There’s the crush of traffic outside and the air is still with the heat of summer and the aroma of baking.
(Read the passage given below)
There’s the crush of traffic outside and the air is still with the heat of summer and the aroma of baking. At the junction of Perambur’s Paper Mills Road and Foxen Street, at the cusp of the slowly-vanishing world of Anglo India, is Ajantha Bakers.
A mosaic-tiled stairway leads to the bakery on the first floor, overlooking tin-roofed garages and tiled houses that have risen and slept under the warm blanket of comfort this aroma exudes. Ajantha Bakers has been part of this Anglo-Indian stronghold since 1972, baking wedding cakes, pound cakes and marzipan-rich, chewy Easter eggs.
But, during the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, it is hot cross buns — soft, slightly spiced and tinged in nostalgia — that sell by the thousands. Says KS Subhash, managing director, “When my father KT Sekhar started the bakery, he had plenty of Anglo Indian friends and customers. They still form the backbone of our clientèle, and it is their recipes that we largely use, whether in our butter cakes or whole-wheat breads. Our Easter eggs and bunnies made of marzipan and chocolates are ready at least two weeks ahead of the festival. For the hot cross buns, which are eggless, we use the best of spices blended with raisins. That flavour is unmistakeable and we bake about 25,000 buns. They sell out within a few hours.”
Ajantha Bakers sells its buns on Thursday, “so they keep fresh” on Good Friday, when they are traditionally eaten. “Priced at Rs. 65 for a pack of five, the buns are retailed at our 14 outlets and ordered in bulk by churches.”
Choose Your Flavour
In Britain, where it first originated, hot cross buns have been celebrated in a nursery rhyme and sold in supermarkets through the year.
The bar at The Bell Inn, Essex, has buns from every Good Friday since 1906 suspended as buntings. Belief is that hot cross buns hung in kitchens prevent fires, and the faith behind them would never let them go mouldy. Hot cross buns have also been mixed with unusual flavours such as Earl Grey tea, rum-soaked sultanas and potato-bread dough.
In Chennai, though, it is the standard recipe that is followed. At the iconic Buhari Hotel on Anna Salai, hot cross buns will be available from Thursday. The hotel that has stood here since 1951, has had an in-house bakery since the 1960s. Above the roar of traffic and customers tucking into plates of biryani on a busy Friday afternoon, Nawaz Buhari, managing director, says, “The egg-free recipe for hot cross buns that we follow comes from the Vietnamese bakers who worked here when we started out.” While the famed McRennett will stock hot cross buns priced at Rs. 40 for a pack of four from tomorrow, hotels such as ITC Grand Chola and Hyatt Regency already have trays laden with Good Friday and Easter goodies at their gourmet shops.
Harry MacLure, editor, Anglos in the Wind, says of his childhood in Tiruchi, “It was tradition at home — the air used to be filled with the spiced aroma of hot cross buns baking, but now we just buy it off store shelves. We look forward to breaking the fast with this simple delicacy and a coconut milk-rice gruel with coconut chutney.”
Hot cross buns have long been a symbol of spring and fertility. According to pagan legend, oxen were sacrificed and their horns symbolically emblazoned on freshly baked bread. The words ‘bun’ and ‘Easter’ are derived from the Anglo Saxon lexicon meaning ‘sacred ox’ and ‘Eostre’, the goddess of spring. The four quadrants made by the cross on the bread are said to have represented the phases of the moon.
The modern version of the hot cross bun is a British invention that came with Europe opening up to trade with the East. Spices and salt started to cost less and the sweet-savoury bun with a pasty white cross on its brown top became a Good Friday baker’s treat. The cross came to symbolise Christ’s passion and death, and the spices, the mixture with which his body was embalmed. So popular and wholesome were the buns, that they were baked through the year, and Queen Elizabeth I had to issue a royal decree to stop their year-round baking, so that their religious symbolism wouldn’t be lost.
( The Hindu Published on Thursday, April 13, 2017)