Today is Good Friday. It is also the earliest Good Friday in living memory. Easter is set by the Jewish Passover celebration which in turn uses a lunar calender. Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon of the Spring. The Spring Equinox happened yesterday. The moon is full tonight. Easter can only be one day earlier and the last time that happened was 1818 or for those lovers of historicals, smack dab in the middle of the Regency period.
Easter like Christmas is always a time of special foods. Lent was a time of fasting and so Easter became a time when food was once again available. One of most familiar cries in Regency and Victorian London, according Henry Matthew's London Labor and Lon Poor 1851 was One a penny, two a penny hot cross buns.
Hot cross buns are spiced currant buns with a cross cut on the top. Sometimes the cross is emphasised with a cross of pastry. I know in the US version, cut peel is often used, but not in the English version, according to Elizabeth David's English Bread and Yeast Cookery (1977) which is one of the definitive tomes on the subject.
Spiced buns start appearing in Tudor times and by Elizabeth I, decrees are being issued limiting bakers to making spiced cakes and buns only at Christmas and Easter. If you want such things at other times, the housewife has to make her own. This is the situation that pretty much exists up to the 20th century in Britain. And I will say that warm homemade hot cross buns taste far better than those in the shops.
This is the recipe that I have adapted from Elizabeth David. It makes about two dozen.
4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon soft butter
2 large eggs (free range if possible and as fresh as possible)
1 cup milk warmed
1 packet yeast
1 tsp each -- ground allspice, cinnamon, nut meg, cloves or use 1 tablespoon mixed pumpkin pie spice
1 cup currants (or in a pinch raisins)
Soften the yeast in the milk. Add butter to milk and allow to melt. Add well beaten eggs to yeast mixture.
Mix flour, brown sugar, salt and spices together. Add yeast mixture. Stir until well mixed. Add currants. Mix until well distributed. The dough should be quite stiff.
Cover and allow to rise until double. This takes about an hour (gives you time to read a romance novel).
Divide into 24 balls. Place in a greased tray, allow to rise again (time for more reading of romance), make a cross on top of each with a knife, brush with a little milk. You can emphasise the cross by putting a cross made from either strips of candied peel or strips of short crust pastry (pie dough). Bake in 375 F- 400 F oven for twenty minutes. (Set timer in case you become engrossed in romance novel!)They should be lovely and brown when they come out. You can glaze them if you want. Best eaten warm, but can be split and toasted.
I hope whatever you do this weekend that you have a wonderful time.
all the best,