Friday, March 30, 2012
Empire Baking begins selling hot cross buns early this year
A status report on the hot cross bun situation in Dallas for Easter 2012.
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Easter coming up next week marks the return of the limited-run hot cross bun -- but this year with a few updates and variations.
Hot cross buns are one of the seasonal breads of spring, a category that also includes the flashy King cake and the taciturn Irish soda bread. Hot cross buns are easily identified by the icing piped across their tops in the shape of a cross. That icing should ideally be made from confectioners' sugar, not Crisco, and can be subtly flavored with lemon or else just plain. The bun should be spiked with raisins and dried or candied fruit -- the better quality the fruit, the better the bun. Some vendors just use raisins. Pumpkin-pie spices are welcome, especially clove and cardamom. The texture of the bun should be a bit richer than regular bread, but not too much richer; going to a full brioche dough is cheating.
In England, hot cross buns are eaten on Good Friday only. Until 2012, that was the case at Empire Baking Co., too, who sold them only on the Friday and Saturday preceding Easter. This year for the first time, Empire joined ranks with other local bakeries and has been selling them for the past two weeks.
Vendors who sell hot cross buns include Central Market, Whole Foods Markets, Sunflower Market, and Ravelin Bakery in Denton (whose excellent version won "Best Hot Cross Bun" when we compared them in 2009).
Empire owner Meaders Ozarow said that they decided to start baking hot cross buns a few weeks ago in response to customer requests. "We got calls saying we needed to start making them earlier," she says.
This year's Empire hot cross bun looks and feels different from previous years: It's larger, softer, doughier, richer. Too rich, maybe -- more like brioche and less like white bread. But head baker Chris Cutshall insists that the recipe is the same, they're just a bigger size.
"We only made them for a few days before, and we're making a lot more now -- 300 or 400 at a time," he says. "That does change the texture. It's more a pull-apart roll with less of a crust."
He says the recipe has "12 pounds of candied fruit and 3 pounds of currants and a 1.75-ounce bottle of Meyers dark rum" which he uses to soak the fruit. "I like that they have all the butter and fruits and rum," he says.
Whole Foods long ago abandoned the healthy-ish whole-wheat-and-raisin version it once did; the '12 rendition feels a lot like white bread, with not-that-many bits of dried fruit, and its glaze has a pronounced lemon flavor. Central Market's 2012 bun is perfectly spiced with lots of clove and cardamom, and has a good mix and proportion of raisins and fruit.
Empire sells them for 95 cents apiece, while Ravelin charges $1.25. At the grocery stores, they're sold in a four-pack in a plastic container for about $3.50 to $4.
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