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Published: Monday, 2/23/2009

Breads of the Season

BY KATHIE SMITH
BLADE FOOD EDITOR
Hot cross buns, above, and Irish soda bread. Hot cross buns, above, and Irish soda bread.
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In the coming weeks of Lent you won t find fried pastries like paczki, doughnuts, or cakes to celebrate Mardi Gras. But you will find hot cross buns, Irish soda bread, and other baked goods of the season.

And yes, there s still time to make the King Cake, a simple sweet bread, brought to New Orleans by the Spanish and French colonists in the 18th century, which has become a focal point for the Mardi Gras celebration.

All of these breads and cakes are seasonal traditions in many consumers lives. Sometimes the items are hard to find, unless a local bakery includes it in its repertoire of seasonal items. Take advantage of area bakeries and supermarket bakeshops and enjoy these specialties. Or bake your own.

For example, Panera Bread will feature Hot Cross Buns (99 cents each) every Friday through Sunday during Lent as well as Thursday, April 9 through Sunday, April 12, the week of Easter.

Hot cross buns are traditionally served on Good Friday and throughout Lent. The small, lightly sweet yeast buns contain raisins or currants and sometimes chopped candied fruit. The cross, which symbolizes the crucifixion, is slashed in the top of the unbaked bun; after baking, the cross is filled with powdered sugar icing.

The yeast buns are an item you can also make in your kitchen. Finish with a glaze and then ice the tops.

Many recipes for hot cross buns are lengthy because of the time it takes for yeast dough to rise. But I have a 60 Minute Hot Cross Buns recipe which I ve had in my recipe box for about 15 years. It came from a friend in North Canton, Ohio, who said she copied it from a Woman s Day magazine. In this recipe the yeast dough rises more quickly by placing the shaped dough balls on a greased pan that is covered and then place over a shallow pan half filled with boiling water. Rising takes 15 minutes.

Another spring favorite is Irish Soda Bread, which will be featured at Panera Bread March 13-17. It is a classic Irish quick bread that takes its name from the baking soda used for leavening. Baking soda was originally introduced to replace yeast as a rising agent. Panera makes loaves made with a non-conventional recipe of buttermilk, currants, eggs, and a hint of caraway at $3.99 per loaf.

According to a publication from King Arthur Flour (1993), Irish soda bread has evolved from the plainest of plain breads baked over a native peat fire, to a sugar, caraway and raisin-studded loaf baked in a high-tech oven in the United States.

The original Irish soda bread, known as dairy bread, was basically flour and buttermilk baked into a round loaf (in a pot hunger over a peat fire) with just a little leavening. It was eaten with Irish stew. As the Irish immigrated to Australia and North America, they brought their soda breads.

There are so many versions of soda bread from the basic bare bones recipe that needs to be eaten fairly soon after it comes out of the oven to the Irish Brown Bread, Irish Currant Bread, and Yeast-Raised Irish Soda Bread. The latter is an Americanized version with the familiar caraway seed/raisin addition.

Many authentic recipes have been handed down in Irish families and gradually Americanized. American Irish Soda Bread is a recipe from King Arthur flour based on Irish recipes.

There are two kinds of yeast-bread cinnamon rolls. One has a cinnamon filling and is baked and topped with a powdered sugar glaze. The other has a cinnamon filling and a caramel topping which is placed in the bottom of the pan so that when the rolls are baked and the pan turned upside down, the rolls have the caramel topping.

Both versions take time to prepare so many cooks look for shortcuts to save time.

In the Betty Crocker Baking Basics (Wiley, $25.95), there are variations of Do-Ahead Cinnamon Rolls and Do-Ahead Caramel Sticky Rolls. After placing the unbaked slices of roll in a pan, cover tightly with plastic wrap or foil and refrigerate 4 to 24 hours. Before baking, remove from refrigerator; remove plastic wrap or foil and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place about 2 hours or until the dough has doubled in size. Bake as directed.

From the California Raisin Marketing Board comes the Maple Raisin-Walnut Sticky Buns recipe made with a 1-pound loaf of frozen bread dough. When Kay Lynne Schaller tested this for the Blade, she said it was a great big hit, easy and enjoyed by all generations.

And even though there s barely time to make the Mardi Gras Quick Honey Cake for any Mardi Gras celebrations held tonight, I m including this recipe from the National Honey Board. Made with yeast dough and baked in a Bundt cake pan, it s a slightly different version of some the traditional King Cakes often seen. Yet it s delicious and fun.

Honey gives this recipe a naturally sweet flavor, golden brown color, and moist texture. Decorate the cake with a honey icing and colored sprinkles.



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