Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Old-Fashioned Hot Cross Buns and an old-fashioned rant

I prefer to choose which traditions to keep and which to let go. – Theodore Bikel

A pan of warm hot cross buns.

Yesterday a friend posted a link to a rant about how holidays and celebrations have started to go way over the top, and with it the expectations as to how they are to be celebrated. And I totally agree.

The dough before rising. Raisins will
fall our as you knead. Just tuck
them back in and continue on.
The gist of the “rant” (in the most positive meaning of the word) was that this mother’s kids were expecting the results of a visit from a leprechaun for the morning of St. Patrick’s Day. Of course(?), the expectation from the children was for bags of “gold” (candies) to be stashed around the house, and/or obligatory St. Patrick’s Day parties.

Huh? What has happened to us? Why is it that we feel the need to over-celebrate – or is it over do – every tiny holiday that pops up on the calendar? If you think I’m exaggerating, take a look on Pinterest for a truly guilt-laden experience. The link is here. I particularly like the green pee in the toilet and leprechaun footprints on the toilet seat. Go look.

As a parent did you do the utmost for your children to celebrate this “siginifcant” holiday? Really? Come on... really? When I was young (insert blah, blah, blah here) all we did was wear something green, even if you weren’t Irish. Or if you were a Catholic or Anglican, probably a church service. I have never had a green beer in my life. That’s a good way to ruin it, no?

After first rise.
This got me thinking about the next big holiday, and I don’t mean the Vernal Equinox on March 21, although I imagine there are parents and groups out there plotting how to send that day over the top as I write. I’m talking about Easter. You know, the one where most of us actually have a day off work.

I have read that we are raising a generation that has little empathy for others. The “Me” Generation. It’s due to a lot of factors, but to me prime among them are the lack of consequences to failure and the fulfilling of every need/desire of our little “tyrants.” Because, face it, that’s what many of them have become. It’s far easier in our busy days to just throw something at them to make the problem go away. The Art of Parenting has significantly diminished. In essence, the inmates have taken over the asylum.

I’m not here to denigrate how anyone celebrates holidays, but you do have to give your head a shake if you think that every minor celebration has to be turned into some sort of life-altering event. It’s too stressful, expensive and completely unnecessary.

Of course, Easter does go over the top, too, ranking right up there with Christmas and Halloween. Valentine’s Day is currently racing toward the finish line as well. One must remember that the real reason for Easter is a RELIGIOUS celebration (wether you are religious or not). A discourse on the Easter Bunny, eggs, candies and the like I will save for a later rant...

It’s pure, naked commercialism, folks. “They” want you to feel guilty if you don’t buy buy buy. If you don’t do significant damage to your bank account your heart is empty toward those you purport to love.

Can you remember anything – anything – you ever got for Easter? I thought not. So what does make celebrations memorable? Lets get back to the basics. I bet you can remember who attended your last Easter dinner and how you felt. 

One way to treat the holidays is to carry on real traditions, not ones manufactured by marketing gurus. By “real,” I mean ones you really will remember, ones your parents remember and probably even your grandparents. Consumerism wasn’t quite so rampant back then. We made do, often on very little. But we didn’t think we lacked anything.

Today’s recipe is a real reminder of Easter to me, and doesn’t take much in the way of time or money. And it’s one of those things you remember about the holiday and crave all year long. (Because they only make an appearance on Good Friday!)

Although not exactly the same, this recipe is very similar to one in my Great Aunt Hilda’s hand-written cookbook. That would date this to at the latest around 1960. How much earlier than that her recipe dates would be pure conjecture… 

Hot cross buns are never served as a dinner roll but as a “dessert,” due to the sweet egg dough, currants and (if you’re doing them right) copious amount of icing. The amount of currants and spice can be adjusted to your own liking. I find “store-bought” very frugal on both ingredients.

Hot cross buns are traditionally eaten on Good Friday, with the cross standing as a symbol of the Crucifixion. They are believed to pre-date Christianity, although the first recorded use of the term "hot cross bun" was in 1733.

So, if you’re like me, and are “mad as hell and not going to take this any more,” perhaps step back a bit, refocus life, and enjoy a sweet bun, loaded with icing. But wait a while. Easter isn't for another month.

Old-Fashioned Hot Cross Buns
Prep: 20 min  |  Rise: 2-2.5 hours  |  Makes 8-12 buns
3/4 cup water, 110°F
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup powdered milk
1/4 cup white sugar
1 tbsp active dry yeast 
1 cup dried currants
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon 
1/2 tsp allspice (or nutmeg)
2 lg eggs 
3 cups white flour
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 
3 tsp coffee cream

Heat the water, powdered milk, butter and sugar in a small saucepan until the butter is melted and the liquid reaches a temperature of 100°F. Do not exceed that temperature. If you do let the liquid cool down to 110° before adding the yeast (or you’ll kill it).

Sprinkle the yeast over the top of the liquid. Stir gently, cover and let sit for between 10-15 minutes to “proof.” At the end of the time the yeast should be creamy. If not, start again with fresh yeast.

Place the currants in a large bowl. Add the salt, cinnamon, allspice, eggs and proofed yeast liquid. Mix well and then add the flour. Stir until it comes together, then transfer to a board and knead for 5 minutes. The dough will still be “wet” but won’t stick to your hands or the board.

Place the dough back in the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and a tea towel and let rise in a warm spot until doubled. This will take about 2 hours. (I didn't have as warm a spot as usual for my bread and my first rise was 2.5 hours...)

At the end of the rise, punch down and divide into 8-12 equal balls. 8 balls make good sized buns, 12 make the number of apostles… Arrange the balls in an 8” x 8” oven-proof dish. Let rise again until doubled, about 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 375°F. Just before baking cut a small cross in the top of each bun. This will hemp the icing stay on top.

Bake for 20-25 minutes (30 min if making 8). Remove from the oven and rub with butter. Let the buns cool for 10 minutes.

Mix together the confectioner’s sugar, vanilla and cream. Place in a plastic bag, snip off the end, and squeeze a cross on the top of each bun.


If you like this post retweet it using the link at top right, or share it using any of the links below. Just give me some credit for the post, and a driver back to this page would be appreciated.

1 comment:

  1. Mmmmm ... looks great. And I totally agree about the over-commercialization of every holiday that is supposed to have some spiritual and/or social significance. We've turned thousands of years of culture into a shopping spree. Thanks for the entry. Enjoyed it.