Hot Cross Buns

Hot Cross Buns

This Sunday is Easter. I myself did not grow up in a particularly religious household, though occasionally I would put on a (very) ruffly pink dress and go to Easter service with my grandpa. Mostly Easter in my house was a day for finding plastic eggs full of candy hidden in Kleenex boxes and shoes; a day for making myself sick on Cadbury Eggs; and a day for my mom to tell me about the Palm Sunday tornadoes of 1965, which might explain why I was such an anxious child.

Hot cross buns were also not a part of my Easter celebration growing up. In fact, prior to experimenting with them this week, I had never eaten them and, perhaps like you, I only really knew about them from the “Hot Cross Buns” nursery rhyme.

An English tradition, the buns are traditionally eaten on Good Friday (the Friday before Easter). Lent of course began with semlor, to use up sugar and fats in the house, which are forbidden during Lent. The other delicious bookend are these slightly different spiced buns.

While there is no documentation that shows exactly when the buns were invented, every one of their many origin stories start with a monk. Some theories put their creation back as early as the 12th century. Others say it was a monk in St. Albans in the 14th century.

Like many of the recipes I have researched that have a religious link, hot cross bun ingredients are meant to symbolize historical events. Remember Hannah Spiegelman’s haroset? And, sometimes they’re a little dark. The cross on top of the bun, of course, recalls the cross that Jesus died on. The various spices inside symbolize the spices used to embalm Jesus’ body after the crucifixion (see what I mean?), and the dried fruit is meant to remind Christians they no longer have to eat plain food, because the resurrection is at hand.

The buns have had a life beyond Good Friday as well. In the past, the buns were sometimes grated up and used for medicinal purposes. Superstition also states that buns baked on Good Friday will never spoil. In earlier times, they were sometimes hung from the rafters for a whole year for good luck, which hints at their… ahem… hardiness. Those buns would be replaced every Good Friday. They were also said to protect from evil spirits and prevent shipwrecks when taken on sea voyages.

During the reign of Elizabeth I, laws were passed to keep people from selling hot cross buns on any day other than Good Friday, Christmas, or during burials, because they were too sacred for any other day. Bun fans were able to prepare their own in their homes to get around the law, but if they were caught, this apparently benevolent law required them to give up their buns to the poor. Luckily, we are allowed to bake hot cross buns any time we want.

For this recipe, I essentially used a variation of the cinnamon roll recipe I used for my mom’s pecan rolls. (And I want to apologize for my shaky glaze job. I’m not a hot cross buns pro yet!)

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Hot Cross Buns
Makes 9 buns.

Ingredients:
6 tbsp sugar
2 1/4 tsp (1 packet) active dry yeast
3/4 cup raisins
3/4 cup milk, warmed to 115-125 degrees
1 large egg
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 cup (4 tbsp) unsalted butter, very soft
For egg wash: 1 egg, plus 1 tbsp milk, whisked together
For glaze: 1 cup confectioners sugar, 1/2 tsp vanilla extract, 1/2 tsp cardamom (optional), and 4 tsp milk, whisked together

Instructions:

Combine the sugar, yeast, raisins, and warm milk in a large bowl. Whisk to combine and allow to sit for about five minutes to allow the yeast to activate.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Whisk to combine.

Once the yeast mixture has become frothy, whisk in one egg until combined. Then add the flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until mostly combined. It will look quite shaggy and dry at this point. Add the butter and continue stirring just until the dough begins to form a ball.

Pour the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead the dough for a few minutes, until the the ball forms a little more. The surface will not be smooth, but a ball should be well-formed.

Place the dough into a large clean bowl, cover with a dishtowel, and allow to sit in warm place for an hour. (Note: I always had a little trouble with yeast doughs in my house, I think because it’s so dry. However, I have started raising my dough by covering it and placing it into the oven, with a pot of boiled water on the lower rack. Yeast loves warm dry places, so this gives it a nice spa where it can grow. It works for me every time now.)

Either grease an 8×8-inch pan, or line it with parchment. After an hour, pour the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Cut into 9 equal parts and roll each into a ball with your hands. Place each ball into the pan. It’s OK if they are touching. Cover with a dishtowel and allow to rise for another 45 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

In a small bowl, whisk together your egg wash. In a larger bowl, whisk together your glaze ingredients. (The glaze will be fairly thick, which is good). Spoon the glaze into a plastic baggie.

Brush the egg wash over the buns. Bake for about 20-22 minutes, until lightly golden brown on top.

Remove and allow to cool. Snip a very tiny corner off the baggie filled with glaze. Place a cross of glaze across the top of each bun.

They are best enjoyed the same day that you bake them. (Unless you take them with you to sea, in which case…)

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If you don’t like raisins, skip them! Or, you could use currants or other dried fruit. As for glazing, I’m a fan of adding the crosses before the buns go into the oven. These crosses are supposed to be hot, right?! Jk. But you can absolutely wait until the buns cool and add the glaze then. I did… both, as you can see. I really like glaze. Especially this cardamom glaze situation right here.

If you are celebrating Easter this Sunday, happy Easter! If not, you should make these buns anyway!

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Emily Dickinson’s Coconut Cake

Emily Dickinson

It’s SPRING! Finally! I mean, it won’t feel like spring here until about two months from now, but technically, it arrived yesterday. Spring also means that I’m finally going to be able to say goodbye to my TV-friend for a while, leaving behind my winter life as a couch potato to actually go outside.

Aside from TV watching, being home-bound in the cold often leads to a lot of researching and baking. Usually in that order. On one particularly cold day, I discovered that in 1999, UNESCO declared March 21st to be National Poetry Day. I started looking into poets I could honor here, and that led me to the beloved and mysterious poet, Emily Dickinson.

Born in 1830, Dickinson spent almost her entire life in Amherst, Massachusetts, near her family. Well educated for a woman of her time, she spent seven years attending school at Amherst Academy, which she only left after falling ill on more than one occasion.

After her time in school, little is known about Dickinson, beyond what is expressed in her letters and poetry. We remember her now as a reclusive, fragile woman dressed in white, perhaps as much as we remember her writing.

It is said that, as a young woman, she was social and had many friends, but that as she aged, she became less and less likely to accept visitors into her home, preferring instead to speak to them through closed doors. There have been many guesses as to why Dickinson began living as a recluse. Some historians think she may have suffered from epilepsy, a disease that, at the time, would have rendered her a social pariah. Others think she had what we would today call agoraphobia.

Dickinson never married and, instead, spent her time with her brother Austin’s family, and a sister, Lavinia, who also never married. And, while Dickinson became withdrawn from society, she never stopped writing. Through the years, she became extremely close to her brother’s wife, Susan, and though they lived on estates next door to one another, they wrote to each other often.

After Dickinson’s death, her sister, Lavinia, found some of her poems (she wrote almost 1800 during her life) and decided they should be published. It was Mabel Todd, wife of an astronomer, and mistress to Emily’s brother, Austin, who became the editor of Dickinson’s works. Todd had never actually met the poet face to face, though Dickinson was aware of her existence, and even sent her poetry from time to time.

My favorite story of the poet is one Todd told of when she and Dickinson almost met. Dickinson’s brother had invited Todd to the house where his sisters and mother lived to play the piano and sing for them. Austin’s mother was upstairs and invalid, and therefore couldn’t greet Ms. Todd. Emily was there too, and while she listened from the hallway, she chose not to leave the shadows. Instead, she sent a poem out to Todd on a scrap of paper. Todd’s later response to their “meeting” was: “It was odd to think as my voice rang out through the big silent house that Miss Emily in her weird white dress was outside in the shadow hearing every word.”

While Todd considered Dickinson’s work “genius”, she heavily edited her writings before they were published. Todd’s versions of the works did become very successful. By contrast, Emily’s sister-in-law Susan attempted to publish a few of her letters and was met with much less interest. It was also Todd who created the idea of Dickinson as a strange woman in white. It’s difficult now to distinguish the woman from the myth, though in her letters Dickinson is lively and witty. And, in addition to being an excellent poet, Dickinson was a fan of both gardening and baking, perhaps being known more for these during her life, than for her writing. In the years she spent closed off visually from society, she would still make baked goods and lower them down to children in the street in a basket.

In fact, more than one recipe, written in Dickinson’s own hand, still exists today. I tried her recipe for a coconut cake, which comes down to us with a few simple ingredients, and no instructions on preparation. I just did it the way I would if I were making any other cake. It could be prepared in a loaf pan, but I opted to use the vintage bundt pan that my mother gave me recently. It worked well!

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Coconut Cake
Makes one small bundt cake, or a one 8″ x 4″ loaf. Recipe slightly altered from original recipe from Emily Dickinson.

Ingredients:
1 cup coconut, shredded and unsweetened
8 ounces hot water
2 cups flour
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 eggs, large

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Oil and flour a bundt pan, or a small loaf pan.

Add shredded coconut to a bowl and pour 8 ounces of hot water over the top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes. Drain the water off and spread the coconut out on paper towels to dry slightly.

In a separate small bowl, combine the flour, cream of tartar, and baking soda. Stir to combine.

In a large bowl, mix the sugar and softened butter with a hand mixer until creamed, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs and stir together until just combined.

Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture and stir until just combined.

Finally, add the coconut and stir until just combined.

Pour the mixture into the oiled and floured pan.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, beginning to test the cake with a toothpick at 30 minutes. Once a toothpick inserted into multiple places around the cake comes out clean, it’s done.

Allow cake to cool for about 5 minutes in the pan, then remove from the pan and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

Eat as is, or add glaze and toasted coconut.

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Baker’s note: This cake is a tad on the drier side. Cakes during that time period were made to be pretty sturdy, and therefore were not light and fluffy the way we expect cakes to be today. (This might more accurately be described as a sweet coconut bread.)

I had a great time researching Emily Dickinson’s story. And I feel like I could write a book now, but this is only a blog, so I hope you do some follow-up research yourself; she is a fascinating woman! Happy World Poetry Day!

Grapefruit Pudding Cake for Fannie Farmer’s Birthday

Fannie Farmer
(Source)

Fannie Merritt Farmer was born in Massachusetts on March 23, 1857, the oldest of four daughters. Unlike many of her contemporaries, Farmer’s family placed a premium on education and it was expected that she would go to college, rather than marry right after school. Unfortunately, at age 16, Farmer suffered a stroke that left her partially paralyzed and unable to walk. She would eventually regain the use of her legs, but would never have full function again. Instead of going to college, Farmer was looked after by her parents, and spent the time learning to cook.

At age 30, she enrolled in the Boston Cooking School, and spent the next 9 years excelling in the study of “domestic science,” as it was known. After graduating, she took a job as an assistant to the director, and in 1891 she became principal of the School.

What do we owe to this turn-of-the-century domestic scientist? Modern baking in the United States. Prior to Farmer’s work, baking instructions were conversational and inconsistent (when you see old recipes, you might notice that no baking temperatures are given, or “as much as you like” accompanies an important ingredient), but she developed the “level measurement” system that we all take for granted today. Critics said she was taking the art and creativity out of baking. However, standard measurements allowed for adjustments in standard, measured ways, and also allowed for recipes to be transmitted to the next generation, without anything being lost in translation. Recipes improve, multiply, flourish, all because bakers are now able speak the same language–thanks to Fannie Farmer, the so-called “Mother of Level Measurements.”

In 1896, Farmer published a cookbook, The Boston Cooking School Cookbook, full of recipes that used her level measuring system. Little was expected to come of the book, and at first only 3,000 copies were printed. Instead it became hugely popular, and extremely influential, so much so that it is still in print today, under a new, more accurate name: the Fannie Farmer Cookbook. Years later, the book was updated by another amazing woman food writer, Marion Cunningham, who, in 1979, was hired to revise the Fannie Farmer Cookbook  for contemporary audiences.

Initially, my only goal was to bake a dessert from Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking-School Cook Book to celebrate her 160th birthday. But skimming through the recipes I found online from the first edition were leaving me less than inspired. There were plenty of cakes, pies, desserts, and puddings. I love all those things, don’t get me wrong, but nothing was jumping off the page.

That’s when I stumbled onto a recipe for Lemon Pudding Cake, a Marion Cunningham recipe from the Fannie Farmer Cookbook. I have been so into pudding lately, of all sorts. I was not really a fan of snack packs as a child, but I did love the warm chocolate pudding that my mom made me as a child (I wrote about that here). Last fall, I wrote about a cornmeal-based “Indian pudding.” And just earlier this month, I made my friend Sarah’s grandmother’s bread pudding. Definitely a theme. I had lots of grapefruit on hand, but only a few lemons, so that’s what I used. You could also make this recipe with the traditional lemon. The recipe is exactly the same, just do not add salt and sub in 1/3 cup lemon juice for the the grapefruit and lemon juices in the recipe below.

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Grapefruit Pudding Cake
Slightly adapted from Lemon Pudding in The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, by Marion Cunningham, 13th Edition

Grapefruit Pudding Cake Ingredients:
2 tbsp butter, softened
3/4 cup, plus 2 tbsp sugar
3 eggs, separated
1 cup whole milk
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/3 cup grapefruit juice
1 tbsp grapefruit zest
1 1/2 tbsp flour
1/8 tsp salt

Grapefruit Pudding Cake Instructions:

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Add butter to a large dish. Beat for 30 seconds with a hand mixture until smooth. Gradually add all but 1 tbsp of sugar, mixing between each addition, until everything is incorporated and very smooth.

Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, beating between each egg yolk addition until fully incorporated.

Add in the milk, lemon juice, grapefruit juice, zest, flour. Beat just until everything looks well incorporated and uniform. The mixture will be foamy.

In a separate bowl, use a hand beater to beat the egg whites until they turn just white and begin to combine. Sprinkle with remaining 1 tbsp sugar. Continue beating for a few seconds until soft peaks form. Use a spatula or wooden spoon to gently fold the mixture into the egg yolk batter. Continue to fold until the the mixture is uniform, then stop immediately. Your batter will look lumpy and foamy.

In at least a 2-inch deep baking pan, place your empty 1 1/2 quart baking dish. Pour hot water into the baking pan, around, but not into, the baking dish. Pour enough water so that it fills about halfway up the side of the baking dish.

Pour your cake batter into the baking dish and slide into the oven.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, being sure to not let it get too brown. It should be light and golden. Keep an eye on it, but try not to open the oven door often.

This dish can be served after it has just cooled, or it can be served chilled.

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What you have when you remove it from the oven is a sponge cake floating over a delicious grapefruit custard. This might very well be my dream dessert. In one dish! It’s magic. I can’t wait to try it with another fruit juice, or chocolate. It’s a fantastic recipe to celebrate an amazing lady. Happy birthday, Fannie!

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Sarah (Ferguson) Potter’s Grandma’s Olde Time Bread Pudding

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Alta, as a teenager

As a genealogist, it’s not every day that you meet someone in the same profession as you, at least not in person. That’s why I’m so lucky to know Sarah (Ferguson) Potter. Sarah is a genealogist, who has been researching her own genealogy since she was in 8th grade. Five years ago she started Modern Ancestry, a genealogy company that focuses on combining research with creative products, such as family history books, custom photo albums, documentary-style films and recipe books.

When I reached out to Sarah about this post, I was so excited that she agreed to participate. Sometimes when I interview ladies for this blog, there is some back and forth on the recipe they would like to share. However, Sarah had recently gifted her sister with a collection of their favorite family dishes while growing up for Christmas, so she had several recipes to choose from. On top of that, she had already done so much of her own research on her family that it was fascinating to read everything she had to share about her grandmother.  And what better way to kick off Women’s History Month than by remembering an entrepreneurial American woman?

Sarah’s grandmother, Alta, was born in 1915 in Minooka, Illinois and raised in Morris, Illinois. She was the oldest of 8 children, and helped raise her 7 siblings with her single mother during the Depression. She quit high school at age 15 and began working at the Cameron Inn, where she lived with the owners and worked every job she could.

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Later, after she married her husband, Chet Ferguson, Alta worked with her mother, Carrie, at the Carson House cooking homemade meals for weary travelers and guests. Twelve years after she married her husband, she and her husband went on to have three children. During that time, she devoted her time to raising her children, but in the 1960s she decided to go back to work. She began working at a restaurant in Morris called Sis’ Drive-In. Later, she and a business partner would buy the restaurant and run it themselves before selling in the early 1980s.

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Sarah and her grandmother, Alta.

While Sarah was lucky enough to have several of her grandmother’s recipes to choose from, she found it difficult to pick one that held the best memories of her grandmother. She settled on her grandmother’s bread pudding. While unsure exactly where the recipe came from, it was a favorite at her grandmother’s restaurant, and years later customers would approach her father and aunts and tell them how much they loved the dish.

It was a dish that Sarah found so delicious that she remembered it through the years. It was not a dish that her grandmother made for every meal, but certainly for special occasions, and she was kind enough to share the recipe here on the Hungry Genealogist. After trying the recipe, let me tell you, you will not be disappointed. The recipe is simple to make and is made with simple ingredients, but the dish comes out of the oven looking quite luxurious and tasting even better than it looks.

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Grandma’s Olde Time Bread Pudding

Olde Time Bread Pudding Ingredients:
6 slices day-old bread
3 tbsp butter
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs, beaten
3 cups milk, scalded
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Olde Time Bread Pudding Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Toast the bread and butter while still hot. Arrange the bread in a buttered baking dish that is at least one quart in size. Sprinkle the raisins over the top of the toast.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, salt, and all but 2 tbsp of the sugar. Add the milk and whisk to blend.

Pour the egg and milk mixture over the toast and raisins and allow to sit for about 10 minutes, occasionally pressing the bread down into the milk mixture to absorb.

Mix the cinnamon with the remaining 2 tbsp of sugar and sprinkle over the top of the mixture.

Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the top is slightly browned and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

Serve warm or cold.

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Sarah told me that, even though her grandmother is no longer living, her cousin David still makes her grandmother’s bread pudding recipe, with a rum or bourbon sauce. She said that she has not made the recipe since her grandmother passed away, but that she hopes to try to make it for herself and her family soon. If you would like to learn more about the work that Sarah does, please visit her website and check it out for yourself! Sarah, thank you so much for telling us about your impressive grandmother, and sharing her delicious recipe!