One-a-penny, two-a-penny, hot crossed buns
In honor of the vernal equinox this weekend (that is, a day with just as many hours of light as of dark) I baked a batch of hot crossed buns, yeasted, spiced breakfast rolls that the pagans ate in celebration of spring’s arrival, a season tradition which continues in England every Good Friday. “The pagans worshipped the goddess Eostre (after whom Easter was named) by serving tiny cakes, often decorated with a cross, at their annual spring festival,” one historian explained. “When archaeolgists excavated the ancient city of Herculaneum in southwestern Italy, which had been buried under volcanic ask and lava since 79 C.E., they found two small loaves, each with a cross on it, among the ruins.”
Baking them once upon a time, I realized, was putting faith in spring, using up what was probably some of a winter’s worth of precious dried fruit in a final hurrah. They turned out soft, sticky and delicious, studded with currents and raisins, and spicy with cinnamon, grated orange rind, fresh ginger, clove and nutmeg.
Though the link is a few years old, Nigella Lawson’s recipe, which I found here (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4561309) works as good as new. That is to say, Lawson’s buns taste rich, mysterious and ancient. And I like that she makes her crosses not out of sticky frosting, but a flour and sugar paste that gets baked right in. (The sweetness comes from a sugar glaze painted on post-baking.)