Like most people, my favorite traditions – family and holidays – tend to center around food. Baking and cooking decadent foodstuffs and sharing them with friends and family always fills my proverbial bucket.
Easter time, however, is the time of year that I don’t have a firmly rooted food tradition. I couldn’t really tell you why except perhaps I think that chocolates and jellybeans seem to take precedent. (I’m a chocolate-bunny-ears-first kinda gal).
So I began something of an Easter hunt. Not for eggs, but for some traditional Easter foods. I started looking for something distinctive to represent the holiday other than spring vegetables, ham or lamb. My research took me all over the world and it seems that enriched breads tend to be most closely linked to Easter in many countries. Enriched bread is simply bread that is imbued with fats, eggs, butter, sugar and milk. Since they have special ingredients, they are often associated more often with special holy days and holidays.
The one enriched bread that kept popping up was the hot cross bun. Hot cross buns are lightly sweetened raised buns with various spices like cinnamon and cloves along with dried fruit, usually currants.
There are a lot of myths, traditions and stories surrounding hot cross buns. There is some controversy surrounding their origins, but the most universally agreed to story is that they began in St. Albans, United Kingdom, by a monk who handed them out to the poor on Good Friday. Over time, myths about the buns have abounded. Some of the more popular ones are if you share half of your hot cross bun with a friend you’ll have an enduring friendship – I’m going to try this – and if you hang one up in your kitchen for an entire year you’ll ward off evil spirits – I’m not going to try this.
I’ve made a few attempts at making hot cross buns over the years, but like anything worth having, they take a lot of time, expensive ingredients and when you accidentally burn two batches, or they don’t rise properly, they can be frustrating. In other words, Pinterest fail.
So I began another hunt for where in Leavenworth I can buy delicious hot cross buns to celebrate this holiday with my family and start a new food tradition. Our bakeries here have so many cute and adorable things like iced sugar cookies in the shape of eggs, bunny cakes with coconut “fur” and cupcakes decorated like bunnies. This is not really what I was after.
After some time driving around town, making phone calls and looking all over, I found some. Price Chopper has them in a nine-pack for only $3.99. I also found some distinctive Easter goods at Bakery Delicateza. Irena Peak, owner and baker, has various traditional eastern European items for sale. The walnut roll loaf was deliciously moist and swirled with a not-too-sweet walnut filling, a paska with or without raisins which is similar to a challah, and I foresee it making an amazing Easter morning bread pudding. And she has iced hot cross buns that are filled with golden raisins and cranberries.
So while this traditionally British treat isn’t very easy to find, I did the hard work for you. They are the perfect treat on Easter morning after a long Lenten season, especially if you abstained from sweets. I’m going to enjoy mine with a cup of tea while my kids find the eggs the Easter Bunny hid around the house. Perhaps this year he will do a really good job of hiding them and I can eat two.
Lisa Sweet writes about food for the Leavenworth Times. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org