Hot cross buns are an English lenten tradition

Hot cross buns are an English lenten tradition Credit: Photo by Nick Guidice

THROUGHOUT THE Christian world, yeast breads are traditionally served for the Easter celebration. A little sweeter, a little richer, a little more complicated than our daily bread, these baked goods are the specialty of ethnic bakers.

Russians bake towering loaves of kulich. Mexicans pat sweet crumb topping on seashell-shaped buns called pan dulce. Slovenians bake roll after roll of potica. Germans knead fruits into stollen or give a reprise to pre-Lenten fasching buns, deep-fried, apricot-filled doughnuts.

Italians bake their panettone all year long, a light yellow, brioche-like dough, studded with raisins and candied fruit peel.

On Easter morning, Greeks celebrate by cracking red-dyed, hard-cooked eggs buried deep within a braided wreath bread to signify remembrance, renewal and luck. The red color symbolizes the blood of Christ. The egg symbolizes life.

Paska is the centerpiece of the Ukrainian Easter table, celebrating the most important feast in their church year. The name paska, from the Hebrew word for Passover, signifies peace, salvation and happiness.

Some of the best buns and hot breads are baked in British kitchens. The big icing "X" on fragrant, spicy hot cross buns might be thought of as a simple reminder of Christ's resurrection. These cinnamon-flavored, currant-filled rolls had their origins in England and were traditionally served on Good Friday. Bake all of them in a jelly-roll pan as a time-saver.


Hot Cross Buns

4 to 4 1/2 cups flour, divided

1/3 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 packages active dry yeast

3/4 cup milk

1/2 cup oil

3 eggs

1/2 cup dried currants or raisins

1 egg white, lightly beaten

For frosting:

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

2 tablespoons butter, softened

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 to 2 tablespoons milk

1. To prepare rolls, in large bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups of the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon and yeast and mix well.

2. In small saucepan, heat milk and oil until very warm (120 to 130 degrees). Add warm liquid and eggs to flour mixture. Blend at low speed with electric beater until moistened. Beat 3 minutes at medium speed. By hand, stir in currants and additional 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 cups flour until dough pulls cleanly away from sides of bowl.

3. On floured surface, knead in 1/4 to 1/2 cup flour until dough is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Place dough in greased bowl and cover loosely with plastic wrap and cloth towel. Let rise in warm place (80 to 85 degrees) until light and doubled in size, 30 to 45 minutes.

4. Grease 15-by-10-by-1-inch baking pan. Punch down dough several times to remove all air bubbles. Divide dough into 35 equal portions and shape each into a ball. Place in prepared pan, 7 rows one way, 5 rows the other. Brush with egg white. Cover and let rise in warm place until light and doubled in size, 20 to 30 minutes.

5. Uncover dough. Bake at 375 degrees 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool slightly.

6. To prepare frosting, in small bowl, combine powdered sugar, butter, vanilla and 1 tablespoon milk and beat well, adding additional milk until of desired piping consistency. Using decorating bag or spoon, make crosses on each roll. Makes 35 rolls.

Marlene Parrish is a cookbook author and food writer based in Pittsburgh.

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