A Week Measured in Buns

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.

Tricks of the trade: piping the crosses using an old plastic sauce bottle. Cross mixture too thin.

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.

Pan de Ramerino, Tuscan Easter Buns flavoured with rosemary

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rewriting Tradition. Easter Cuisine Old and New. Part 1

I rang my 13-year-old grandson to ask if he had eaten any hot cross buns today. He sounded disinterested and replied ‘no’, in a polite but bemused way. I could almost hear his brain ticking over, perhaps with a ‘What the ..? Has Nanna finally lost the plot, ringing me about Hot Cross Buns?’ After all, the kids have been eating these buns since Boxing Day. That’s when they begin appearing in Australian supermarkets. By the time Good Friday comes around, the novelty has worn off. So much for tradition.

Ready for the oven

I then rang my eldest son, and asked him the same question. At least he is perfectly aware of the symbolic nature of these buns. No, he had also had his fill of the supermarket product along the way, and was whipping up some scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast. Yes, another pagan in our midst. I am the first one to appreciate the secular nature of our society: I am not only a ‘collapsed’ Catholic but also don’t count myself as Christian. Having said that, I don’t see much point in throwing the baby out with the bathwater. After all, these buns are a seasonal and festive treat and it’s important to explain the meaning of the added crosses to the young folk. History and tradition form a part of who we are. At the same time, we happily appropriate any Buddhist and Hindu rituals that may suit us along the way.  Buddhist meditation becomes mindfulness ( and loses a lot in translation), Diwali is taking off in Australia and Chinese New year is popular too. Australia is a wonderful melting pot of cultures, but as we grab hold of the new, we should also at least understand the old, and adapt some of those traditions to our modern taste.

Just glazed. Who prefers the top half?

I now make hot Cross buns annually, just a dozen. The yeasted variety is light and perfect for our Autumnal weather. Next year I will increase the amount of spice in the recipe I used. They cost very little to make and are far more digestible than the common supermarket variety. If you are a beginner at yeasted baking, try Celia’s recipe here. It is foolproof and very straightforward.

To serve with butter, not margarine.

The other fond tradition I hang on to is my dedication to cooking smoked Cod on Good Friday. This is an old Irish Catholic Australian thing. Most Scottish descendants did not have this bright yellow dyed fish imposed on them as youngsters on Good Friday. If you feel slightly ambivalent about smoked cod, go to the fish market and buy the real thing  from the Shetland Islands which tastes peaty and less salty. I buy it at the Preston Market, from one fishmonger who has, by 9 am on Easter Thursday, queues 5 deep. I am told by Sandra that it is available all year round at the Prahran market.

Fish pie includes Shetland smoked cod, flathead and shrimp

One way to enjoy a piece of good quality smoked Cod is to forget your grandmother’s recipe, which consisted of an overcooked piece of fish, served with white parsley sauce, alongside boiled vegetables. Maintaining the tradition but stepping it up a notch or two makes the elements of this dish more appetising. Make an Easter fish pie, incorporating the poached smoked cod, along with poached white fish and a handful of shrimp, in a white sauce, and top with buttery mashed potato. The sides? A tossed green salad with lots of mustard in the dressing, another Irish note.

Three serves later….

This post was inspired by my friend Peter’s comment a few days ago. Peter lives in tropical Far North Queensland, where some of these culinary traditions would seem totally out-of-place.

“Enter the 60’s & 70’s: Traditional Good Friday cooking of smoked cod, which was smelt from miles away on the farm, still lingers in our psyche. We (all seven kids) all started to gag at the thought of having to consume his hideous boiled, vile muck served with over-cooked spuds and grey cabbage. Tradition beheld that we all sit at the kitchen table and dare not complain as the Compassion donation box was placed in the middle of the table with forlorn starving African children’s’ faces staring back at us which reflected those much worse off than ourselves. If only our parents knew that when we took those money boxes back to school they were much lighter by many pennies and the occasional thrupence than when they left their position placed strategically near where food or indulgent entertainment was involved. When visiting childless Aunts and Uncles visited our eyes bulged as they loudly dropped loose change into said box and we immediately tallied up how many kangaroo or umbrella toffees on a stick , yard-long licorice straps of triangular frozen Sunnyboys we could buy at the tuck-shop on the next school day. I’m sure tens of thousands of children in Africa died of starvation by we greedy Catholic kids but obligatory confession ultimately absolved us even if we had to lie to the priest to protect our guilt. So now we celebrate Easter by holding a “traditional” Bad Friday by sharing all the amazing regional and seasonal foods abundant in our region. Last week-end was the annual sugarcane and banana plantation pig shoot – sponsored by the local pubs. We bar-hogs waited for hours until the slaughtered swine were unceremoniously chucked off the blood-splatted Utes by the shooters whose faces were akin to orgasmic stimuli at the thought of winning the $25 stake. The weigh-in is a serious event all greased with gallons of booze and much humourous joshing . However, those of us on the peripheral could only see that these beasts can’t possibly go to waste and commence bartering for the whole hog. My point being is that this Bad Friday’s fare is a 57 kilo pig on a spit to be shared with all the local collapsed Catholics, a few bevvies and lots of stories about how we all ended up in the wonderful wet tropics of Far North Queensland – and not a hot-cross bun in sight. Ahh! Bliss!!”

Thanks Peter for making the effort to add such entertaining recollections to my posts. I am sure many Australians of a certain age may have similar memories.

That’s me in the corner, that’s me in the spotlight, losing my religion…..

More Buns in the Oven

The moment I read Beck’s blog post on In Search of Golden Pudding, I knew I would have to try her Hot Cross Bun recipe for Easter. Based on an Elizabeth David recipe, they are easy to make, and include great tips for piping the crosses, though mine, like Beck’s, turned out rather fat and wonky. Next time I will cut a smaller hole in the piping bag.

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If you want to have a go at making your own Easter buns this season, keep aside around 3 hours for the two stages of dough rising, and follow Beck’s very straightforward directions. It is a very satisfying task, not to mention the aroma of yeast and spice permeating the kitchen. I added rum soaked sultanas into my mix as I had them on hand, but I believe the currants are more authentic.

Trad Hot Cross Buns
Trad Hot Cross Buns

For Tuscan style Easter Buns, see my previous post here.

In My Camping Kitchen, April 2015

I’m back in my camp kitchen for the last time this season. After Easter, it’s time to pack up the van and tuck things away for another year. My camp kitchen is always on the go, along with my daughter’s neighbouring van kitchen, feeding a fluctuating family of four generations. There is always a big pot of vegetable soup or a minestrone,  simple casseroles for the kids who are always hungry, rice cookers and woks and jaffles for breakfast. This Easter weekend, there are hot cross buns, a Lentil shepherds pie for good Friday, and stashed chocolate eggs for Sunday.

Breakfast jaffles of fried egg, cheddar cheese, tomato and onion.
Breakfast jaffles of fried egg, cheddar cheese, tomato and onion and home made tomato chutney.

I love old Chinese enamel ware, most of which was produced during the Cultural Revolution, that difficult period in Chinese history. This set of bowls with lids is so handy in my camping kitchen. Just for you, Nancy!

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Last week we celebrated Mischa’s 18th birthday and these left over frozen pizza came to the beach to be reheated in the camp oven. Perfect for a cool day.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On Good Friday, hot cross buns in the fresh air, slathered in butter, is a tradition worth keeping.  Have you noticed that the big supermarkets begin churning these out on Boxing Day? I refuse to buy any before Good Friday. As well as explainng the significance of these buns to the children, we also sing this rather odd nursery rhyme,

Hot cross buns, hot cross buns, 

One a penny, two a penny

Hot cross buns.

If you have no daughters, 

give them to your sons,

One a penny, two a penny

Hot cross buns. 

I found this little pinch pot at one of the weekend markets in Mornington Peninsula. It now lives in the camper trailer kitchen.

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This little corner of the van is used for drawing, writing and dining. This year we went with the cocky cushion theme: there are matching cups somewhere in my camping kitchen. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Mr T has collected some styling props for my camping kitchen. The bees are drunk on Banksia flower mead, and so far, four children have been stung. Despite that, they still refuse to wear shoes.

Banksia Flower and Pipi shell. Taking live shellfish from the bay is prohibited.
Banksia Flower and Pipi shell. Taking live shellfish from the bay is prohibited.

Cooking for a big mob can be demanding at times. Mr T and I like to sneak off to a winery on occasion and sample the wares from someone else’s kitchen.

The kitchen area at T'Gallant Winery
The kitchen area at T’Gallant Winery

Happy birthday Celia. May the next decade be even more wonderful than all the others. This post forms part of Celia’s monthly event, In My Kitchen, at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial.