Seasonal baking, great in theory but challenging to implement in practice. Whenever Christmas comes around I'm too exhausted from the year to prepare those puddings in advance, to make the fruit mince and then the pies, to roll and cut out Christmas tree cookie decorations, to lovingly prepare jars of jam as gifts. I always want to, but struggle in the end. Similarly with Valentine's Day or St Patrick's. Not that Aussies are really in to these "holidays".
But with Easter I try to make the effort. We have traditions for Thursday night, with fish pie and the Passion of the Christ dvd. I get home and poach fish in stock, layer it in a dish, make a milky sauce, boil potatoes and place the lucious pie into the oven. By this time it is almost 9 p.m. and who is keen on eating anyway. But the pie and any leftover peas get us through the weekend, between visits to families where we are stuffed full of lamb.
And the best culinary delight of Easter? Has to be the hottie. Yum oh! How I love hot cross buns. Light morsels, speckled with fruit, flavoured with spices, that white cross on the top which is beging to be picked off and eaten first. This is one thing I make yearly, and indeed weekly in the month leading up to Easter. Just whipping up our second batch for the season now.
Hot Cross Buns
Makes up to 20 or so
1/4 c water
4 tsp dried yeast
2 tbs sugar
4 c flour
1/2 c sugar
3 tsp spices
At least 1 c dried fruit
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 c milk
1/4 c butter
1/4 c flour, extra
2 tsp sugar, extra
1/4 c sugar, again extra
1/8 c water, heated
Combine 1/4 c water, yeast and 2 tbs sugar in a bowl. Whisk to combine and set aside for around 10 minutes to get started. This kicks the yeast process along, but is not entirely necessary. Feel free to simply tip the yeast (forget the water and sugar) in with the flour at the next step.
Combine flour, 1/2 c sugar, spices and dried fruit in a bowl. The spices should be ground if dried. They can include any flavours you like. Most recently I've been using cinnamon, dried ginger and the zest of an orange. Cardamom or nutmeg is also nice. With the dried fruit, chop it up finely and use tasty combinations. Nothing beats currents and sultanas, but dried apricots, pears and figs are great too.
Add the yeasty mix, the eggs along with the milk and butter. But first combine the milk and butter in a microwave safe container and heat gently for 30 seconds. This will soften your butter and again help with the yeast process of things being warm and at the optimal temperature to rise! Kneed until the dough is soft and elastic, either on the bench by hand or in a mixer with a dough hook (I use the mixer).
Lightly grease a bowl, place dough in it, cover and leave in a warm spot to prove for around an hour. The mixture will double in size.
Punch down the dough, divide the mixture in half and then form from this into small balls of around 7 cm diameter. This is not absolutely required, but easy to achieve if you keep on dividing the dough in half until you have nice little bun-sized balls. Place on a lined baking tray, cover and leave to prove for a further 30-40 minutes. Turn on the oven at this time to 180* C.
Mix together the extra flour, sugar and water to form a paste. Using a piping bag or some other device, use this paste to form crosses on top of the buns. Bake in the oven for around 15 minutes, until golden and cooked through. Meanwhile combine the sugar and hot water. When the buns come out of the over, brush this sugary glaze over the top of the buns. Leave to cook somewhat before tearing appart, smothering with butter and eating with greedy passion.
Recipe adapted from too many sources, now just my own.
Christ is Risen!