Growing up in Manhattan in the 1970s-80s, there were a couple of things we ate for breakfast on the weekends, neither of which my mother cooked because, well, my mother didn’t really cook much. On the weekend, she would send me out with some money and tell me to go pick something up and bring it home for breakfast.
The first goal was always bagels, from the local bagel shop – hubcap sized and smeared with cream cheese and lox. But the line for the bagel place was often out the door and that was on a good day: If you got there too late, the line was out the door and halfway up the street.
These days, I would get on that line and wait for one of those bagels, but back in the day I could get one any old day – I could even have one for lunch, since it was right near my school – so the line seemed hardly worth the trouble.
On those days, I would take the money to the supermarket and pick up something from Entenmann’s. Now, I know what you’re thinking: Entenmann’s? The ones on the supermarket shelf next to the Hostess chocolate-covered donuts?
Well, yes and no. The box was the same, sure. But the Entenmann’s that I grew up on was a family-owned company that baked their danishes and coffee cakes locally (the company was sold to General Foods in 1982). It was fresh and delicious and sometimes, just sometimes, I could get this one amazing thing: Hot Cross Buns.
They came in little packs of nine square buns, with a tic-tac-toe of frosting on the top and delightful little bits of citron hiding inside. I loved how flavorful and yet not-too-sweet they were. I was always a bit sad when I went on an Entenmann’s run and couldn’t find the Hot Cross Buns, which was more often than not; but then it was a pleasant surprise when they appeared again on the shelves.
Only as an adult did I discover the significance of the crosses on the buns, and realize that, yes, they were a seasonal item for Easter.
It made sense when it was pointed out to me.
Anyway, by the time I figured it out, Entenmann’s had changed somehow and though I couldn’t really put my finger on what was different about it, I started avoiding it. The crumb coffee cake – another favorite – lightened up and became less flavorful, less satisfying. I stopped seeing the hot cross buns at all, though possibly I just didn’t remember to look for them at the right time of year.
I’m not a bread baker, so I was pleased to find a recipe for Hot Cross Muffins in my King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion. The taste of the original without all the effort of making yeast-raised buns, said the recipe, so I tried it.
I wanted them to be the best effort possible, to resemble my childhood treat, so I made some Candied Orange Peel a few days ahead, to use in lieu of the citron. I used very cheap oranges from Target’s produce department (perhaps not the finest produce department I’ve ever seen), and though they came out a bit small and sad-looking, they were quite flavorful.
The muffins were very close to the hot cross buns I remember from my childhood – perhaps not quite as light a texture as the original, but I think a bit of flour-sifting might resolve that issue. I loved all the plump raisins and sweet, chewy bits of peel. The frosting is dense and adds just the right touch of buttery sweetness to the muffins, which are not actually terribly sweet – meaning they were just right.
- 1 cup raisins
- 2 tablespoons water
- 3 cups AP Flour
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- ⅓ cup sugar
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- ½ tsp ground nutmeg
- ¼ tsp ground allspice
- ½ cup candied citrus peel
- 2 large eggs
- 1½ cups milk
- 1 stick (8 tbsp) butter, melted and cooled
- 1¼ cups confectioners' sugar
- 2 tbsp soft butter
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 tsp milk
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Batter: Mix together the raisins and water in a bowl, and set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk together all of the dry ingredients. Make a well in the center and add the raisins and citrus peel.
- Beat together the eggs, milk, and melted butter, then add to the dry ingredients all at once. Stir until everything is evenly combined.
- Scoop into 12 greased muffin pans (or use paper liners). Bake for 20-25 minutes until nicely browned and a cake tester comes out clean. Remove them from the pans and allow them to cool for 5 to 10 minutes before icing.
- Icing: Combine all the icing ingredients in a small bowl and beat till thick. Use a pastry bag and tip to pipe thick crosses onto the muffins. (If you don't have a pastry bag, fill a sturdy plastic bag with the frosting, squeezing it down into one corner. Snip the tip of the bag off, and squeeze the frosting onto the muffins.) I used a ziploc bag ... it works fine. Not elegant, but still plenty tasty.