Though I live in Berkeley, one of my weekly rituals is listening to LA radio station KCRW's Good Food online. I usually save it for when I am cleaning up and need a push toward the finish line, because I know 45 minutes will fly by with Evan Kleiman and friends, and I end up with a sparkling kitchen and a clear head.
Good Food's Market Report segment, in which Amelia Saltsman chats up farmers, purveyors and chefs about ways to use seasonal produce at the Santa Monica Farmers Market, is how I became familiar with LA pastry chef (formerly of Ammo & owner of new restaurant Cooks County) Roxana Jullapat. I love her ideas for seasonal fruit, but became a touch obsessed with making her Hot Cross Buns with Candied Kumquats for Easter. So much so that I bookmarked the recipe in my brain stem for a year.
Oh wait! Let me explain. Thanks to facebook, I know many only know "Hot Cross Buns" only as a nursery rhyme or song! (I found out my sister played it on the viola.) Hot cross buns are also a baked good: a slightly sweet yeasted roll traditionally served on Good Friday, flecked with currants and marked with a cross on top (usually powdered/confectioner's sugar icing). I was intrigued by this version with candied kumquats in place of the currants and a cross shaped from almond paste (marzipan).
Since I knew I wanted to have them at my stand for the Kensington Farmers Market (and I was a bit nervous about a yeasted dough!), I tested the recipe with half the batch prepared exactly as written, and half the batch prepared with the first rise slow and overnight in the fridge. I liked the richer flavor of the slow rise, and loved that it allowed me to prep the dough a day in advance. The room temperature rise buns were delicious but didn't have the beautiful plump round height (from what bread bakers know as "oven spring") as you can see in this photo.
Even though Easter is associated with speedy rabbits, I recommend the tortoise method: slow and easy. If you want to make these for Easter morning, you will need to prepare the kumquats Friday (very easy, but they need to chill overnight before using) and the dough (and crosses) on Saturday evening so that on Easter morning, all you will need to do is portion the dough into balls, place the crosses on top, and make the glaze while they are in the oven.
A quick note on the almond paste crosses: They are very delicious, and worth the extra trouble compared to a sugary icing, but you need to use very fresh almond paste (and keep in covered) in order to prevent it drying out and breaking. I used previously frozen (and tightly wrapped) almond paste at first, and it was terrible in comparison to a freshly opened container, which rolled out easily.
I made a few edits to Roxana's recipe, the adapted version of which I have copied below, but the one I would point out is doubling the amount of candied kumquats in the dough. You will have plenty of kumquats leftover, and Roxana also uses them in Costa Rican prestinos and ricotta pie, but they keep for months in the fridge (cover with poaching liquid).
For those of you wanting more step-by-step photos, look at Joe Pastry's post on hot cross buns.
Hot Cross Buns with Candied Kumquats and California Almond Paste
adapted from Roxana Jullapat's recipe
For the dough:
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk, lukewarm
1 tablespoon plus 1 ½ teaspoon dry active yeast
1 teaspoon sugar (to activate yeast)
3 cups (387 g) unbleached all purpose flour, divided
¼ cup sugar
2 ½ teaspoons salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
½ cup minced candied kumquats (seeds removed)
For the crosses:
5 ounces California almond paste/marzipan (use a freshly opened package or can)
For the glaze:
1 cup kumquat candying syrup
2 tablespoons dark rum or Irish whiskey
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Rain the yeast over lukewarm milk (110 degrees), add 1 teaspoon sugar, stir and let proof for 5 minutes until the yeast is fully dissolved. (I find it easiest to heat the milk in a 2-cup, or larger, glass measuring cup, then add yeast.) In an electric stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, combine the yeast mixture with half the flour on low speed. Then add the remaining flour along with the sugar, salt, egg and butter. Increase the speed to medium (speed 4 on my KitchenAid Artisan mixer) and mix for 5 minutes. Add the kumquats and mix until thoroughly combined. Transfer the dough to a bowl lightly coated with non-stick spray, turn the dough over so that some of the spray coats the top, then wrap the bowl with plastic wrap and (1) let rise until double in size, about 90 minutes to 2 hours at room temperature OR (2) let rise until double in size overnight in the fridge (I prefer this second method).
While the dough is rising or proofing (next step), shape your crosses. Divide the almond paste into 5 portions and roll each portion on a flat surface into a thin 15-inch long rope. Cut each rope into five 3-inch long pieces. Form 12 crosses by placing one 3-inch piece across another. It is important to cover the almond paste you are not working with as it dries out easily, and then will break during rolling & baking. Place crosses over a cookie sheet and cover with plastic wrap to prevent them from drying out.
Preheat the oven to 350º F. Adjust the oven rack to the middle position.
Turn the risen dough onto a lightly floured surface. Divide dough into 12 portions, about 3 ounces each (I used a scale), and roll them into balls. Place a cross over each ball, pressing it gently onto the ball with the palm of your hand. Arrange buns on a baking sheet in 3 rows of 4 buns each, leaving about 3/4–inch space between buns; buns will start to touch one another as they proof. Cover the buns loosely with plastic film and let them proof in a warm spot of the kitchen for about 35 minutes. Be careful not to over-proof. Buns are ready to be baked when if gently pressed, they won’t spring back. Bake for 12 minutes, then rotate the baking sheet and continue to bake for another 12 minutes or until evenly golden.
While the buns are baking, prepare the glaze. Put kumquat syrup, rum/whiskey and butter in a saucepan, bring up to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat and set aside. Once the buns come out of the oven, brush them generously with the glaze while still warm. (This can be made ahead and reheated.)
Let them cool completely before serving. Enjoy!