Monday, March 24, 2008


Hot Cross Buns and Stove-Top Mochaccino

There are two walkways from different major arterial roads that lead down to my home nested in a valley between somewhat steep ridges. Opposite one of those walkways is house that has its territory marked with deciduous trees - Japanese maples. Their leaves begun to turn a gorgeous russet early last week. While most of the cookery book literature I read celebrates the new beginnings that are associated with Spring and Easter, in the Southern hemisphere, and particularly in New Zealand - practically at the bottom of the world - it is a time of reflection.

I do not recall many religious explanations for the way the world works as a child, but I have a vague recollection of Easter being presented to me as a time of renewal and cleansing. I remember looking out the large aluminium-framed windows of one of my primary school's prefabs to see nature seemingly on the verge of dying. It didn't make sense in my little six-year-old head, then: renewal. The cleansing bit I got - my memory is full of many wet childhood Easter weekends. Beyond that, I couldn't make the association, and so I didn't.

I do not know how the religious signifcance of Easter is reconciled through food in New Zealand. A reconciliation is surely required for all the various denominations of the various religions and faiths to show unity across the globe, is it not? In New Zealand, one does not eat the young Spring lamb, but rather those that are six months older (and more preferable to taste, in my mind). There are no delicate salad greens, but the beginnings of hardy greens. As for fruit, gone are most of the juicy Summer berries, but there is the very short fig season and the entry to three months of feijoa heaven. The figs, at least, can be worked into some Northern representation of the importance of Easter.

As an atheist adult, Easter is mainly a special time of year for those who work a regular week in New Zealand (or for anyone, really), as it is the only public holiday in which a day off work is tacked onto either side of the weekend - heck, even most of Auckland's stores are closed for large chunks of the holidays (some open on the two major days, Good Friday and Easter Sunday, and risk paying a fine or being prosecuted for it). Mostly, Easter allows for a relaxing getaway without having to use one's annual leave in order to enjoy the last of the Summer sun. Sometimes, Easter weather is pretty miserable, so having hot cross buns and hot chocolate is a good way to go. (Having said that, this weekend has been rather glorious.)

I'm not bucking my own tradition, though, for it is all I have left to tie me to the Easters of my past. Gone are the all the kids playing together in my cul-de-sac - families do not know/trust each other anymore. Gone is the novelty of the Easter Show (now usually seen as a lame excuse for a temporary amusement park). And with Easter occurring earlier, it seems, gone is the gloomy weather. Despite the change, I still find myself munching on chocolate and fig-filled hot cross buns, drinking homemade mochaccinos (without the steamed milk)...all the while watching The Sopranos.

Hot Cross Buns
(adapted from Nigella Lawson's Feast: Food That Celebrates Life)

See recipe from my post on Hot Cross Buns last year.

I made a few modifications:

I did not use any orange zest, but rather increased the amount of cardamom pods used to steep in the once-boiled milk. I halved the cinnamon and increased both the nutmeg and ginger. Most of the fruit used was dried figs. I substituted one egg for a couple of tablespoons of milk, as necessary to bind the ingredients together. Encased in half of the buns is one square of dark, bitter chocolate.

As you can see, I didn't bother with marking the crosses on the buns except for the indentations made with the back of a butter knife. Store-bought buns always have beautiful looking crosses, but I suspect the firmness is attained by using gelatine, which I prefer not to use except for the odd occasion of making jelly or panna cotta. And while mine are tiny and not heterogeneous in shape, they taste more grown up than the commercially-produced, timidly-spiced buns sold in stores. Further, the combination of fig and chocolate feels more grown up - I could have made these more contemporary, I suppose, by steeping the dried figs in lapsong suchong or earl grey tea and then shaping the balls into squares. Perhaps next year?

I do not profess to be a great drinker of hot chocolate, especially not virginal ones - I prefer it with coffee or a hint of brandy. What I do love is the romantic associations: Winter getaway to a chalet, a buffer to the coldest of polar southerlies beating against windows...However you make it, insist on using the best-quality chocolate you can lay your hands on, for it is the principal ingredient here. The following recipe serves two.

Stove-top Mochaccino
(Adapted from Tessa Kiros' Hot Chocolate in Apples for Jam)

3 rounded tablespoons ground coffee beans
1/2 cup water
2/3 cup chopped 70% cocoa-solid/bittersweet chocolate (Ms. Kiros suggests semisweet)
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup (heavy) cream
1 teaspoon icing/confectioners' sugar
unsweetened cocoa powder or ground cinnamon to dust on top

1) In your coffee vessel, make a pot of coffee. I have a moka pot, and this small quantity of coffee takes almost seven minutes to make, to I suggest getting on with it first.
2) Over medium heat, bring the chocolate and milk to just below boiling point, at first stirring with a wooden spoon to ensure the chocolate fully melts and does not catch on the bottom of the saucepan, then whisk to ensure smoothness.
3) In a bowl, whisk together the cream and icing sugar until thick. Ms. Kiros advises not to make it stiff, but I like it to float like an island, cool and creamy gulps in between hot and dark ones.
4) Pour hot coffee and chocolate into cups, stir together.
5) Gently spoon the cream on top.
6) Sprinkle a small amount of cocoa powder or cinnamon on top, if you wish.

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It's very easy for me to get caught up in the entire spring-time aspect of Easter, it was good to read your post about the turning of the leaves. Easter up here seems to be less about the original meaning and more about another excuse to receive presents...I don't know when that began, but it was quite noticeable this year.

Almost made that hot cross bun recipe this year, but am still seeking comfort in routine, so I went back to Delia's recipe...

I feel the same way about easter in Melbourne! Chocolate and fig sound just right for autumn!

And I can assure you that crosses can be messy but can be easily made without gelatine - the recipe I used this year on my blog did not have gelatine - nor do many others I have seen - the cross is just flour and water and the glaze is just sugar and water (and I used mixed spice) - fyi
Those hot cross buns with a chunk of dark chocolate look wickedly delicious. Thanks for the inspiration!
Bless you! I think I will enjoy cross buns now that I can put chocolate in them :)
I've been meaning to make these for ever, well, it feels like that anyway.

Chocolate is a great addition, yum!!

What a glorious southern hemisphere Easter you paint. The pagan roots of religious festivals can be no better illustrated than through the seeming oddness of its traditional fare to those of us residing in seasonally opposed parts of the world.

Lovely post.
Jasmine, honey ~ I have yet to make a Delia recipe. I always like catching the reruns of her shows; her home looks so cosy. Which of her books do you most prefer?

Johnanna ~ I love that you used mixed spice in your crosses, giving more flavour and interest to the hot cross buns. I'm going to take a leaf from your book.

Christina ~ The chocolate make have a bit much in hindsight, but I'm glad for the use of figs. I think next year (or later this Autumn!) I will only use semi-dried figs and no other fruit.

Cynthia ~ If you do make them, I recommend using half a square of chocolate per bun, if you are going to keep them as small as I have. Let me know if you make them.

Kelly-Jane ~ I know - there are many recipes tagged in my cookery books, and I keep meaning to make them...It often regret not making them sooner by the time I have gotten around to it!

Lucy ~ I knew that I was not the only one who felt this way. It is good of you and Johanna to stop by and say so. How did you spend your Easter?
Shaun - What is it about mocha that is so much more than the sum of its parts? Hot cross buns and hot mochaccino are a comforting combo when the weather, and sometimes spirits, are ailing. Easter in my part of the world can bring a surprise blizzard. Would that it did. This global warming business is tiresome on all counts.





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