Do you remember the old gradeschool song “Hot Cross Buns–Hot Cross Buns…”? It refers to a traditional Easter-time holiday bread served in many English-speaking countries. Variations of similar festive sweet citron breads abound on every continent.
Tia Marta here to share this old favorite with a Southwest twist–not your typical Easter bread, but indeed a celebration of desert foods and an adaptation to local cultures!
When I was young we always had Hot Cross Buns served at this time. I thought they looked like eggs with a cross on top. Traditionally they were made with white flour, and citron in the dough, topped with white crosses.
Now, in my imagination, I’m envisioning how Tucson’s Presidio women of the late 1700s might have prepared celebratory sweet citron buns. They would have used Padre Kino’s white Sonora wheat flour and perhaps citron prepared from orange or sweetlime rinds grown at the original San Augustin Mission Garden by the missionaries. For sweetener, perhaps in place of rare sugar or honey, maybe they used syrup made by neighboring Tohono O’odham harvesters from mesquite pods or agave heart, or maybe molasses from African sorghum introduced in the San Augustin garden.
Inspired by these imaginings…. in place of citron I used my candied citrus rind from Tucson’s Mission Garden sweetlimes and Meyer lemon (see my post from Nov.2020). Then I got crazy and added bits and pieces of dried saguaro cuñ (pronounced choon) frozen from last summer’s harvest. For the dough, I made a mix of white Sonora wheat and amaranth flour. For the glaze cross, instead of standard milk-glaze I used prickly pear juice (frozen from squeezed tunas last August) as the liquid to make a glorious pink instead of white design. I enjoy making yeast breads and this one is relatively quick.
RECIPE–Muff’s Sonoran Desert Hot Cross Buns
Here’s what you will need:
1) little bowl for the sweetener mix
2) big mixing bowl for the sifted flour and dough prep
3) small sauce pan to scald the milk
4) greased baking sheet
5) little bowl for making glaze
2 Tbsp warm water (105-115F)
1 Tbsp active dry yeast
For sweet additions: ¼ cup agave nectar (or mesquite syrup), ¼ cup dried saguaro fruit with seeds– cuñ (or desert hackberries), ¼ tsp ground cinnamon OR ManoYMetate Adobo Mole powder mix, 2 Tbsp finely chopped citrus rind from your favorite local citrus (or rind-candy)
For liquid mixture: 1 cup milk to scald, 1 additional Tbsp agave nectar or sugar, 2 Tbsp butter, 1/4 tsp sea salt, 1 lg egg
For flour mixture: 1 cup white Sonora wheat flour, 1 cup bread flour, and 2/3 cup amaranth flour (OR 2 cups white Sonora wheat flour and 2/3 cup amaranth flour)
For glaze: 1/2 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar, 2 tsp prickly pear juice or syrup, and 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
Directions: In a large (warm) mixing bowl, put 2 Tablespoons warm water (105-115F)
Sprinkle 1 Tablespoon or 1 package of active dry yeast. Agitate and stir with wooden spoon then let stand to activate.
In a small bowl separately to make the “citron” sweetener, mix: agave “nectar” syrup, dry saguaro fruit, cinnamon or Mole Adobo, and chopped citrus rind.
Into a large bowl, sift flour mixture.
In the small saucepan, scald milk, then stir in 1 T agave nectar, butter and salt, then pour into mixing bowl to semi-cool. Beat in egg. (Next step with this liquid mixture….)
For dough: Gradually mix flour into liquid mixture. Mix the sweet ingredient mixture into the dough. Cover dough bowl with tea towel and put in warm place to rise to double in size (ca.35-50 minutes). Turn dough out on a floured board to knead several strokes. With buttery fingers, form dough into balls. Place dough balls (about 18 of them) on a greased cookie sheet to rise again covered, until doubled in size. If desired, brush dough with melted butter. Preheat oven to 425F while dough is rising.
When dough balls have risen, bake 15-18 minutes until golden brown. While buns are baking, make your glaze: Mix sifted confectioners’ sugar with prickly pear juice and vanilla to a thick creamy texture. When buns are still warm, apply glaze in a cross across the tops, or another design of spring’s rebirth.
Hopefully this colorful recipe and its ideas might inspire you—indeed liberate you!— to take your own favorite recipes and use wild desert foods and heirlooms in place of commercial ingredients where they easily fit. Happy experimenting with desert ingredients!
Ideas–There will be a harvest celebration at Mission Garden in May of Padre Kino’s white Sonora wheat–not to miss! Find White Sonora Wheat-berries available for milling (or for planting next fall) at Tucson’s Mission Garden and NativeSeedsSEARCH grown organically by Marana’s BKWFarms. Milled flour is sometimes available fresh from Barrio Bread. Amaranth flour is available from Bob’s Red Mill or Natural Grocers. For prickly pear juice, make plans to harvest tunas next August when ripe, or try Cherie’s Desert Harvest’s syrup.