First of all I'll tell about the Czech traditions, because if I started with hot cross buns, I'd never get to the traditions as there's so much I want to tell you about the buns :) Easter in the Czech Republic is called Velikonoce (pronunciation here, means Great Nights). It is usually during April (but it can be at the end of March). The last three days before Velikonoce is Zelený čtvrtek (means Green Thursday, in English speaking countries known as Holy or Maundy Thursday), Velký pátek (means Great Friday, in English speaking countries known as Good Friday), Bílá sobota (means White Sunday, in English speaking countries known as Holy or Silent Saturday). The Easter Sunday is called Boží hod velikonoční, but the most important is probably Easter Monday (Velikonoční pondělí) when the traditions appear.
On Zelený čtvrtek we only should eat green food - vegetables to remain strong and healthy. Meat is not allowed to be eaten. Traditionally, jidáše (literally means judases) with honey are eaten for breakfast. Jidáše are small yeasted slightly sweet pastries which I really love!
On Velký pátek you really can't eat meat. This day the final day of fasting - the strongest one so at least on that day the meat should be avoided!
On Bílá sobota the fasting ends and people can eat meat again. The traditional dish is velikonoční nádivka (Easter stuffing) and Easter lamb (velikonoční beránek) is made as well as the very traditional Easter sweet yeasted bread called mazanec (literally could be translated as "spread cake", but I wouldn't call it this way :D).
On Boží hod velikonoční people go to church in the morning and often they bring their Easter lamb in order to have it blessed by the priest. Then it's time to eat the lamb as well as mazanec. This day Easter eggs are decorated and got ready for the big day - Easter Monday.
Velikonoční pondělí is the most important day for most Czech people. Men and boys go from one house to another to whip any girls or women living in that particular house. When I say whip I mean gently, it's not like they'd want to hurt them. The whipping is tradition and it's said the a whipped girl should stay healthy for the rest of the year. The tool used for the whipping is called "pomlázka". Here you can see how it looks like.
I guess it's been quite a lot about our traditions and now it's time to get to the star of the day - Hot Cross Buns! Hot Cross Buns are very slightly sweet yeasted bread-like spiced buns with dried fruit. They're eaten on Good Friday in Britain. However, nowadays they are well-known in all other English speaking countries - the USA, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Traditionally, their tops are marked with a distinctive cross made of flour paste to symbolize the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ. And here is the biggest difference. In the USA there are the crosses made of sugar icing after the baking. I don't agree with this one, though. The buns only last for 24 hours and then they're supposed to be toasted in your toaster to become dreamy again. And how could you do this with sugar icing?! It would burn. That's why British people cannot understand the habit of using sugar icing instead of flour paste (which is baked with the buns). By the way, you may know the very famous and old rhyme (originated back in 1800s) associated with Hot Cross Buns:
Hot cross buns! Hot cross buns!
One a penny two a penny -- Hot cross buns!
If you have no daughters, give them to your sons,
One a penny two a penny -- Hot cross buns!
The history of the buns is quite complicated and on Wikipedia there it's written really well, so I just copied the text from there:
They are believed by some to pre-date Christianity, although the first recorded use of the term "hot cross bun" was not until 1733, it is believed that buns marked with a cross were eaten by Saxons in honour of the goddess Eostre (the cross is thought to have symbolised the four quarters of the moon). "Eostre" is probably the origin of the name "Easter". Others claim that the Greeks marked cakes with a cross, much earlier. According to cookery writer Elizabeth David, Protestant English monarchs saw the buns as a dangerous hold-over of Catholic belief in England, being baked from the dough used in making the communion wafer. Protestant England attempted to ban the sale of the buns by bakers but they were too popular, and instead Elizabeth I passed a law permitting bakeries to sell them, but only at Easter and Christmas.
There are also lots of superstitions when it comes to Hot Cross Buns. One says that taking the buns on a sea voyage would guard against being shipwrecked. Another one says that buns baked and served on Good Friday will not spoil or become mouldy during the subsequent year. Anothersays thet you should keep this bun for medicinal purposes. A piece of it given to someone who is ill is said to help them recover. Sharing a hot cross bun with another is supposed to ensure friendship throughout the coming year. Because of the cross on the buns, some say they should be kissed before being eaten. That's what I do every time I make them :D And finally, they are said to protect against fires and ensure that all breads turn out perfectly if hung in the kitchen.
When searching for information, I've found this great site where you can find out loads of info about Hot Cross Buns - here. And now I'd like to talk about the ingredients. The most important is probably the type of flour used. You'll find that the traditional one is strong bread flour which contains higher amount of gluten and creates better bread-like taste and texture. I searched a bit and found out that strong bread flour is type 550 or 650 (if in your country this kind of labeling is used - e.g. in Germany, Czech Republic, Austria etc.). So do buy this type of flour - the results are much better! I used type 650.
The fruit used is always dried and consists of currants, raisins (or sultanas) and candied peels. The most important and common though, are the first two kinds of fruit. So if you cannot get candied peels, feel free to use raisins or currants instead. Currants are a special type of grapes planted in Greece and they may not be available everywhere (for example here in the Czech Republic). If you live in a country where dried currants aren't available, here's my tip. I use dried red currant instead of the currants - it's similar in size and color though red currant is a bit more on the tart side. How to make your own dried red currant? Just bake aprox. 250g of fresh red currant on very low heat (100-150C) for about 1-3 hours until dry. You'll get aprox. 50g of dried red currants which is enough for this recipe. And if even this is impossible, simply use two different kinds of raisins which are available in your local store :)
Hot Cross Buns are spiced buns. The spice mix which is usually used is called "mixed spice" and it's very popular in Britain. However, it's very easy to make your own (and better I'd say). I searched a lot to find one true recipe for mixed spice and the result is there's no such recipe. Each manufacturer makes his own mix of spices and therefore it's hard to tell which one is the real and best one. Nevertheless, the spices that really should be used are cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, coriander and ginger. So for sure these all are included in my buns :)
And finally, the buns are usually glazed immediately after removed from oven to becomee shiny and glossy. The glaze can be either from sugar+water mixture or from golden syrup+water mixture. I use the first one as it gives me the best results and it's not very easy to find golden syrup in our local store everytime I make them.
Okay, so now it's finally :D The buns are best served warm from the oven, split in half horizontally and buttered. And when I say buttered I really do mean buttered! A thick layer of butter makes it a treat from heaven! And sometimes homemade jam gives great taste, too :) So the recipe is here. You have plenty of time to get everything ready before Good Friday, so do not hesitate, buy all you'll need and make on that day. Oh and don't forget to kiss you hot cross bun :)
450g (3-1/2 cups) strong bread flour (or T550 or T650), sifted
65g (1/3 cup) granulated sugar
55g (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, cubed and softened
1 tsp salt
8g (1-3/4 tsp) dry active yeast
2/3 tsp ground allspice
2/3 tsp ground cinnamon
2/3 tsp ground nutmeg
1/3 tsp ground cloves
1/3 tsp ground coriander
1/3 tsp ground ginger
1 beaten egg, at room temperature
180ml (3/4 cup) lukewarm milk
120g (1 cup) dried fruit (currants, raisins, candied peels)
1/2 tsp powdered sugar
1-3 tbsp water
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tbsp water
Dough: Put flour, salt, spices into a large mixing bowl, then rub in the butter using your fingertips. Now add sugar and dry active yeast and mix well. Make a well in the centre of the mixture and pour in lukewarm milk and beaten egg. Stir until it becomes a soft but solid dough (you may use your hands if it's hard to do so with wooden spoon). Transfer the dough onto a floured surface and knead the dough for about 5 minutes. Now incorporate dried fruit into the dough and knead for another 5-10 minutes. The dough should be soft, but solid, smooth, elastic. It should not be sticky. Grease the large bowl with oil lightly, put in the dough, cover with tea towel and place in a warm place for about 90 minutes or until doubled in size. Again put the dough onto a floured surface and knead it for 2-3 minutes. then split the dough into 12 equal bits and work the pieces into balls or bun shapes (each should have about 80g). Transfer the buns onto a lined baking sheet, cover with tea towel and place in a warm place for about 30 minutes to rise again. In the meantime prepare the paste for crosses. Then pipe the crosses on each bun and bake in preheated oven to 200C for 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 160C and bake for another 10-15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and immediately brush each of them over the top with the glaze. Now it's time to devour them with butter :)
Crosses: In a bowl, combine flour with sugar and add water as needed. Start with 1 tbsp of water, mix well, add more if necessary. You should get a little runny but sticky mixture which can be piped easily without spreading. Transfer into a piping bag with small plain tip. Now it's eady to use.
Glaze: In a saucepan, combine sugar and water over low heat. Stir constantly until the sugar dissolves and it starts boiling. Boil for 1-2 minutes, the remove from heat and use immediately. If the mixture crystalizes, add a little water and repeat.
- The buns really aren't very sweet as they are supposed to be a kind of bread. However, if you love sweets then I'd recommend increasing the sugar in the dough from 65g to 90-100g.
- I used 50g raisins, 50g currants and 20g candied peels. Feel free to adjust the amount to your own taste. I like the most this way.
Oh, I love them. I can't help myself, really I swear! It's nothing but love :D Hot, silky, light and airy dough with wonderfully spiced taste, not very sweet...They're best served with a lot of butter, but I've tried them with Nutella and homemade preserve and the taste was amazing, too. I always make them on Good Friday, it's our family's Czech-English tradition :D The raisins add a bit of sweetnes, the currants add sourness and candied peels just a hint of bitter lemon and orange taste. The combination of spices is fantastic and we always eat them within a few hours. In fact, Ihighly recommend making a double batch. Eat as much as you can and freeze the rest for later. Unfortunately, the buns are great only for the first 6 hours, good for the next 18 hours and they're just like any other pastry - not so good, gum-like and old. However, you can toast them and they're great again. But when you freeze them, they taste just like the fresh ones. Omg, why didn't I make a double batch of these??
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