Hot Cross Buns
Photos by Amruta Nargundkar
Good Friday used to be a big day for Baby, my Woman Friday, my help, my saviour… Her usually vivacious and happy persona underwent a dramatic change on the day, but there was a distinct theatricality even to her mourning.
She would grieve for the “one who paid for the sins of the world”. She would fast and not even drink any water. She would reminisce about how her mother would fast throughout the lent period and on Good Friday dress her brood in their church clothes and get them to church at dawn and then again at the vespers.
Baby would then light heartedly remark that it wasn’t difficult to fast, as they were used to going hungry. Moreover, it also meant they saved on food bills. But over Easter her mother would make sure they ate well.
On a Good Friday morning more than fifteen years ago, I was driving Baby to church (taxis were not safe for women). Sitting in the air-conditioned comfort of my car, wearing a new white dress I had bought her (in a very filmy way she ensured she had one white dress for Good Friday every year), Baby’s nostalgic tone while describing for the umpteenth time how this holiday was spent in her village betrayed her homesickness.
I suspected she, and the thousands of her tribe in the Middle East, used their day off from work congregating at the local church and later flocking together in the churchyard to vent all their homesickness and frustrations - an unwitting attempt to purge their negative feelings.
It didn’t matter if they were Philippina, Sirlankan or Indian; they were in the same situation in this land of opportunity – martyrs for their family’s needs, repatriating all their income and enduring a “morning to evening, seven day work week”. They would talk about their loved ones in far away countries and how much they missed them. They would discuss their employers – sympathising with those that suffered at their hands and envying the more fortunate who boasted about their working conditions and perks.
“So did you crib about me?” I would tease her…
“Ayyoo! Kyaa mayydem! Nai mayydem! I am enjoying life here, our house is so comfortable, you are like my amma and this is myyy fyamily, and I have a room of my own, with plenty of food to eat…”
Baby would embarrass me…
While enjoying the luxury of domestic help, very few of us - more privileged expatriates ourselves- and the locals, spare a thought to the situation that migrant labour puts these women in.
Being poor and largely unskilled, this is the best source of income for their families. More often than not, these women are the principal breadwinners for their families- families that get opportunistically extended to include near and distant relatives and needy ones.
The recruitment agent’s fee, travel expenses and other costs and the debts they had incurred to meet the costs offset the money they earn in a big way. The repatriated funds are invariably all but spent by the time they return home. It doesn’t help that these women cut a poor societal image because of stories of “misconduct” by some women.
Do people forget that the sadness and stress of being away from their families for so long and the burden of trying to keep their jobs and stay safe corrode these women’s will to fight for their rights?
When I picked Baby up from the church late that afternoon and she was all agog, chattering about her friends, gossiping a little and invariably some sad stories crept in - Flavy was accused of stealing, Maricel was deported to Cebu when she refused her employer’s advances, Nipuni’s mother died in Negambo and she wasn’t told for over six months as her family feared she would return home…
Just then, we reached Modern Oman Bakery – much to my relief, for the stories were getting gloomier than those from the morning.
I asked Baby if she had eaten and sure enough she hadn’t. We then picked up some fresh hot cross buns and returning home feasted on buttered warm buns and tea.
Just as we feasted on homemade hot cross buns at teatime today.
All of us had had a light lunch in anticipation of this treat. The light lunch was all but digested from the trips to the kitchen to see if the dough was rising and if the buns were proved.
Conferring, discussing, disagreeing, arguing, giggling and drawing on each others knowledge of baking and skills of research on Google, Amruta and I finally managed to get the buns into the oven in the baking mode.
We were lying in wait - the table laid, the butter softened, the kettle boiling…
Ten minutes out of the oven and the buns had been photographed and demolished.
I am so gorged and full - I wish Baby were here to clear the mess in the kitchen…
HOT CROSS BUNS
Amruta and I conferred and used flax seed meal whisked with water as a substitute for egg (there were no eggs at home and no store was open) but did we have amazing results!
4 cups plain flour + plus a little extra to dust
½ tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon powder
A large pinch of nutmeg powder
1 clove crushed fine
14 g dried yeast (2 sachets)
½ cup packed cup brown sugar
350 ml lukewarm milk
2 tbsp flax seed meal whisked with 6 tbsp water
2 tbsp oil to knead the dough
¾ cup sultanas
FOR THE CROSSES
¼ cup plain flour
¼ cup water
FOR THE GLAZE
1 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp water
1 tbsp apricot jam (I used sugar free apricot jam)
Mix the sifted flour and spices with the yeast, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Add warm milk and the flaxseed mixture to the flour mixture. Mix until it forms into a rough dough.
Add the raisins and knead the dough on a floured board until smooth and elastic. Return the dough to the bowl and cover with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place for an hour or until doubled in size.
Knock back the dough to its original size. Knead until smooth then divide the dough into 12-14 portions. Shape each portion into a ball, then place onto a greased tray about 1cm apart.
Cover with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm place for 30 minutes or until buns double in size.
Mix flour and water together in a small bowl until smooth, adding a little more water if paste is too thick.
Spoon the flour paste into a small plastic zip lock bag and seal it. Snip off a corner of the bag to make a small hole. Pipe the paste over tops of the buns to form crosses.
Bake in a moderately hot oven 200°C for 15-20 minutes or until cooked when tested.
Allow to cool a little on a wire rack.
Combine the sugar, jam and water in a small saucepan and stir until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil and simmer for minute. Cool a little and then brush the warm glaze over warm hot cross buns.
Serve warm with a generous slap of butter. Don’t forget that cup of tea.
If you are serving the buns after they are completely cooled, toast the buns a little and serve with butter.