Christians will celebrate Easter next Sunday, not only through their religious ceremonies, but with meals featuring time-honored recipes. The traditional foods of this holiday, developed over centuries and passed down from generation to generation, will grace tables around the world.
Representative of these special foods are the numerous Easter breads, many of which share similiar flavors and symbolic shapes, such as the cross.
Stories differ as to the origin of hot cross buns, but the English have a longstanding tradition of serving the cross-topped rolls on Good Friday. They make them with currants and mixed citrus peel, score the tops with a knife before baking, then finish with a brushing of sugar syrup.
Here in the United States, raisins and chopped candied fruit are often substituted, and a powdered sugar glaze cross is added after baking. The version of this recipe presented today even designates the fruit as an optional ingredient.
A cross made of dough also tops Portuguese sweet bread, under which they tuck a raw, untinted egg. Eggs, an ancient symbol of life, are another common thread between the bread recipes from various countries. The Italians tint and tuck them into the almond- and anise-flavored dough of their Easter bread.
Eastern Orthodox Greeks, who celebrate Easter this year on April 30, prepare Tsoureka, flavored with mahleb, a Persian spice made from the ground seed of a wild, cherry-type fruit that gives a distinctive perfume-like flavor to the baked bread. Once again, nestled into the dough are hard-cooked eggs that have been dyed red with a special coloring agent.
The cylindrical shape of Finnish Easter bread and Russian Kulich is achieved by baking the dough in coffee cans. The top of Kulich is frosted to resemble a church dome covered with snow.
Of course, not everyone has time to make yeast breads, so traditional flavors such as lemon and cardamom may also be used to enhance a loaf of quick bread, leavened with baking powder so the ingredients can be simply combined and baked. And there's certainly no reason why other time-saving breads, such as any variety of muffins or skillet-fried Scottish bannocks, can't be used to start some traditions of your own.
On the eve of the California fruit and grape harvest, the state's growers are under siege from fears about pesticides and sabotage that have arisen in the past few weeks. They are also determining whether farm methods need to be changed as a result. Please see story on Page 2.HOT CROSS BUNS
4 1/2 to 5 cups flour
2 packages dry yeast
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Butter or margarine
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup raisins
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
Combine 1 1/2 cups flour, yeast, granulated sugar, salt, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg in large mixing bowl. Place 1 1/4 cups milk and 1/4 cup butter in saucepan and warm to 130 degrees. Add to flour mixture. Beat 2 minutes at medium speed of electric mixer.
Add eggs and 1/2 cup more flour, beat 2 minutes at high speed. Gradually stir in enough remaining flour with raisins to form soft dough. Knead on lightly floured board until smooth, about 5 minutes. Place in greased bowl, cover and let rise in warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
Punch dough down and divide into 15 equal parts. Shape each portion in ball. Place equal distance apart on greased 15 1/2x10 1/2-inch jellyroll pan. Let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
Brush with melted butter. Bake at 350 degrees 25 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on rack.
Combine powdered sugar with 2 to 3 tablespoons milk, 1 1/2 teaspoons softened butter and vanilla. Drizzle in cross pattern over each warm bun. Makes 15 buns.
Note: 1/4 cup chopped candied fruit may be added at same time as raisins, if desired.
1 package Greek red egg dye
1 cup boiling water
1 cup vinegar
1 1/2 cups milk
3/4 cup butter, cut into pieces
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 cup oil
3 packages dry yeast
1 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees)
2 teaspoons powdered mahleb
8 to 9 cups flour
Place egg dye in 2 cup measure and dissolve with boiling water. Add vinegar.
Wash 6 eggs in lukewarm water. Place enough water in saucepan to cover eggs when added in single layer. Bring water to boil. Stir in 1/3 dye-vinegar mixture (discard or use remaining dye to color other eggs). Add washed eggs and simmer 20 minutes. Drain eggs and set aside to cool.
Scald milk in saucepan. Add butter, stirring until melted (return to heat if necessary). Stir in sugar, salt and oil. Cool.
Dissolve yeast in warm water in large bowl. Add milk mixture and 3 lightly beaten eggs. Stir in mahleb and 2 to 3 cups flour. Continue to add flour, about 1/2 cup at time, until dough is soft and pliable.
Place dough in greased bowl, cover and allow to rise in warm place 1 to 2 hours or until doubled. Punch dough down and divide in half.