Saturday, April 21, 2012

Easy Corn Bread

My mother is from South Carolina. I grew up in New Hampshire. That means that not only do I occasionally have an intrusive R, I also have been known to remove Rs that are purely ornamental.

But while I am my mother's only Yankee child, and I loathe grits unaccompanied by butter, shrimp, green onions, garlic and cheese, I love Southern style cornbread. You will have noted the key phrase; Southern style cornbread. In New England, cornbread often approaches cake in taste and consistency, because sugar and white flour overwhelm the corn meal.

My mom's standard corn bread recipe is derived from the one on the Quaker Yellow Corn meal box. I say derived because my mom, bless her heart, alters recipes for the better. Here then is the Official Back-Of-The-Box Recipe:


1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 yellow corn meal
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 egg, beaten


  1. Heat oven to 400 F.
  2. Grease an 8 or 9 inch pan.
  3. Combine dry ingredients.
  4. Stir in mil, oil, and egg, mixing just until dry ingredients are moistened.
  5. Port batter into prepared pan.
  6. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until light golden brown and wooen pick inserted in center comes out clean.
  7. Serve warm.
My mom uses two eggs, thank-you-very-much, and would be scandalized at the idea of cooking corn bread in a pan; all right-thinking people use cast iron to cook corn bread. Buttermilk makes good cornbread, so does sour milk. When I was a kid, my mom would also add a little powdered milk. You want corn meal muffins? Just pour the batter in an oiled cast iron muffin pan. Mom used to give us corn bread from the day before in milk as an after school snack. It's less filling than Mac's mom's Mexican Cornbread, but makes a fast side dish with chili, or chowder.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Hot Cross Buns

Hot cross buns! Hot cross Buns!
One a penny, two a penny
Hot cross buns!

If you have no daughters
Give them to your sons
One a penny, two a penny
Hot cross buns!

Hot cross buns! Hot cross buns!
If you haven't got a penny
A ha'penny will do.
If you haven't got a ha'penny,
Well God bless you.

One of my very favorite childhood members around with Easter is that my mother would make Hot Cross buns a few days before; we would often have them on Good Friday, and we almost always had them for breakfast on Easter morning.

Strictly speaking, they're actually Cross Buns, meant to be served "hot." Cross buns are a sweet bread, with a sweet yeast dough made with currants and cinnamon; sometimes cloves or other spices, or candied orange peel are used. The round bun is is marked on the top with a knife, creating a cross after it's risen, but before it is baked. Afterwards (or in stead of) the bun is decorated with a white sugar-based glaze drizzled on the top of the warm-from-the-oven bun in the shape of a cross. Traditionally, hot cross buns were sold hot, fresh from the bakery, or sometimes, from street vendors.

Despite a fair number of assertions that Hot Cross Buns are pagan, the limited verifiable data we have about the origins of hot cross buns associates them very firmly with England, Christianity, and the season of Lent, or more accurately, with Good Friday. The earliest specific reference we have is from 1733, when, according to the OED, Poor Robin's Almanack asserts that "Good Friday comes this month, the old woman runs, with one or two a penny hot cross buns," offering an alternate version of the nursery rhyme at the top of this post. In Boswell's Life of Johnson (1791), Boswell notes: "9 Apr. An. 1773 Being Good Friday I breakfasted with him and cross-buns," another likely reference to the proverbial Hot Cross bun.

In the Elizabethan era, Queen Elizabeth I passed a law forbidding bakers to make spiced breads and buns and sell thm on days other than those specified in the statute of 1592, which reads:

That no bakers, etc, at any time or times hereafter make, utter, or sell by retail, within or without their houses, unto any of the Queen's subject any spice cakes, buns, biscuits, or other spice bread (being bread out of size and not by law allowed) except it be at burials, or on Friday before Easter, or at Christmas, upon pain or forfeiture of all such spiced bread to the poor

People would be free to make cross buns at home, for personal consumption; they just couldn't sell them. I don't know the reason behind the statute, except perhaps, that because of the cross and the tradition of serving them on Good Friday that the buns had a strong association in the popular mind with Catholicism, something that Elizabeth I, as a Protestant monarch, was understandably touchy about. The statute didn't last long; by the time James I took the throne it was already proving difficult to enforce, and the crown soon abandoned the attempt, and the law. In addition to the tradition of only preparing them on Good Friday, for many Catholics there's a parallel tradition that that is all that they may eat.

There's some suggestion of a tradition that called for using the same dough for the Sunday communion wafer to make the buns; though I'm finding many references to this as practice, none of the references, printed or digital, cite a primary source for the pracctice, and frankly it sounds a little suspect to me.

There are a number of recipes for cross buns online. This one calls for cinnamon, allspice, currants and orange rind, and is likely much closer to the "authentic" eighteenth century (and presumably older) versions. This one, using British measuring units also uses orange, and lime. This is a very straight-forward cinnamon and currants version. This is the recipe my mother used, and the one I still favor.


3 3/4 to 4 cups all purpose flour
2 packages active dry yeast
1 1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup dried currants or raisins
1/2 cup cooking oil
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs


  1. In large mixer bowl, thoroughly stir together 1 1/2 cups of the flour, the yeast, and the cinnamon.
  2. In a saucepan, heat together milk, oil, sugar, and salt just till warm (115 to 120 F.). Add to dry mixture in mixer bowl; add eggs. Beat at low speed of electric mixer for 1/2 minute, scraping sides of bowl constantly. Beat 3 minutes at high speed.
  3. By hand, stir in currants and enough of the remaining flour to make a moderately soft dough. Cover and let rise till double, 1 to 1/2 hours.
  4. 4. Stir dough down. Shape dough into 14 balls. Place on greased baking sheet, 1 1/2 inches apart. Cover and let rise till dough is nearly double, 30 to 45 minutes.
  5. Bake in 375 oven for 12 to 15 minutes. Cool slightly; pipe crosses through pastry tube or bag with using white icing or a powedered sugar glaze.


This is my mom approved version of a recipe that is originally from Better Homes and Gardens, March 1973. The original recipe suggests making 24 buns; I like them slightly larger, so I usually make 16 to 18. I tend to use a candy thermometer to check the temperature of the milk and oil solution, and I use a generous 1 and a half teaspoons of cinnamon. I also use more currants; the original called for 1/3 cup. If you're making these for the raisin phobic, try dried orange-infused cranberries, or candied citrus peel. The original recipes also calls for brushing the buns with a beaten egg white before baking; I don't bother. These freeze quite well; just remove them from the oven three to five minutes before they're done, and let them cool before wrapping them to freeze.