Holidays and celebrations are in inextricably entwined in my mind with food. Celebratory food. The kind you don’t usually have because it’s either expensive, not in season or, it takes a lot of blood, sweat, tears and time to make from scratch.
For me, the best thing about my birthday was, and still is, the chance to have a cake of my choice. Christmas in the Hentschel household means baked ham, potato croquettes and fruit cake. Easter is hot cross buns on Good Friday with jam and cream.
Hang on a minute.
Hot cross buns have been in the shops since New Year’s day. That’s about as special as a bowl of porridge. (Not, that I’m dissing porridge. I love those creamy, warm oats but they hardly rate as a celebration food.) What makes celebration foods special and delicious is the anticipation of eating them and knowing that you only have them for one day and then you must wait for another year. They become almost mythical in your mind!
I have recently become aware of some disturbing things about commercial hot cross buns. The buns in the major supermarkets are often partially baked overseas 6 months before they land in our stores. The supermarket bakeries complete the cooking and pop them on the shelf. So, if you buy a hot cross bun in March you are potentially eating a 9-month old product. Fresh daily? Well,…not really.
Social media also alerted me this week to an additive used by bakeries called Bunspice essence. This liquid is added to hot-cross bun dough to reduce the amount of real spices required. This Bunspice essence has an 8-page material safety data sheet and is labeled as a possible carcinogen. A former baker-friend of mine commented how nasty it was but, on the upside, he noted: “it really clears out your sinuses!”
I don’t know about you but I want real cinnamon in my buns and I’ll be skipping the side of cancer, thanks.
Sometimes I wonder if our increasingly unhealthy relationship with food, whether it be consuming processed foods packed with refined sugar and trans-fats to the other end of the spectrum where we obsess about “clean eating” and are constantly seeking the next “superfood” is destroying the enjoyment and anticipation of celebration dining.
No, I don’t want to have a green smoothie for Christmas but I also don’t want to eat 9-month old hot cross, bunspicy buns at Easter either.
What’s a girl to do?
Well, I grew up in the country, on a farm where baking was a part of everyday life. Hey, if you’re a 30-minute or more drive from town, you can’t just duck down to the café and grab a muffin. You’ve got to make that sucker from scratch using real, whole food ingredients. No packet mixes allowed on our ranch.
I can’t really complain though because back in the day, before the farm had electricity my great-grandmother would make a sponge cake beating the eggs by hand. That’s 10 minutes of hand-beating! I wouldn’t even last 2! God bless the Mix-Master. Her sponges were lighter that I could ever dream of and her arm muscles were so strong I bet she could beat most guys in an arm wrestle when she was in her eighties!
But, back to the bun. In an effort to claim back the joy and anticipation of celebration food I have a tradition avoiding all hot-cross buns in the lead up to Easter and bake my own hot cross buns on Good Friday morning. Although this is a 3-hour time commitment I find the process of kneading dough to be quite relaxing and the smell as they are cooking is divine! The recipe I use has been adapted from one I found in a Women’s Weekly Cookbook many years ago and contains both wheat flour and castor sugar. Definitely not a health food, but as I have two a year (ok, three) and no health reason to not eat these I’m not going to feeling guilty at all.
(If you do have intolerance to gluten or are celiac there are loads of recipes available on line so you won’t have to miss out!)
So consider saving special food for special times, go to the effort of getting the best quality ingredients you can afford and have a crack at making things yourself. Most of all make sure you sit down and savour every mouthful surrounded by fabulous company and conversations.
I’d love to hear about your favourite celebration foods and if you’re up for sharing your recipes as well, that would be fabulous.
Have a happy and safe Easter break!
Hot Cross Buns (makes 16)
- 1 tablespoon of dried yeast
- ¼ cup castor sugar
- 1 cup warm milk or water
- 4 cups of plain flour
- 2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
- 60g butter
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- ½ cup warm water
- ¾ cup currants
- ¼ cup mixed peel
- 1 tablespoon apricot jam
- ½ cup plain flour
- 1 tablespoon caster sugar
- 1/3 cup of water
Turn oven to lowest setting (60 degrees/C) Combine yeast, sugar and milk in heatproof bowl and whisk until yeast dissolves. Place in oven for 10 minutes until mixture is frothy.
Sift flour and cinnamon into large bowl; rub in butter. Stir in yeast mixture, egg, water and fruit; cover and stand in a warm place for 1 hour or until mixture has doubled in size.
Grease a 22-25cm deep-square cake tin. Turn dough onto floured surface and knead for 5-6 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Divide into 16 portions and shape into balls. Place these in pan and stand in a warm place for 20 minutes or until dough has risen to the top of the pan.
Preheat oven to 200 degrees/C (180 fan-forced). Make “cross” paste.
Pipe flour paste into crosses on top of each bun. Bake uncovered for 10 minutes. Reduce temperature to 180 degrees/C (160 fan-forced) and bake uncovered for 20 minutes. Turn onto cooling rack and brush with warm jam.
Serve warm with jam and cream. Best eaten on the day of making!
Need help with your health?
Norelle Hentschel is an experienced Naturopath with a clinic in Stones Corner, Brisbane who enjoys supporting her clients to reach their health goals.
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