Happy Easter to all! Ours is a secular Easter -more a celebration of the unofficial coming of spring than anything religious. Not that I’m completely unaware of religious Easter tradition – I grew up in an Orange and Green Irish home! My mother was Protestant, and my father, Catholic. There were no battles – but from early on, it was my mother who decided where we kids went to Sunday school and church – but interestingly, it was my father who went to church most often, my mother stayed home while she sent us instead. A strange but potent parental message.
But as a kid, I always loved Easter, ’cause we always did the big Easter basket thing, with lots of loose candy hidden among the green paper grass (do they still make that stuff?). My mother was really good at hiding jelly beans deep in green grass, and I soon developed a habit of not looking too well for the remnants of the well hidden jelly beans, just so I could, many months later, go rummaging through those Easter baskets for a stale jelly bean or two – Don’t know why, but it always seemed as much fun, almost, to find one or two old stale jelly beans in the attic, as it had been to go through the basket on Easter morning. This perverse childhood habit turned into a lifelong appreciation of stale jelly candies over the fresh, as the chewy nature and the concentrated flavors seemed both to be increased in the ‘aged’ varieties – I’m quite sure more than one shop-keeper thought me insane as I went about my not-so-infrequent quests to find stale jellied candies.
All of those memories came rushing back to me this morning, as I opened the refrigerator door to find this-
Coloring Easter eggs was a seasonal ritual at our house, although none of us were at all artistic in our efforts – I remember being most interested in discovering what new and weird colors could be created by mixing the dyes together – but of course, my efforts would soon turn into the same dull olive drab tone, which really didn’t make an attractive Easter egg. And of course, by this stage in my experiments, I would have used up most of the dyes in the process, and my mother would chase me away while she and my sister finished up the eggs the proper way.
Although my mother would admit to having an English heritage (and a non-admitted Irish one as well), she never made hot cross buns for Easter – and the ones we did occasionally get from the grocery store were not good representations – therefore my appreciation for hot cross buns never developed, and frankly, it’s been years since I even tasted one. But recently I came on Brydie’s version on her excellent blog, Cityhippyfarmgirl, and realized how unsweet the traditional English hot cross bun really is. This is currently important to me (cutting sugar from my diet), and I decided I’d make some hot cross buns for our Easter treat.
A little web research brought me to Dan Lepard’s, Guardian bread series, and his ‘stout’ based hot cross bun recipe. Oh wow – how can these not be delicious? Fruit and spices, all carried home by the bold addition of a hearty stout – I used Deschutes Brewery’s, Obsidian Stout, a local Oregon micro-brew of high regard. Dan’s recipe turned out a highly workable but wet dough – I think, when I do this one again, I’ll convert it to a sourdough version, and I’m sure that will add a complexity which can only improve the nature of these already wonderful buns.
A few additional notes:
* I always thought of the cross on the top of these buns as a sweet icing, but my recent research shows that traditionally, the cross is made of a flour/water paste, with maybe a tiny addition of sugar, and that it is applied prior to baking! This of course gives it a ‘baked’ appearance, and an interesting ‘chewy’ texture upon eating. Surprising and interesting.
* I think this more traditional hot cross bun is a great example of how jaded the American palette has become. We truly have ruined the very nature of so many foods and dishes by insisting that they be ‘sweetened’ – and it’s only getting worse – Sadly, as the Hispanic population of the U.S. increases yearly, so does the American sweet-tooth – Believe it or not, the tendency for over-sweetened foods is even more evident among our Hispanic neighbors than in the U.S. itself, and there is nothing good, health-wise, in this sad fact.
But I refuse to end on a negative note. Here’s wishing all a warm and sunny Easter, and may all your eggs be pretty ones.
Nice buns, Dr. Funny, I, too, grew up in an Orange and Green house. My Dad was Protestant and Mom, a Catholic. Catholic school and Church it was, for the four kids. Never had or made hot cross buns. Just didn’t and don’t appeal to me. Yours, however, look delicious. Again happy Easter, Spring.
I think they may surprise you, Frances – they really go well with coffee or tea because of their subtle sweetness – but if and when you do try them, don’t do so with a ‘grocery’ brand – either do your own, or get a good bakery bun.
I think they’ll surprise you.
And I would love to enjoy spring, just as soon as it gets here!
I love the picture of the eggs in the fridge – it made me smile with delight 😀 I’ve always wanted to paint eggs and never done it. I like elderly liquorice, my Grandfather used to send care parcels with many different sorts of Danish liquorice to my mother, who would then hide it away and give it to us, piece by staling piece… some would get softer and stickier, some harder and chewier. I identify with your jelly bean tale totally.
I made those stout buns last year – yours look delicious. You are quite right, the crosses are traditionally a piped flour and water paste, very thin and fine. Doesn’t taste nice, maybe it wasn’t supposed to…
This year I made Dan’s top tea cakes, which is one of my favourites of his bun recipes, much lighter than a trad hot cross bun, which were not required of me, though I did offer… I used some of my leftover home candied peel, which made me feel very smug. Most of the festive breads of Europe, are traditionally enriched with eggs and butter, rather than with straight sugar, the sweetness coming from raisins and dried fruits.
The English tooth is getting sweeter too, and it is not just for baked goods. The sweetcorn, carrots, tomatoes, apples and many of our other fruits and vegetables are grown specifically to be sweeter, sad really. Happy Easter to you and yours 😀
Ooo, don’t get me started on liquorice – I’m addicted. There’s an old guy who owns a candy shop in a nearby town, and he stocks about 50 kinds – I like to discuss liquorice with him; he told me that among liquorice makers, there’s a rule that the shape of the candy dictates the flavor, so that scotty dogs (one of my favs) always taste exactly the same!
I buy my liquorice from Amazon now, and mostly get the Scandinavian, Dutch, or German stuff – they do much better liquorice than here in the U.S. I like the Australian stuff too, but its always so damned expensive! What’s with that?
I think I’d like stale liquorice, but I’ve never had any last that long.
Ohh, I wonder how yours is different to ours then?
Soft eating liquorice is too good. Far too good…
Hot cross buns laced with stout! Love it, Doc! Happy Easter to you and yours! 🙂
Thanks for the link up in your last post – love those buns.
Your Easter of youth was similar to mine though both my parents were strict Catholics, we prayed on our knees every evening during Lent. The jelly beans were hid in the house, not outside, as the Wisconsin spring was quite wet and sometimes still snowy! The colored eggs, yes, just like yours — the dull olive green/brown being the last one made with all the dye colors poured together. Or moreso colored a odd black?
I tried hot cross buns last year like Joanna (I think it was Mellow Bakers group?) and I did like them a lot, but my mother made them with less dried fruit in the dough, but plenty of sweet frosting for the crosses.
And a happy spring to you too. Hope you found your share of Easter eggs and jelly beans this year.
They look damn good doc. I think after the last week, I may just turn into a hotcross bun. (Thanks for the link back too.)
I think our food is getting sweeter and sweeter here too. As more and more foods lessen in quality and diversity people are upping the sugar to compensate. Sugar is addictive so most people wouldn’t even notice that the original flavours are being compromised. (like Joanna said, not just baked goods as well.)
Brydie, I’m very sorry I overlooked your comments here – I never want to do that – Please forgive my belated response.
Yes, you’re right – sugar is addictive, and the world still gives it a regal status – it’s something kids think of as a reward, a very positive connection that only serves to make it a lifelong habit, as well as being addictive. If it was outlawed tomorrow, I’m sure it would quickly become the world’s most profitable black-market product.