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.