Malibu Way of Life

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    The Ecumenical Easter

    By Jody Stump

    Things I learned at my mother’s knee about Easter:

    If the lid is down on the piano, there’s an egg nestled in the strings. If the day is bright and sunny, the chocolate bunny is hidden inside, not out. The bigger the bunny, the bigger the basket-and the bunny always eats the black beans first.

    My mother also taught me to skip rope to, “One a penny, two a penny. Hot cross buns! If you have no daughters, you can give them to your sons. One a penny, two a penny. Hot cross buns!”

    Yes, the sweet, fruit-filled goodness of a rich, soft roll was as essential a part of the holiday as a basket or a bonnet. I must have licked the gooey lemon icing of a hundred crosses and nibbled raisins off the edges and yet my mother and I never baked a single bun. We relied on our town’s bakery.

    In recent weeks, I have scouted near and wide for a neighborhood bakery as infused with tradition, and although I found a few that offered tough and bland excuses for the buns I remember, there was not one that passed muster. Then I described my frustration to a Jewish friend.

    “Why it’s just an extra sweet challah with some raisins and icing-I can do that!” she exclaimed and the cross-cultural quest for a holy roll was underway.

    It is no surprise that Christian sweet rolls should be reminiscent of a Jewish tradition. Challah celebrates God’s bounty and the 12 sections of its braids (like the 12 risen rolls of hot cross buns) honor the 12 tribes of Israel. Jesus, a good Jew, was in Jerusalem to celebrate Passover when he was killed. The Romans who put him to death had just celebrated a vernal holiday of their own with small, fruit-filled rolls decorated with crosses. The crosses signified the dawn of spring and the deity who brought them grain, Astarte-known in northern Europe as Eastre, great goddess of the spring.

    HOT CROSS BUNS

    Makes 24 buns

    This basic recipe was found at that wondrous Web site, gift to gourmets: www.epicurious.com. Techniques owe everything to the award-winning cookbook, “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice,” and the watchful eye of my dear friend, Karen York.

    1 cup lukewarm milk (105 – 110 degrees)

    2 packages active dry yeast

    1/2 cup sugar

    4 cups flour

    1 1/2 tsp. allspice

    1/ 2 tsp. cinnamon

    1 tsp. salt

    1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter-cold

    2 large eggs, room temperature

    1 large egg yolk

    1/2 cup dried currants

    1/2 cup dried cherries

    3 Tbs. port

    2 tsp. each, finely grated lemon/ orange zest

    3 Tbs. superfine sugar

    1 1/2 cups lemon milk icing*

    * 1 cup sifted powdered sugar beaten with 3 Tbs. hot milk and 1 tsp lemon juice (or vanilla).

    1. Spray Pam lightly inside a large bowl and butter two baking sheets. Set aside.

    2. In a small, dry bowl mix together milk, yeast and 1 tsp. sugar. Let stand until foamy.

    3. Plump dried fruit in the port for 15 minutes. Pour off any extra liquid.

    4. In a large bowl, sift together flour, spices, salt and remaining sugar. Cut butter into the dry mixture with a pastry blender or knives until it resembles a coarse meal.

    5. Lightly beat one egg and the yolk. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the yolks, yeast mixture, fruit and zests. Stir until dough forms and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

    6. Transfer to a lightly floured surface and, with floured hands, knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Transfer to the Pam-sprayed bowl and turn to coat. Cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap and allow dough to double in a warm place, about two hours. Our suitable rising spot was an unheated oven.

    7. On a floured surface, knead dough briefly and roll into two 12-inch long logs. Cut each log into 12 equal chunks. Form into balls and arrange 1 1/2 inches apart on the baking sheets. Cover and let rise again until doubled, about 45 minutes. Using a sharp knife, cut an “X” on top of each roll.

    8. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

    9. Lightly beat the remaining egg and superfine sugar. Brush over the buns and bake 12 minutes until golden. Cool on wire rack.

    10. Drizzle icing into the X’s etched into the rolls. Serve warm with butter.