Fresh-Baked Yeast Breads Are a Time-Honored Custom of Easter Season : In Many Countries, the Spring Celebration Begins at the Oven

There are a number of stories about the origin of the longstanding custom of eating hot cross buns on Good Friday, but whatever the origin, it is a fact that the aroma of the fresh-baked yeast breads like hot cross buns bring about thoughts of spring and the celebration of Easter.

Traditionally, the buns are baked on Good Friday, but for convenience you may want to bake them in advance, without the icing, then thaw and reheat them on Easter morning for a special holiday treat. Just cool and freeze the fresh-baked buns covered lightly with foil, then thaw and bake at 350 degrees about 10 minutes. Allow them to cool slightly before adding the icing crosses. If the buns are too hot the icing will melt. Prunes add a touch of tender texture to this cross bun recipe.

For variety, we've also included three other traditional Easter breads--each of which takes on the special character of its region of origin by the ingredients or by their shape or garnish. Pineapple Brazilian Easter Bread is rich with Brazil nuts, pineapple, lemon peel and candied orange peel. The mark of the season, a dough cross, is baked atop each loaf. Trinity Easter Bread is a Greek bread that gets its unique flavor from grated lemon peel and maraschino cherries. Rounding out the selection is Finnish Easter Bread, a wonderful Old World bread that's rich enough to serve as a dessert. SUGAR PLUM HOT CROSS BUNS

6 to 6 1/2 cups flour

2/3 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons ground nutmeg

2 packages dry yeast

1 cup milk

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup butter or margarine

2 eggs

1 cup chopped pitted prunes

1 egg, beaten

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Combine 1 1/2 cups flour, sugar, salt, nutmeg and yeast in large mixing bowl. Combine milk, water and butter in saucepan and heat to 120 to 130 degrees.

Gradually add warmed liquids to dry ingredients. Beat with electric mixer on medium speed 2 minutes. Add eggs and 3/4 cup more flour. Beat on high speed 2 minutes. Fold in prunes and enough remaining flour to make soft dough.

Knead on floured surface until smooth and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes, using additional flour as needed to prevent dough from sticking. Place in greased bowl, turning once. Cover and let rise in warm place until doubled, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Punch down dough. Divide into 12 equal portions and shape each into ball. Place well apart on greased baking sheets. Cover and let rise again until doubled, 30 to 45 minutes. Brush with beaten egg and bake at 375 degrees 20 to 25 minutes until golden. Cover with foil as needed to prevent overbrowning. Cool.

Meanwhile, combine powdered sugar and lemon juice and drizzle icing over each bun to form cross. Makes 1 dozen large buns. PINEAPPLE BRAZILIAN EASTER BREAD

1 (20-ounce) can crushed pineapple, in own juice

6 1/2 to 7 cups flour

2 packages quick-rise yeast

1/2 cup sugar

1 tablespoon grated lemon peel

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup butter or margarine

4 eggs

1/2 cup chopped Brazil nuts

2 tablespoons chopped candied orange peel

Drain pineapple well, pressing out all liquid, and set aside. Combine 2 cups flour, yeast, sugar, lemon peel, salt and cinnamon in large mixer bowl. Mix well.

Heat milk, water and butter in saucepan until warm, 120 to 130 degrees (butter does not need to melt). Add to flour mixture. Add eggs. Blend at low speed until moistened. Beat 3 minutes at medium speed. Gently fold in pineapple, nuts, candied orange peel and enough remaining flour to make soft dough.

Knead on floured surface 5 to 8 minutes. Place in greased bowl, turning once. Cover and let rise in warm place until doubled, about 30 minutes.

Punch down dough. Divide into 2 parts and cut off piece of dough about size of egg from each half. Shape each half into round loaf. Place on greased baking sheet.

Divide each small piece of dough in half and roll into rope to length of diameter of loaves. Place 2 ropes on each loaf in shape of cross. Cover and let rise in warm place until almost doubled, about 20 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees 35 to 40 minutes until golden. Remove from pans and cool. Makes 2 round loaves. TRINITY EASTER BREAD

2 packages quick-rise yeast

1/2 cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees)

Sugar

4 to 4 1/2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup warm milk (110 to 115 degrees)

1/3 cup butter or margarine

2 eggs

2 tablespoons grated lemon peel

1 (10-ounce) jar maraschino cherries, well drained and halved

Powdered sugar

Nuts and cherries for garnish

Dissolve yeast in warm water with 1 teaspoon sugar. Set aside 5 minutes. Combine 1 1/2 cups flour, 1/3 cup sugar, salt, milk and butter. Stir in yeast mixture. Add eggs. Blend at low speed until moistened, then beat at medium speed 3 minutes.

Gently fold in lemon peel, cherries and enough remaining flour to make firm dough. Knead on floured surface until smooth and elastic, about 5 to 8 minutes. Place in greased bowl, turning once. Cover and let rise in warm place until light and doubled, about 30 minutes.

Punch down dough. Divide into 3 parts. Shape each third into smooth ball. Place on greased baking sheet in shape of cloverleaf. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 25 minutes. Bake at 375 degrees 30 to 35 minutes. If too dark, cover loosely with foil during last 5 to 10 minutes baking time. Remove from pan and cool. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Glaze as desired and garnish with additional nuts and cherries. Makes 1 large bread. FINNISH EASTER BREAD

2 1/2 to 3 cups flour

2 packages quick-rise yeast

Sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup warm water (120 to 130 degrees)

1/4 cup butter or margarine, softened

3 eggs, separated

1 teaspoon grated lemon peel

1 teaspoon grated orange peel

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup finely chopped almonds

Cream Cheese Topping

Combine 1 cup flour, yeast, 2 tablespoons sugar and salt in large mixing bowl and mix well. Add water, butter and egg yolks. Blend at low speed until moistened, then beat 3 minutes at medium speed. Gently fold in lemon and orange peels, raisins and almonds.

Beat egg whites in small bowl, beating in 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, until stiff. Fold into flour mixture. Gradually stir in enough remaining flour to make soft dough. Knead on floured surface 3 to 5 minutes. Place in greased bowl, turning once. Cover and let rise in warm place until almost doubled, about 45 minutes.

Punch down dough. Roll or pat to 14x7-inch rectangle on lightly floured surface. Starting with shorter side, roll up tightly, pressing dough into bread pan. With very sharp knife, make lengthwise slash, 1/4-inch deep, down center of loaf. Cover, let rise in warm place until doubled, about 25 minutes, then bake at 350 degrees 35 to 40 minutes or until golden. Remove from pan and serve warm or cold with Cream Cheese Topping. Makes 1 loaf. Cream Cheese Topping

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened

2 tablespoons milk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 cups powdered sugar

Combine cream cheese, milk, vanilla and salt in small mixing bowl and blend until smooth. Gradually beat in powdered sugar until fluffy.

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