Life

It's all about Easter

RITA DE MONTIS

It's all about Easter today.

From baskets and bonnets, bunnies and brunches, church and chocolate -- family and faith, Easter is coming our way, earlier than usual on Sunday, March 23.

For what would be Easter without traditional fare and scents from the kitchen? We're talking lamb and ham and hot cross buns, Sunday dinner and egg hunts -- a time for renewal and rejuvenation.

According to Carlton Cards, the word "Easter" comes from "Eostre," the word for the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring. In pagan times, an annual spring festival was held in her honour as the first full moon of spring, or the spring equinox, and was closely tied to the worship of nature and new life.

Easter is a time when Christians around the world remember the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Breads play a prominent role in many Easter celebrations in the world. They include a Russian bread called paska, German loaves known as osterstollen, and a Polish cake called baba wielkanocna.

On the Portuguese table there's a sweet bread called folar da pascoa, and in Italy, the custom is to make a simple sweet dough with hard boiled eggs nestled in the centre. Italians also bake the famous "colomba" or dove, a delectable sweet treat that's also a symbol of peace.

The Greeks create a delicious, traditional sweet bread called tsoureki, and some families place a red egg in the centre of the loaf before baking it. In many countries, people believe that painted eggs keep evil spirits from entering a house. The Greeks and Syrians, for example, both exchange crimson eggs, which represents Christ's blood, while in Poland and the Ukraine, painstakenly decorated eggs called "pysanki" are given as gifts. Each egg is a veritable gem of beauty and design.

You can see that sweet breads rule! Especially the hot cross buns, popular in England and Canada. This sweet spiced bun is made with leavened yeast, currents and sometimes candied fruit, and a cross at the top recognizes this delicious bun as a traditional treat.

Any way you eat it, Easter food is all about symbolism, of traditions we hold dear, and promises of new beginnings.

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HOT CROSS BUNS

Forget store-bought hot-cross buns. Try out this recipe courtesy of the Canadian Living test kitchen. The heavenly spice fragrance of this traditional currant-studded Easter treat will have you baking seconds in seconds!

1/2 cup (125 mL) granulated sugar

1/4 cup (50 mL) warm water

1 pkg active dry yeast (or 1 tbsp/15 mL)

3-1/2 cups (875 mL) all-purpose flour

2 Tbsp (25 mL) cinnamon

1 tsp (5 mL) nutmeg

1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt

1/4 tsp (1 mL) ground cloves

3/4 cup (175 mL) warm milk

1/4 cup (50 mL) butter, melted

1 egg

1 egg yolk

1/2 cup (125 mL) dried currants

1/4 cup (50 mL) chopped mixed candied peel

Glaze:

2 tbsp (25 mL) each granulated sugar and water

Icing:

1/2 cup (125 mL) icing sugar

2 tsp (10 mL) water

In small bowl, dissolve 1 Tbsp (15 mL) of sugar in warm water. Sprinkle in yeast; let stand for 10 minutes or until frothy. Meanwhile, in large bowl, blend together remaining sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and cloves; make well in centre. Whisk together milk, butter, egg and egg yolk; pour into well. Pour in yeast mixture. With wooden spoon, stir until soft dough forms.

Turn out dough onto lightly floured surface; knead for 8 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Place in greased bowl, turning to grease all over. Cover with plastic wrap; let rise in warm draft-free place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Punch down dough; turn out onto lightly floured surface. Knead in currants and peel. Shape into 12-inch (30 cm) log; with serrated knife, cut into 9 pieces, Shape each into ball, stretching and pinching dough underneath to make tops smooth. Place 2 inches (5 cm) apart on greased baking sheet. Cover and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 35 minutes. Bake in centre of 400 F (200 C) oven for about 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Glaze: In saucepan, stir sugar with water over medium heat until dissolved; brush over buns. Let cool in pan.

Icing: Stir icing sugar with water. Using piping bag fitted with round tip, pipe cross on top of each cooled bun.

Makes 8 to 10.

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DID YOU KNOW

The National Confectioners Association says over 90 million chocolate Easter bunnies are made for Easter each year. And, according to Guinness World Records, the largest Easter egg ever made was just over 25 feet (7.5 metres) high and made of chocolate and marshmallow. It weighed 8,968 lbs.!

How you eat your Easter bunny reveals a bit about your personality:

- "Ear" people outnumber "feet" people 2 to 1, with "tail" and "head" people virtually unknown!

- "Ear" people are low-risk bunny eaters who look at the ears because they're on top and the most logical place to start.

- "Feet" people are very visual; looks and impressions are very important -- by eating the feet first, they don't ruin the look.