Perhaps even more so during times of uncertainty, we are inclined to seek out tradition as a means of connecting with the past. This seems to be the case with food during the global pandemic: suddenly everyone has turned to bread making, if they can get hold of any decent flour that is. Festive breads are loaded with symbolic connection but the Hot Cross Bun definitely takes the cake for its conspicuous association with Christian mythology. The bun marks the end of Lent while the cross represents the crucifixion of Jesus and the spices signify the spices used for embalming. In Australia, Hot Cross buns land in the supermarkets on Boxing day, December 26 and continue through the new year to Easter and beyond. Most children have no idea what the cross stands for. When I inform them of the crucifixion story, they look aghast and reply ‘that’s gross’. I have to agree with them, but remove the cross, that thick part holding the sweet glaze on the top, the favourite side, and there goes your tradition, and another reason not to learn how to bake festive and seasonal foods, or learn about how food is connected to history and legend.
Over the last week, I’ve attempted four different HC bun recipes. That week might have been 11 days long because I’ve lost all track of time. Thank God it’s Easter Sunday today, now I have a reference point for a while. My first two attempts were both sourdough buns requiring a long period of fermentation. Pan de Ramerino, a Tuscan Easter bun, is usually made with either yeast or a biga. I adapted this recipe to sourdough, making it much easier on the digestion. The buns contain raisins and are flavoured with rosemary oil, the tops crossed with a tic tac toe pattern before glazing. They are lovely to eat, but I missed the spice, that sweet and ancient aroma of a bun warming in the oven for breakfast.
The next sourdough recipe came from a sourdough baking group of which I am a member. The dough turned out to be so difficult to handle and ended up as a Hot Cross Focaccia, which tasted fine, but did not provide the sense of tradition I was searching for, despite the sticky quince glaze used on top. If a recipe is not pleasurable and reasonably intuitive to make, and this is my golden rule for bun making, I don’t repeat it. If at first you don’t succeed, give up.
The next two buns were yeast based. If you can eat yeasted products without suffering indigestion from the fast ferment, then this is the best way to go at Easter. The first one came from the pastry chef, Darren Puchase, of Burch and Puchase Sweet studio in Melbourne, whose recipe was recently published in the New Daily. The recipe is easy to follow, though I was tentative about the whopping use of dry yeast in the recipe. ( 28 gr of yeast to 400 gr of flour plus other ingredients). The recipe works very well. You can make them in around 3 hours all up. I broke a little with tradition and opted for an XR symbol (Extinction Rebellion) on top. They are now called the XR buns here, a reminder that climate action is still number one priority for our mother earth.
The final recipe came from Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial who has been working variations of her yeasted HC bun for years. The buns were easy to make, and using a stand mixer made the process even faster. Her two recipes can be found here and here.
So which buns were the best? The Tuscan buns lasted well, and being sourdough, were still edible on the third day. The Focaccia -come- bun had a lovely texture but the recipe was far too wet and difficult to shape for my liking. The other two yeasted buns were satisfactory, and good for cooks who have not branched out into the world of sourdough. I find yeasted breads hard to eat, with the taste of unfermented flour too up front on the palate for my liking. Yeasted buns also dry out too quickly. So it’s back to the drawing board, as I search for an achievable and satisfactory sourdough Hot Cross Bun next year. Let us hope that next April will be a safer and happier place for the world.
Auguri di Buona Pasqua 2020. State a Casa. Happy Easter Greetings 2020, Stay at Home.