Surrounded by a wild and isolated landscape, little has changed in this village since the first white prospectors encountered the native Maidu population. Walking through town at dusk, against a backdrop of thick forest and eerie bleating of backyard goats, the imagination wanders. Why is there a deer mask on that porch? What are those odd carvings? That dog's looking at me funny.
Is that chanting I hear?!
Due to a recent purchase of music from The Wicker Man , there has been much musing around the house lately about fertility, maypoles, and sacrifice- echoing the themes of the Easter season. As anyone within earshot of a smart-ass teenager is aware,"Easter rites are rooted in pagan tradition, you know". Hot cross buns- staple of many a late-Lenten table- are by far no exception.
In ancient Springs, small cakes were believed to have been offered to reproductive goddesses along the Fertile Crescent, decorated with marks resembling ox horns (an ox symbolized the moon. Interestingly, it's theorized the word "bun" is derived from boun, Greek for ox). Anglo Saxon pagans presented similar cakes- marked with a cross representing the four phases of the moon- to Eostre, goddess of dawn and Spring. The cakes were trusted to ward off evil forces and fire.
Mystical and conveniently pre-cruxed, these small, spooky cakes were not a hard sell to medieval Christians, who assumed the cakes protected sailors from shipwrecks and Christian grain from heathen rats. Hung from a kitchen ceiling or hearth, they conjured good fortune and well-risen breads.
Pagan, Christian, or box marked "other", enjoy these seasonal treats and whatever blessings they may invoke. .
Hot Cross Buns
1 c warm milk tbl dry yeast
1/2 c sugar, divided
4 c AP flour
1/2 tsp each cinnamon, cardamom, and mace
1 teaspoon salt
10 tbl cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 lg eggs, divided
1 lg yolk
1 c mixed dried fruits, plumped in hot water and patted dry
grated zest of one orange
3 tablespoons sugar
1 3/4 c confectioner's sugar, plus 2 tbl warm milk
In a small bowl stir together milk, yeast, and 1 tsp sugar. Let mixture stand 5 minutes, or until foamy.
Into a large bowl sift together flour, spices, and remaining sugar. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal.
Combine one whole egg with egg yolk. Make a well in center of flour mixture and pour in yeast mixture, eggs, orange zest, and dried fruits. With your hands, mix until a dough is formed.
Transfer to a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic( about 7 minutes). Transfer to a large, oiled bowl and turn to coat. Cover with a dish towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk (about 1 1/2 hours).
Briefly knead the dough on a floured surface and form into two logs. Cut each log 12 pieces. Form each piece into a ball and arrange about 1 1/2 inches apart on oiled baking sheets. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Lightly beat remaining egg with the 3tbl sugar; brush buns with this glaze . Bake until golden(10-12 minutes), then transfer to a cooling rack.
Before serving, pipe or drizzle a cross (or ox horns!) onto each, with a mixture made by combining the confectioner's sugar with the warm milk.
Makes 24 hot cross buns