Friday, March 21, 2008

A Bun in the Oven

March has been one wild month so far, with snowstorm after snowstorm pelting us with more precipitation and leaving us with ice, muddy puddles, and flooding creeks.

But believe it or not, today marks the first day of Spring, and though warmer weather -- truly permanent warmer weather -- seems so far away, the return of Spring itself merits a celebration.

This weekend also brings one of the earliest possible Easter Sundays in the calendar. In past years I've thought about baking something special for Easter, but I never got around to it. Surprisingly, though, even this early holiday didn't catch me off-guard, and I was ready with a recipe I've wanted to try for years: hot cross buns.

Typically laden with currants or raisins and marked with a powdered sugar frosting X, these sweet buns offer a traditional Good Friday treat in England and trace their roots back to ancient times, when people wanted to welcome the light of Spring and the rebirth of the Earth with sweet bounty.

I found a recipe in my Betty Crocker International Cookbook, and naturally, I couldn't leave well enough alone. In the interest of working in more local ingredients, I used whole wheat flour for half the flour in the recipe, local organic eggs, local milk, some of my home-dried raisins, local butter, local honey, and -- just for a different twist -- local cider (from the freezer) and some chopped not-quite-local pecans (courtesy of Sojourner).

Spreading out the work seemed the best solution, so I made the dough last evening, allowed it to rise once, and then shaped the dough into simple balls, tucking them into greased muffin cups. Then I covered them with oiled wax paper and slid them into the refrigerator.

This morning, I allowed the buns to rise for about half an hour once they came out of the refrigerator, and then I slashed an X into the top of each and brushed them with an egg-white glaze. (I don't keep powdered sugar around and wanted a simpler, more hearty look to the buns.)

The buns took about 20 minutes to bake, giving me enough time to mull the rest of the cider to accompany breakfast. And by the time the sweet fragrances began to lure me back into the kitchen...

...they were done! They smelled like cinnamon rolls but had a more yeasty and less sweet flavor, making them a satisfyingly healthy treat for a Good Friday morning.

While it may snow again this weekend, the light continues to grow each day, and I hold on to hope that Spring will make its presence more fully known very soon. (I'm itching to get the garden started, for one thing!)

And if I have to bake a little sympathetic "magic" to encourage the rebirth of the world... so be it!


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