March 2010: Easter
I’ve never made a hot cross bun. So this holy season I’m on a mission.
One problem: No yeast.
Three shops later and I’m holding a tofu-spongy wodge the size of a house brick!
It’ll have to do.
Stressed by the yeast hunt I head next door for coffee.
Cup to lip and there’s a tap on my shoulder: “I think the yeast I just sold you may be out of date.”
I resume my search.
Finding spice mix is easier.
At Herbies I purchase a pack that contains coriander, cassia, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, poppy seeds, cloves, ca rdamom and rose petals. Yum!
I’m excited about making the buns but nervous.
I read on the internet that people were using yeast before they could write. Five thousand years of dough making rises behind me in history’s bakery. What could I possibly do wrong?
Actually, the list is embarrassing:
1. No strong flour (in Australia its called bread flour). Solution: Use plain flour and cross my fingers.
2. No reliable cooking thermometer (ferment starter works best if liquid is 46 degrees Celsius). Solution: Take uneducated stab at temperature and cross my toes.
3. The yeast, I discover too late, has French instructions. Solution: Imitate Audrey Tautou, scrawl desperate gnome postca rds and plough on!
4. DO NOT plunge hands into flour and starter mixture once washing is on the line. It will rain. Solution: Join great unwashed or drape washing, straight from machine, elegantly around the house. (Trust me; it’s better than unpegging clothes in rain-dance frenzy with semi-elastic goop ulcerating on your hands.)
5. Time gets gobbled when you make these little darlings. Solution: Wipe semi-elastic goop and flour dust from phone. Think how to compensate friends you’ve stood up/had to harriedly call.
6. DO NOT knead small black ants into bun mixture. There is NO solution.
In 2010, some New South Wales retailers started selling hot cross buns and Easter eggs on January 4, during Christmastide.
In 2009, the Very Rev. Jeffrey John, Dean of St Albans Cathedral in the UK mounted a campaign to have the overly-commercialised hot cross bun replaced with the medieval version called the Alban bun.
Since 1361, the Alban bun had been given to the poor on Good Friday.
“Recently,” he said, “we’ve lost touch with the significance of the bun and its link to Holy Week and the cross.”
I thought making hot cross buns* — rather than buying them — would remind me of that link.
The smell of the spices, the elasticity of the dough, the piping of the crosses on top and the swelling of the loaves in the pan worked together fragrantly to reconnect me to abundant life. The desperate thoughts that often dog me as winter approaches seemed softened, kneaded away.
The making of bread, sweet or savoury, is an embodied, generous and hopeful act; just how Christian discipleship and the Easter message are, ultimately, meant to be.
*The Alban bun features more currants, which I can’t stomach.