Everyone has their Easter traditions, don't they? When we lived in Vancouver, and had a very cool church to attend, I felt Easter more. We'd sit there, in a lovely old wooden building, listening to the choir sing, drenched in the rainbow-hued rays of sunshine through stained glass. The kids were in the children's choir, so after the first opening prayers they'd make their way to the front to sing their few offerings. Even though I am not a conventionally religious person, I loved those Sundays. The church was beautiful - gorgeous stained glass windows with scenes of saints and stories from the gospels - it even smelled good. The pews were glowing rough brown wood. The church-goers were welcoming and they really loved little kids, especially the loud singing of FDPG, who used to belt it out like there was no tomorrow. The minister was what I would call progressive in that he didn't preach like the ministers of my youth (boring droning homilies on sin). He was young. He was witty. He was also a careful thinker. Once he had someone call him on his cell phone to elaborate on a point he was trying to make about how we tend to allow the outside world intrude into every aspect of our lives, often to the detriment of our own sense of peace and balance and family cohesion. But what really drew me to that church was the singing. I love singing. And nothing could beat standing in those rainbow-hued rays of sunshine, singing old hymns with a crowd of happy peaceful people.
Now I live in another city, and I have yet to find a church I like as much as that one (to the point where we don't attend anymore) but I still like the idea of having the kids recognize the Christian liturgical year. So I approach it using a combination of memory from our old church and books like Festivals Families and Food and The Children's Year.
Where was I? (you were talking about hot cross buns, stick to the topic)
Right, hot cross buns.
Last year I made Nigella's, from Feast. Now, let me first say that I love Nigella. And I love Feast. Nigella is clever and caustic and really loves food and drink and I might go so far as to say that we are kindred spirits, but some of her recipes don't turn out quite as fortuitously as I hope they will. And her
The year before that I used a recipe that I got off a blog. They too were a less than delightful expense of my time. Not good. I might even have cursed a little. They ended up in the garbage, methinks.
This year I tried another tack: I made up my own recipe. And lo, they were GOOD. They were really good (gosh, tell us what you really think, Sheila). They were soft and fragrant and chewy and dense and sweet. They were good with unsalted butter. They were good without any butter at all. We ate them for breakfast. We ate them for snacks. I even gave some to the propane man because he's so nice to us when we call him (you have to love a company that comes to fill your propane tank the day after you call them in despair because your tank suddenly emptied when you weren't expecting it and you don't like attaching the BBQ tank to the line just in case you blow the neighbourhood up even though when you stop to think about it when was the last time you heard of a propane tank blowing someone up?).
In the interests of giving you a similarly wonderful Hot Cross Bun Experience I will try to recreate the recipe I used, but I must preface this recipe by saying that I don't use recipes or keep track of measurements so you will have to rely on your own good sense.
Scald this, then let it cool somewhat:
2 cups milk
1/2 cup butter
2 tsp sugar
When it's gone lukewarm, pour it into the bowl of your mixer (I use a stand Kitchen-Aid with a dough hook). Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of yeast on top, then cover with a tea towel. When it's proofed (it should look all bubbly) add these things:
1 cup warm water
3/4 cup sugar
a mix of spices including: cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, and a little black pepper
3-4 cups of white flour
1 cup raisins or currants
I use the dough hook to do my initial knead, and I usually let it go for about 5-10 minutes. You will need more flour, too. Once you've got a nice slightly sticky dough, turn it into an oiled bowl and let it rise for an hour. Then punch it down and shape it into buns. Let the buns rise another 30 minutes or so, then brush with a beaten egg yolk and bake 375ºF until golden (sorry, I didn't keep track of the time but it isn't very long at all, depending on how big they are). The beaten yolk is to make them glossy and glistening. You can even saw a little cross in them before you pop them in the oven. Nigella emulates the buns of my youth by making a paste of flour and milk and egg and drizzling that over the cuts before baking.
When they are cooled and ready to be eaten you make a thickish paste with icing sugar and milk. I put it into a mini ziplock bag and snipped a teeny tiny corner off, then handed it to FDPG to drizzle as she would.