Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Inexplicably Much-Awaited Post on Hot Cross Buns

My mother used to make hot cross buns on Easter. Since I did not spend Easter with my mother this year, I thought I would make them myself. Being an atheist, it seemed like the least hypocritical way to observe the holiday, or whatever it is to me now. Heathen that I am, I always liked Easter. It's a good story, there are nice flowers, it involves a lot of chocolate, and comes at one end or the other of a school vacation, meaning we usually spent it in a more interesting place than home, such as . . . Missouri. Or Connecticut. But whenever we were home, my mother made hot cross buns.

Hot cross buns are not difficult to make unless you are a timid and paranoid baker, which I am. And with good reason. Recipes are full of trickery. They want you to fail. It's like I'm Deborah, and the recipe is Marie Barone. It hates me. The hot cross bun recipe in particular hated me via yeast. "1 package of yeast," it said. My mother does not have packaged yeast. Ever efficient, my mother keeps it in a jar in the fridge. Therefore I find myself wondering:

1) How much yeast is in a package?
2) Is this the same kind of yeast as packaged yeast?

Since I was at my parent's house, i.e. civilization, I was able to look it up on the internet. The internet told me that active yeast does not need to be "activated" before adding it to the dough. You can throw it in all at once.

The internet lied.

The first batch of dough I made did not rise. It sat there. And sat there. And sat there. It lurked. It mocked. It stuck out its tongue. It did not rise.

So I tried again, activating the yeast first, then adding it to the rest of the ingredients. The second batch rose. And rose. And rose. Like Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout's garbage. Perhaps someone misread "tablespoon" for "teaspoon"? I absolve myself of blame because it is totally unfair that the universe should expect me to know what to do with refrigerated yeast, and this is precisely the sort of cruel culinary curveball I am faced with every single time I cook. As a result, the hot cross buns tasted very much like yeast and not very much like hot cross buns. Matt lies when he says they were good. The frosting was good. Because I bought it.

In a related story, I made a cake for my mother's birthday over the weekend. It is The Birthday Cake, the cake we know and love, the cake I have myself successfully made two or three times in the past, and although I followed the recipe exactly and even remembered to whip the egg whites before the butter so the oil from the butter wouldn't make the egg whites fall, it wasn't quite right. It tasted fine, it was actually rather good, but it wasn't the same as usual.

It turned out that I hadn't put in enough chocolate. My recipe from The Joy of Cooking ("unchanged since 1931!" it boasts) called for two ounces of chocolate. My mother's recipe, the same recipe from a different edition of the same cookbook, says two-to-four ounces. My mother puts in three. I didn't know that was an option. Now you are all witnesses to the fact that it is the recipes that are incompetent, not me.

Nevertheless, I think it turned out handsomely . . .

. . . although in the interest of honesty I have to admit that it has numerous structural flaws and is being held together, no kidding, it is actually being held together by copious amounts of frosting. Because, of course, even though I greased and floured the pans, both layers stuck like glue. Why? Why? Why do these things happen?

Please note in the background the mammoth red KitchenAid, which is the most beautiful piece of machinery I have ever seen. It was a hand-me-down from my grandmother. No doubt it will be the scene of many angst-ridden experiments with yeast in the future. I can't wait.


Katie said...

Question: Would it not behoove the yeast makers to put the package to teaspoon conversion on the bulk yeast? I too have resorted to the internet at a loss for the conversion.
But, I digress...YAY, a post.

A Lover of Trotsky etc etc aka Megan said...

Did you really just make an Everybody Loves Raymond reference? For shame! Fie! (Is 'fie' even vaguely appropriate here?)

Also, was it Weedin?

ALSO, my word verification is a very apt 'bunpsk.'

Ivan said...

baking sans parental units is much harder than I thought-- I'm glad you are experiencing similar problems. we should start a book of cooking truth's we have learned the hard way. It will begin "when making canned soup, be sure to add the water" and will probably end with "before attempting to light the flambe, check that your home owners insurance is up to date"

Christi said...

another input for the book of cooking truths could be thus:

when making mashed potatos, do allow the potatos to actually cook. Just because the water is boiling does NOT mean that they are done yet.

I'm sorry your hot cross buns tasted like yeast. I'm not even sure what hot cross buns are, really. Are they buns? are they dessert? they're tricksy!

Matthew said...

Perhaps it is due to my lack of experience with the hot cross buns, but I STILL maintain that they were good, frosting aside. I picked at crumbs while Simon was on the phone, and the crumbs were enjoyable!

I actually can relate to the yeast concerns, now, having just made pizza dough from scratch last weekend. I had no idea there were different KINDS of yeast, and finding "active dry yeast" in packages was more difficult than I thought it should've been. In the end, though, it was found thanks to a helpful Wegmans employee, and even came in packets EXACTLY the amount of tsp's I needed.

Simon said...

KP: It would behoove us all.

Lover of Trotsky: I am not ashamed to say I adore Everybody Loves Raymond. I think it is quality.

Weedin would know whether 'fie' is appropriate, but I have not the faintest idea why you brought him up. Not that anyone ever needs a reason.

Ivan: I will never live down that episode with the soup, will I?

Christi: Truer words were never spoken about cooking potatoes. Hot cross buns are basically sweet rolls. They have an X in frosting on the top, presumably to remind the eater of prolonged and violent death, thus ruining the meal.

Matt: Since learning that you have, like, never eaten yogurt before, I have grown suspicious of your credibility as a food critic. I was going to make a cake for friday but now I am going to make hot cross buns THE RIGHT WAY so that you shall all know the wonder.

A Lover of Trotsky etc etc aka Megan said...

I meant, did Weedin tell you that winter of 1872 story?

Simon said...

Although it SEEMS like a story Weedin WOULD tell, it was actually Paul Russell.

Matthew said...

My credibility as a food critic has unfortunately already been shattered: at a scotch tasting, a very good and expensive bottle was described (and agreed upon) as tasting like "the soil of a New England fishing village", but to me tasted "orange and spiky."

Simon said...

You may be weird but your interpretation sounds tastier. I think.

Megan said...

Since when does drinking dirt sound like a good idea? I'd much prefer that generic orange flavored soda. Or a screwdriver.