Updated: Apr 22
Attention! Not a religious post ha ha!
I grew up in a Catholic household in Quebec, Canada, a part of the world who's past is deeply rooted in the Christian religion. Despite this, I am agnostic but I am honestly fascinated by the different religions that exist around the world and the different cultures tied to various spiritual beliefs. I like understanding the roots of values and morals that each religion promotes and love the idea of traditions.
Over the years, I've surprised friends, colleagues and students with how much I knew about the traditions relating to their particular backgrounds. I remember one of my colleagues once discussing Ramadan with our peers and I chimed in with additional information. He turned to me and was like "Wow, you almost know more than me. I'm so surprised." Looking back, I find it sad that most of us make very little effort to get to know the cultures and practices of others but I am extremely grateful for having been raised in multi-cultural environments which helped me open my eyes to the world around me and gave me a thirst to learn more.
So what does this have to do with Easter?
This year I found myself wanting to learn more about Easter traditions around the world. Like it or not, there is a ton of baking that is tied to the various celebrations days that make up Easter (e.g. Fat Tuesday / Shrove Tuesday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday). This makes sense because Easter is tied to practice of Lent, the preparation of Christian believers for Easter through prayer and self-denial. And self-denial is almost always ended with indulgence, for example through the consumption of Easter chocolate.
What did I learn along the way?
Firstly, I discovered "semla", a traditional sweet roll made in various forms in Scandinavia and eastern Europe associated with Lent, especially Shrove Tuesday. Depending on the country, semla either consists of a cardamom-spiced wheat bun or puff-pastry. The buns have their tops cut off and are filled with a mix of milk and almond paste topped with whipped cream. They essentially remind me of choux-pastry or cream puffs. I saw featured by a few of my favorite bakeries around the world and since I totally missed the timing I didn't make semla. But I gave them a nod by making traditional chouquettes with a spring twist.
Secondly, I learned that hot-cross buns are really not that hard to make and are absolutely divine. Which brings me to the purpose of this post!
I actually lived in the UK for 2 years and remember seeing hot-cross buns pop-up at the grocery store but I will admit that I had no idea that they were tied to Easter and what the point of them was. I truly thought it was just raisin bread. I am sorry!
Then they popped up on an episode of the Great British Bake-Off (#gbbo) as a technical bake which lead me to believe they would be a difficult thing to pull off. I remember buying all the ingredients to make these buns in March of last year, but due to the pandemic, I was not able to get my hands on yeast and ultimately decided they weren't worth the bother. So when I saw Easter on the horizon this year, I was prepared.
I studied a few versions of recipes for hot-cross buns which I found in recipe books and online. Ultimately I took the elements I preferred from each recipe and made it my own. I was beyond pleased with the results and my husband's reaction included the words "wow, you can really just start your own bakery now", which makes me think they were right on the money.
This recipe yielded 12 large buns which meant there was a lot of bun eating happening in our household, but I have also frozen a good bunch of them and will pull them out for Good Friday - when they are traditionally eaten - to make them into Hot-Cross Bun Bread and Butter Pudding. Because who doesn't love ooey gooey custardy desserts?
Hope you get to try making these soon, no matter what religion or lack there of you choose to follow!
I should also note that the lead-up to Easter this year also overlaps with the Jewish celebrations of Passover (March 27th to April 4th this year) and the Hindu tradition of Holi (March 28th-29th), only to name a few. I've seen so many recipes shared for these celebrations these past few weeks that I've got a real itch to try many of them.
So what are you baking this springtime? Please drop a comment and share.
MY HOT-CROSS BUNS
75 g butter, melted
250g bread flour
250g all purpose flour
½ tsp salt
2 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1 ½ tsp dried yest
50g light brown sugar
Zest of one lemon
175g currants or raisins
75g mixed peel – optional
225 milk at room temperature
1/2 cup all purpose flour
6-7 tbsp water
2 tbsp apricot jam
1 tbsp water
Sift the flour, salt, spices together in the bowl of a stand mixer.
Stir in the year, sugar, lemon zest, currants and mixed peel.
With the dough hook attached, give the ingredients a quick mix.
Whisk the butter, egg and milk together and add to the dry ingredients.
With the mixer on low-medium speed allow the dough to knead until you reach a smooth and elastic dough. Can take anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes. The dough should pull from the edges of the bowl leaving them clean.
Put the dough in a lightly greased bowl and cover with clingfilm. Leave to rise in a warm place for 1.5 to 2 hours, until doubled in size.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead lightly for 1 minute.
Cut the dough into 12 equal parts. Shape each one into a ball my pinching around the edges and tucking them together. Place the dough balls onto a greased baking sheet (or line with parchment paper) with the tucked edges on the bottom. The balls should be about 0.5 - 1 inch apart.
Cover loosely with clingfilm and allow to prove in a warm place for 45 minutes.
Preheat over to 425F.
To make the crosses: Mix together the flour and water until you reach the right consistency - close to thick toothpaste. You should be able to pipe it onto the crosses but it should be thick enough to hold it's own. When the buns have proofed, pipe the crosses onto each bun.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden.
Just before removing the buns from the oven, mix the water and apricot jam together and microwave for about 30 seconds. Brush the glaze over the buns when they are still warm.