hook and sides of bowl occasionally (dough will stick to bottom of bowl).

Transfer dough to very lightly floured counter. Knead briefly to form ball and transfer, seam side down, to lightly greased bowl; lightly coat surface of dough with vegetable oil spray and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

Grease an 8x10-inch pan (you can also use a 9-inch square cake pan) with nonstick cooking spray and set aside. Transfer dough to counter. Press dough gently but firmly to expel all air.  Divide dough into 12 equal pieces.  Working with 1 piece at a time, form dough into a ball by pulling edges to center and pinch tightly to seal.  Transfer bun to counter, seam side down, and rotate gently to form round shape.  Repeat with remaining dough pieces.  Space evenly on prepared pan. Cover with plastic and let rise until doubled, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
For the simple syrup:  Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan.  Cook until sugar is completely dissolved.  Set aside to cool.

When rolls are nearly doubled in size, adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Pipe the topping in a cross pattern across each bun.  Bake rolls until deep golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Let rolls cool in pan on wire rack for 3 minutes; invert rolls onto rack, then reinvert. Brush tops and sides of rolls with the simple syrup.  Let rolls cool for at least 20 minutes before serving.
Cross Topping
2/3 cup plus 2 teaspoons (3 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup confectioner's sugar
1 large egg, beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract 

Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in small bowl.  Using clean, dry mixer bowl and paddle, beat butter and confectioner's sugar on medium high speed until light, pale, and fully, about 3 minutes.  With mixer running, gradually add egg, then vanilla; mix until smooth, scraping down bowl as needed for about 2 minutes.  Add flour mixture and mix on low speed until combined, about 30 seconds.  Scrape down bowl, then fold ingredients by hand to mix fully.  Transfer mixture to 1-quart heavy-duty zipper-lock bag and snip off 1 corner, making hole no larger than 1/4 inch (alternatively, transfer to pastry bag fitted with 1/4-inch piping tip); set aside until ready to use (do not refrigerate).

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