Hot Cross Buns

My mom and a very young Subway Dude in the kitchen at Thanksgiving.

My mother was a foodie. She loved talking about food.  She loved cooking and baking.  She loved cookbooks.  She didn’t actually eat a whole lot, but that’s another story.

I grew up loving every meal I had as a child.  Weekend breakfasts were special.  Music would be blaring on Saturday and Sunday mornings.  My dad, a fabulous guitarist, loved bluegrass and gospel music when we were growing up.  We often had fresh fruit salad with lime juice and grated lime peels.  We would also have some baked good my mother had whipped up.  We had special weekend breakfast plates, which I have and we use for birthdays.

Weekend lunches were usually popcorn, apples or pears and cheese.  Sounds simple, but my goodness, so delicious.  This would be eaten after the weekend errands had been run, after my dad had cleaned the house and while watching whatever sporting event was on that afternoon.  My dad would probably be ironing his clothes.

I was always excited to see what we were having for dinner.  Everything was homemade.  My mom’s salads and salad dressings every night were to die for.

My dad with The Major & Subway Dude.

We ate dinner late at our house.  8 or 9 pm was not uncommon.  My dad got home from work around 7 and would exercise while my mom was preparing dinner.  She said some nights she wouldn’t know what she was going to make, but if she started cooking onions and green peppers, my dad would be happy with the smell and would be patient about waiting.  My dad was always patient, but if my mom thought the peppers and the onions were helping, well, so much the better.

I inherited a lot of my mom’s cookbooks. I have two large and overflowing bookshelves filled with her cookbooks.  Many are written in with her corrections, suggestions or comments.  I also have several recipe tins with recipes of my mother’s, her mother’s, my father’s mother and of my mother’s friends.

I wish I spent more time looking through these books.  These days it has become pretty easy to look up recipes on the internet.  Lately, I’ve been making more of an effort to find Haitian recipes to try. The internet is a great resource.

IB likes most foods.  Sometimes he starts a meal, looking at the dishes on the table, saying, “I like this.  I like this.” We’ll put the food on his plate and he’ll say, “I don’t like this.  I don’t want this.”  The Major kind of freaks out.  I remind him that IB likes this little ritual.  IB is almost always the last one at the table.  He likes to dance and enjoy his meal.  So far, IB likes the Haitian dishes I have prepared for him.

This week I pulled out my mother’s favorite bread cookbook.  “A World of Breads” by Dolores Casella, first published in 1966.  There were several cookbooks my mother would say everyone should have.  This is one of them.  I have now gotten into the habit of looking for this book and others in used bookstores.  If I see them, I pick them up.  I have given them to my sister.  I plan on finding enough copies to pass on to my nieces, my daughter and any granddaughters I may have.

“A World of Breads” has two recipes that were family favorites: Hot Cross Buns and buttermilk bread.  Hot Cross Buns were a tradition at Easter.  Buttermilk bread was a year round treat.

If you are not used to baking with yeast, I encourage you to try.  It is not difficult.  In my opinion, pie crusts are difficult.  My mom always said pie crusts just take practice.

Bread takes practice too, but it’s pretty hard to mess up.  My advice is to loosely follow the recipe’s measurements for flour.  You add less than the recipe says and watch the consistency.  You continue to add flour until the consistency looks right.  The dough should not be sticking to the sides of the bowl.  You want to add just enough flour for the dough to stop looking sticky.

I use my mix master with the bread hook.  I always take the dough out toward the end and finish kneading it by hand.  There is something very satisfying about kneading dough by hand.

Here are the ingredients for hot cross buns:

2 cups scaled milk

1 cup butter

1 cup sugar (My mom told me 3/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup brown sugar)

2 packets of yeast dissolved into 1/3 cup warm water

2 large eggs

8 cups flour

1/2 t salt

2 cups currants or raisings

1/2 t cinnamon or nutmeg (My mom added both, plus cloves and all spice)

The recipe is as follows:

Pour the scalded milk over the butter and sugar and stir to dissolve the butter and sugar.  Let cool to lukewarm.  Add the dissolved yeast and the eggs and blend well.  Add the flour and salt gradually, reserving a small amount of lour to dust the fruits.  Add the floured fruits and the spice to the dough and knead in thoroughly.  Place in a buttered bowl, cover, and let rise until doubled.  Punch the dough down and turn it out onto a floured board.  Shape dough into 30 buns and place on buttered cookie sheets.  Cover and let rise for 30 minutes, then very carefully press the shape of a cross into each bun, using a spatula or the back of a knife.  (My mom always used a sharp knife to cut the cross into the bread.  It holds the icing better.)  Bake in a 375 oven for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 and continue baking until buns are browned and done, about 10-15 minutes longer.  Frost either the entire bun or just the shape of the cross.

The dough is rising for a second time.

Ready to go in the oven.

Easter Breakfast. Those are the weekend breakfast plates from my childhood. Partridge Family, no?

My mom’s icing simply says: butter, milk, confectioners sugar and vanilla.

–Running Girl


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