Friday, April 22, 2011

Hot Cross Buns are an Easter Tradition

Easter season is upon us, and while many of Easter’s culinary traditions are associated with Christianity, most of them have been around much longer and have simply been adopted by the Christian religion.

Eggs are perhaps the first food that come to mind. Eggs symbolize rebirth and rejuvenation — just like spring. As Christianity spread, the egg was adopted as a symbol of Christ's Resurrection, with the image of him rising beyond the tomb just as a bird breaks through the shell of its egg. In early Christianity, eggs were forbidden during Lent. So on Easter, they became a very special treat. Christians in central European countries have a long tradition of elaborately decorated Easter eggs. Polish, Slavic and Ukrainian people create artistic designs on the eggs. They draw lines with wax, dip the egg in color and repeat the process many times to make amazing works of art. Yugoslavian Easter eggs bear the initials "XV" for "Christ is Risen," a traditional Easter greeting. Before the communists took control, the Russian royal family carried the custom to great lengths, giving exquisitely detailed jeweled eggs made by goldsmith Carl Faberge from the 1880s until 1917.

In Germany, eggs that go into Easter foods are not broken, but emptied out by piercing the shell with a pin. The empty shells are painted and decorated with bits of cloth, then hung with ribbons on a small leafless tree. The eggshell tree is one of several Easter traditions carried to America by German settlers known as Pennsylvania Dutch. They also brought the fable that the Easter bunny delivered colored eggs for good children.

The roast lamb dinner that many eat on Easter Sunday goes back earlier than Easter to the first Passover of the Jewish people. The sacrificial lamb was roasted and eaten in hopes that the angel of God would pass over their homes and bring no harm. As Hebrews converted to Christianity, they naturally brought along their traditions with them. Christians often refer to Jesus as The Lamb of God.
In the United States, ham is a traditional Easter food. In the early days, meat was slaughtered in the fall. There was no refrigeration, and the fresh pork that wasn't consumed during the winter months before Lent was cured for spring. The curing process took a long time, and the first hams were ready about the time Easter rolled around. Thus, ham was a natural choice for the celebratory Easter dinner. Also, the pig has long been a symbol of good luck, which everyone hoped for in the coming growing season.

Easter has always had a close association with food. The word comes from the name for the Anglo-Saxon goddess of light and spring, Eostre, and special dishes were cooked for her celebration. Most important of these dishes was a small spiced bun. Through the centuries, the ritual of baking hot cross buns became a standard practice of the Easter celebration in English society. The English custom of eating spiced buns on Good Friday was institutionalized in Tudor times, when a London bylaw was introduced forbidding the sale of such buns except on Good Friday, at Christmas, and at burials. In the Baltic region of Russia, the Easter cake is kulich, a yeast dough of enormous proportions lavishly decorated with crystallized citrus peel. The kulich is based on a baba dough, with more sugar, plus additions of candied peel, almonds, raisins, and saffron. The bulging top is iced and decorated, usually with Cyrillic letters standing for “Christ is risen.” Traditionally, the kulich is taken to be blessed at midnight mass on the eve of Easter Sunday.

One of the Innkeepers here at Adair Country Inn and Restaurant is from Holland and she has shared some of the interesting things the Dutch do for Easter. Dutch Easter (Pasen) usually refers to Easter Sunday (Eerste Paasdag) and Easter Monday (Tweede Paasdag). Good Friday is not a holiday. Traditionally, an Easter brunch is held on Sunday. The table is decorated with freshly painted Easter eggs, candles, spring flowers like daffodils, tulips and hyacinths, and a vase with decorated willow branches (paastakken). Hanging from this “Easter tree” are chocolate eggs and ornaments like butterflies, bows and bunnies. The brunch consists of a Paasstol (a fruited Easter loaf with a center of soft almond paste), butter shaped like a lamb or bunny, bread rolls, hard boiled eggs, smoked salmon, smoked eel, and other typical Dutch breakfast items.
Prettige paasdagen (Happy Easter)!
Hot Cross Buns

Makes approximately 12
1 envelope (1/4-ounce) dry yeast
3/4 cup sugar
1-1/2 cups warm milk (about 110 degrees F.)
1 stick of butter, melted
1 egg
1/2 cup of raisins
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
3-1/2 cups bleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 large egg, beaten
1 cup powdered sugar
3 tablespoons milk

Combine the yeast, sugar and milk in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Beat on low speed for 1 minute. Add the butter, egg and raisins. Mix for 1 minute. Add the salt, cardamom and flour. Beat on low speed until all of the flour is incorporated, about 1 minute. Then, beat at medium speed until the mixture forms a ball, leaves the sides of the bowl, and climbs up the dough hook. Remove the dough from the bowl. Using your hands, form the dough into a smooth ball. Lightly oil a large bowl. Place the dough in the bowl and turn it to oil all sides. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm, draft-free place until it doubles in size, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the dough from the bowl and invert it onto a lightly floured surface. Pat the dough into a rectangle about 3/4-inch thick. Roll up the dough, beginning with the long side and stopping after each full turn to press the edge of the roll firmly into the flat sheet of the dough to seal. Press with your fingertips. Tuck and roll so that any seams disappear into the dough. Cut the dough into 1-inch pieces. Roll each piece of dough into a smooth, round ball. Line a baking sheet with parchment or waxed paper. Place the rolls on the baking sheet, 1/2-inch apart. With a pastry brush, brush the beaten egg evenly over the bread. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm, draft-free place until it doubles in size, about 1 hour. Bake until lightly brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool slightly on a rack. In a mixing bowl, combine the powdered sugar and milk. Mix until smooth. Ice each bun with the frosting in the shape of a cross. Serve warm.

— Orlo Coots is Head Chef at Adair Country Inn and Restaurant. Enjoy his cooking Thursdays through Mondays by making a reservation at 603-444-2600. Orlo can be reached at cheforlo@hotmail.com for questions about this recipe or any other food-related questions. Remember — whether cooking for one or for a crowd, make every bite count.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

APRIL PLEASURES ABOUND AT ADAIR

As chocolate is one of our passions, we’re eager to share Chef Orlo’s secret chocolate truffles recipe with our Easter Getaway guests at Adair Country Inn & Restaurant in Bethlehem. Yummmm… we can already taste that melt in your mouth chocolate goodness. What could be better than a romantic weekend away and the richness of chocolate, unless it’s the Easter Bunny Treats Basket and Spring Flower Bouquet in each of our guest rooms? Oh, what fun!

We’re also preparing for our annual Easter Brunch Buffet on Sunday, April 24, from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Along with the delicious foods that Chef Orlo is preparing — a Smoked Seafood Platter, Sticky Bun French Toast, Made-to-order Omelets, Glazed Smoked Ham, Luscious Desserts, and much, much more, guests can take part in an Easter Egg Hunt for Grownups (remember how much fun this was as a child!), along with great prizes and live music. It’ll be a hoppin’ event, so be sure to make your reservation today at (888/603) 444-2600.

Spring has taken its time this year, but we’re slowly seeing signs that it’s truly arrived here in the White Mountains. The sun is warmer, the days are longer, and the buds on the trees are popping. Drive along any country road here in the North Country, including the Adair Country Inn & Restaurant’s long driveway, and you can’t but notice the beautiful spring greens everywhere. And, don’t overlook the crocus and daffodils. These strong and sturdy flowers are among the true harbingers of spring — those clumps of purple and white crocus and the waving stems of brilliant yellow daffodils are a welcome sight for winter weary eyes.

If you decide to come to the Adair Country Inn & Restaurant in late April, you’ll find there’s lots to do, from shopping to hiking to culture. Littleton is a great place to spend a couple of hours browsing in the many small specialty shops on Main Street. Littleton also has Chutters (it holds the Guinness Book of World Records’ record for the longest candy counter in the world), and the Village Book Store one of those rare-these-days independent booksellers. Check out the toy department for fun gifts for you and the grandkids.

Littleton also boasts a wonderful pedestrian covered bridge over the Ammonoosuc River, and a nearby walking path that takes you over a long (and bouncy!) suspension bridge. This being New Hampshire, there are loads of covered bridges to choose from. A couple of our favorites are the Mechanic Street and Mt. Orne bridges in Lancaster, the Bath-Haverhill, Bath and Swiftwater bridges in Bath, and the Sentinel Pine (pedestrian only) and Flume bridges in Lincoln, all within easy driving distance of the Adair Country Inn & Restaurant. If you want to go further afield, check out New Hampshire’s listing of covered bridges. Spring is the perfect time to roam around and check out these wooden beauties (many built in the 1800s). The rivers are running swift and high with snow melt, and it’s quite a thrill to drive across the wooden floorboards just a short ways above the rushing water!

In late April we also have a hankering for some of Polly’s Pancakes with real maple syrup, and a side of smoked bacon. Polly's Pancake Parlor, in Sugar Hill, is a North Country staple (since 1938), which relies on traditional recipes along with a dose of good North Country friendliness for its popularity. And, just up the road, check out the Sugar Hill Sampler, housed in the big red barn, for d├ęcor and gifts for the home, along with a museum, photo display and some of the best views around. And, just down the road apiece, there’s Harman's Cheese & Country Store which offers a large selection of delicious cheeses.

Looking for a little exercise to work off those Easter Brunch calories? Hike one of the many trails on the 200-acre Adair Country Inn & Restaurant property, at the nearby Rocks Estate or head on down into Franconia Notch State Park and take a stroll or a longer hike along one of the many trails there.

When you’ve finished exploring, a relaxing evening and a comfortable feather bed await you back at the Adair Country Inn & Restaurant. (80 Guider Lane, Bethlehem, New Hampshire ~ http://www.adairinn.com/)