Hot Cross Buns

2 packages active dry yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup lukewarm milk 110-115F.) PLUS 1 cup milk
3-1/2 to 4-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 eggs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup white raisins
1 lightly beaten egg combined with 1 tablespoon heavy cream

In a small shallow bowl, sprinkle yeast and sugar over the lukewarm milk. Let stand for 2-3 minutes, stir to dissolve the yeast completely. Place bowl in a warm, draft-free place for 5-8 minutes, or until yeast bubbles up and doubles in volume.

Sift 3-1/2 cup flour, salt, allspice and cinnamon into deep mixing bowl. Make a well in the center; pour in yeast mixture and remaining milk. Drop in eggs; beat until flour is absorbed. Beat in 3 tablespoons softened butter cut into bits, then add up to 1 cup more flour, a few tablespoons at a time, to make dough that can be gathered into a soft ball. Use fingers to add rest of flour if needed. On a lightly floured surface, knead dough by folding it end to end, then pressing it down and pushing it forward several times with the heel of the hands. Sprinkle dough with a little extra flour when necessary to prevent sticking. Repeat for 10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Shape into a ball and place it in a large, lightly buttered bowl. Dust top with flour, drape a towel over the bowl and set in a warm draft free spot for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until dough doubles in bulk. With a pastry brush, coat a large baking sheet with remaining tablespoon of softened butter. Punch down, then transfer to a floured board and knead raisins into it. Pull off a small handful of dough; set aside. For each bun, roll a small piece of dough between your palms to make a ball 1-1/2 inch in diameter. Arrange balls 2 inches apart on baking sheet and set in warm, draft-free place for 15-20 minutes, or until double. Pre-heat oven to 450F. With a small knife, cut a 1/3 deep cross in the top of each. Use remaining dough to "garnish" by making ropes and pressing it into crosses of each bun, Brush with egg and cream mixture. Bake in the middle of oven for 15 minutes or until tops are golden brown, Cool on racks before separating.

Bread can also be baked into a loaf.

Yield: 2 dozen bun

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Cajun Country -- New Iberia, Louisiana