The Main Menu: Baking can be a comfort as preparations for a different kind of Easter begin

Hot cross buns can provide a welcome baking distraction as many households will be preparing for a different kind of Easter celebration this year. Photo: Submitted.

By JAN MAIN

This Easter will have a different flavour from all others. A celebration with distance – how does that work? Indeed, we need a celebration more than ever. Something to distract us from the nightmare of this virus and the horrible isolation.

However, this Easter will not be the usual large family around the dining room table or shared with friends. Instead, it must be a creative, caring one with an awareness of community and family.

When there are challenges and uncertainty, I find comfort in the kitchen, in particular baking.

In this instance, cooking for others, while not entertaining for them directly, makes it feel companionable. You can share the results – wrap and drop the packages off at the door – from the Easter Bunny!

For this special occasion, there is the traditional hot cross buns served first on Good Friday and always on Easter Sunday.

However, these are so good, they can be eaten with pleasure for the entire month (they freeze well!).  Buns are delicious for breakfast, snacks and with cheddar cheese (my favourite) a quick lunch.

Yes, it’s a yeast bread but easy to do and fun to do with children. These days with children out of school, you may be looking for activities to involve them. Cooking with yeast is particularly good because it’s foolproof. However, it seems so magical to have this “thing” rising in a bowl to be punched down and shaped into the spicy, hot cross buns. Nothing better warm from the oven!

Although you cannot entertain this Easter the same way as in the past, the hot cross buns make an ideal and edible gift to take to friends and family. You will be the welcome Easter Rabbit!

Hot Cross Buns

Don’t be afraid of cooking with yeast, it is truly child’s play!

Hopefully these instructions are clear to debunk any mystery. All you need is time in your kitchen – perfect for isolation! (A companion to help you, especially a child, is welcome! Otherwise, put on the music and get going.)

Note: I prefer traditional active yeast to fast acting because it gives a better, yeast taste. Yeast works well in a warm environment with sugar – don’t we all? Roll up your sleeves and wear an apron – you need to get involved!

To Get the Yeast Growing (called proofing)

¼ cup (50 mL)  warm water

1  pkg (1 tbsp/15 mL) traditional active yeast

1 tsp (5 mL) granulated sugar

Main Ingredients for the Buns

1 cup (250 mL)  milk

½ cup (125 mL) butter

½ cup (125 mL) granulated sugar

2  well beaten eggs

4 cups (1 L)  all-purpose flour (about 1 cup (250 mL) extra for kneading

2 tbsp (25 mL)  cinnamon

1 ½ tsp (7 mL)  nutmeg

½ tsp (2 mL) each, ground cloves and salt

1 cup (250 mL)  raisins or currants

1 tbsp (15 mL) each, grated orange and grated lemon rind

Glaze

2 tbsp (25 mL)  liquid honey

Icing for Crosses (optional)

½ cup (125 mL) icing sugar

1 tbsp (15 mL) water

Rinse a large mixing bowl with warm water and discard. (Remember, yeast likes warmth, thus, the warmed bowl.) Pour in water, sprinkle yeast and sugar over. Let stand for 10 minutes. This allows the yeast to grow – it should be foamy and smell of beer. (Some like the smell, others say, “Yuk!”)

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan heat milk over medium heat until bubbles form around the edge. Remove from heat, stir in the butter and sugar. Let the butter melt and the milk become warm to the touch but not burning hot. When it reaches this temperature, beat in the eggs and stir this mixture into the yeast mixture.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt until well blended. Set aside. Wash the raisins, currants in a sieve with warm water and dry thoroughly on a clean tea towel. This plumps up the fruit.

Using whisk or electric mixer, gradually beat flour mixture by cups into the warm milk –yeast mixture together with the raisins and grated orange and lemon rind. When the batter becomes heavy switch to a wooden spoon to beat in the remaining flour until you have a smooth, moist dough.

Lightly flour hands (with the additional flour) and knead dough using a folding motion with your hands to create smooth, elastic dough. It will feel springy to the touch and may take about 5 minutes of kneading. Dough will be moist.

Now you are ready to let dough rest and double in size. Wipe another bowl with vegetable oil; using a spatula scrape the dough into this bowl. Cover with plastic wrap or a clean tea towel and let it rise in a warm spot (I use another big mixing bowl filled with warm water (about bath water temperature; float the bowl with the dough on top or use oven with the light on) until dough is double in size about 45 to 60 minutes.

Once it has doubled in size, flour your hands; punch down dough until there are no large air bubbles. (Children love doing this!)

Divide dough into 12 equal portions and shape into balls.

Arrange balls on a parchment paper lined baking sheet leaving 2 inches (10 mL) apart. Cover buns loosely with a tea towel; place in a warm spot and let double in size about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, pre-heat oven to 375 (190 C). Once buns have doubled in size, bake 20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on rack. Brush with honey to give a shiny finish.

In small mixing bowl, stir icing sugar and water together until smooth. Pipe this icing into a cross on the surface of buns or use small spoon to drizzle the icing into cross on top of buns.  Makes 12 hot cross buns. Serve within a day or wrap individually and freeze for up to 3 weeks.

You did it!! Enjoy and Happy Easter!


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