contra-buns for a springtime feast

Yesterday I started a tradition: making hot cross buns on Good Friday. Obviously this is not an original idea, but I don’t have many annual traditions of my own. Customs, however, are so tied to kinship that in family’s absence seem even more important. The impetus for this one came from my partner in crime who, in a fit of temptation at the grocery store last week, gathered up a plastic box of hot cross buns and looked at me with an indulgent smile. A guilty glance over the ingredients was all it took to get me food blog searching for a hot cross buns recipe to call my very own.

But first, a history lesson. These innocent buns have known their share of prejudice. Back in the day, protestant English monarchs thought that since they were baked from the dough used to make communion wafers, they were a “dangerous” hold-over of Catholic belief . I call myself Anglican, but this is one of those historical tidbits that make me scoff at religiosity. Plus, can you imagine a more unlikely association: these delicate spice bundles of studded with fruit, and … cardboard communion wafers? Thankfully, in this case popular opinion won, and despite attempts to have the buns banned, Elizabeth I passed a law that allowed bakeries to sell the popular treat at Easter and Christmas only.

The buns are believe to have pre-dated Christianity, eaten by the Saxons in honour of Eostre, the goddess of Spring (the modern term Easter is derived from this word). The cross symbolized the four quarters of the moon, or the balance of light and darkness during the Equinox.

For the recipe, I had to look no further than the comments section of this very blog. In a confluence of time that only the internet has made possible, while Susan from Wild Yeast was leaving a comment about my latest soup, I was reading through her post on hot crossed buns. Looking soft, whole-wheat hued, and just complicated enough to make me feel smug, I was almost ready to baptize this new recipe into my humble congregation of baked things.

Only a few obscure ingredient to gather up and I was ready to bake: A friend relieved my currant-less state, and I managed to find candied peel (after a look of confusion from a store clerk) on the clearance rack of my grocery store. The three hours (with good company, mind you) of mixing, rising, and waiting, crossing, baking and glazing were utterly worth it. The finished buns married tender chewiness with light spice and a sweet tang.

Today is Holy Saturday, a day lodged between the two most elevated days of Holy Week, and possible of the entire Christian year. It’s a day when the sorrow of loss covered a small group of devoted followers. It is, as the Dutch call it, a Silent Saturday. As I sit in the sunshine of my living room enjoying one of these buns toasted with a fine spread of peanut butter, I keep thinking about Easter as a turning point. It is a season where the natural world slowly begins to angle itself towards the celebration of growth and the triumph of life.

Whether you celebrate this religious holiday or simply awaken your senses to the Earth cracking open its shell, I hope you find your own ways to recognize it. For me, rolling and shaping these friendly buns reminded me of the ways all of us—regardless of creed—search for rhythm and significance. I leave you the words of singer-songwriter Dar Williams who addresses this in the following song:

So the Christians and the Pagans sat together at the table,
Finding faith and common ground the best that they were able,
And just before the meal was served, hands were held and prayers were said,
Sending hope for peace on earth to all their gods and goddesses.

Rather than re-typing the recipe in its entirety, I’ll simply pass along the link. Warning: all measurements are in hard-core-baker form. (ie: weights, so you’ll need a scale) The only things I might change: trying King Arthur Flour’s white whole wheat flour for even more softness, and adding a bit of orange and lemon zest.

sweet somethings

Yesterday my friend came over to make the best kind of valentines: edible ones. I had a promise to fulfill to a friend, and so I decided on mini cheesecakes. Inspired by a Martha recipe for raspberry-almond financiers (check out the link, they are adorable), I decided to add a heart of jam.

First you whip up the batter (now how could a girl have anything but a perfect V-day with 4 packages of cream cheese softening in her hands?). Then you pop a little ‘Nilla Wafer in the bottom. My friend was incredulous that I hadn’t heard of these great American delicacies. My my, the culinary treasures we have yet to discover in this grand country.

p1010688.jpg

Then you pour in the batter, and drop a bit of raspberry jam on top, near the edge. Using the tip of a paring knife, you simply draw a line through the center of the drop of jam, forming a heart.

p1010690.jpg

They got a little crackled when they were subject to the heat of the oven, but I still accepted them. I doctored them up a little with fresh jam, trying as I may to fix the broken hearts. They could’ve been a little softer, and so next time I’d actually follow the original 20 minutes baking time. 

dsc_1675.jpg

Continue reading