Before going gluten-free I loved to bring home hot cross buns from Whole Foods. Their bakery carried them almost year round. Since lovely gluten free holiday breads aren't popping up at bakeries around me, I decided it was high time to create one.
After choosing to make Hot Cross Buns, I remembered how challenging it can be at times to make bread. The bread dough will rise only a little bit or it won't rise at all. What could I do to ensure my bread baking success? Enter Alton Brown, whose article Taming The Yeast for Bon Appetit (October 2004) was guaranteed to educate me on the science of cooking with yeast. Alton says that it is easy for the cook to kill off the yeast without ever understanding how they did it. That is because yeast has a very specific temperature window, 105 deg F to 115 deg F. Temperatures over 115 degrees F will kill the yeast.
So I got my trusty kitchen thermometer ready to make sure that I didn't kill my yeast off. To give you an idea of what are some basic water temperatures are, hot water from your coffee pot is 150 deg F. Water that comes from the tap at my house is 98 deg F when it first starts getting nice and warm. Then that same water from the tap reaches 118 deg F after it has run for a while and is the hottest it will get. To dissolve my yeast for the recipe, I measured out 1/4 cup of filtered water and warmed it. Once it was warmed, I measured the temperature of the water to make sure it wasn't too hot or too cold.
To make things even more interesting, I used RiZE organic active dry yeast from Rapunzel. The instructions on the package said to mix the yeast with flour and water, then to set it aside for 30 to 35 minutes. According to Alton, yeast needs to eat as well as reproduce. So, the water will dissolve the dead yeast cells from around the active yeast cells to activate it. Then the natural sugar in the flour will give the yeast something to eat.
I thought I was ready to start baking, when I remembered that I had decided to use agar agar as my binder. Like yeast, agar agar has specific characteristics as to the way it will behave. Agar agar needs to be dissolved in hot boiling water for it to gel the best. Shizuo Tsuji in Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art says that agar agar (kanten) begins to set at 102 - 108 deg F, but it dissolves at 180 deg F. You need to bring the liquid that you are dissolving the agar agar in to a gentle boil for about three minutes to dissolve all the flakes. However, you need to be careful not to boil it at a high temperature otherwise the agar agar will be on the sides of the saucepan.
Now I have two uses for my thermometer, making sure the water for the yeast isn't too hot and to make sure that the liquid containing the agar agar in cools down to between 105 deg and 115 deg F before adding it to my bread mixture.
I'm ready to bake.
1 cup brown rice flour
1 cup oat flour
3/4 cup arrowroot
3/4 cup + 1 Tb sweet rice flour
1/2 cup almond meal
2 pkgs active dry yeast
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup milk
1/4 cup water (for yeast)
2 Tb butter
1/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup raisins
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tb agar agar
1 beaten egg for glaze
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 egg white
1/4 tsp vanilla
Warm the water to between 105 deg and 115 deg F. Then add 1/2 cup brown rice flour and 2 packages of active dry yeast. Blend and set aside for 30 to 35 minutes to allow the yeast to multiply.
In a mixing bowl add all the dry ingredients and blend. I used my stand mixer to make the dough.
Place the milk, butter and agar agar into a saucepan and gently bring to a boil. Stir regularly to keep the agar agar from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Boil for three minutes and remove from heat. Allow the liquid to cool to between 105 deg F and 115 deg F.
While the milk mixture cools, add 1 1/2 cups of the dry ingredients to a large mixing bowl. Fold in the yeast mixture and blend. Add some cooled milk to the dough. Then add the beaten eggs and about 3/4 cup of the flour blend. Mix and then add the raisins. After blending in the raisins, add the rest of the dry ingredients. Blend. Place in a warm location for 1 1/2 to 2 hours for the dough to rise.
Place 12 silicone baking cups on a cookie pan. Divide the raised dough into twelve balls and place into the silicone baking cups. Set aside and allow to rise for 30 to 40 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375 deg F. Once the dough has finished rising, glaze the tops with beaten egg. Then place the buns into the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Allow to cool before frosting.
To make the frosting, place the sifted powdered sugar into a bowl. Add the egg white and vanilla flavoring and stir. Blend well. Then spoon the frosting into a bag for piping the crosses on the bun tops.
Note: I used a plastic bag with the tip of one corner cut off for my frosting bag. Additionally, you can add a little bit of milk to the frosting if the consistency is too thick.
I served these for breakfast on Easter morning with coffee and juice. My husband and I thought they were wonderful. They tasted the best warm from the oven and served with a dollop of melting butter. My children weren't fond of the raisins in the bread nor the slight taste of cinnamon.
Note: This recipe was inspired by the hot cross bun recipes in the Better Homes and Gardens Homemade Bread Cook Book, an old handout my mother received from her church group on Easter Breads and an article titled "Fancy Breads, Coffee Cakes Perk Up Brunch" by Jane Palmer. It was printed in the Omaha World-Herald, Food Day section in the Wednesday, April 3, 1985 issue.