Hot cross buns bring warm memories for Easter

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In my memory, my mom baked hot cross buns nearly every year.

They were bites of warmth, sweet and for a limited time only, filling the house with a baked cinnamon scent that meant Easter was coming.

The neat frosting crosses on the top weren't nearly substantial enough for me or my three siblings, so we would ferret out the bowl of frosting in the fridge and slather more on.

It's tradition, which is exactly what my mom, Vadonna Winterholter, intended.

"I can't remember when I first started making them," she told me over the phone last week. "But I do remember why."

Before internet and everything you can find in a blink, my mom was looking for a tradition to add to our Easter egg coloring and hunting. She found hot cross buns, which may or may not have been made by a monk on Good Friday — see "5 Great Historical Myths And Traditions About Hot Cross Buns, a Pre-Easter Pastry" at Smithsonianmag.com.

To know my mom is to know homemade bread by the mouthful. As a girl she helped her mother make three-leaf clover rolls and pecan rolls. "I just loved them, but we didn't have them very often. But, oh, I loved bread," she said.

So whenever it was that she discovered hot cross buns and their association with Lent, Good Friday and Easter, they were a tradition shoo-in.

She used a recipe from her Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, choosing currants over raisins, spicing the dough only with cinnamon. More recently, she began crossing them with butter cream instead of powdered sugar icing.

When my siblings and I were home, we gobbled hot cross buns for breakfast, at Easter dinner and as snacks.

We've all long since flown my parents' home, but my mom still makes hot cross buns most years. She even triples the recipe.

She keeps some out for eating — my dad is a prolific hot cross bun sampler — some go in the freezer and others she carries to neighbors and friends on Good Friday.

She does it to be neighborly and because homemade breads aren't something many people take time to bake themselves these days, but they usually still like to eat them.

"So few people actually bake at home," echoed Jan Wilke on Thursday, as she looked over orders for hot cross buns at Home Style Bakery.

In fact, while she was growing up in Illinois, she doesn't recall anyone in her family making them. "I think they always got them at the bakery," she said.

Of course, her husband, Don Wilke, now makes dozens and dozens for Home Style.

He bakes them from Ash Wednesday through Easter, in keeping with what the bakery's pervious owners did when the Wilkes bought the bakery more than 40 years ago, she said.

Jan Wilke also is pretty sure the recipe Home Style uses came from the previous owners. It mixes raisins, nuts and spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg into the yeasty dough.

Over at Slice O Life Bakery in Palisade, six different fruits are added to the hot cross buns, said Matt Lincoln, the bakery's manager.

And Mark Smith, owner of Main Street Bagels, thinks he might have picked up the basics for his recipe from a world-class bakery he visited years ago in California.

"It brings Easter to mind when I see them," said Smith, whose daughter, Holly, baked the hot cross buns for the shop this year. Smith snagged at least a half-dozen to take home, a once-a-year treat.

While he loves to eat them now, "I don't remember ever having them as a child. I've always known the song," Smith said.

"Hot cross buns, hot cross buns. One a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns. Give them to your daughters. Give them to your sons. One a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns," goes the nursery rhyme in sing-song.

My mom, a former music teacher, sings those words at least once while either making or before eating hot cross buns.

But this year, my mom didn't bake hot cross buns — apologies to her Grand Junction neighbors.

She is visiting my brother's family, and she and my sister-in-law, who is from Ukraine, made paska. Neither had made the Ukrainian Easter bread before, so it was a new adventure into tradition.

Meanwhile, I made hot cross buns using the recipe my mom wrote out for me a number of years ago.

My kids and husband gobbled the buns down with more frosting than was necessary, but that's the way it goes.

I took some to a neighbor on Good Friday, put some in the freezer and will serve others for Easter dinner today.

I also tucked some away for my mom to enjoy when she gets home. It's tradition.

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